Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cat not using the litter box? Blame the lid

Lucy the cat on the back of the chair

My cat Lucy has always been very particular about her litter box. She demands that I use a very specific type of litter, that I keep the box filled to a certain depth and that I put it in a very secluded part of the house. If I fail to follow any of these rules, she'll let me know by not using the box at all.

And there's one more Lucy rule that she shares with many other cats. And it's one that many humans often break. That rule: Do not put a lid on the box.

Most people want their litter boxes covered. A covered box can put a sort of shield between our eyes and what cats leave behind in the box. And the shield makes it easier for us to keep other animals (like dogs) out of the box.

But cats like Lucy have a really good reason for hating that lid. And it has nothing to do with convenience.

Lucy the cat sitting in proflie

When the lid on an average litter box is closed, a cat has about 13 inches of headspace (yes, I measured mine). Some cats compensate by hanging their heads outside of the box while they do their vital work. But even so, they still need to step into the box, turn around and then stick their heads back out.

When Lucy is standing fully upright, she is 14 inches tall from toes to ear tips. In a standard box, she has to crouch. And that isn't very conducive to doing what she needs to do in a box.

Older cats, particularly cats with arthritis, simply can't bend and crouch like this. These cats often start to have bowel movements outside of their boxes, simply because they can't hold a bent posture long enough to really get things moving.

But some cats, like Lucy, just don't like to be confined at such an important moment. Lucy might feel worried about being ambushed in her box, and she wants multiple escape routes. As a blind cat, she might also struggle with confined spaces and all the whisker inputs she gets when she's touching the sides and top of something.

Regardless of the reason, these litter box issues often go away when the lid of the box is gone. It's miraculous, really. And it's amazing how much happier cats are when they have a safe and proper place to go.

Humans might be unhappy at first, but really: Wouldn't you rather have a visible box rather than invisible (but noticeable) marks all over your house? I know I would.

So consider this a vital tip from Lucy and keep those lids off!


  1. Good post, Jean! All our boxes are uncovered, and none of our long line of cats (knock on wood) has ever had any of those litter box issues.

  2. Interesting and it makes sense. I've never tried an enclosed litter box and probably won't at this point in life.

  3. What a great post, and so true. My kitties have never had covered litter boxes. They seem quite happy with their boxes in full view, and if they're happy, I'm happy!

    Then there are my parents' 7 cats, who were having out-of-the-box incidents until my parents started using only lidded boxes. I find that peculiar, but I guess that's what makes those 7 kitties happy.

  4. Only Frodo likes the covered box! But he pretty much likes anything!

  5. I don't like using porta a potties so I don't make my cats used covered litter boxes :)