Providing Outdoor Litter Boxes

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A safe, quiet, private outdoor bathroom with the perfect material to dig in—what more could a community cat want? That’s right, cats who call the outdoors home enjoy having their own litter box just as much as cats who live indoors.

Outdoor litter boxes make for happier neighbors, too. If a person is concerned that cats are using their flower garden or front yard as a toilet, an outdoor litter box is the solution. A study in Japan found that community cats provided with outdoor litter boxes for the first time used them exclusively within weeks and stopped eliminating on the ground.

With one or more outdoor litter boxes set up in strategic areas, community cats will have places to “go” that are out of sight and out of mind.

An outdoor litter box could save a cat’s life.

A neighbor frustrated with community cats using the bathroom in their yard or garden may call animal control to remove the cats. We want to do whatever we can to prevent that from happening. Far too often, cats who are brought into animal shelters will be killed.

You can take initiative and protect community cats by building an outdoor litter box. With a proper place to do their business, cats are less likely to do so somewhere they aren’t wanted. It’s a great way to improve the cats’ lives and help people and cats coexist.

Building an outdoor litter box

You can get creative, but we advise you to think about how indoor litter boxes are built. Your outdoor litter box should follow these same blueprints.

  • Build a frame. Start with a frame of four walls that are the right height for cats in the area. If there are kittens in your neighborhood, make the walls shorter so they can climb in and out easily.
  • Cover it if you want. You can leave the litter box open with no roof. You can also build it out of a large container, like a plastic storage bin, so it’s more like a cat shelter. A covered box can help cats feel hidden and safe.
  • No need for bottoms. Don’t worry about building a bottom for a litter box if you’re building a frame; you’ll want easy drainage.
  • Choose the right litter. Conventional litter won’t work for an outdoor litter box unless the box is fully covered. Think about it: clumping litter in the rain sounds like a recipe for disaster! Instead, use materials like sand or peat moss, which you can find at most hardware or garden stores.
  • Don’t overfill. Only use enough litter in the litter box for cats to comfortably dig in—which is a major attraction for them.

Sample outdoor litter boxes

These ideas will help you get started creating your own:

Help cats find and use an outdoor litter box

You can’t exactly litter box train a community cat like a cat who lives indoors with you. However, there are still ways to attract them to your outdoor litter boxes. The trick is to think like a cat.

  • Choose quiet, hidden areas. All cats love peace and quiet to do their business, and community cats want to be around people as little as possible. Place outdoor litter boxes in out-of-the-way areas with little human traffic.
  • Keep it away from the cat’s food and water. Be sure to place the outdoor litter box away from areas where cats eat or drink. This includes any water features in your yard, such as a pond or fountain.
  • Observe their favorite spots. Determine which of these areas are away from people and out of concerned neighbors’ yards and place the litter boxes there. It’s especially useful to set a litter box where you’ve seen cats use the bathroom before.
  • A little privacy. If you don’t build a covered outdoor litter box, place it in an area surrounded by bushes or other foliage so cats can “go” in private. You can even build or buy a small wooden lattice as a screen to hide it.
  • Keep it clean. Scoop outdoor litter boxes regularly like you would a litter box indoors. Cats don’t want their paws in a dirty, smelly area. By regularly cleaning, you also reduce odors and keep any flies away. Be sure to replace all of the litter periodically.
  • Make it the go-to option. Ensure cats use the outdoor litter box by blocking their access to other locations they like to “go,” such as gardens and flowerbeds. Alley Cat Allies has many humane deterrent options to keep cats from these areas.
  • Give it appeal. Try mixing some of the area’s natural soil and non-poisonous leaves into the litter. Cats will then see the box as familiar and, therefore, safe. If you can, put a piece of the cat’s feces into the litter box to help them start seeing it as their bathroom. There are also commercial products you can add to the litter to attract cats, such as Cat Attract™ Litter Additive. Discouraging cats from other areas with the humane deterrents will also drive cats to the areas you do want them to be: where you have their litter box set up.

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