Bigger is Better and a Lid Doesn’t Matter When it Comes to Cat Bathrooms

December 10, 2014

kitten in litter boxWho among us doesn’t covet a nice bathroom? Our homes today have more bathrooms and larger, more elaborate bathrooms than ever before. According to, the average bathroom remodel in New York City costs $32,000, and features granite counter tops, porcelain tile and high end fixtures. Our feline companions are no different. They express definite likes and dislikes when it comes to their litter box. Provide them with a substandard bathroom and they will refuse to use it and instead will use the corner of your dining room rug as their new and more spacious bathroom! In the feline world, this problem is so serious that a 2001 research study reported inappropriate elimination as a top reason cats are relinquished to animal shelters.

What cats care about in their litter box
Bigger boxes are better
In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, cats were offered the choice of using a standard size litter box or a large plastic box greater than 33 inches in length. The number of urine and fecal “deposits” in each box were recorded and compared. Results determined cats like litter boxes larger than the standard ones available in pet stores.

More boxes are preferable 
Litter box issues are more common in multi-cat households. To avoid competition and territorial behavior towards litter boxes, which leads to inappropriate urination, provide your cats with multiple litter boxes.

Stinky boxes are bad
Even if you scoop daily and completely change the litter weekly, that box can get stinky. Veterinarians tested cats use of litter sprayed with a commercially available litter box odor eliminator. Cats clearly found the sprayed boxes more attractive an preferred their use over unsprayed boxes.

What cats don’t care about in their litter box
Our mothers admonished us to close the lid of the toilet during their attempts to teach us manners. Cats don’t care about a lid on their litter box. A 2013 study of cats to determine their preference for a covered or uncovered litter box found no preference in the style of box in most cats, although as any cat owner will attest to, some persnickety cats did choose an uncovered box over a lidded one or vice versa.

Seems to me that cats should care about the type of litter in their box, but I couldn’t find any research to support that theory. One study did show, the longer cats scratched in the litter box, the less likely they were to inappropriately eliminate. Scientists interpreted that finding to mean lots of scratching at the litter means a cat likes the litter in their box and they will be less likely to eliminate on the dining room rug.

Cat bathroom remodeling tips
Thankfully, remodeling a feline bathroom is much less costly than remodeling your bathroom. First, feline behavior experts believe in simple math when it comes to the number of litter boxes: number of cats + 1 = the number of litter boxes you should have. You don’t like to wait in line to use the restroom, and clearly cats feel the same way. Second, when purchasing additional litter boxes, consider upgrading to a larger box, such as an under-the-bed box or gift wrap storage box without its lid.

Finally, cats fully believe that they are gods and that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Research has shown that daily scooping of cat waste from the litter box and weekly litter changes can resolve urine spray behavior in cats.

Remember: inappropriate elimination may be a sign of illness, so check with your veterinarian if your cat suddenly stops using her litter box.

Your Cat and Your Unborn Child

June 26, 2013

This blog is written in honor of our furry feline friends. Remember, June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, so visit your local animal shelter to add a feline to your family.

baby-catI frequently get telephone calls from expectant mothers who are worried about the impact of how interacting with their cat might impact the health of their unborn baby. Foremost in most people’s mind is toxoplasmosis, but if you are “in the family way” there are other issues regarding your cat and the expected arrival that you might want to consider.

What is toxoplasmosis and how is it contracted?
Pregnant women and their obstetricians worry about toxoplasmosis, which is an infection caused by a parasite carried by many warm blooded animals, especially cats. If you become infected with Toxoplasma gondii while you are pregnant, the organism can cross the placenta and make your baby sick. Because this organism is widespread in nature, pregnant women can be exposed to Toxoplasma through mechanisms other than their pet cat. Consumption of undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables, exposure to cat feces while gardening and contaminated cutting boards are all potential sources of Toxoplasma organisms. Wash all vegetables before you eat them and scrub your cutting boards with hot soapy water or sanitize them in the dishwasher.

Litter box dangers
If you are a cat owner, you’ll need to avoid contact with your cat’s litter box. Cat feces become infectious with Toxoplasma organisms about 24 hours after defecation. Daily removal of solid waste from your cat’s litter box is critical to protect your baby, but should be done by someone else in the household. Litter boxes should be thoroughly cleaned with scalding hot water on a weekly basis to destroy Toxoplasma organisms. Protecting your family against toxoplasmosis is just one more reason to keep your cat indoors since cats contract toxoplasmosis when they consume rodents and other small mammals.

Avoiding a fall
Although you may be radiant due to your “delicate condition,” you may also be a bit clumsy and prone to falling. In one study, over a quarter of women reported falling during pregnancyTake extra care at feeding time or other times when your cat is likely to be under foot and might cause you to fall and hurt yourself or your baby.

Scratches and bites
In your efforts to have everything perfect for the arrival of your baby, you may think about giving your cat a comb out and pedicure. My recommendation is to have the grooming done by a professional before baby arrives to help keep scratches to a minimum and to save you from a bite or scratch which might be more serious than normal.

A new baby and a new cat?
Although June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, I recommend you exercise caution when adding a new cat to your family when you are pregnant. Adopting a cat with an unknown health history or a cat who recently lived outdoors could be risky. Kittens from shelters would be more likely to pose a risk to your unborn baby than a kitten born and raised by a loving family in their home.

With reasonable precautions, you can have it all – your favorite furry feline and a healthy, happy baby.

Potty Training Your Cat: Are You Kidding?

June 16, 2011

Toilet-trained cat

A cat and dog owning client of The Animal Medical Center called about a month ago wondering if I had heard of toilet training for cats. I guess he hasn’t seen Jinxy, the potty trained cat of the “Fockers” movie series. I had also seen the CitiKitty products in November 2010, when I attended the No Place Like Home Pet Products Showcase, which had included CitiKitty in their list of exhibitors.

CitiKitty is just one of several cat toilet training kits available. The concept seems simple. The device attaches to a toilet seat and you put litter on the device at the same time you take away the litter box. Gradually you remove the rings in the device until the entire device is removed and your cat stands on the toilet seat while eliminating in the toilet. An automatic flusher is even available to facilitate cleanup!

After that initial call, I didn’t hear from the owner for a while. Then a couple of weeks ago he and I had a good laugh about what had happened next. Uli, his Chartreux cat, performed brilliantly with the CitiKitty device, successfully using it on the first try. Tonka, his dog, looked at the CitiKitty device as a buffet option and ate all the cat litter, resulting in a severe case of tummy upset and diarrhea.

Photo: Tonka and Uli, courtesy of the family

The next part of the plan included a baby gate to allow Uli in and keep Tonka out and the training started again. Because Tonka is a French bulldog, he could not jump over the gate and Uli could. Uli used the training device until too many training rings were removed. Then he rebelled by using the bathtub as a litter box.

So what went wrong? My friend called the CitiKitty helpline and after some discussion with them, thinks he possibly rushed Uli by taking the rings out too fast. He is going to try again when his travel schedule allows him to be home to monitor the situation. Perhaps Uli should have had more positive reinforcement with a special tasty treat during the training process, as CitiKitty recommends.

But why all this fuss? What’s wrong with an old-fashioned litter box? In places like New York City, space is tight and having your cat use the toilet means you don’t need a litter box taking up valuable space in your apartment. Pregnant women should not scoop cat litter and this is an easy way to eliminate that task from the to-do list. Clay litter is very dusty and may contribute to respiratory problems in some cats and definitely contributes to landfills, making a potty trained cat a green cat.


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

How to Make Your Cat “Green”

March 10, 2009

green-catWhen Cat Fancy magazine asked me about making a cat “green,” my first thought was, “How can these fluffy balls of fun contribute to our carbon footprint?”  Cats don’t operate motor vehicles and they don’t contribute to landfill much, except for the occasional sofa shredded beyond recognition.  And, those disgusting hairballs we end up stepping on in the middle of the night are totally organic and biodegradable.

What I didn’t know was that traditional clay cat litter is not biodegradable.  It is made from clay which is strip mined making it tough on the ecosystem both coming and going.  The dust from clay litter contains substances which contribute to the development of feline lung diseases.  Furthermore, cat feces, which end up in our costal waterways, may be harming wildlife such as sea otters (delightful creatures almost as cute as cats).  It seems that there is an epidemic of Toxoplasmosis in sea otters traced back to cat feces flushed down human toilets.

Below are some suggestions to make your cat “green.”   They range from simple to creative and I think there is something for everyone. They are divided into 4 major areas: 

Food and Treats
catnip200Purchase cat food in recyclable containers – bags or cans are most commonly recyclable.  Then recycle the containers.

Grow your own cat grass and cat nip – your cat will love you and you can erase a little of your carbon footprint.

Cat Litter and Litter Boxes
Litter box issues are tough and nothing causes more friction between a cat and its owner, so if you plan a switch do it slowly and be prepared to revert to your previous litter and litter box on a moment’s notice.

Toilet train your cat.  This is a no-no if you live in a coastal region.

cat-on-toilet200Use litter from recycled materials, such as recycled newspaper

Use a biodegradable litter:
• Pine based flushable litter – This litter is specially processed to make it safe for cats. Do not use pine chips for your garden as they may not be safe.

• Corn based flushable litter

• Wheat based flushable cat litter

Make your own litter from old newspapers

Disposable litterbox – Great for travel, but may not be great for the environment so be sure it is biodegradable; no plastics

This self washing litter box has reusable pellets instead of litter.  It looks like a very cool device, but it really needs a carbon audit

bamboo-scrathing-postProtect the delicate natural environment
Keep cats inside to protect native wild birds

Put cat feces in the garbage or compost it if you live in coastal areas to protect native water species. In Australia, keep cats inside to protect native small marsupials.

Environmentally friendly products
Environmentally friendly toys

Environmentally friendly grooming products

Book on making cat toys

Sustainable bamboo scratching posts/cat trees

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