Most cat owners can agree that one of the worst parts of caring for a cat is the dreaded chore of cleaning the litter box, although being woken up in the middle of the night by a yowl for more food ranks up there, too. Litter boxes are often shoved into an out-of-the-way corner to limit odor and mess, and to avoid tripping over the box. But, litter box placement requires more careful thought from your cat’s perspective. While you may want to stick the box in the laundry room, your cat is unlikely to appreciate trying to do her business next to an off-balance, rattling washing machine.

The following story illustrates how the supposedly simple task of litter box placement can be delicate—and disastrous.

Setting the world on fire with a litter box

As Dr. McSweeney was sitting in his office one day, he was aware of an odor no business or home owner wants to smell—something was burning. As a veterinarian, a fire in the hospital is extra terrifying, because there is nothing worse than being unable to save the pets under your care. 

Dr. McSweeney quickly alerted the team, and everyone jumped into action, some searching for the cause of the burning odor, while others grabbed fire extinguishers. Searching frantically, the team discovered the odor was coming from Dr. McSweeney’s office. They explored every nook and cranny, unplugged all the electronics and appliances, and discovered the source of the smell. One of the clinic cats had urinated in the uncovered litter box in the office, overshooting the edge, and hitting a wall outlet. The urine stream caused a flame that scorched the litter box, and created the burning odor. Lesson learneddo not place uncovered litter boxes near an electrical wall outlet. This issue could have caused a catastrophic fire, if it had occurred overnight. 

Precautions taken at Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital

While this story could have quickly become a tragedy, we are thankful our hospital takes proper precautions to avert such potential catastrophes, such as: 

  • Electronics — We unplug almost every electronic device every evening before leaving the building.
  • Smoke detectors — Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors comprise part of our overall monitored alarm system.
  • Building — Our walls, ceilings, and floors are concrete, which makes the building somewhat fireproof.
  • Windows — Our side windows are bullet-proof, and the front glass has laminate sandwiched between two pieces of glass, similar to a car windshield.
  • Cameras — We have a camera system inside and outside, to monitor abnormal events.

We now also ensure all uncovered litter boxes are nowhere near electrical outlets. Cats are clever at knocking over things, such as candles, hot plates, and portable stoves, which can lead to disastrous fires, so we know to expect the worst, and to kitty-proof our hospital.

Tips on litter box placement

While we’ve already discussed why litter boxes, especially uncovered ones, shouldn’t be placed near electrical outlets, you should also keep these other tips in mind when undertaking the art of litter box placement:

  • Keep litter boxes away from heavily trafficked areas, such as the living room and kitchen.
  • Avoid placing the litter box in a corner or hidden behind items. In multi-cat households, unnoticeable bullying may occur, which can lead to inappropriate elimination, if a cat feels closed in while using the box in a corner. 
  • Place the litter box somewhere quiet. No cat wants to use a box next to a rumbling washing machine, or roaring furnace. 
  • Create separate resource stations, and house food and water in a different location than the litter box. Nobody wants to eat in their bathroom. 
  • Keep this rule of thumb in mind—have one litter box per cat, plus one, spread throughout your home, rather than creating a communal bathroom area.

Many cats are extremely finicky about their litter boxes and their litter type, and demand appropriate placement, and strict hygiene. If your cat does not like the litter box location, it’s not scooped and disinfected frequently enough, or it’s filled with a litter substrate she does not like, you may discover inappropriate elimination issues in your home. In multi-cat households, ensure every cat is satisfied with a variety of boxes, litter, and locations, such as covered or uncovered, fine or coarse litter, and upstairs or downstairs. Also, watch out for subtle intercat aggression, since stress is another factor for inappropriate elimination. 

If you notice an issue with your cat’s elimination habits, schedule an appointment with us to rule out organ dysfunction, urinary tract infections, or behavior-related changes.