The Cat Friendly Home: Maintain the Colony Scent

Odors not only tell cats about their world ; they also carry messages from other cats.

Free-roaming cats live in colonies if there is enough food in the neighborhood. Each colony has its own signature scent. Members of the colony identify each other by this scent. This colony scent also marks the core territory of the colony, where the members feel safe, can eat, rest and play.

Our homes are our cat’s territory; we are members of our cat’s colony. Our homes have the colony scent that makes our cats feel safe and secure.

How do we maintain the colony scent in our homes?


Marley marks the corner wall at the top of the stairs.

 

Scratching post near the litter box.

Cats deposit pheromones  and signature scents using glands on their faces. You may see your cat rubbing the corner of a wall or furniture; you may also see him rub the same place again later the next day – he is marking the area as safe and familiar.

Pheromones and communication

Placing scratching posts around your home at windows, doors, and near where your kitty sleeps also provides boundary marking. Glands in kitty’s feet release pheromones and odors when she scratches which are deposited on the scratching posts.

Scratching Basics

Litter boxes are also part of the kitty network – urine and feces can carry messages and identify individual cats within the house.

Litter Box Basics

Disturbances in the Scent…


Marley marks the corner wall at the top of the stairs.
A well marked wall.

Cleaners


  • Avoid using strong smelling disinfectant or scented cleaners.
  • Some of the disinfectant cleaners linger on surfaces for a long time after you have used them for cleaning. Cats can be notorious counter surfers and they lick their paws.
  • Also avoid cleaners with essential oils – most essential oils are toxic to cats.
  • Visit the Environmental Working Group site to learn more about the cleaners you’re using.

Environmental Working Group

“Whisker Walls”


It is best to leave those “whisker walls” where the kitties rub their cheeks untouched for as long as you can. If they are just too unsightly, try unscented castile soap (made out of plant sources) followed with a rinse. After cleaning, spray with Feliway Classic (Comfort Zone Calming)

 

Litter Boxes


Cleaning the litter tray can be done with mild cleaners, for example, dishwashing soap. If you do use bleach, make sure to dilute it and rinse the tray thoroughly. The CDC recommends diluting 1/3 cup unscented household bleach with 1 gallon of water for cleaning surfaces.

Avoid cleaning all the litter boxes at once – stagger the cleanings. Scooping daily if you use clumping litter, will allow you to empty and clean the litter box ever 2-4 weeks.

Hydrogen peroxide (3%) has good disinfecting properties and breaks down into just oxygen and water.

  1. Start with a box that has had all solid waste and old litter removed.
  2. Spray a fine coating of hydrogen peroxide on the inside of the box. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes.
  3. Scrub the inside thoroughly. Completely rinse the hydrogen peroxide out and dry the litter box before replacing the litter.

The Bark Space

Veterinary visits and hospitalization


When your cat goes to the vet, make sure that some of her familiar bedding goes with her for reassurance. If you have other cats, take along some other bedding the other cats sleep on in a plastic bag for the trip home. Ask that it be put in your cat’s carrier before picking her up. This helps maintain the colony scent when your cat is on her way home.

My youngest cat formerly was a street cat. He will be aggressive with the older cats returning from a day at the vet if we do not include some of his bedding for his roommate to come home with. I also make sure that the Feliway multi-cat diffusers are working in the common areas.

Managing new smells at the front door…


  • Place footwear and shopping bags at the door when you return home – allow the cats to examine these items before moving them further into the house
  • Wash your hands before greeting your cat or cats
  • Change your clothing if you have been in contact with strange cats and dogs

Pheromones help maintain the colony scent…


  • Feliway Classic (ComfortZone Calming) diffusers help the cats feel safe in their sleeping and litter areas
  • Multicat diffusers keep harmony in the common areas.
  • Wipe down new items with a cloth sprayed with the Classic or Calming  pheromone.

Kitty litter has come a long way since Edward Lowe started marketing bentonite clay as a litter box filler in 1947. What options has high tech provided you and your cat?

 

More than just clay…


Litter boxes are being filled with lots of different materials these days. There are litters made from grass seed, corn, wheat, recycled wood, and coconut, to name just a few. So why all these other alternatives to the traditional clay litter?

A Look at Bentonite…


Clay cat litters are made from bentonite clay, named after Fort Benton, WY where the largest deposits of bentonite clay are found. Bentonite is a natural resource – it is formed after volcanic ash ages. It is  strip mined, then processed for commercial use. Once it is used up, it is gone. Clumping clay cat litter is made from sodium bentonite, which absorbs water, swells and hardens into a clump.

Not Eco-friendly…


 

If you are looking for an eco-friendly cat litter, clay litters have some strikes against them:

  • bentonite is not renewable
  • strip mining  for bentonite can cause environmental damage.

 

 Eco-Friendly Litters…


Sourcing…


Plant-based litters are made from corn, wheat, wood, and even tofu by-products. Starch and plant fibers make these litters clump. These litters tend to be lighter and less dusty than clay litter.

  • you can grow more plants to produce more litter.
  • the growing and harvesting methods do not damage the environment as much as strip mining.

 

Disposal…


Disposal options for these litters include landfills, flushing down the toilet, and composting.

  • Even these biodegradable litters may not degrade much in a landfill.
  • Although most of these products can be flushed, there are the risks of clogged plumbing and introduction of pathogens into the water supply.
  • These litters can be composted although there are concerns about parasites and bacteria from decomposing pet waste

Composting cat litter

THE LITTER CAFETERIA:
To find out what you and your cat prefer, set up a litter cafeteria – have boxes with different types of litters and track the use, ease of scooping, odor and tracking.

Automatic Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes


There are several styles of these – the Litter Robot which rotates automatically and dumps waste into a tray on the bottom of the unit; the Litter Maid rakes the waste into a cartridge on the bottom of the tray.

Pros:


  • litter box is scooped regularly
  • you don’t have to handle the litter

 

Cons:


  • it is difficult to monitor your cat’s health – when manually scooping, you are more aware of changes in frequency and volume of urine, or softness of stool
  • the mechanism may startle and frighten some cats;  from the cat’s perspective, this may be no better than having the family dog waiting to snatch up the “treats”
  • you may be limited in your choice of litter

 

If you have an automatic box, consider also having a traditional litter box. Watch and see which one gets used more.

Teaching Your Cat to Use the Toilet…


This may seem like a nifty trick OR NOT…

  • Cats’ natural behavior is to dig a hole and eliminate in it. Kittens start using the litter box around 4 weeks of age, following cues from their mother. Using the human toilet is NOT A NATURAL BEHAVIOR.
  • you will not be able to easily monitor urine amount and frequency or if your cat has diarrhea
  • cats have been know to fall in – toilet seats are designed for humans.
  • if the lid is not up, your cat may need to take care of business elsewhere

Blending Your Cat’s Litter Box into Your Home…



There are many creative ways to make your cats’ litter boxes less noticeable.  Here are just a few.

  • Privacy screens
  • Screen with plants (if using real plants, make sure they NOT toxic to your cat)
  • Hideaways – A cabinet can be repurposed as a litter hide. 
  • Make sure the hide is  BIG enough – about 1.5 x your cat’s length (not including the tail).
  • Beware “Out of sight, out of mind” and SCOOP DAILY
A privacy screen for a hallway litter box.

 

There is room for a litter box beneath the cat tree in the entry way.

Did you know that kitty litter has been with us since 1947? Edward Lowe began promoting fuller’s earth, an absorbent clay, as  a cat box filler in 1947. Our cats began to lead an indoor existence. What do cat guardians need to know about this essential feline resource – what are the litter box basics?

In the wild…


Cats look for a secluded quiet place to relieve themselves as they are vulnerable to predators while eliminating. They prefer sand or fine dirt for elimination; they bury their waste when in their core territory. Feces and urine can be used to message other cats, so outside this core territory, cats will sometimes leave their waste unburied.

 A cat’s core territory is his home base, where he can shelter and rest.  He will actively defend this area. 

The Cat Friendly Home: Litter Box Basics….


 

The Box…


 

There are litter boxes with covers, litter boxes without covers; top-entry litter boxes, litter boxes that fit in end tables. Choose a litter box that suits your cat’s personality and physical condition.

 

The litter box needs to be large enough for your cat to turn around. This box is large enough for Gus.

Covered Litter Boxes

  • Your cat’s waste is out of sight
  • Out of sight = out of mind ? It may be easier to neglect scooping the litter box.
  • Ambush opportunity: the cat using the box will not see other cats, people, or dogs approaching.

 

How Large?

The litter box needs to be large enough for your cat to enter and turn around, about 1.5 times her length (without tail)

 

High Sides?

  • An older arthritic cat may prefer low walls or a low door cut into the box.
  • Managing cats that urinate while standing might be easier with a high-sided litter box.

 

Location, Location, Location…


Where you locate the litter box can make all the difference to your cat. Choose a quiet, secluded place.

  • Avoid noisy utility rooms where appliances running can startle your cat.
  • Avoid high-traffic busy areas where toddlers or the family dog can ambush your kitty.
  • A gadget called a “door buddy” can make a closet a safe litter box location.
  • Bathrooms can be good choices for litter boxes – cleaning may be easier in these areas.

Litter boxes should be far away (at least 5-6 feet) from either food or water sources. After all, you don’t dine in your bathroom!

 What Goes in the Box…

 


 

 

  • Cats typically prefer a fine textured, clumping litter
  • Cats have a sense of smell that is thousands of times more sensitive than ours. It is best to use unscented varieties of litter.
  • Experts recommend a litter depth of about 1.5 inches.

 

# of Cats + 1


A simple sketch of your house can help with locating litter boxes.

Experts recommend that there should be at least one litter box per cat plus one. This is not a hard and fast rule – it depends on the number of feline social groups in the house and the layout of the house itself. All cats must have ready access to this critical resource.

 

Social Groups and Litter Boxes

There is less conflict and less competition for resources among cats of the same social group. Cats of the same social group are less likely to engage in behaviors such as “guarding” a litter box from each other.

House Plans and Litter Boxes

Larger houses and multi-story houses may require a different litter box allocations. Once again, the goal is easy access – for example, in a 3 story house, there should be at least 3 litter boxes, one on each floor of the house.
.

How do I know which cats are part of a social group? Look for “affiliative” behavior: cats belonging to the same social group will groom each other and sleep together.

 Scoop, Scoop, Scoop!


A storage tote has been repurposed as a litter box. The front opening is low and was cut with heavy duty shears and a hacksaw. A trash can for scooping is nearby.
  • Scoop the boxes once or twice daily.
  • Keep a small trash can next to each box to make this chore easier or use a higher-tech solution such as a Litter Genie Pail.
  • Cleaning the box and changing out clumping litter can be done every 2-4 weeks IF YOU SCOOP DAILY.
  • Respect the cat’s sense of smell and use a mild detergent when cleaning the box.

Feces and urine smells are not as distasteful to cats as they are to us – urine and feces can convey messages between cats. Scooping the box MORE frequently and changing out the litter LESS frequently will keep your cat happier by maintaining the scent profile of your cat’s home.