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Troubleshooting Litter Tray Troubles

Litter tray troubles are surprisingly common with cats, and can even be a reason people rehome them (let the next person deal with it, eh?!), but there are some very simple things we can do to provide a good litter tray setup for our feline friends! Running a specialist cat sitting service, we've tried out most types of litter and related products!

There are of course exceptions to everything, and what works for one cat, may not work for yours, so, as they say, "if it's not broken, don't try and fix it!" (or something like that!). Please feel free to share our blog with any pet parents who may benefit from the advice we share!

Q: Do I really need to give my cat a litter tray, even if they go out?

A: Ideally, yes. It's good to give our cats a choice. There could be adverse weather, or a conflict with a neighbourhood cat, making them not want to go out, so it's beneficial for them to have access to all of the resources they need inside their home environment. It's also advised we keep our cats safely indoors overnight, as this is when RTAs (Road Traffic Accidents) are most common, so litter trays would be necessary.

Q: How many trays should I provide?

A: It's recommended we give our cats 1 litter tray each, plus one extra. This might sound excessive, however, it means we can place each tray in a different area of the home to give them options, and as cats dislike using soiled trays, this may help them not get too dirty before you do your next scoop!

Q: How big is big enough?

A: Litter trays should be at least 1.5 the length of your cat. If you look at the litter trays on offer in most pet shops, you'll see they don't come anywhere near that! As a great alternative, have a look at shallow storage containers (without the lid!) - the type you may use as underbed storage. These can work brilliantly as litter trays, and our boy has one he very regularly uses.

Q: What type of litter?

A: Each cat may have a preference on litter type. From experience, we find clumping litter far more economical and easier to use, as we can scoop out whole clumps of urine, saving the remaining clean litter, whereas with non-clumping litter, it's not as easy to remove urine, and the whole tray has to be emptied far more regularly. We like using natural, biodegradable material (not clay), clumping litter, and it's important to go for one which isn't too dusty, as that could cause respiratory problems, and cats generally prefer non-fragranced products. There are other varieties on the market, such as silica litter, however, this can be quite sharp, and we've heard of at least one cat getting a piece lodged in their pad, and having to have it removed by a vet! If you have multiple trays (as all of us cat parents ideally would!), why not have a different type of litter in each, to give your cat the choice and some variation? The other thing I'll add, is when you first adopt your cat, you could ask what type of litter they're used to, as it may help them settle in with as many familiar things as possible, and you can transition if you want to, once they're acclimatised.

Q: How much litter?

A: Cats often instinctively bury their waste, to conceal where they've been, so ensure you give them enough litter to do so. Generally, at least a few centimeters. Some cats don't cover their waste, which can help to mark their territory, or can sometimes be an indication of health problems, so it's important to keep a close eye on your cat's toileting habits, and watch for any subtle changes.

Q:To line, or not to line?

A: In general, we feel tray lines are more trouble than they're worth. They often rip anyway, so litter leaks through and it's a struggle to empty them using the liner as a bag, and cats easily get their nails caught in them, which can be another thing which puts them off from using the tray.

Q: How often to scoop?

A: Ideally, at least twice each day, but the more, the better, and the cleaner their trays will be. Their trays should be fully emptied and disinfected with a cat safe disinfectant (and allowed to dry fully) regularly too, as bacteria can live on the litter tray, especially in the grooves they leave on the tray with their nails.

Q: Any particular type of scoop?

A: For clumping litter, you will need a slotted scoop, which allows the clean litter to fall through, and for non-clumping litter, a solid scoop, which helps with scooping out urine (you may also want a slotted scoop for faeces). We got a really robust metal cat litter scoop, and it sounds ridiculous, but it's honestly life changing! It's completely reliable, no flexing or snapping, which can happen with flimsy plastic scoops, so something to consider, to make your job easier!

Q: Covered trays, or not?

A: Being a prey species, cats like to be able to look out for 'danger', so many prefer non-covered trays. Another issue with covered trays, is they tend to hold smells inside them, which can be very off putting for the cat. I liken it to a port-a-loo at a festival for us...not pleasant!! On the contrary, covered or even top loading litter boxes can be useful if you have dogs in the home, who may like to help themselves to the delights in the litter (yuck!)! Obviously, there may be some training needed to prevent the pup from doing this, and there are a couple of other products to prevent this, including straps which attach to the door and doorframe, only allowing it to open a certain amount (enough for a cat to get in, but not enough for a medium to large dog), as well as baby gates with build in cat flaps-genius! If you want or need to use a covered litter box, ensure it's one with very good ventilation (you could even drill some additional holes in the top, and scoop/empty it very regularly to keep it clean.

Q: Where should I put their trays?

A: Again, similarly to the above question, because cats like to be able to keep a watch whilst they're in a bit of a vulnerable situation(!), trays should be placed in quiet places in the home, but with a clear view. So not a high traffic area, but equally not shoved right into a corner. With multiple trays, it's good to put them in different areas and levels of the home, so they've got plenty of choice. Our boy has one in his 'bedroom', in the living room, and also in his catio run. It's also vital to keep their litter trays well away from their food and water sources! Do you like tucking in to your lasagne whilst in the bathroom?! If you do, well, we won't ask, but cats need these resources completely separate!!

Q: What about litter robots?!

A: I can see why someone may go for these, however, these are often quite small and confined, with the same issues as normal covered litter boxes, so may hold the smell in, depending on how the waste is stored, and I believe some come with a crinkly liner, which the cat shouldn't get their claws through, but the texture could put them off. If you do invest in one, I'd recommend still providing additional non-covered litter trays, so they still have the option.

Q: Do I need to make any adaptations for older or poorly cats?

A: Depending on you litter tray setup, you may need to make things easier for the oldies who might struggle with mobility, etc. If they have problems with climbing into their tray, you may need to carefully cut a lower entrance for them-please ensure you leave no sharp edges by sanding well. Large, shallow trays will be most beneficial for them, with extras added, in case they get 'caught short'!

Q: My cat keeps having accidents outside of their tray or around the house!

A: Firstly, VET! If you find your cat is suddenly having lots of accidents, frequently visits their litter trays, or seem to be straining, please, please book them a vet appointment straight away. It could be a sign of a urinary infection, crystals, or a blockage, and should not be left, as these can be fatal if not quickly treated. If you get the 'all clear' from your vet, you can then work your way through the above ideas in this blog to potentially improve your cat's litter tray setup, and prevent future problems.


Amity Cat Care (T/A Amity Pet Care) run a stress-free, in-home cat sitting service in the East Surrey area, specialising in 'Fearful Felines'. For more information, please visit our website:

Amity Pet Care hold no liability for any misuse of advice, and pet owners must assess what is safe and suitable for their individual pet. Please seek veterinary advice or attention with any concerns about your pet's health or wellbeing.

© Amity Pet Care 2011-2022 All Rights Reserved.

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