Are litter boxes just a way for pet supply companies to make extra money? What do wild cats do, anyway?

It turns out, litter boxes for cats are actually, in most cases, a necessity.

Do Cats Require a Litter Box?

Generally, yes, cats need a litter box. They have a strong instinct, even as kittens, to bury their waste. Without a litter box, you must give it easy access to the outdoors, but this can be dangerous, and inadvertently encouraging your cat to “hold it in” can cause health problems.

How Do Kittens Know How to Use a Litter Box?

Have you ever noticed you don’t really need to housetrain a cat? Somehow, they just seem to know how to use their litter box, even as little kittens.

This is because it is actually an instinct for cats to want to bury their waste to hide its scent.

So using the litter box itself is not exactly the instinct, but using something that allows them to easily bury their waste is, and a litter box fulfills that need. Cats recognize this, even at a young age, and are drawn to them to do their business.

Cat parents might show their kittens how to use the litter box, as well, however, it is generally observed that kittens seem to have an instinct for using something akin to a litter box.

What is Required of a Cat Litter Box?

The main requirements for a cat’s litter box are that it be big enough, that you have enough of them, and that it has clean litter inside of it.

The general rule of thumb for the size of the litter box is that it be at least one-and-a-half times the length of your cat, not including the length of your cat’s tail. Your cat should be able to get in and out and turn around within the box easily.

You also want the sides or walls to be tall enough so that your cat cannot easily (or accidentally) tip it over.

Make sure the top is high enough and comfortable for your cat to maneuver inside.

The litter should be clean and a type that your cat enjoys. Most cats prefer one to two inches of small, soft litter pellets.

Be sure to clean the waste and litter box frequently. The waste should be cleaned out at least once a day, and the litter should be completely replaced at least every two to three weeks.

The litter box should be wiped down and disinfected whenever the litter is replaced, as well.

Also, you should have at least one litter box per cat in your household.

What Happens If Your Cat Doesn’t Have a Litter Box?

If you do not provide your cat with a litter box, you – and your cat – could have some problems.

First of all, your cat has to go somewhere, so you might have some messes in your house.

Secondly, cats are naturally very clean animals. As mentioned, they prefer to be able to bury and hide their waste, so if you do not provide a proper place to do this, they may “hold it in” longer than they would normally.

This can cause serious health problems such as an increased risk of UTI, constipation, and other issues.

You also will have to provide them with some alternative, such as easy access to the outdoors.

You can do this either in the form of something like a “doggy door” or letting them in and out yourself.

If you let them in and out yourself, you will have to make sure that you are available frequently enough to do so, and at the times that your cat needs you to let them in and out.

Dangers of Letting Cats Outdoors

Giving your feline friend access to the outdoors introduces a host of problems, though.

The weather might not always be suitable or enjoyable for your cat to go out in. There might be rain, snow, hail, or mud. The ground and/or air might be either too hot or too cold.

There are also many dangers and pests outside. These could include large birds of prey, coyotes, bob cats, snakes, as well as pests such as fleas or even dangerous bugs such as ticks, poisonous spiders, and others.

Stray or feral cats wandering the neighborhood could fight with your cat or give it a disease.

Another danger lurking outside is poisoned animals. Some people leave poison out to kill rats, mice, or other pests. Other animals such as lizards might eat the poison, too.

Any of these animals are typical prey for a cat. If your cat ingests a poisoned animal, then your cat is, sadly, extremely likely to be poisoned, as well.

Why Is My Cat Not Using Its Litter Box?

As discussed, cats have a strong instinct to want to use a litter box or something like it, so if your cat is not using its litter box, there may be an underlying health reason or some other reason for this behavior.

You can try troubleshooting to make sure there is not something about the litter box itself that your cat is objecting to. Are you cleaning it enough? Is the litter box big enough and in a comfortable and accessible location for your cat?

If everything with the box and litter itself seem fine, check with your veterinarian to see if there might be something else that is wrong or bothering your cat.

Your cat may have a urinary tract infection or some other health issue that your veterinarian can address and care for.

Very rarely, there may be some cats who never seem to learn to use a litter box. For these rare exceptions, it would be best to speak with a veterinarian or cat behaviorist to determine what may be the issue and how best to deal with it.

Must Cats Have a Litter Box?

Yes, cats either need to have a litter box or have easy access to the outdoors. Even as kittens, cats have a strong instinct to bury their waste. Also, if your cat holds in their business, it can cause serious health problems, and letting them outdoors instead poses many dangers.