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Proper litter box environment ends unwanted litter scatter: A study based on scientific research

by Alma J. Buelva August 15, 2018 0 Comments

Proper litter box environment ends unwanted litter scatter: A study based on scientific research

MOST cat owners think a litter box in a well appointed place in the house will sufficiently take care of their cats' toilet business. Wrong.


A study published in September 2017 in ScienceDirect shows that cat elimination behaviors are far more complex than previously thought, and require cat owners to be extra perceptive to manage them.


Researchers recorded 39 different behaviors, from the obvious pawing and digging to minute movements such as ear placement, tail position and paw posture, among others. All behaviors are dependent on how positive or negative cats view their litter box experience.


Not knowing what causes negative litter box experience leads to problematic behaviors such as toileting out-of-box, spraying and scattering litter. A right litter environment adapts to a cat's biological instinct and anatomy. The more we know how cats operate, specifically their motivations and the workings of their paws, nose and legs, the less we will find them inscrutable.



The study “The ins and outs of the litter box: A detailed ethogram of cat elimination behavior in two contrasting environments” by authors Ragen T.S. McGowan, Jacklyn J. Ellis, Miles K. Bensky and François Martin, meticulously showed how cats' elimination behavior are affected by the resources present in their litter box.

Researchers believe cats prefer their litter environment to be a spacious litter box with the right type of fine grained substrate that is absorbent, has odor control and in the right amount to cover their mess. Anything short of this can leave cats frustrated and restless in the course of pre-, during, and post-elimination stages.

After studying cats in two contrasting litter environments (negative and positive), researchers learned this much about cats:

  • Felines that are unhappy about their litter environment hesitate to enter the litter box and when they do, they paw around it, jump in and immediately jump out as if they hated it, or leave and come back more often but delay eliminations.


  • Cats in less ideal litter environments urinate less often and for longer durations (52 seconds). On average, all mammals take approximately 20 seconds to empty their bladders. Negative litter box experiences that make cats hold their urine put them at risk of developing urinary tract infections.


  • Cats dissatisfied with their toilet facilities tend to keep one paw out of the box while eliminating.


  • Cats in a less favorable litter environment appear restless during bathroom breaks. They pivot their bodies, walk around, shift their paws and balance on the side of the box more often during pre- and post-elimination.


  • After relieving themselves, cats that find insufficient litter to cover their waste tend to spend a minute or two incessantly pawing at all surfaces around the litter box as a futile attempt to conceal their urine or poop.


  • Cats that are still bothered by the smell of their body waste which they failed to properly cover frequently return to sniff inside the litter box.


All these negative behaviors associated with poor litter set-ups also end in one particular annoying result: scattered litter. The more cats paw around and move back and forth their litter box, the more opportunities for them to spread litter particles around the house.



A lot of litter boxes in the market today appear to be designed to suit human's space requirements and fail to account for the cat's size and its convenience.


An ideal size is one that can accommodate an average cat that weighs between 8 and 10 pounds, at least 9-10 inches tall and approximately 18 inches long (sans the tail). Providing larger litter boxes, especially in multi-cat households, allows cats to satisfy their biological needs without a care.


The research showed that in a positive litter environment, cats simply enter their spacious litter box to carry out their business and exit it without waffling in and out of it again. This helps minimize the spread of unwanted cat litter on the floor.


But to absolutely stop cats' paws from accidentally flinging litter everywhere they go, an effective litter mat laid out right outside their plastic restroom is imperative. Aside from trapping litter lodged between cat's paws and toes, a litter mat upgrades a cat's post-elimination experience in the following ways:

  • With a litter mat, cats paws that are sensitive to temperature changes and textures need not step immediately on cold floors or ragged surfaces.


  • A litter mat provides an extra cushion for the paws and footpads when cats jump out of their litter box.


  • Cat litter mats can relieve pressure and pain by scraping off rough particles that get stuck on the paws.


On hot days, cats' paws are a bit sticky and can pick up litter bits more than usual because they sweat through their paws. But a litter mat always at the ready next to the litter box means you never have to clean more than you should.  


Also, with a litter mat, cat owners can stop those sprinting, litter-covered paws from wreaking havoc everywhere during post-elimination zoomies.


In addition, a reliable litter mat offers a line of defense against the spread of pathogens lurking inside litter boxes that can make pets and people sick.


Old cat urine in litter boxes can form ammonia crystals that give off a strong bad smell that can trigger allergic reactions in people. Also, used cat litter can harbor bacterium like E-coli and Toxoplasmosis, the latter being very harmful to pregnant women as it can cause birth defects and fetal death, but not when exposure happened prior to pregnancy.


So, make sure to include a well-designed litter mat in your fastidious cat's collection of toilet items. It's one of the keys to a holistic cat litter environment that helps maintain a level of hygiene around the house that works to you and your cat's advantage.

What actions are you taking to stop the unwanted litter scatter?
Alma J. Buelva
Alma J. Buelva

Alma Buelva is a freelance journalist. When she's not writing about business and technology, she devotes her time taking care of animals and writing about them, too. She also manages MetroPets, an online pets magazine for the Philippine pet industry.


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