THE CAT BOX…Location, Location, Location

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, facing left
Paw prints coming forward

Hi all you cat buddies, Skye Blake here, with more great info I’ve found about feline litter box problems. Location is soooo important to us felines!

Think about it…you humans build your houses in favorite locations, like beaches, by lakes, on quiet streets, in happenin’ city spots. Even inside your houses you put rooms where they’re easy to use (well, most of the time).

Take the bathroom, for instance, really a big litter box right? Where do you have them most in your house? Just off the master bedroom, living room, kitchen, back door, anywhere it’s convenient to use. All we cats ask is the same convenience, especially when we’re old and grey. We can’t always get to the box in time if it’s too far away.

Maybe to you it’s just a smelly, disgusting box but to us it’s an important part of our territory. It makes a statement to friends and enemies alike, so it’s location is of great importance! Here are some thoughts to help you understand how important litter box location is to your fabulous feline friends.

Change Your View of the Litter Box (NOT YOUR CAT’S)

As a human, you want any litter box as far away as possible. You have one box, or maybe a couple for multiple cats, putting it in the basement, bathroom, or laundry room. Anywhere you don’t have to see, touch, or smell it! Right?

person cleaning a cat's litter box

If you don’t want to deal with your cat’s waste, but you expect her to fit your into lifestyle without providing for her needs, you should reconsider having a cat.

If you seriously can’t or don’t want to deal with her waste, one option is to hire somebody else to do it. The other is to, instead, get a nice stuffed toy cat for cuddling or a lovely porcelain feline statue to add to your stylish decor.

Make dealing with the litter box more pleasant by working with your cat’s instincts instead of fighting against them. Make all his boxes irresistible. One way is to locate them where he feels safest using them. See it from his perspective…

Getting a Cat’s Eye View of the litter box

Grey tabby cat hanging out in a litter box

In the great outdoors, waste is located on the perimeter of every cat’s territory. This has a number of very important purposes…

  • Waste is a scent marker, letting other cats know that he owns this area.
  • The smell of waste attracts predators so it must be located well away from where he eats and sleeps (his home).
  • He prefers to be clean and eat in an area away from his waste.

Your indoor cat has the same instincts as his wild cousins, so litter boxes are a vital part of his territory. He sees them as more than just a place to do his business…

  • They’re a scent signal telling other cats “I’m here, this is mine”. Even when kept clean, a cat can smell his scent in the boxes (while you can’t)
  • Locating them on the perimeter is key to feeling safe in his territory, without the threat of predators.
  • They must be away from his food and water sources so his instincts aren’t conflicted and he’s secure. If you make him choose between eating and avoiding predators, he’ll eat where the food is and find somewhere else to pee.

In a household where cats don’t get along, you’ll have turf wars over litter boxes. That’s how important they and their locations are to your feline friends!

One cat guards a box and won’t let others in, or traps them in the box and attacks when they come out. (One reason covered boxes aren’t good in these situations…no escape routes.) The litter boxes quickly become inaccessible to the victims and they have to find other places to go.

Put Litter Boxes Where Your Cat Lives

It’s important to have all litter boxes where your kitty lives, not the garage or basement. Remember, they’re on the perimeter of his territory, not on the other side of the world.

Of course, the thought of putting litter boxes all over the house is repugnant to most people. You want your buddy to be happy but don’t want to end up resenting him. Let’s work that out…

Your Cat Needs

Box away from eating/drinking areas

Low traffic

Quiet (no kids, dogs, or other cats around the box)

Ability to see the room

Escape routes from open box

Box in significant social areas where your scent mingles with his

One box per cat on each level of the house + one extra

You to monitor his litter box use and habits to catch early signs of diseases

You Need

No “bathroom” smells

Out of sight box

No litter scattered on floor

No ugly box in your beautifully decorated living room

Easy access to box for quick scooping/cleaning

To monitor your cat’s litter box use and habits to catch early signs of disease (saving both life and money)

If you’re having a problem with at least one kitty peeing outside his box, it’s recommended you temporarily place boxes everywhere you find the most evidence of peeing after you clean it. This will help you figure out what spots are most significant to your cat. He’ll use the boxes he likes and you can remove the rest.

Some cats won’t poop in the same place as they pee. Some won’t use a box another cat uses. This is quite manageable with one cat but when there are more than one it requires more dedication and planning on your part.

Start With These Ideas

The key is to find the locations (especially with multi-cat households) where cats will use them that are also acceptable to you. This can be tricky so don’t give up. Start with these ideas…

  • Have at least one box per cat on each level of your house
  • If you know where each cat in your household spends the most time, put at least one box in that room (e.g., living room, den, bedrooms). This will help prevent guarding and attacks around the boxes.
  • Place boxes at least one foot from any walls so she can walk around it
  • Keep them in quiet areas away from traffic but still accessible for easy cleaning (e.g., bedrooms, but not closets)
  • Put them enough in the open so she doesn’t feel trapped…
  • …but not so open that she feels vulnerable to attack. She needs to see everything around her and have escape routes
  • Corners can be a problem with not enough escape routes
  • Be sure they’re not underneath anything where another cat can perch and intimidate (cat tree, bookshelf, chair)
  • Be sure there are no barriers between your cat and any box (gates, doors, etc.)

If your cat doesn’t like a box’s location, you’ll be cleaning pee in other places. If it’s too inconvenient for you to clean easily or in a place you’ll forget about, you’ll be cleaning pee in other places.

Possible Cat Box Locations

There are pros and cons to putting litter boxes in various parts of your house. Here are some observations by cat behaviorists…

Laundry/Utility/BathRoom

The most common places used for litter boxes are laundry, utility and bathrooms.

Bathrooms have social significance to us cats…your scent and ours are both strong there. There’s usually enough room, escape routes, and is easy to clean.

Just don’t flush the toilet or turn on the shower while he’s in the box. Since flushing happens often, it’s best not to put the box behind or near the toilet or bidet.

If it stays humid in your bathroom, you may find the litter odors are more pronounced and will have to consider that in deciding the best location.

Laundry and utility rooms aren’t as socially significant to your kitty. They’re similar to bathrooms but sometimes more remote and easier to forget to clean. Some cats are fine with a box here but if the washer changes cycles or the furnace or hot water heater suddenly starts, your cat could be scared away, never to return!

Garage/Basement

The garage and basement are the worst places to put litter boxes, especially multiple boxes together in a row. Your cat will see them as one giant box, not separate places to go. With more than one cat, this can easily become a prime guarding and attacking area, leaving some cats without any place to do their business. The same is true of basement stairs.

You also will find it inconvenient to clean and simply won’t bother. Ewww…stinky!

Having them so far away, besides being left filthy, puts the boxes outside your kitty’s main living area…her territory. Now you’re asking her to travel a long distance through potentially dangerous areas just to do her business…not fair! She may decide not to bother.

Another thought is if that big, loud door opens or closes while your kitty is in a box, it’ll scare him. He’ll decide the box made that scary noise and he’s not safe there. Won’t be using that one again!

Kitchen

The kitchen, for obvious reasons, is not a place for any litter box. Cats will not eat near where they potty. Litter and waste should not be near your food areas. Period.

Dining Room

A dining room doesn’t seem like a good place for a litter box because people eat there. However, if you spend a lot of time there, your cat may consider it an important social area. If you don’t use your dining room much but have a sliding door or large sunny window area there, he may still consider it important.

Living/Family/BedRoom

Your living, family and bedrooms are prime litter box areas (unless you rarely use them). These are very social areas where you and your cats hang out, spending lots of time together.

You watch tv, sleep, and play there. There are cat toys, cat trees, pillows and other important “scent soakers” there where everyone’s scent mingles together. This makes it a very important place for him and he’ll want his most important litter box in its perimeter.

The recipe for a happy furry feline!

A note of caution…resist the temptation to put boxes in closets. They’re too easy to forget and become stinky quickly! They also block open sight lines and necessary escape routes.

Sunroom/Catio

A sunroom or catio (enclosed outside area for cats) is perfect for placing litter boxes. Just keep it out of direct sunlight. People usually love being in a sunroom too, so it’s a great place for mixing cat and human scents.

When placing litter boxes in various rooms, you’ll need your detective skills. Watch and see if your cat is comfortable and accepting them or if there are still problems.

CAT PRIVACY in the Box

cat watching other cat in litter box

A word about what we cats call “privacy” and how it’s different from what humans think it is…

Bathroom privacy as defined by cats: Being safe from attack while in a vulnerable position (e.g., in the litter box). Cats aren’t embarrassed about doing our business, we just want to feel safe from predators. Hence the importance of open sight lines while in the box!

Bathroom privacy as defined by humans: Being isolated from others while using the bathroom to avoid embarrassment.

As you can see these are different views. Humans tend to project emotion onto animals and by doing so, misunderstand the real situation. “Privacy” is one of these misunderstandings.

If you start by understanding your cat’s needs as well as your own when placing litter boxes, you’ll be able to find locations that you are acceptable to both of you. You may have to compromise a bit but will find it’s worth it in the end.


RELATED PAGES OF INTEREST

Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?Cleaning Cat Urine
Deciphering Cat Pee PatternsSymptoms of Illness in Your Cat
The Territorial CatWhat’s the Best Type of Cat Litter Box?
What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?Why Is My Cat Pooping Outside the Litter Box?

SOURCES

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary. Primary are always preferable and have the most reliable information because primary sources are original and directly referenced. Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. However, sometimes they refer to primary sources. Thus, when I use secondary sources most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

LIST OF SOURCES

Cat Calls: Wonderful Stories and Practical Advice from a Veteran Cat Sitter by Jeanne Adlon and Susan Logan (c), Used by permisson. Square One Publishers, Garden City Park, NY, 2012, page 60

The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com

“Does Your Cat Need an Extreme Litterbox Setup Makeover?”, by Dr. Marci Koski, Feline Behavior Solutions

The Inner Life of Cats, The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions by Thomas McNamee, Hachette Books, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY, 2017, www.hachettebooks.com

Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011,

The Tiger on Your Couch, What the Big Cats Can Teach You About Living in Harmony with Your House Cat by Bill Fleming and Judy Petersen-Fleming, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, NY, 1992

Total Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017

What Your Cat Wants by Francesca Riccomini, Thunder Bay Press, Octopus Publishing Group, San Diego, CA, 2012, www.thunderbaybooks.com