Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Thinking outside the cat box

A few weeks ago, I noticed that our cat was no longer being as conscientious as she used to be about covering her "doings" after using the litter box. This was a bit bothersome, because our litter box sits right out in the open under our wall-mounted sink, so any droppings left uncovered were clearly visible and sometimes smellable as well. I'd thought from time to time about putting up a screen or curtain to conceal the box—which might have the added bonus of reducing the amount of litter that gets scattered out of the box and across the bathroom floor, from whence it migrates into every other room of the house—but I could never come up with an idea for one that wouldn't either look fussy, collect dirt, or get in the way when it was time to scoop out the box.

For a while, I dealt with the problem by simply scattering a little extra litter myself over the top of the box when needed. However, when she actually went so far as to poop next to the box rather than in it, I decided something needed to be done. I did a little research to figure out what might cause the problem, and I found an article that said cats might do this for several reasons:
Maybe the litter's not deep enough or the lining is a pain to negotiate, or the box is too small – it should be 1.5x the length of the cat. Or it's so dirty and stinky that your feline has to hold his breath while watching his step.
Changing the litter and making sure to pile it nice and deep seemed like the easiest fix, so I tried that first. This seemed to solve the second problem, but not the first, so I started wondering whether maybe she could use a bigger box. I measured the one we had and found it was about 18 inches long, and while I had trouble measuring the actual length of the cat (who didn't feel inclined to cooperate with the procedure), it was clearly more than 12 inches. She's also getting on in years—about 12 years old now—and not as spry as she used to be, so I figured she might be starting to have a little trouble maneuvering in the small box.

So the next time we were at PetSmart, I took a look at the selection of cat boxes to see if they had anything a little bigger. I hoped that while I was at it, I might also be able to find something that would be a little more concealed than what we have now, and possibly better at keeping the litter contained. The results, however, were disappointing. Despite what I'd read about the ideal size for a cat box being at least 1.5 times the length of the cat, we didn't find any litter boxes on the shelves that were significantly bigger than our old one, which was a tight fit even for our fairly small cat. And while there were a few boxes with covers or high sides, none of them really looked less obtrusive than the existing box, and all of them looked like they'd be harder for the cat to get into and out of. And on top of that, they all cost at least $20, which seemed like an unreasonable amount to spend for something that might not be any better than what we already had.

As luck would have it, however, I'd recently seen another article on ways to conceal your cat box. Many of them were very clever but wouldn't work for us, because they were designed for a living space rather than a bathroom. However, there was one solution that looked both simple and cheap: a big Rubbermaid storage box. The PetSmart wasn't far from a Target, so we popped in there and found a big, covered storage bin that measured 22 inches long—four inches longer than our existing box—for only five bucks. It also had 14-inch-high sides, which I thought should be much better at keeping the litter contained than our current box's 10-inch sides, and it was a neutral greyish brown that looked like it would blend unobtrusively into the background.

When we got the bin home, the first thing we did was test it to make sure it would fit under the sink. At first it looked like the drainpipe was in the way, but a moment's experimentation showed that the box only had to be tilted slightly to slip under the pipe, so it would still be possible to slide it out for scooping with only a little maneuvering. Now all we needed to do was cut a door in the box for the cat. The original designer of this box simply cut out the hole with an utility knife, but Brian thought it would be a good idea to add a little reinforcement to the bottom edge, both to strengthen it and to blunt it a bit so it wouldn't hurt the cat's paws. Folding over the edge didn't work, as the plastic proved to be too brittle to bend, so instead I proposed instead padding the bottom with a bit of rubber tubing, which we just happened to have lying around the shop. We just cut it to length, cut a slit in the bottom, and slipped it onto the edge of the door. And voilĂ : an extra-large cat box, complete with padded edge, for only five bucks and about twenty minutes of work.

We haven't deployed the new box yet, but we did bring it upstairs to make sure the cat could get in and out of it easily. Despite her normal penchant for exploring enclosed spaces, she didn't show the slightest inclination to investigate the box on her own, so Brian eventually just picked her up and put her in, and she promptly stepped back out through the door with no difficulty. We'll probably get it set up this evening, and I'll keep you posted on how well it does compared to the old one.
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