Cat Litter Tips

posted: 05/15/12
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Cat Litter Tips
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The litter box -- a necessary evil when you're a cat owner. These simple tips can help with the care and maintenance of your kitty's litter box, which will keep your cat happy and playing by the rules.

Choosing the Right Kind

Perhaps the greatest problem with clumping litter is that just as it sticks to the moisture in cat waste, it sticks to anything else that is moist -- wet feet and fur -- and gets tracked around the house. Manufacturers now offer products with slightly larger granules that don't track as easily.

- Concerns also have been raised in recent years over the possibility that clay-based clumping litter, particularly brands using sodium bentonite as the binding agent, may cause dangerous or even fatal intestinal blockages if ingested. To date, however, no clinical evidence of this has emerged and most experts agree that this fear is simply the product of misinformed rumors. But to be on the safe side, don't use this type of litter until your kitten is at least 4 months old or past the stage where he tries to eat everything.

- Another health concern related to any of the clay-based products is the possibility that the crystalline silica dust in them may be dangerous if inhaled. Dust is a particular problem in covered boxes. Some veterinarians believe inhaling the dust in an enclosed space contributes to respiratory diseases, such as asthma, in cats.

- Along with these potential health problems, concerns over the environmental impact of clay strip mining have had litter manufacturers scurrying to come up with alternatives. A wide variety of organically based, silica-dust-free litters that are derived from renewable resources -- ranging from orange peels to wheat -- are now on the market. All these products absorb reasonably well, control odor and demonstrate varying degrees of clumping.

Which Brand is Best?

When it comes right down to it, your pet will make the final choice. While some happy-go-lucky cats will accept whatever product is on sale this week, most are more fussy. Once you find a brand to your cat's liking, stick with it. You may first need to experiment with a few different types of litter, so start with the smallest packages available. Deodorized litter may sound appealing, but don't think it absolves you of your scooping duties. Furthermore, some cats are actually put off by the "clean" smell. Signs of discontent include excessive scratching or vocalizing around the litter-box location. Ignore this and your cat will find a definitive way to tell you he doesn't like your litter selection: The box will be clean, the floor dirty.

Choosing a Litter Box

Litter-box choices range from simple plastic containers that resemble dishpans to covered boxes and a variety of more sophisticated models, as described above. Whatever variation you choose, the box must be big enough to allow your cat to carry out typical feline elimination behavior: sniffing the area, digging a hole and turning around several times before getting down to business. Kittens require a box with sides low enough for them to get in and out easily. Once they can climb or jump, a model with higher sides provides privacy and helps keep the litter inside the box.

Covered boxes prevent stains on walls from cats that stand up to urinate and scattering of litter by cats that scratch excessively in the box. They also keep the contents out of reach of dogs and small children. The covered boxes do have drawbacks. They trap the litter dust that can cause health problems, and if you neglect maintenance duties because you don't smell or see the contents, the box's advantage becomes a disadvantage. Your cat, with his finely honed sense of smell, has to deal with a stinky neglected litter box and may end up eliminating elsewhere.

Preventing Smelly Litter Boxes

How do you avoid that dreaded housebound cat smell? Simple: Clear out waste frequently and keep the box itself clean. Scoop out the waste at least twice a day, tie it up in a plastic bag and throw it away; if it's flushable, you can simply drop it into the toilet. Completely empty and clean the box about once a week. Scrub the pan and the scoop with detergent to clean and a small amount of bleach to disinfect, then rinse thoroughly. Let the box dry fully before refilling it with litter. A plastic liner makes your cleanup easier, but works best in a box with a rim or cover to hold it in place. Cats that really enjoy scratching in the box may tear the plastic, thereby defeating the purpose. A secondary benefit of these chores is that they give you the chance to keep tabs on your cat's health. If you notice changes in feces, blood in the urine or any unusual elimination habits, call the vet for advice.

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