Cat Litter Boxes: The Myth of “One Box Per Cat Plus One” By Dr. R.J. Peters

 cat litter boxesMost people who have never worked nor lived with a large number of cats harbor the quaint notion that any number of cats need and will use the same number of litter boxes, plus one. That belief is the result of a “rule of thumb” someone invented that seemed reasonable and so has been adopted by most otherwise knowledgeable cat rescuers and shelter workers.

When cages are used, one box per cat goes without saying. However, when several cats – or many – share one space, their litter box use reflects their habits, preferences and needs, as well as the characteristics of the space they occupy. In other words, theories don’t always apply. The rule of “one per cat plus one” works best for homes with only a few cats.

To illustrate, suppose you have a five-room house and 20 cats. (This is just a hypothetical example. I won’t go into the variety of reasons for having that many cats, but NOT counting hoarders, most of them are legitimate.) Since the kitchen is not an option, that leaves four rooms in which to accommodate cats… and boxes. That’s five cats and 5 litter boxes per room with an extra one someplace else… the bathroom?

This makes no sense. The easy way out is to say it can’t be done. Too many cats… or more to the point, too many sources of odor… if you can even find places to put 5 boxes in one room.

Through trial and error and lessons learned from ten years rescue experience with many hundreds of cats, I have learned what does work. And there is no need to have wall-to-wall litter pans.

Can you imagine scooping 21 litter pans every day? I can, and it’s not an option. I used to do it. It actually generates more odor than using fewer boxes. The cats themselves taught me how this must be handled. It was never up to me anyway, as you will see.

First, there are no boxes in the kitchen or the living room, of course. That leaves the three bedrooms and the bathroom.

Second, there is no need for more than one box per room, although two is good if the room is large enough. Thus, it’s possible to have five boxes being used by 20 cats. It’s especially helpful if the boxes are large as well as covered. Keeping them hidden in decorative enclosures is a great idea, too.

It’s a lot of work, but 21 boxes would be worse. Simply scoop all 5 boxes at least twice a day. Does it matter very much if you have to remove 20 solids from 20 boxes as opposed to five? Of course not.

But there is an interesting aspect to this, too. Even if 21 boxes were present, the cats still would favor one or two over all the others. And even that changes. As much as cats like routine, they do create variations of their own, and only they know why. We can only guess. They simply will not evenly distribute their wastes to all 21 boxes… not even to five. Instead, they choose to use their one or two favorites. If they did use all 21, you’d have 21 odor-generating stations. It’s better to keep it down to five.

Just as important as routine, along with diligent, frequent cleaning of all the boxes, is diet. What you feed them is a major factor in the quantity and “quality” of their waste. The lower the quality of the food, the greater the quantity of their waste, along with a huge increase in odor production.

This past year I changed my cats’ diet to a high quality dry food manufactured from alternative meats and no grains. It took a few months to adapt, but they happily eat the new food, and their waste odor is no longer an issue, nor is it as large or frequent. Therefore, even my workload has decreased. Some days, the “extra” box doesn’t even need to be scooped. Other days, they change their favorite spot and I have to scoop that box as often as 5 times in one day.

In the final analysis, we must learn to work with what we have, what the conditions dictate, and stop accepting all “words of wisdom” as the ultimate truth. Figure out what your own truth is.

Dr. RJ Peters started a rescue shelter in 2002 and wrote a book based on lessons learned from the thousand or so cats that lived there, including litter box usage in an “open shelter” space. Visit http://www.TheProblemCat.com to find How to Make Your Cat Adore You.

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