The Definitive (Over)Budget Pet Guide to De-Stinking Your House and Home
Part IV - The Litter Box
Ladies and gentlemen, it's the grand source of stink: The Litter Box. The litter box gets the high stink award for two reasons. First, and most obvious, it's an open air cat toilet in your home. Even if you are the most diligent of scoopers, there are going to be times when the cat blows up the box and thus blows up your spot. Second, if you don't get the litter box "right" from your feline companion's perspective, she may start down the slippery slope of “inappropriate elimination" -- that is, urinating and defecating outside of the litter box. At that point, your home will reach the true pinnacle of stink [unless you fight back with some of the tips from Parts I and II of the Guide, but best to just avoid it and make the litter box acceptable to your cat].
A personal caveat: Lola doesn't actually use the litter box anymore. She does her business outside with the dogs, so we spend little to no money or effort on the litter box anymore. But I am an expert [self-professed, but, whatever, that counts] in litter boxes, and your holiday guests are on the way to your stinky house, so let's get into it anyway.
- Just Scoop It. The best way to control litter box stink and encourage your cat to use the litter box (rather than your couch, floor, etc.) is to SCOOP COMPLETELY, AND SCOOP FREQUENTLY. I say "completely" because some people immediately scoop the offensive nose-assaulting poop and leave the pee clumps behind for tomorrow. Bad idea. The individual pee clumps can become one giant pee brick, which is difficult to scoop, and -- duh -- it smells like cat pee. Also, your cat wants the box to be clean, or she'll just find somewhere else to go. I recommend scooping the box at least twice a day or more frequently. Your nose and cat will thank you.
- The Covered Litter Box. If your cat is amenable to this sort of thing, you can use a covered litter box, which does a lot to reduce odors in the home. I used the Booda Clean Step Litter Box ($32) with accompanying liners ($4.50 for 8 liners) for Lola and Kitty when we lived in Baltimore. The igloo shape of the Booda Clean Step is adorable, and it has stairs, which catch litter from your cats' paws as they exit the box. I had to ditch it when I moved to Brooklyn because (1) sometimes Kitty's pee leaked through the seam in the box because she peed standing up, and (2) there was nowhere to put it in my narrow railroad apartment because the Booda Clean Step is a big round monster.
Note: Bigger is better when it comes to litter boxes -- cats are clean animals and don't want to step in (or even see or smell) their own wastes. This is particularly true if you've got a big breed or a fat cat. If you are in the market for a covered box, I would go with the Kattails Kat Kave Litter Box ($79) because it's HUGE, there are no seams, and it will last.
- The Top Entry Litter Box. When I moved to Brooklyn, I replaced the abandoned Booda Clean Step with the Clevercat Top-Entry Litter Box ($35). My goals were three-fold: (1) to reduce the amount of litter scattered and tracked by the cats, (2) to reduce pee escaping through litter box seams, and (3) to keep cat turds out of reach of my small poop-eating puppy. Also the Clevercat had a lower profile than the Booda Clean Step and would actually fit in my apartment. Unfortunately, Lola did not like peeing in this cave, and Kitty had a hard time entering and exiting through the little hole in the top, particularly after her leg was amputated. We did okay with the top off, though, which just made it an uncovered over-sized litter box (see below).
Note: If your cat will accept a top-entry box, and you're a baller, get the ModKat Litter Box ($180).
- The Uncovered Litter Box. Turns out, the litter box has to be UNcovered for Lola to use it reliably. Yes, it's kind of gross for your guests to see the litter, but the cat prefers it. Lola, like many cats, feels trapped in the cave-like setting of the covered or top-entry box, and the lack of ventilation makes it really stinky in there. But on the bright side, having it uncovered makes it easier to clean, and you are more likely to actually clean it when you actually see (and smell) something in the box. We currently use an un-hooded Petmate X-Large Deluxe Hooded Litter Box ($30). If Lola actually used the box instead of going outside, I would probably get a bigger one. And by bigger, I mean, a plastic storage bin, which is all an uncovered litter box is anyway, or maybe the Petmate Giant Litter Pan ($24).
Note: This is our primary set-up pictured. An uncovered litter box with unscented clay clumping litter [discussed below]. To the right, a Bad Air Sponge [discussed in Part III] and a tissue box full of plastic bags for convenient scooping and waste disposal. Hanging from hooks are the scooper and mini dustpan-broom. This is located under our bathroom counter. We also have a top-entry litter box in the living room that Lola also doesn't use [not pictured]. We keep both litter boxes around even though Lola goes outside because we can't afford to take any chances.
Another note: Avoid self-cleaning litter boxes or litter boxes with mechanical parts because they are probably just going to break. Everything is made like crap these days. And even if they don't break, there are just more things, parts, and pieces to clean and disinfect. Also, they can be noisy and scare your cat away from its toilet. If you still want one, do your homework before you buy -- they're expensive, especially when you factor in replacement everythings (e.g., special litter, filters, parts, etc.).
- Clay-based, unscented, clumpable litter. I have tried a lot of different litters in my day, but Lola says no, I'm a Tidy Cat. So we use Purina Tidy Cats Scoop for Multiple Cats clumpable litter in Instant Action or 24/7 Performance or certain of the Premium Scoop Varieties, 27 lbs. recyclable plastic pail ($21). It's sort of a shame because all of the technological and ecological advancements in modern litter are lost on us. But there is no compromising on our litter, or my couch and rugs will be compromised. How much litter? The right depth in our boxes is approximately 3-4". This enables you to scoop out the clumps easily without them sticking to the bottom of the box. Unscented litter is preferable to those yucky, perfume-y scented litters -- I don't even want to know what chemicals they soak the litter in to make it smell like that.
Notes: The downsides of clay-based litters are that they're dusty, bad for the environment, and the litter ends up getting tracked all over your home. [If you live with a cat, remember to wipe your feet before you get in bed and hope your cat does the same.] You can try a litter mat, but I've never had much luck with them. They don't catch all the litter, and then they're just one more thing to buy and clean. If "inappropriate elimination" is an issue, we had luck with Cat Attract Litter Additive ($16) as part of our Operation: Save the Couch.
- The Scooper. Get a heavy duty litter scooper made of plastic or metal. I previously owned the Clean Go Pet Stainless Steel Slotted Litter Scoop ($9.50) because I'm sometimes convinced that plastic = microbial paradise, but I think it was trashed in our last move. [I sort of hope it was trashed and is not just packed up in a box somewhere. Gross.] I replaced it with the Petmate Ultimate Litter Scoop ($9). I like the long handle and that it has a hole so I can hang it from a hook. Don't put your scooper on the floor -- hang it from a nail or hook instead or get one that comes with a holder, like the Petmate Scoop 'N Hide ($10) or this cute cat-shaped New Age Scoopy the Cat Litter Scoop Holder, which looks like a sculpture ($13).
Scooping Notes: Try not to break up clumps -- the small pieces left behind are difficult to remove completely, and you'll have to change your litter more often. Also, no scraping -- if you use your scooper to scrape pee clumps or poop, your scooper will be GROSS. To prevent pee clumps from sticking to the bottom of the box, keep your litter sufficiently deep. To loosen anything stuck to the sides, tip the box back and forth and either tap the box on the ground or gently hit it with your fist from the outside. Then you can scoop sans scraping! [I genuinely don't care if you think I'm crazy.] If there's some sort of nastiness that is clinging to the box, just use a paper towel and your regular surface cleaner to wipe it off. Scraping will just transfer the nastiness to your scooper.
An Unnecessary Aside: I just learned that there is a retractable scooper on the market that allows you to stand and scoop. The package boasts "Never Bend." I don't see how you can effectively clean the litter box while standing up -- will you even have the control you need over the business end of the scooper? I just imagine flipping pee bricks around like pancakes if you pull up with too much force.
- No additives, no preservatives. I don't use deodorizing powders or sprays on the litter. They're expensive and only mask odors (and do a poor job of it anyway). If you scoop your litter box(es) completely and frequently, the litter stays cleaner and you can replace it less often. Seriously, there are a million products on the market that promise to deodorize, neutralize, freshen, or actually "destroy" odors, but don't just spray your litter, scoop it. And if the litter is past its prime, change it.
- Scoop the poop ASAP. If one of your cats HELLO blows up the box (which he is going to do right when your guests arrive), scoop it immediately. I keep bags right by the litter box so there is never an excuse not to scoop the poop. Also, dogs ♥ cat poop, so if we didn't scoop it right away, then the dogs would eat it before we ever could. Eating cat poop isn't per se bad for Lassie, but the clumping clay litter is extremely dangerous to your pooch's insides. We end where we began: Just Scoop It.
We addressed ambient litter box odors back in Part III, so now you have all the tools you need to combat cat stink before your holiday guests arrive.
There is one more part to come in the next day or so -- Part V: The Beasts. And then I can go back to writing about cute stuff like dog leashes.