Litter Box Questions Answered by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM – Podcast and Interview

Litter Box Questions Answered by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM – Podcast and Interview

Originally published May 9, 2012

A sincere thanks to Dr. Jean for taking the time to talk about litter box problems.

You can learn more about cat health by reading Dr. Jean’s book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care: An Illustrated Handbook.

You can learn more from Jean’s website as well, Little Big Cat.

We’ve now done several interviews with Dr. Jean, feel free to check any of them out:

You can listen to the recorded version here: Litter Box Questions Answered by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM – Podcast


Here is our conversation:

JENNY: Today we are gonna discuss litter box, questions and issues with Dr. Jean Hofve and today is April 17th 2012. Dr. Hofve or Dr. Jean, what I like to call you, thank you for doing this.

What do you recommend for a litter box starter kit? For example, if someone is getting their first cat.

DR.JEAN: Well, I recommend getting a bigger box, say you are adopting the big adult cat or Maine Coon or something, you wanna a box big enough for the big cat to feel comfortable in and that often is not just a storage box because a litter box that doesn’t always work. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box a little bit – I like the big Rubbermaid ones.  There are several brand make it, Sterlite make some and there are in any number of sizes and heights. The box my cats prefer over any other is an under bed storage box. You know, it’s big, the size comes up about the right height, they can step in and out and they really like it.

JENNY: Okay. And what type of litter and your preference of litter scoop?

DR.JEAN: Scoops, I too have preferences, funny because I don’t like very many other ones that I have had. I had a great one that was unbreakable but it sifted too fine, the spaces between the tines were too skinny and it turned the litter into dust, so it didn’t last a long. You know, sometimes the cheap generic scoops are the best. The other thing that works really well is a long handled spoon, you know the kind you would dish out vegetables.  It’s a big wide spoon that has flap in it for draining, so like if you are gonna pull lot of peas out of water, it would be kind of scoop you will have for that. Those work really well, they’re metals that last forever, they are easy to clean. You know that’s a pretty nice nice solution there.

At far as what type of litter you know there are so many litters now. I had to go to the store for friend of mine, when she hurt herself doing something and I was sorta taking care (she had a elbow surgery) and that was amazing, I walked into the big box pet store, and my mouth hit the floor, that was like “Oh my God” because it was the whole back wall of the store was full of cat litter options. There’s like, “Oh my God, how do people even choose”, I had marching orders and so, I could get in and out fast but…

Well let’s say they fall into three main categories: clay and that includes scoopable clay, the Dr. Elsey’s type.  The really fine Johnny cat stuff.  Non-clumping but not clay and then there is the renewable resource. Litter is like the corn or wheat based, now there’s Blue Buffalo just came out with a litter that is made of Walnut shells, I’m trying to bag that, right now I’m trying to see, how well they like that.  They don’t have seem to be bothered by it – I have got a bunch of it mixed in with some of the corn litter, the disadvantage of that is, it makes things hard to see because it is dark and would be hard to track down some of the deposits so we see.

It seems to work ok mixing it with a lighter color litter but still, I’m not crazy about the color, you know that’s just the personal observation just makes it a little harder for me. I think it is probably fine, it seems to be as absorbent as anything else. And then there other pelleted litter like Yesterday’s News, Feline Pine. Most cats don’t like that stuff, you want to walk on something soft, they want something they can bury, and make it go away, you know and pelleted litters don’t really do that. And lot of the time I recommend for declawed cats, I can’t think of anything dumber than putting giant, hard rocks in the litter box and asking a cat after surgery to walk on. There’s a non-surgical solution to every problem for which we would declaw a cat. So, don’t go there.

I used to recommend for Swheat Scoop but they started promoting it for declawing and when you promote something for declawing, you are promoting declawing. So, I don’t support that particular company any more, but there’s getting to be so many choices out there.

JENNY: As far as choices are concerned, if you’re adopting a kitten compared to a cat, are there certain litters you would recommend more over for a kitten than you would a cat?

DR.JEAN: Yeah, I would use a good clumping litter because kittens have a tendency to tromp through pretty much anything and if they’ve got furry feet that can track a lot of litter around, they can get bits of used litter on their feet which they will lick off. So, you wanna make sure that you keep litter boxes really, really clean especially for kittens. And I think any other clumping, the softer clumping litters would be fine for a young cat.

JENNY: One of the most common problems that I hear about, is a cat peeing in the litter box but pooping outside of it. Have you ever heard of that? And if so, what are the solutions that worked?

DR.JEAN: If cat wants two litter box, let’s give them two litter box. The litter box size and placements and style, it’s not really up to you, it’s up to your cat. If your cat doesn’t like the box or where you put it or what’s going on, you are the one who’s gonna be sorry!

So you have to let the cat choose. If they want to pee in one and poop in another that may mean that there’s something about that litter box, that it’s too small or that it’s not in the right place. The experts recommend that one box per cat plus one. So, even a multiple cat household you may very well need two boxes. And especially if you have an older cat and you have a multi-level house, then you have to have litter box on each floor, because you know, if you were 80, and someone said “You’ve gotta use the outhouse grandma”. I’d say “you know I am the gonna go right here on this couch”.

You have cower to the cat’s choice, they are the ones who are going to determine where the final spot is because it has to be with their approval otherwise you gonna have a way worse issues.

The other thing that sometimes works with these pee in one and poop in another is that the boxes just aren’t big enough and I like those giant Rubbermade tubs.  If you have an older cat,  you can cut a whole out of one end so that they have a lower entry way. The higher sides often, keep things more confined that it’s a big enough box, they may go ahead and say that’s “ Fine” and it keeps them kicking litter from hither to yon which is always an advantage.

JENNY: Yeah. I agree with that one.

DR.JEAN: My partner, Jackson recommends getting a real life garbage can, like a plastic covered one so that the cat can enter and exit. That seems a little over kill to me because those Rubbermade boxes…I don’t mean to promote Rubbermade all that much, but, they were the first ones to come up with those storage tubs and I think actually their plastic as well is easier to keep clean and it doesn’t smell as badly like some of the other ones so I guess I do want them to promote them after all.

JENNY: Well, speaking of absorbing smells and that sort of thing, I did an interview once upon a time with Dr. Elsey and I think he suggested, I’d have to look back at the interview, but I think he suggested changing out the plastic litter boxes at least once a year or every two years?

DR.JEAN: Yeah. I would say so, because they do tend to start holding smells after a while because if the cat is scratching in it it’s making abrasions with the scratch marks at the bottom of the box and that can eventually start to get pretty stinky.

Now there’s couple thing you gotta remember about litter boxes. One is that the older and more used they are, sometimes the more the cat likes it because litter boxes are sent havens because it’s where they can most clearly say “this spot is mine”. So, some cat get really confused and disoriented when you clean their litter box, or if you clean it too good or if you clean it so that there’s not one iota of their smell left in it, they don’t necessarily like that so much. If you have an issue with territorial peeing or pooping you might wanna think twice before you go on a cleaning binge, now of course cleanliness is extremely important, but I quit using bleach and some of those things who really altered the smell in favor of just soap.  Maybe it’s really stinky spray a little bit of urine deodorizer over it, but not try to completely eradicate their smell because there is something comforting about their own smell being in a place .  And even cats urinating outside the box, they will always back go to places as long as there is a smell there. So, let’s establish the smell inside the box and let them go there. You know, that’s really how they’re hard wired what to do. So, we can work with those instincts and really work against them and screw things up.

JENNY: So, what sort of products do you recommend to clean a litter box without cleaning everything but you’re also helping the human nose not suffer?

DR.JEAN: Yeah. Well you do want to clean and just regular soap and water.  The less scented the better.  For a long time I used Mr. Clean just because I had it handy, you know I mean of course it’s best to use a more holistic cleaner – you know a cleaner that’s eco-friendly like 7th Generation something like that.

You know, you gonna use a lot of it over the life time of that litter box, so you try and get something relatively eco-friendly and something that rinses off very well.  Not all will rinse off really well. For smell control, I am in love with this stuff called “Zero Odor” Dr. Neck Dodmann introduced that to me. And it’s really interesting and I’ve been finally using it for years, and of course, and now I finally read the directions last week and it’s good with any kind of odor I have used it for trash can, you know it’s too cold to go and wash the thing out – at least I can damn down the smell. It’s really good for diaper pails and any of that nature thing you’ve got.

And he says to spray it on new litter when you fill up the box and it will repel and disintegrate the smell as the cat uses it. And you can spray it in the air above it so you’re not really interfering with what the cat is smelling down on the litter but it’s clear outs the air over that cat box completely.

You know, I have two litter boxes here in my office. If I were more flexible I could lean over and touch them. But I very rarely have the problem, unless it very fresh if somebody before they covered it up. I don’t have lot of odor with these boxes in here and it’s a small room. So I have been very pleased with that stuff.

I also like FON and PON which Puppy or Feline Odor Neutralizer they’re the exactly same thing in the different bottle. Nature’s Miracle – I don’t know many people that like that.

There are other products like Anti Icky Poo with really funny names, you know, that are actually pretty good. Another one I like a lot is called X-O, just a big X dash O, it does leave a little odor for few minutes. So, you know, you’ve gotten the spot because it got its own odor, and this whole thing disintegrates in few minutes that’s a really good one too.

JENNY: What are the some biggest mistakes that owner makes about litter and litter boxes, that causes improper elimination?

DR.JEAN: Well. There are lot, there are lot of mistakes that you can make and I think people have made, every single one of them.  If do not put the litter box in a place where a cat will use it, I have heard lots of stories where people have a utility room and they put the box in the utility room, and the cat was in the box and the buzzer on the dryer went off, when the cat was 3 inches away from it. Most cats will not go back to use that box, ever. So, you have to think about, that’s a quite nice room right now but what happens if your washer spin cycle shakes the room to pieces, then the cats not gonna use that box. Does the whole family live upstairs and cat box is in the basement. Guess what, the cat is not likely to go to that trouble. I tried to move the litter box out into the garage once, I had younger cats at time and I thought, “OK, well the weather is a little better and we can put a cat door in the garage door and they can go out there. Well the next thing that happen was that I woke up my cat to see my cat peeing on me, in the bed. So, that was obviously not a hit. That litter box placement was a no go and I had to move it back into the bedroom, and I was happy with that because the alternative was pretty bad.

JENNY: Yeah. I’d say.

DR.JEAN: They’ll definitely let you know when something is not right if the boxes aren’t right, then they will not use it. I think cleanliness is the biggest mistake, I caution you against being too clean but being not clean enough is clearly the number 1 reason why cats won’t use the box. You think about the last time that you were on a hike on a really very hot day, you got back to the end of the trail and there is a wretched, disgusting outhouse. Well you’re probably gonna hold it for really long time before you go in there, or you’re going to find a convenient tree or bush and your cat is not gonna react any nicer to a stinky, rotten litter box as you would to at stinky rotten outhouse.

So, if you think about it, the cat does everything with its feet and the nose of your average cat is about 4″ off that litter. So, when your cat goes and digs around in that and wafts that delectable smell towards their nose, they’re not gonna go there.  They’re going to say, “Ew! This is not acceptable, just not acceptable conditions.” I see a lot of problems with the litter box liners because cats will snag their claws on them, you know they don’t like that experience either, they don’t like getting caught on something in there.

And the other big mistake is having a lid on the box that makes you forget about cleaning the box. And that’s probably your number 1 because now, your nose is 4″ from the litter and you shut the door of the outhouse to hold that skink is confined to that one little place. You know, I actually said to a client once, “so, tell me about your litter box cleanliness”.  He said, “Well, it could be better I guess”. So I said, “Be your cat, I said, you pretend you’re cat, you get down there and put your nose 4 inches a way and put your bare hand in there and rummage around in there. And if you will do it, why would your cat?” So, it’s got to be clean enough for you to stick your hand in there and I’m telling you the truth because you can wash your hand but if it’s way too gross to even you think about it, then it’s too gross for your cat.

JENNY: Yes, I agree. You know I work from home, so I have the capability of scooping the litter boxes several times a day. But what do you recommend as far as, minimum amount of scooping?

DR.JEAN: Minimum – once a day, I mean you can’t be that lazy. Occasionally, you know that something’s gonna comes up and it’s just not gonna be done. Now if you were on the every other day schedule then not doing it for a day makes a huge problem. So, plan to scoop every day, if once in a while you don’t get to it then it’s not a lost cause. But if it gets too gross, you will end up with a bigger mess, you’re going to have to change out the litter and you gonna have to wash the box. You know save yourself in the long run, yeah it takes 2 minutes – would you rather spend 10 minutes tomorrow or 2 minutes today. It’s just all about common sense really, Jenny.

JENNY: Yeah, I agree. I am trying to ask the, “I don’t have a cat type questions.” What kind of litter do you use?

DR.JEAN: I use World’s Best. It’s made from corn. There are number copycats coming on the market and I have tried them and they are fine. You know, I like the corn based litter for few reasons – one is that it’s obviously very sustainable, we have more corn in this country than we know what to do with. So, the products like it, it’s gonna be useful, it’s already recycled by the time it gets to you, you are gonna recycle one more time before it’s done. You know I like the plant based stuff.

I am really not a fan of clay for several reasons. Now the first reason is, everybody has heard the Internet rumor about a cat ingesting a too much litter and getting a blockage in his intestines. There’s one case report like that and in that case the cat consumed a lot of the clay litter I think it was Maine Coon cat, it got a lot stuck on its feet and he consumed quite a bit. I think he may have been free styling in that litter too, just eating the litter – a lot of cats will do that.

Especially kittens, you know, they are curious. They get it that all over their face and you know, and this cat did develop a blockage that had to be surgically removed. Well, they didn’t like that and they changed back the cat, ate another bunch of the litter came in for another blockage. So owner said, “Screw this, euthanize the cat.”

That’s only case I know where litter choke the cat but it’s because their owners were too stupid but I will only refer to them as owners and not as guardians because they certainly did not do right by that cat. They were worst sort of idiots.

So, I am not fond of clay also because it’s dusty and even, of course all litters are dusty to some extent. I mean I have a fine layer of corn dust over few things near the litter boxes but it’s the character of the dust and the clay litter is silicon based and you know, silica is very abundant element and silica fragments are very sharp and when that dust gets into lungs, they can really cause problems and I have seen a lot of asthma as related to clay litter and especially the finer clay litters, you know.

The other thing is that it’s not a renewable resource.  Clay is mined, it’s strip mined, if you will and it’s environmentally devastating. I just don’t think it’s that healthy for a cat. I am hoping to move people to the more renewable resources to the stuff that is left over anyway, let’s make good use of it.  Let’s not tear up half of Kentucky to get to it.

JENNY: Right. So, with World’s Best Cat Litter, I know that they have a green bag, a red bad and a purple bag. The red bag is their multi cat and the purple bag is the lavender. I think  green’s the original, which one of those three do you use?

DR.JEAN: I have tried them all. I use the red, it’s the multi cat. And I don’t know why it’s different from the not multi cat,but it is.  I have a mental blocks against the red. I am not color blind or anything but I just, I like the green better. So, every once in awhile I buy the green bag by mistake, and I am sorry every time.  You’d think I would learn but it’s just such a pretty green.

JENNY: Yes, it is. They’ve got a phenomenal marketing agency behind them that does, I think a great job and just making it very attractive, visually. What about allergies, are there, I mean, I know that cats are allergic to corn.

DR.JEAN: No. it’s so rare. It’s really is. And some cats will eat this litter because with this litter is, is chicken feed and a lot of people have bought chick starter and put it in their litter box and I know that cats have been poisoned that way because they do eat the litter and it’s got stuff in it, you know they can get, they can get overdoses of minerals. I know one cat in particular that came in and she confessed, she was getting chick starter and I made her bring in the bag, and it had in it, Amprolium which is antiobiotic. Now that’s not something you want your cat walking around in and then taking his little stinky feet and walking on you and patting your face with the Amprolium. So, you know, cat poop I understand that there’s a layer of cat poop over everything in my house, you know but antiobiotic laiden cat poop just sounds so much worst to me.

JENNY: Yeah.  Ugh! I didn’t know about that.  That kind of freaks me out.

DR.JEAN: You get what you pay for and this stuff is more expensive.  There are some generics  coming out that are gonna be cheaper. But, you know, if I could find where the feed mills are getting their chicken feed before they add the vitamins and minerals and all the other junk that they put in it, that’d be great source.  If I lived in Kansas, I could probably pull that off. You know I am really happy to go down to the store and lay down for this stuff because it works and I will tell you, this stuff is dusty too but when I switched to this litter my asthma cleared up to about 99%. I always scoop once a day and I was spending all that time on the dust that cat were. So, that really convinced me that clay litter is, it’s 2012, it’s 21st century – it may be the end of the world but you know get your cat a decent litter.

I have to say that my very favorite litter is half and half, half scooping clay and half, World’s Best. I like the texture – it clumps a little better but I don’t want that clay in my house. And the reason I know that is because I periodically go to the store and I buy 10 kinds of litter and so my cats are the test subjects. I just did that last year and you know when I got to that 50-50 mix, I I said, “I do really like that”, but it isn’t in good form. So, I won’t do it.

JENNY: Yeah. I have done that before, I mean when I tried World’s Best Cat Litter on my cats, you know it’s my understanding that the best way to go about switching litter is to do 1/4 of the  new with 3/4s of the old and the next week half and half and then the final and the third week…

DR.JEAN: Yeah, it’s not that precise. When I start him on a new litter, I put just like a half cup.

JENNY: OH! Of the new litter?

DR.JEAN: Yeah. I stir it in, just a little bit. I go very gradually with the cats. My cats have this done to them so often, you know I can come in and put a new litter down and they’ll use it.

JENNY: Yup, mine too!

DR.JEAN: But if you have a cat that’s really stuck on one thing, you know he’s a picky eater, he doesn’t like her life interrupted or rearranged at all. Just do it really gradually, I mean what’s your hurry?  Let your cat dictate your pace, you know maybe you want to put, like a cup of the new litter just in one corner. And see if the cat avoids that corner like the plague and kind of gets into it, you know you have to experiment around. When you have cats that are peeing outside the box, pay attention to what kind of surface they are peeing on and you know if they’re peeing on something that’s really soft like the middle of your bed, I think you’d definitely gonna want to go with the fine grind, clumping litters and you may need to go with a clay litter temporarily because clay litters are, they can grind them down finer and they are little softer on their little paw pads. So, you know, you’ve gotta experiment. I have done the litter smorgasbord more times than I can count. You know, I thought those litter pearls were really cool idea that they would absorb the urine right into the little balls and lock it away. But I couldn’t imagine the cat walking on that and sure enough the adult cats wouldn’t have anything to do with it, and the kittens just wanted to play in it because there were all these little balls!

JENNY: Right, that’s hilarious. What’s the deal with a pregnant women and scooping litter boxes?

DR.JEAN: Well, pregnant women had to have help getting there, so that help has to be doing the litter boxes. What’s the skinny is about it, is that, it’s actually pretty safe if you are paying attention. The reason is Toxoplasma which is an amoeba type parasite. And the cats that are exposed to it will shed it in their feces for about three weeks. Now if your cat has never gone outdoors, never eaten raw meat, you have no worries. If the cat eating raw meat, if it’s out hunting, then you do have to worry. But you have to understand the life cycle of this thing. And the cat will only shed it once in its lifetime and that’s only with an acute infection and even those  insects are coming out in the poop, they are not infected. It takes 24 to 48 hours for them to become infectious. So, if you scoop daily and don’t let the poop sit in there more than 24 hours, you’d never gonna have a problem. But if you’re paranoid, wear a mask and wash your hands. If you’re are really paranoid go get yourself tested Toxoplasma antibodies because 30% of us already have them. And if you’ve been already exposed then it isn’t a problem. It’s only a problem in the first trimester with a new exposure to a women that have never been exposed before which if you’re ever gardened or eaten steak tartar, then you have.  It is a terrible consequence if you screw up because it causes severe, severe birth defects but if it’s a short exposure window and if you’re diligent about cleaning the box, there’s no problem, you can get it.

JENNY: Okay. That’s interesting, I didn’t know all these details, that’s really interesting.

DR.JEAN: It’s a fascinating little bug. It’s a pretty smart little bug. It’s everywhere in the environment and I think more women are exposed to it through eating undercooked meat than ever to cats. If they pooped in the dirt maybe because 85 generations of cats have pooped in the dirt but pretty much if you count on it being in any dirt on the planet,  you can count on it being Toxoplasma. You know it’s a little bit of reasonable caution. You know, the problem is, women doesn’t necessarily know that they are pregnant for most of the first trimester. So, it’s a good habit to always scoop daily and then you will never have a problem.

JENNY: Another reason, why you should scoop daily.

DR.JEAN: Those are very good reasons.

JENNY:  Yes. Is there any sort of, for example I brush my cats’ teeth and I always brush them after I brush mine, so that it’s a routine and I always know and remember to do it. Can you give us a scenario or have you ever suggested the clients that forget to scoop their litter box some sort of remainder that they do on a daily basis, anyway?

DR.JEAN: That’s a good thought. I would think, cat pee on your pillow would probably be a good reminder. You should have to learn that one, more than once.

I have had people that have had problems with, you know, just in their general litter box – the cat poops on the bathroom rug right next to it – then look for some litter that is that texture of the bathroom rug.  I had a cat and when I put down a rug anywhere she would pee on it. It was a pee magnet. What did I do? I stop putting rugs down! Well, people say “well, it pees on my laundry!”  Well, “Where’s your laundry?”  “On your floor.”  Well, then, “Pick up your laundry!”

We bring these animals into our life but we have to honor their spirit, and we have to honor their methods of communication and we have to follow their rules if we want everybody to get along. You know, if you’re not willing to go that little distance maybe you should get a gold fish.

JENNY:  Yeah. You know, I recently interviewed Dr. Temple Grandin. And she, one of the most memorable things about that interview for me was, she said that “cats are very sensory based animals, so if you are having a problem with them you’re really hone in on the smells, the feels, the sounds because all of that is gonna effect the behavior”. So, I mean, you’ve already said all that, find a litter that is similar to what they peeing on because that’s a touch sense and then if there are issues with peeing outside the litter box then maybe, it’s not clean, so that’s the smell issue. And you got a sound issue that you described with the buzzer going off on the drier, for example. 

DR.JEAN: You really have to look at it and that’s, my partner Jackson Galaxy is so brilliant at. He can really look at things from the cat’s point of view and Temple Grandin does that too. She looks at the things from the animal point of view and she can see what the problems are because she sees the thinks like the animals. But I happened to disagree with about everything she says in her chapter about cats.

JENNY:  Really?  In the book with the dog on the front?, which I can’t remember the name of right now.  (The book is Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals).

DR.JEAN: Yeah. She said a lot of annoying things about cats in there and one of these days, I read on article refuting the whole thing but she obviously, she said she did research by asking people who had cats. Well people who have cats are not a good source of information because most people who have cats don’t really understand the cats. The cat makes tremendous concessions to get along with us, really. The least we can do, is try and see it from their point of view and see, if they’re spraying around doors and windows, well then you have problem outside that the cats are responding to. Maybe you have a mountain lion walking in your yard or something, in my neighborhood that’s entirely possible.

JENNY:  Not in mine.

DR.JEAN: I’m in bloody downtown in Denver, we had a mountain lion, sighted 10 blocks from here. So, you know this is dead smack middle of the city. So, no matter where you’re, you’re in Los Angeles or in New York, you think you don’t have coyotes or things walking around – WRONG. So, some cats are very protective and they see an unusual animal or even just another cat, half by their vision they are going to batten down the hatches and reinforce all their defenses which is, spray everything in sight.

If that cat tries to come in, then you are going to smack into a wall of my pee, and that’s gonna be the end of it. You know, that’s their thought process, they’re very territorial, and the litter boxes often are an issue of contention in a multi cat home. You just have to have lots of litter boxes all over the place.

I have one shy cat and three other cats, two of whom are bullies and so she has to have a litter box close to her refuge where she hangs out which is on the chair behind my desk. She needs to know that she is not going to be ambushed.  She needs that box right in the middle of the freakin’ room with a wide view of anybody coming and that’s her preference. You know the boys prefer the one under the dining room table because there’s a table cloth that hangs down. We don’t eat at that table by the way, don’t worry. They like it, because it is a little more private and sheltered and they seem to like that better. It’s how the cat was raised as a kitten, two of mine were raised, you know, in the house, for the first 8 weeks and the other two were born feral.

So, their experiences around elimination marking is going to be very different. You have to look at all of that, try and see like a cat, try and get behind their eyes and look it, from there. You know, get one of the little cameras and put it on their collars, so you can see the cats sniffing the litter and walking away, you know you got a problem. You know, you have to see things from their point of view and you have to think of things from the stand point of their predators but they are also prey, they’re small. And owls and eagles and foxes and coyotes and birds, will all snack on a cat.

So, not that there are that many lions and tigers and bears in the neighborhood but that’s how they think, they have to be thinking like a prey animal. So, it’s something disturbs them at the moment when they are doing their due diligence and then you know that can be a huge disruption and cause the cat never to go back at that box so. It’s not a bad idea to have a second backup just in case. And for some cats, it’s gonna have to be in the middle of the bedroom and that’s just how it is and for some cats it’s gonna have to be in the kitchen and that’s just how it is because the cat is the final determiner.  You can try lots of things to change their minds and I encourage you to do so. But what they decide is what it is.

JENNY:  Yeah, absolutely. That’s pretty much sums up the questions that I had. Is there something that I should have asked you that forgot to?

DR.JEAN: Well, let’s talk a minute about a new litter boxes like Littermaid – the mechanical boxes. Someone sent me one to try, it’s called Litter Spinner and it’s very clever, it’s look like a big tire and the scoop is built in.  So, you can turn the box around a few times, you just rotate it few times to dislodge the chunks in the box. And they will fall into this little catcher and then you just pull off the catcher and empty into the bin. You don’t have to handle anything. Well, I think it’s a great idea.

They did figure out that they should have had a kind of second door into the back so the cat in a multi cat home, can be assured that they are not getting trapped in the box. And the hole is bit small, I have big cats and they’ll go in it but they aren’t that keen on it.  But the real key is that they have never had a covered litter box. This box is not going to go over with cats who are not used to go into something. They will use it just to be different now and then but I can see if it was a little different configurement, the hole in the back, they can walk through and through, you know – they can’t get cornered in it because there’s a back door. I think that’ll be a much better product. Littermaid is another one that, you know it’s a mechanical box. It’s theoretically waits 10 minutes after last cat was in it, well if you have a lot of cats, it could only be a 10 minutes until the next cat is in it and they have scared a lot of cats. Well if you have an only cat that’s probably a great product for you but if you have multiple cats, I can see it’s gonna be a problem. There’s a new word called, Genie or something-

JENNY:  Yeah, Cat Genie!

DR.JEAN: Yeah it cooks your clay, in practical terms I haven’t heard good reviews of that but I have not tried it. So, it looks like a fabulous idea, but it’s up to the cat, always up to the cat.

JENNY:  Right! Now something about the Litter Spinner and Litter Robot that has not made me attracted to them. Is the idea of, what they’re walking into because it’s spins is now coated in everything rather than it been at least clean on the top like if you’d have a covered litter box more times than not I think compared to a spinning one it would be cleaner on the top than it would, you know and they’re actual litter part of it. Am I making sense visually?

DR.JEAN: Yes, you are. But I am not seeing that it’s a problem at this thing, because only the dust is going to cling to the plastic surface and that’s gonna be in anything that a cat digs in – it’s gonna create just as much dust. I am more concerned about the size than the accessibility.

JENNY:  Ok. Well I absolutely agree on the size. Well I thought about something else to ask you. It’s escaped me now.

DR.JEAN: And these guys say that they have 20 lb. cats going in there, but my 16 pound won’t go in it. In fact the only cat that will go in it is the short haired cat. That may tell us something right there.

JENNY:  Oh I know! On the Cat Genie, you had mentioned it was connected to the toilet, which then made me think about all these cat toilet training systems.

DR.JEAN: Oh! Those are terrible

JENNY:  So, I would love for you to talk about that and also I had read at one point, the dangers in putting the cat’s feces in our sewage system. So, could you talk on both of these subjects, please?

DR.JEAN: Because cats use scent as a marker and they only have a few things about them, that smell – they use those bodily extrusions, shall we say, to scent mark and to establish their place.

I know people who have multi cat homes that have done this but it removes something of the catness of the cat by not being able to really perform its elimination functions in a natural way. And you know, what’s going to happen when these cats get old and arthritic and they can’t balance anymore or it’s hurts them.

When my cats got old, for one thing they’ve decided to, they didn’t have to walk all the way to the litter box. That getting within a couple of feet of it was probably enough. So, with being a crazy cat, person I lived with tarps and newspapers on the floor for year and half because she was so old and I thought, “How long he can keep doing this?” Well, a year and half.

Then, and the other thing that I tried with them because when they would squat, it wasn’t as deep as a squat, they’d only bend their knees a little bit because it hurt them and so that’s when I really I fell in love with the storage bins because you can get them in a tall size.  And the girls didn’t have any trouble getting in and out of it but it kept the urine and the sand and everything else – I don’t currently have that type of box and I find poop spilling over the side and you know, they have an expectation that everything else will be in the box but they’d also don’t necessarily end very well. You know, if they are too close to the edge or there’s something, something, something, there’s always something. I fear for those cats because if they do start to have inter cat aggression or behavior problems – they’re missing one of the major modes of communication. So, I have a little problem with that. What was the other thing you said?

JENNY:  Cat poop in the sewage system.

DR.JEAN: Yeah. That has been found to be a serious problem – that feline disease are being passed out in the feces through water treatment and getting out into the ocean and it’s making a sea otter sick.

It’s got to be more of a problem with the cats to go outside and its rains where it goes into the storm drains where there is no treatment at all. Those are the ones that are dumping directly into the ocean that I think are really the problem for cats that go outside and feral cats. And it’s Toxoplasma specifically that’s one of the problems but they only shed that three weeks, but it’s in the environment. So, I am not a big fan of that. I know people that swear by it, but I wouldn’t do it for my cat, you know I am not that lazy. It does annoy me that I have to put as much money into taking the poop out of the cat as I did putting the poop in the front end.  But, I choose to have 4 cats and they produce a lot of poop and that’s my choice. That’s what I say is a good life for me. I have 4 cats, 3 litter boxes – all in different places and they are doing fine with that.

Oh! Let’s talk about scatter, litter scatter.

JENNY:  What’s that?

DR.JEAN: Like when they jump out of the box they scatter for the next 10 feet. So, I found – now I cannot remember the name of it [Dr. Jean sent me a link to it after the Interview – it is Cats Rule]. But I did finally find a mat that worked and it’s kind of, when it rolls out of it, it’s kind of soft tubes – I’ll send you a link later [Cats Rule], you can even get them at Target and they  actually really work.  If you watch them, it’s really interesting because the tubes are so soft they’re like foam rubber with a coating on it and it actually spreads the cat toes as they walk. It pulls the litter right out of their feet and you still have a little bit of litter that get out but it cuts it back that by 90%. It’s just amazing, I love this stuff.

JENNY:  Yeah, I would definitely like to know what it is because I’d like to try it out myself.

DR.JEAN: Yeah, I’ve have a bunch of them. It is made by several companies out here because that is the issue with, you know, especially the clumping and finer litters – they get everywhere. So, this is the only thing that I’ve ever found to work and they’re big enough that you can put the litter box on one edge and so wherever they get out they have to walk over some of the stuff. And it’s just really been a life saver as far as I’m concerned.

JENNY:  I found that when I switched to the storage containers that the tracking or litter scatter was reduced significantly because just jumping out of the box, and granted I have young cats so I know someday I’ll have change that up, but just jumping out of it makes it fall off into litter box too.

DR.JEAN: Yeah, it’s perfect. One thing else I would like to talk about is the depth of the litter. Because all the litter instructions say 2 to 4 inches and stuff.  When you have old arthritic cat particularly if it’s a declawed cat – Now, remember we are never going to declaw, but those declawed cats gets arthritic, their toes gets frozen and their gate is altered for life – it’s a terrible thing – but they get way worse arthritis because their gate is different.  So for older cats and declawed cats, you want maybe an inch or an inch and a half a litter because what they need to feel something like solid ground under their paws and if it is a giant pile of sand or ground up something, they’re not gonna feel as sure-footed.

So if you have an issue where the cat is going on carpet – it’s because it’s soft and firm, so you may want to try less litter in the box instead of more, if you start with an arthritic or a cat with declaw issues or any kind of injury its more stable footing for them to have less litter. So, try that with some of these guys. You know, you have to scoop it more often cause there’s less litter and to be really conscious several times a day because it’s  hard to keep an inch of litter clean if you have an older cat that pees a lot, you know they can do in a litter box in one go. You do wanna change all the other things that need to be changed around that.  But we’ve had some really good success with cats that are having problems.  And when we got the litter to a level what they liked it and they felt secure, problem solved.

JENNY:  Yeah. Well that makes a lot of sense.

DR. JEAN: Litter boxes are very complicated, you wouldn’t think we could talk for an hour about litter boxes, but here we are.

JENNY: Well I always been under the expression that the deeper, the better. For example I was scooping the one upstairs today the litter had gotten low, so the pee is sticking to the bottom of the litter box and I am like “Aww! I gotta make it deeper so that it is easier to scoop” but, obviously again my cats are young and they are not declawed and they’re not having that problem but it is interesting to think of, for an older cat.

DR.JEAN: Yeah. Especially that’s when you really need a deep litter box because they are not gonna squat very much and they’re gonna, you know go flying right over the short average kitty box.

JENNY:  Well, is there anything else that you’d like to mention or add?

DR.JEAN: Can’t think of anything. That’s it, that’s it.

JENNY:  Well, thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it and I’m gonna end the interview here.

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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

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  1. Patti Johnson says:

    A BIG FAT THANK YOU to you, Jenny, and Dr. Jean for taking the time to provide more useful information for all of us Kitteh Lovers! As always, your interviews with Dr. Jean, Jenny, are full of great information to have on hand and learn from… Thank you so much for consolidating all of those links in this post, too! 🙂 <3

    I really learned a lot with the litterbox cleaning information discussed! YAY!!!!!

    Big hugs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarboo 🙂 <3

  2. “… abrasions with the scratch marks at the bottom of the box…”


    I have been scratching my head over these weird marks wondering what they were from – I assumed they were urine burns! Call me stupid but cat pee is so overwhelming horrible smelling it was a small leap to assume it could also burn plastic!

  3. Great Info

  4. Interesting interview with some good tips! I am fortunate that my kitties don’t have litter box problems, but this information is very useful to have. Now want to get some Zero Odor and a Cat’s Rule litter mat.

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