How often should you change your cat litter? We spoke to two experts to find out
It’s a task most cat owners like the least, and we all know that keeping a clean cat litter tray is important - but how often should you clean it? We asked two top cat experts to find out.
Like with all pets, owning a cat comes with chores. There’s grooming, feeding, watering, and the picking up of their many cat toys. Out of all of these chores, the most unpleasant of them is usually the cleaning of the cat’s litter tray.
Despite being difficult, this undesirable job is very important because not cleaning your cat’s litter tray frequently can trigger a number of health issues in your cat. It can also make your feline stressed and affect the cleanliness of other areas inside your home. So, how often should you be cleaning your litter to avoid these risks?
To help answer this question, we’ve got help from two experts who have shed some light on the cleaning and management of cat litter. Whether you’re a new or seasoned cat owner, their expertise can help you learn the best litter tray practices to safeguard you, your pet, and your home.
Our cat experts
Our two cat experts have several decades' worth of experience between them and know all there is to know when it comes to looking after cats. They have helped explain why you should be cleaning your cat litter, how often, and the risks to you and your pet if you don’t do so frequently enough.
Our first expert who has lent us a helping hand is Dr Jo Myers, a veterinary advisor for Vetster. Dr Myers has nearly thirty years of clinical experience as a veterinary technician and a small animal veterinarian. She studied Veterinary Science at Iowa State University and now spends her time helping pet owners as a vet.
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Adding to Dr Myers’ expertise is our second expert, Paul Trott. He is the UK Marketing Manager at the pet care company Catit. Here he uses his expertise in cats to help the company look after felines across the world. Paul has decades' worth of experience in the cat and pet sector and has shared with us some of his best tips regarding litter trays.
What is cat litter?
Before starting to think about cleaning litter trays, it's important to know what cat litter actually is. Cat litter is a granular material put inside a tray which is used to absorb a cat's urine and mask the smell of its waste. It can be made from several materials, but the most popular are clay, wood, paper, or silica gel.
The different materials offer different properties, which you can then match to your personal preference. There is clumping cat litter, for example, which is made from clay that forms solid clumps when wet, making it easy to scoop out waste and keep the litter tray clean. On the other hand, non-clumping litter doesn't form clumps but still absorbs moisture and odour effectively.
Other types of cat litter include crystal litter, which is made from silica gel and has excellent moisture absorption properties, and recycled paper litter, which is eco-friendly and biodegradable. It's worth noting that some cats may have preferences for certain types of litter, so experimenting could be a good option to help you find the perfect litter for your furry friend.
How often should you clean your cat litter tray?
The frequency you should clean your cat's litter tray and replace the litter depends on a number of factors, including the number of cats in your household, the type of litter tray you use, and the type of litter you use.
There are two different stages of cleaning litter boxes, with ‘scooping’ referring to the removal of a small part of the litter when the cat has relieved itself in that area. There is then the full replacement of a litter box where the whole litter is thrown out and replaced by fresh litter.
Cat expert Paul Trott gave some recommendations on the best time frames for both cleaning stages. “Firstly, I recommend scooping your cat litter box on a daily basis to prevent odours from building up. Scooping the litter box daily will also keep it hygienic and encourage your cat to continue using it as intended.
“As we know, the fuller the box is, the more inclined your cat may be to hold it in, potentially leading to health problems, or do their business somewhere else in the house.”
When it comes to completely changing the litter for a full replacement, Paul says that “it is recommended that you change all the litter once every two weeks and clean the entire litter box in the process. This is because, after a while, your litter will absorb the smell of the pee and poop in the box.”
Dr Myers also gave her view on how frequently litter should be changed. “Daily cleaning/scooping is the general recommendation, but it’s fine to do it more often. Some cats don’t like to use a litter tray that has been ‘contaminated’ by even a single use. It might even be helpful to have extra trays on hand to ensure that a cat always has a clean tray available.”
Why should you clean your cat litter tray?
Some of the risks of not cleaning your cat’s litter come about only after a week or two. It isn’t really a question as to whether you should or shouldn’t clean your litter. It’s more of a warning as to the risks if you don’t do so frequently enough.
If you aren’t a regular litter tray cleaner, then the risks can affect both owner and cat in different ways. To help us understand this more, our experts shared some of the most important reasons to keep on top of your litter tray cleaning.
Paul Trott explained that this is one of the most obvious reasons to regularly clean your cat litter tray. “I recommend scooping your cat litter box regularly because it will help prevent odours from building up inside your home. This will mean that your house is kept clear of nasty smells that might come about if you don’t clean frequently enough.”
Dr Myers explained that cats are super clean creatures, so will notice when things become dirty and will then avoid these. This can have the potential to put them off using the litter tray if you don’t clean it, with Dr Myers telling us that “the most common potential consequence of failing to keep the tray clean is that using it becomes unappealing to the cat.
“As a result, the cat is likely to go elsewhere in the house. House soiling is one of the most common behavioural problems reported by cat owners, and also a major reason for owners feeling they can no longer look after their cat.”
Paul added to this, saying that “providing your cat with a clean litter tray is important for their health and wellbeing. A dirty litter tray may put your cat off from using it and increase the risk of accidents around the home which can be stress-inducing for both cat and owner.”
Your cat’s comfort and stress
Paul said that the cat’s comfort and stress levels are put at risk with a dirty litter tray. He said: “Cats are notoriously clean creatures and can be particular about their toilet habits, meaning that a clean and private litter tray will allow them to happily do their business in a stress-free manner. Having to wait to relieve themselves can also cause stress, as can any health defects/risks that arise when the owner doesn’t clean the litter tray.
Overall, both experts had a similar stance and as a general rule of thumb, they recommended scooping out solid waste and clumps of urine at least once a day. They then advised replacing the litter entirely every one to two weeks.
However, if you have multiple cats, you may need to clean the litter tray more frequently to prevent overcrowding and maintain hygiene. When replacing the litter completely, they also recommended washing the actual tray to prevent the build-up of bacteria.
You and your cat’s health
Paul Trott explained that it isn’t just the smell you should worry about but also your cat’s health. He said: “A dirty litter box can not only smell bad in your home, but it can also harbour dangerous bacteria.
“These have the potential to cause your cat health problems such as intestinal worms, ammonia toxicity, urinary infections, and viruses. In addition, the bacteria found in cat faeces can sometimes cause illnesses in humans too, with children, pregnant women, and those with low immune systems being especially susceptible to falling ill.”
Dr Myers explained another potential safety risk if you don’t clean your litter tray. “Urinary tract diseases are common in cats, and cats are more likely to get these when they can’t find a place to wee. If your cat finds that their litter tray is dirty, it will hold its urine because it can’t find what they perceive to be a suitable place to go. This puts their safety at risk because it increases their risk of developing lower urinary tract disease.”
Want to read more expert-recommended pet product round-ups and guides? Check out our Pets page for a full list of recommendations, including our list of the best cat toys, the best cat food, and if catnip is safe for your cat.
Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.