A cat fanatic and interior design expert shares her top tips for managing a litter box in a small space
She’s not just a recreational cat lady either. She is a professional. In 2012, she launched Hauspanther, a design resource for cat owners; she is also the co-author of bestsellers “Catification” and “Catify to Satisfy,” both about creating cat-friendly – but stylish – homes.
Her own litter box routine involves scooping out the 11 boxes in her apartment several times a day, wiping them all down and freshening up litter once a week, and performing a monthly deep clean that includes thoroughly scrubbing their insides. All the while, she navigates the distinct preferences of her many four-legged companions. For example, Horacio Queso, a black, short-haired gentleman, insists on exclusive use of the boxes in Benjamin’s office and must be let in promptly every morning.
That’s why, despite her years of research and first-hand experience, Benjamin emphasizes that the real expert on small-space litter box strategy probably already lives in your home: your cat. “You have to listen to what they tell you” she says.
Nevertheless, Benjamin’s advice is also quite good.
Where to put a litter box in a small space
The worst thing about a litter box in a small space is also an advantage: because you can’t hide it in a basement or laundry room, you’ll probably do a better job of remembering to clean it. “It’s better for you, it’s better for the cat,” says Benjamin.
When figuring out where to place the box in a small space, it’s important to choose somewhere where the cat has privacy. When cats go to the bathroom, they’re “hardwired to think, oh, I just did something that might attract a predator,” says Benjamin, so they prefer some privacy. However, do not place the box in a closet where dust and odors can build up without good air circulation.
You’ll also want to avoid the kitchen, for the obvious reason that it’s unsanitary (not to mention unpleasant).
If the box is to be in a high-traffic zone, Benjamin suggests putting a screen around it (actual litter box screens do exist, but any room divider can work as long as it’s easy to wipe down). “It allows for a very good air flow,” she says. “But it has some privacy and it’s very easy to move the screen and get back there and clean.”
No matter the location, keep a small vacuum or broom nearby to clean up anything your cat tracks outside of the box. Benjamin swears by her cordless Dyson, which hangs on the wall.
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Reduce litter box odors in a small space
Even carefully maintained litter boxes still smell from time to time. An air purifier placed nearby can help. Benjamin advises choosing one that doesn’t make too much noise — which could deter your cat from using the box — and getting one with a HEPA filter that will remove dust and pet excrement from the air. .
Benjamin has another tool she swears by: crushed zeolite, a natural mineral she describes as “baking soda on steroids.” Also used in horse stalls, zeolite is safe for cats even if they ingest it. Mix it with your litter to combat odors.
Finally, if you can’t immediately take your bags of scooped-up litter to an outdoor bin, consider getting a container made specifically for litter bin waste, which will also reduce odors.
Choose a litter box for a small space
If there is a litter box available on the market, Benjamin has almost certainly tried it. “I have as much variety as I can in a small space without covering the whole house in litter boxes,” she says. As with so many feline problems, you can try to figure out which box is best for your pet.
Top-entry models tend to be popular for small homes because they take advantage of vertical space and, compared to lidless or side-entry boxes, they do a better job of keeping clutter at bay. Still, this style won’t work for all pets, says Benjamin. If your cat is elderly or has mobility issues, she may have trouble getting in and out.
Upper access boxes also provide opportunities for cats to be trapped by children or other pets when they try to go out. (The rare litter box ambush in the Benjamin household is generally caused by 2-year-old Sven, who can be “very erratic.”) Plus, some cats don’t like to be confined. One compromise Benjamin likes is the Cove litter box from Tuft + Paw. It has high sides to contain debris and includes a removable wall.
In a small space, you can also consider a triangular litter box, designed to fit neatly into a corner, like the Kitangle seamless covered litter box, which Benjamin uses in her home.
Somewhat surprisingly for a woman with 13 cats, Benjamin is not a fan of robotic litter boxes that claim to be self-cleaning. She tried one a few years back and says some of her cats were so put off by its sounds and movements that they refused to use it. Bear, one of her larger cats, was so unnerved that he would try to hit it.
If aesthetics are important to you, there are many litter boxes available that look like furniture, including some disguised as end tables, cabinets or planters. But don’t lose sight of the most important thing: “It’s important that the cat has enough space to move around inside and feel comfortable,” says Benjamin.
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Choosing the right litter
Once you have the right box, you’ll need the right litter. Just keep in mind that if you decide to change the type you’re already using, you need to keep an eye on your pet, as cats can become anxious about change. Try to ease yours into the new stuff by gradually adding more of it to the box with each cleaning.
The first question to consider when shopping for litter is lump or no lump? In small spaces, the answer is almost always the former, as the non-clumping kind need to be completely dumped and refilled much more often (a pain when you have limited access to garbage disposals and few places to set up an extra litter supply). However, the biggest disadvantage of clumping litter is that it is dusty. That’s why Benjamin tends to use it only in the seven litter boxes on her “catio” – her screened-in porch, which she has of course given over to the cats.
For her indoor boxes, Benjamin uses crystal-style litter, which absorbs liquids and traps odors, but sheds less dust. The disadvantages are that it needs to be replaced more often, and its grains are sharp underfoot.
One thing Benjamin diligently avoids: scented litter. Cats have a strong sense of smell and may find the smell offensive. Plus, as Benjamin wisely points out, “Masking the smell isn’t really taking care of it.”