"Good God, my cat just used his litter box while I was happily destroying things on my video game. All of a sudden, our room smelled like a manure field!"
Sounds familiar? It's a quote from a forum thread by TCS member Dagger311.
We get many questions about litter box odor and how to minimize it. The good news? You can reduce and possibly eliminate the smell of the litter box!
Ideally, your cat's litter box should not smell at all. You should have no problem keeping the box in your living room or bedroom with no consequences.
Ways to reduce the smell from your cat's litter box, include:
- Make sure the litter box is always clean
- A change of diet (under veterinary supervision)
- Switching to a different type of litter
- Using an additive that reduces the smell
Some of these steps include caveats, so keep reading to see how to implement them correctly. There are also things you shouldn't do, and we'll go into that in this post as well.
Why does the litter box smell?
When cats use the litter box, they leave behind urine and feces. Both elements can create a nasty odor, especially if you allow them to sit in the box and ferment.
Bacteria break down the contents of Kitty's pee and poo, releasing all kinds of foul-smelling components in the process. While these are not dangerous in these quantities, they certainly can be unpleasant to be around.
When cat feces begin to smell bad
If you've changed nothing in your litter box setup but you notice a change in the smell of your cat's feces, you may have a problem on your hands. Instead of trying to mask the smell, find out what the problem, and address it.
Did you change the cat's diet recently? A change in diet can affect the smell of feces, as well as their color and texture. An exceptionally foul odor can also indicate a medical issue.
Some forms of intestine infections can affect your cat's bowel movements, and your first sign could be in the smell emanating from the litter box. The foul smell could also be a sign of impacted anal glands.
Talk to your veterinarian and see if you should set up an appointment. At the very least, they may ask you to bring in a stool sample to be tested.
If you notice an exceptionally strong cat urine odor
Cat urine shouldn't smell bad. At least not right away. If you let it sit in the box, then sure, bacteria will begin to break down the urea and create that distinct ammonia smell.
If you can smell your cat's urine while it's still fresh, this could be a sign of dehydration or an underlying medical issue.
If you have a young male kitten who still hasn't been neutered, keep in mind that intact male cats (tomcats) can produce exceptionally repugnant urine. They may also begin to use the smelly concoction to mark their territory. That's why you should fix your kitten in time - preferably by the age of five months.
If you're sure that Kitty is healthy, and are just looking into ways to reduce that litter box stench, here are a few insights collected over the years from our community members.
1. Make sure the litter box is clean
Your number one priority is keeping the box fresh and clean. Keeping a clean box is your first line of defense in the fight against litter box odor. In most situations, this means scooping twice a day.
Establish A Litter box Maintenance Routine
You should make cleaning the litter box a routine. Cleaning the box "whenever" just won't work.
If you're around to clean the litter box three times a day on the weekend but then cannot clean it at all during the week, that's not good enough for your cat's needs.
What you should aim for is a consistent routine that includes regular cleaning of the box at fixed intervals.
Consider the following questions -
1. How long does it take you to clean the litter boxes?
2. At what times can you regularly clean the boxes? Mornings? Evenings? Or maybe it's the middle of the day?
3. Can other people help you out when you're not available?
Based on the answers, set up your routine, focusing on what times each box gets cleaned up every day and who will do the cleaning (if there's more than one of you).
Tips for effective litter box maintenance -
- Use a good scoop. It will help you clean the box quickly and more efficiently.
- Keep the tools of the trade nearby. Have your scoop and plastic bags ready.
- Stock up on litter and make sure you always have enough to top up the litter box.
Once you set up a routine that's right for you and your cat, cleaning the litter boxes becomes much easier. You have to put less thought into it and can just work as part of your regular daily routine.
Consider investing in an automated litter box
The rule of thumb is to clean the box twice a day. Some cats are so fastidious and they need their box cleaned after every use - in which case, invest in an automatic self-cleaning box to help you maintain a state of perfect cleanliness.
Some automated litter boxes operate at regular intervals. In contrast, others use sensors to determine when Kitty has "doing her business" and operate the cleaning mechanism several minutes after your cat is done.
Read our guide to choosing the right automatic litter box for more information.
2. A Change of Diet
There's no denying that what goes into the cat comes out, eventually. There are several types of commercial dry and canned food professing to minimize the amount of feces and their pungent odor.
If your cat's "waste products" have become exceptionally smelly with no change in his or her diet, consult your vet. Changes in stools can result from various medical conditions, including a parasitic infection.
Once you get the all-clear, ask your vet about switching to a new type of food or adding probiotics to your cat's diet.
If you decide to switch to a new type of cat food, do so gradually. Ask members on our nutrition forum for recommendations and then transition Kitty by mixing the new food with the old.
Start with a small amount of the new food and watch how the change affects bowel movements. If all's well, gradually increase the amount of the new food until the transition is complete.
3. Switching to a Different Litter
Many types of cat litter claim to neutralize odor in various ways. Baking soda or other additives, or use of porous crystals, are common methods. Here are some suggestions for cat litter that may reduce the odor around the litter box.
Fresh Step Odor Shield (Amazon Link)
Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal (Amazon Link)
Cats are creatures of habit and changing anything about their litter box should be a gradual process.
If you're considering changing the brand of litter, please take a minute to read about When and How to Switch to a New Type of Litter.
4. Using an additive that reduces the smell
There is a variety of litter box deodorizers that help reduce litter box odors. Most use a baking soda or charcoal to absorb moisture and odors. You can try placing some baking soda in the bottom of the litter box for a quick homemade solution.
Or you could buy a commercial litter box deodorizer such as this one by NonScents (Amazon link).
In most cases, a fragrance-free version like this one is your best option. Scented products may be a turn-off for some cats.
Another option you can try is Nature's Miracle Odor Destroyer Spray (Amazon link).
What not to do when the litter box smells
A stinky litter box is not good for you or for your cat. You should always try to reduce the foul odor, rather than mask it.
Even if you don't smell it, your cat will. How would you like to use a dirty, smelly bathroom? Your cat won't appreciate it either. Not even if you spray a floral scent around it.
Let's take a look at what NOT to do when the litter box smells.
Don't cover the litter box
A covered litter box is usually not a good idea. It may block the stench from going out, but that only means things are getting worse underneath the hood.
You can use a covered box to help avoid litter spread around the box, but only if you make sure the box is always clean and fresh for your cat to you.
Don't move the litter box out of sight (or smell range)
Your cat needs ready access to a litter box. Preferably more than one. If the box smells and you move it down to the basement, Kitty may eventually tire of going down there and may find an alternative spot for doing her business.
What's more, unless you have an established litter box routine (see above), you may forget to clean the box as often as needed, making it even worse for your cat to use. Out of sight, out of mind. That's not a good solution for your cat.
Don't switch to scented litter
Masking bad smells with perfume is not a good idea. Your cat is likely to smell the stench through the floral scents, and she may even be put off by the strange fragrance. Again, imagine having to use a dirty bathroom where someone also placed a scented candle. Doesn't sound appealing, does it?
What if my cat doesn't cover up after herself?
This can be a stinking problem, indeed. Some cats simply don't cover their feces after using the box, and that can add to an odor problem. Over the years, a few of our members have mentioned that they managed to "teach" their cats, usually kittens or young cats, to cover up.
When I first got my kitten, he didn't really cover it. So when he would get out of the litter box, I would put him back in, move his paws to cover the poop a bit, and then he would usually get the hint a finish covering it. Then, I would give him a treat and a cuddle. Now he does it every time. I'm not sure how this would work with an older cat though.
This does not always work, though. Some cats simply don't bother.
Trying to "teach" them new tricks could prove stressful, especially if they are older and established in their ways.
If your cat doesn't cover up, you can still try to reduce odors by looking into dietary changes and by keeping the box squeaky clean, preferably cleaning every time your cat uses it.
The ideal solution for a cat that doesn't cover up is an automated litter box that cleans the litter after every use.
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