Is There a Good Alternative to the Litterbox?

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Q: I really hate cleaning the litterbox. When my cat was little, I kept him inside. Now he goes in and out as he pleases, but he seems to do all of his “business” inside the box. I’m afraid if I just remove the litterbox he’ll use the carpet or something. What should I do?

A: I'd recommend sticking with the inside litterbox for at least three reasons.

  • Health: When you're cleaning the litterbox once or twice a day, you're able to see changes in your cat's patterns of elimination. Is there a problem with diarrhea? A sudden increase in urination? Straining to pass feces? All of these problems could be symptoms of a serious health issue, and the sooner you catch it, the better for your cat (and your bank account).
  • The neighbors: When your cat's not using the litterbox, he's doing his business in your neighbor's flowerbed, vegetable garden or children's sandbox. It's not fair for your neighbors to have to deal with your cat's mess. And it's not very safe for your cat! You would not believe the number of angry emails I get from people who are ready to trap and take to the shelter (or even kill) a neighbor's cat over this issue.
  • The environment: Cats are non-native species. At least one often-cited study suggests that cat waste that's been washed off the land and into the sewer system can end up spreading toxoplasmosis, killing native species such as otters in some parts of the country. The safest way to handle cat waste is to remove it from the litterbox and place it in a digesting pet waste composter (not your garden compost!), or wrap it and place it in your household trash receptacle for pickup.

To solve the problem, why not try a self-cleaning litterbox? There are several on the market that will clean themselves, wrapping the waste for easy disposal every few days.

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