How to Keep a Litter Box From Smelling

How to Keep a Litter Box from Smelling
Johnny Buzzerio/CORBIS

There are many reasons to love the company of an indoor cat (the cuddles, the hijinks, the potential for posting silly pictures with even sillier captions on the Internet), but there's no denying one serious downside: a stinky litter box.

Why so smelly? For starters, your cat's urine is more concentrated than many other domestic species' (including dogs). Your cat visits her litter box about five times a day, so you'll be left with a strong ammonia smell if you let the dirty litter sit. While this is normal, extreme odors could indicate a urinary tract infection and warrant a veterinary visit.

The smell of your cat's urine could be affected by what she's eating, too. The ammonia compound in urine is a byproduct of protein metabolism, so try feeding your cat a different protein -- if your cat's food is composed mainly of chicken, switch to something seafood-based and see if it helps. Encourage your cat to dilute her own urine by offering plenty of water to drink.

Consider the type of litter lining the box. All litter works similarly by absorbing urine, providing a way for cats to cover their feces and reducing the growth of bacteria that cause odor. There are three main ingredients for litter: clay, silica or plant materials.

Traditional clay-based litter is the cheapest and is fairly absorbent. Silica-based litter is highly absorbent, which helps control odor. Plant-based litter is comprised of environmentally friendly pellets made of things like pine or recycled newspaper -- it may have a naturally pleasant scent, but will be more expensive than other varieties. All three types need to be changed about once a week to prevent smelly build-up. Some types of litter forms clumps when moistened with urine, which is great for odor control. As soon as you remove the clump, the odor is gone, too, and you'll only have to change the litter about once a month.

Whatever litter you choose, emptying it once a day will tame odor. Rinse and dry the box before adding a layer of odor-absorbing additive, such as baking soda or non-toxic carbon crystals, followed by new litter.

Make sure you have an adequate depth of litter, about two inches (five centimeters), for your cat to cover her waste. This will also make cleanup easier -- urine will be less likely to collect in the bottom of the pan. The bigger the box overall, the more comfortable it will be for your cat and the more likely she'll be to use it. A box covered with a hood will help keep odors inside. Hooded or not, plastic boxes are best -- they're durable, inexpensive and easy to clean.

Self-cleaning boxes that sift solid waste from the litter into disposable bags cost upward of $100, and the ruckus they make might scare off your cat. In the end, there's simply no substitute for cleaning a cat box yourself once a day, every day. Remove the waste and you'll take care of the odor problem.

Did you know?

If you put down a thin layer of baking soda before you put the litter in your cat's litter box, it will help absorb the stink and make the box smell more pleasant to both of you.

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