Five common mistakes cat parents make with litter boxes, and what to do instead

Person scooping cat litter tray
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You might think you’re doing everything right with your cat’s litter boxes, but then maybe you realize that your kitty has gone to the toilet elsewhere. Or perhaps you have two or three cats, and you’ve noticed some tension between them around the litter box – even if you’ve got the best cat litter box on the market. 

It’s easy to make mistakes when it comes to managing your kitty’s litter boxes. But fortunately, they’re easy to rectify too. Molly Kelsey, AKA  The Cat Counsellor, has outlined five common mistakes that cat parents often make with litter boxes, and how to avoid them, in a recent Instagram post – some of them hadn’t even occurred to us!

1. There’s not enough of them: Can cats share a litter box? As Kelsey explains, not having enough litter boxes can cause house soiling and stress-related behaviors too. These might include marking, overgrooming, and furniture scratching. So, it’s a good idea to have one litter box per cat, and then an extra one. 

2. Not keeping the litter box clean: “Cats by nature are clean animals and will find being forced to use a dirty litter box an unpleasant experience, or they may refuse to use it altogether,” says Kelsey.

“Scoop waste as soon as possible and dispose of it away from the litter box. Ensure that the box is cleaned and litter is replaced regularly i.e. weekly.”

3. The size and shape of the litter box aren’t suited to your cat: Several factors, including your cat’s size, physical capabilities, and simply their personal preferences, will influence the sort of litter box they like. 

While all cats are different, as a general rule it’s a good idea to go for litter boxes at least 1.5x the size of your cat. Meanwhile, for older or disabled cats, it makes sense to choose a low-sided box. 

4. Wrong type of litter substrate: Kelsey explains, “Many litters on the market are made to cater to us, rather than the cats who use it. Fragrances and odor-control powders are common additives, which can irritate a cat’s airways and sense of smell.”

There are many different types of cat litter, but it’s best to choose litter that’s low-dust and non-fragranced, and that’s made from small pellets or a sand-like substance, so that it clumps together and better absorbs liquid.

5. Unsuitable location for toileting: “While a litter box isn't the most aesthetic item in the home,” says Kelsey, “Where they are located goes a long way in being appealing to your cats for daily use.”

Go for quiet and private locations, if you can, and try to make sure that other important resources – including other litter boxes as well as things like food and water bowls – are away from each litter box.

If you’ve taken on board these steps, but you’re still dealing with issues like soiling in the house, it’s a good idea to consult your vet. There may be a medical reason for your kitty’s behavior – or at the very least, you can rule serious health concerns out. 

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Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering pets, lifestyle, health and culture, and he has six years' experience in journalism. He was senior editor at, and has written for The Independent, GoodToKnow and Healthline

He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' golden retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.