Cat litter should be changed every 1 – 4 weeks. How often you change it will depend on how often you scoop the litter box, the type of litter you use, your cat’s bathroom tendencies, the litter box odors, and where you keep your litter box.
However, the best guideline to go by is how the litter box looks and how it smells.
If you’ve scooped the litter but can still see several bits of waste in it that are too small to scoop out, it’s likely time to change the litter. And if it has a strong smell of urine, even after you’ve scooped, it’s likely time to change the entire litter.
Make note of how the litter area smells after you’ve just cleaned the litter box and have filled the clean dry box with fresh litter. The room should stay as close as possible to that smell.
Having cats does not mean your house should smell like it has cats. If you’re scooping, changing, and cleaning your litter box properly, no one should be able to tell, through scent, that you have cats living in your home.
Here are some tips to help you better understand why you should be frequently cleaning your cat’s litter box and how to determine the right cleaning schedule for you and your cat.
WHY YOU MUST CHANGE CAT LITTER FREQUENTLY
There are more important reasons to change cat litter frequently, aside from simply following the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Cat’s like to be clean. And just as you like to use a clean bathroom and toilet, so does your cat.
If your cat can’t find a fresh spot to dig, or enough clean litter to cover their waste, they may go elsewhere to find that clean spot.
This can be a frustrating and damaging problem (to your floors, furniture, and potentially your health). So it’s best to create a situation that encourages your cat to always use the litter box.
If you’ve noticed your cat has started going to the washroom outside of the litter box, here are common reasons they may be doing so, and ways to correct the behavior.
If your cat ends up “holding it” instead, that can lead to urinary tract infections or other complications and diseases.
A dirty litter box can become a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites, which can make humans very sick.
It’s important to use the right tools and precautions when cleaning and changing the litter box, and to wash your hands after doing so.
Keep in mind, your cat is also walking through that litter box multiple times a day. The bacteria can also be harmful to them, and the more waste you let pile up, the more likely they are to step in it.
Does your cat paw at your face in the morning to wake you up?
Do you have kids who play with your cat’s paws?
Do you have to touch your cat’s paws to get a blood sample to test their blood sugar levels?
You probably want to know that their litter box is clean as possible.
The litter box can also be an indication of your cat’s health.
When you scoop it daily, you’re more aware of if they’ve peed or pooped that day. If you noticed they’ve gone longer than a day or two without peeing and/or pooping, it’s time to call the vet.
If you go too long between scooping the litter and changing the litter, you and your cat will start to notice odors.
The most concerning aspect of strong litter box odors is that it may lead to your cat finding somewhere else to go to the washroom. A habit that’s frustrating for cat owners, can ruin flooring and furniture, and is hard to break.
You do NOT want your cat to get in the habit of finding a new place to go to the washroom when their litter box is a little too smelly.
It’s also unpleasant for you, the members of your household, and your houseguests, to let the litter box go too long between scoopings and changings.
It will also decrease the lifespan of your litter box. Odors can soak into plastic litter boxes and can be hard to remove, even after a good scrubbing. You don’t want to leave cat urine sitting at the bottom of the litter box for too long.
FACTORS THAT AFFECT HOW OFTEN YOU NEED TO CHANGE THE CAT LITTER
There are several factors that will determine how often you need to change the cat litter.
1) HOW OFTEN YOU SCOOP LITTER
You may be able to extend how long you go between changing the litter if you’re diligent about scooping.
The litter box should be scooped at least once a day, maybe more depending on your preferences and how often your cat uses the litter box. For example, diabetic cats will need to urinate more frequently, and then will drink more water. This leads to a litter box filling up quite quickly.
Your cat may also pee more if they eat wet food, or just like to drink lots of water (check with the vet to be sure their high water intake isn’t the sign of a health issue).
2) TYPE OF CAT LITTER
The type of cat litter you use will impact how often you need to scoop and change the litter. There are many types of cat litters on the market, and each will have their specific guidelines, but here are some rough ones to follow based on type of litter.
CLUMPING CLAY LITTER
Because clumps are formed when your cat urinates in the litter box, it’s easy to remove almost all of the waste from the litter box when scooping.
However, there will still be some waste and bacteria that get left in the box, so you will still need to change the litter frequently.
Most clumping clay litters recommend changing the litter every 3 – 4 weeks.
CRYSTAL CAT LITTER
Crystal cat litters come in both clumping and non-clumping. The beads are made from silica gel and are very absorbent. Therefore, most crystal cat litters, whether clumping or non-clumping only need to be changed every 3 – 4 weeks.
NATURAL CAT LITTERS
There are all kinds of cat litters made from natural materials, such as:
- Grass seed
- Corn cob
These litters are popular among cat owners because they’re safe for them, their cat, and are better for the environment.
Each litter will be different and some are more absorbent than others, but they aren’t quite as effective as clay and crystal litters and typically need to be changed every 1 – 2 weeks.
3) CAT’S LITTER BOX USE
Cats typically poop once per day and pee 2 – 4 times a day. However, this can vary depending on your cat’s age, health, medications, their water intake, their diet, and the weather/temperature/humidy.
If your cat is on the higher end of that range, you may want to move to the more frequent end of the scooping and changing schedule.
If your cat goes longer than a day or two without pooping and/or peeing, or you see a significant increase in their litter box use, be sure to contact your vet right away to make sure there aren’t any health issues.
How many cats you have in the house shouldn’t impact how often you scoop and change the litter because each cat should have their own litter box. And each litter box should follow the same rules; scoop each box daily (at minimum) and change cat litter in each litter box every 1 – 4 weeks.
If you’re worried about litter box problems (e.g. your cat going to the washroom elsewhere if their box isn’t clean enough), you may even want to add one extra litter box on top of the 1 litter box per cat rule. It just helps ensure there’s always a clean litter box free when your cat has to go.
If you live in a small space and can’t follow the one litter box per cat rule, then yes, you must scoop and change more frequently.
You’ll know based on how much your cats are using the litter box(es) but a good guideline to follow would be multiply the scooping rule by how many cats you have using the same box, and dividing the litter changing rule by how many how many cats are using the same box.
For example, if you have 2 cats and only 1 litter box and are using a clumping clay litter, you likely need to scoop the litter box at least twice a day and change the cat litter once every 2 weeks.
4) LITTER BOX ODORS
Factors such as your cat’s gender, age, diet, health, medications, etc. can make your cat’s waste smell worse than normal.
For example, a non-neutered male cat will have stronger smelling urine due to the hormones and pheromones released in their pee.
As your cat ages, the smell of their urine can also become worse.
The vet can rule out any health issues, but your cat may be perfectly healthy and just be a little smellier. This can increase how frequently you must scoop and change the litter.
Odor will be the biggest indicator of when you must change the litter. The litter box area should not smell. So if it has a strong odor, even after you’ve scooped, it’s likely time to change the litter (even if it’s before the litter manufacturers recommended change time).
5) LITTER BOX LOCATION
If you live in a small space or must place a litter box in a room you frequently use, you may need to increase how often you scoop and change the litter, to keep smells at bay.
If the litter box is next to your desk and your cat decides to go poop right before a Zoom meeting, you’ll want to scoop right away so you’re not distracted during the call, even if you’ve already scooped twice that day.
HOW TO CLEAN THE LITTER BOX
Here are the steps to follow to keep a clean litter box and keep your nose and your cat happy.
You can increase your protection when scooping, changing, and cleaning the litter box by wearing a mask so you don’t inhale any harmful odors or dust, as well as gloves, to prevent any bacteria from getting on your hands.
STEP 1 – CREATE REMINDERS
We all have busy lives and sometimes when the litter box is out of sight, it’s out of mind. It’s easy to forget to scoop the litter box daily or change the litter on a regular schedule.
Covered litter boxes can also encourage lack of cleaning. You may not notice the smells or litter filling up with waste, but your cat sure will.
Until you form a habit of cleaning the litter box, try setting a reminder in your phone to go off the same time each day.
Another helpful trick is to create an if this, then that scenario.
Meaning, if you do something (e.g. brush your teeth), then you clean the litter box. Choose a habit that’s already formed and that you do every day, so it acts as the reminder for scooping the litter box.
When it comes to changing the litter, you may choose a weekly or monthly habit.
For example, if garbage is picked up every Tuesday and you take the garbage out every Monday night, let “taking the garbage out” be the habit that triggers changing the litter. Or, if you have a succulent plant you water once every two weeks, let that be the action that triggers changing the litter.
You have built the habit of flushing the toilet after each use, so you can build the habit of cleaning your cat’s litter box every day.
STEP 2 – SCOOP LITTER 1X / DAY
Litter should be scooped at least once a day. You may decide to scoop twice a day or more if your cat uses the litter box several times per day, or if it’s in higher-traffic area where you’ll notice the smells.
Scooping a smelly poop immediately and putting into a cat litter disposal container, such as the Litter Genie, will trap smells in the container, instead of them being able to waft throughout your home.
Sprinkle some fresh litter in after scooping to freshen the box and keep the litter at the ideal depth (check out: HOW DEEP SHOULD CAT LITTER BE).
Purchase the right litter scoop to make this task easier. Sometimes scoops will come with a litter box but they’re usually small and flimsy.
Invest in a larger scoop, and maybe even a stainless steel one so odors don’t soak into the scoop. Here’s a good option.
You may also need to purchase a new scoop if you switch litters. Pellet litters have larger particles that won’t fall through the small holes of scoops meant for clay litters. A scoop with longer and wider slats will make scooping easier.
STEP 3 – CHANGE LITTER EVERY 1 – 4 WEEKS
Follow the cat litter manufacturer’s recommendations, as well as your nose, to determine how often you need to be changing the litter.
Be sure to dispose of the litter properly, here’s a helpful guide on the right ways and wrong ways to dispose of cat litter. As well as ways to reduce cat litter waste.
Even if you’ve purchased a flushable cat litter, it’s typically not a good idea to flush it, due to all the bacteria and parasites in cat feces. Your city’s water treatment plant may not be equipped to treat animal feces in the water.
And you should never flush clumping litters. Their particles swell when wet, which can cause a clog in your pipes.
STEP 4 – WASH THE LITTER BOX
It’s important to actually wash the litter box each time you change the litter, to help remove odors and bacteria.
It can be helpful to have a spare litter box so that when you’re changing, cleaning, and waiting for the litter box to dry, your cat still has a place to go to the washroom.
It’s also important to clean your litter scoop, the outside of the litter box, and if you’re using a covered litter box, give the hood/lid a wash while you’re at it (and change the filter).
WHAT TO USE
A simple dish scrubber (reserved specifically for the litter box) will be a helpful tool to keep your hands away from the litter box while still getting into all the corners and grooves where odors and bacteria can hide. Something simple like this one.
Natural cleaners are always best when it comes to your health, your cat’s health, and the environment. Not to mention, cats have a good sense of smell and will be sensitive to strong-smelling cleaners or disinfectants.
Here are some good options:
Once you empty the litter box and rinse it out, pour some vinegar into the box so it covers the bottom entirely (approximately 1/2 inch deep), then let it sit for about 15 minutes. Use your dish scrubber and work the vinegar into the corners, grooves and up the sides. Vinegar won’t disinfect, so be sure to use another method to kill bacteria and parasites; here are a few ways.
You can sprinkle baking soda on all surfaces of the litter box, wet your dish scrubber, a cloth, or a sponge, and clean all surfaces. You can also create a thicker paste by mixing baking soda and water, or even combining it with vinegar to create a fizzy solution to help remove stuck-on litter. Here are full instructions for cleaning the litter box with baking soda (remember, it won’t disinfect on its own).
MILD DISH DETERGENT
Many cat owners use hot water with a little bit of mild dish detergent, preferably unscented, to clean the litter box.
WHERE TO RINSE
It’s really important, especially if you’re using a clumping litter, to either get all of the litter out of the litter box before washing, or to wash the litter box outside.
Clumping litter, even in small amounts, can clog your drains.
Scrape the bottom and sides of the pan with the litter scoop, and even use a dry dish scrubber to get all pieces of the litter loose and into a garbage can or vacuumed up.
Using a hose outside to rinse the litter box is safest and will help blast off any litter that’s dried on. However, if you live in an apartment or are cleaning the litter box during the winter, outside may not be an option.
In which case, consider more earth and drain friendly litters, such as the natural options on the market.
Be sure to let your litter box completely dry before pouring more litter into the box. If you’re using a clumping litter and the litter box is still damp, or has water in the corners, you’ll end up with a hard, stuck-on mess to clean next time.
To help keep odors down, you can sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda in the bottom of the litter box before filling it with litter. You can also use activated charcoal to help absorb odors. Such as these bags. You can also make your own bags and refill them when needed with a product like this.
Or you can purchase activated charcoal filters to go in your covered litter box’s filter.
STEP 5 – FILL WITH LITTER
Fill the litter box with the correct amount of litter, it should be between 2 – 4 inches deep. Using too much or too little can cause litter box issues.
IS IT SAFE TO CLEAN THE LITTER BOX WHILE PREGNANT?
No, it is not safe to clean the litter box while pregnant. Because of the bacteria and parasites often found in cats’ litter boxes, it’s best for pregnant women to avoid cleaning or changing the litter. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii can be in cat feces and it can cause toxoplasmosis, an infection that pregnant women can pass on to the baby and can cause serious birth defects.
SHOULD I USE A LITTER LINER?
Litter liners are plastic liners that fit inside the litter box and you pour litter on top of them. Most of them have a drawstring top, so when it’s time to change the litter you simply pull on the top of the liner and tie the bag closed.
The general consensus is that, although these liners make changing the litter easier, they come with their issues when it’s time to pull them out of the litter box, and they’re not ideal for your cat.
SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED ABOUT LITTER DUST?
The dust from clay litters and crystal litters can be harmful to your health and your cat’s; some quite serious.
All the more reason to switch to a natural cat litter.
If you’re committed to using a clay litter, look for one that’s low dust, don’t use a covered litter box (so your cat isn’t trapped in there with the dust), and wear a mask when scooping and changing litter.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT CAT URINE?
Your cat’s urine contains ammonia, which can contribute to health issues, however, it’s rare.
Health issues are more likely to occur if you’re living with several cats, if your cat(s) is peeing outside the litter box and cat urine isn’t properly cleaned, the litter box isn’t cleaned regularly, or if there’s poor ventilation in your home.
If you wear a mask and gloves when cleaning the litter, clean the litter box regularly, and your cat isn’t peeing outside the litter box, you shouldn’t have any issues.
I hope this article has helped answer your questions about how often to change cat litter 🙂