Categories: cat litter box

Don’t sanitize your cat’s litter box by cleaning it too often

People ask, how often should I clean the cat litter box? This leads me to questions of territorial markers to find the answer. A domestic cat’s litter box should smell to a certain extent. It’s a good thing from a cat’s perspective. This is where cats and humans might have a clash of opinion. In this article I am referring to clumping litter.

How often should I clean the cat litter tray?

I wonder how many cat owners sanitise their cat’s litter box by scooping faeces out two or three times a day, scrubbing the tray every week and then disinfecting the box; thereby eradicating every last trace of their cat’s territorial markers. This does a disservice to the cat and cat owners who like everything to be perfectly clean and shipshape in their home need to give way a little bit to accommodate their cat companion.

Jackson Galaxy has this absolutely correct when he says that sanitising a cat’s litter box is not a good idea. He makes the very important point that most people realise that in order to prevent cats from returning to an area where she has inappropriately eliminated e.g. on the carpet, you need to completely obliterate the cat’s smell in that area. This then stops the cat returning to that area to urinate or defecate (enzyme cleaners are the best).

If you do exactly the same thing to your cat’s litter box he is less likely to return to it. That’s the logical conclusion. Therefore cat owners should not overclean litter trays.

Cats need to smell themselves. As mentioned, poop and pee are, in the words of Jackson Galaxy, “heavy-duty territorial signifiers, ways of going around saying ‘I own this'”. It provides them with territorial security in a similar way to, for example, scratching a scratching post. It’s about ownership of territory which is very important to domestic cats. They need to smell the litter tray which leads me to the answer to the question. It is suggested that cat owners should scoop the clumps out every day, completely empty the box about once a month and rinse it with hot water. That’s it.

On the Humane Society website they suggest twice a week as a general guideline for replacing clay litter. You can see therefore that they recommend cleaning the tray a lot more often than Jackson Galaxy.

Dr. Stephanie Janeczko, D.V.M., Medical Director for Animal Care & Control of New York City recommends that litter boxes should be scooped once or twice a day. This is in line with Jackson Galaxy but what about cleaning it? They recommend a regular change to the litter box which means twice weekly for non-clumping litter and monthly for clumping litter and wash it with soap and water. This is along the lines of Jackson’s advice.

I always remove the poop daily, of course, and clean the tray about as frequently as Jackson advises. I am definitely inline with him on this.

The key is that sanitizing the cat litter tray is not a good idea and if it is done, it is probably done for the cat’s caretaker and not for the cat. Some people, even experts, think that a dirty litter puts cats off using it. It depends how dirty it is. It is a balancing act. Overcleaning is probably as off-putting to a cat as undercleaning.

There is an argument that plastic trays need to be replaced at a certain time because they develop scratches harbouring bacteria, potentially.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • I rinse with a very dilute bleach water and then sun dry. You face one of the other issues. A box that is not sanitized in some form has to be replaced more often. One that is kept in cleaner conditions less often. My cats don't like new boxes. I also only buy the extra deep open pans and use a significant amount of litter. By scooping the clumps daily very seldom does the urine reach the bottom. Litter depth plays an important role in how often you must really deep clean a pan if ever.

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