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8 Tips for Improving Your Cat's Litter Box

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One of the (very few!) downsides of owning a cat is dealing with a litter box. Besides scooping the box and refilling it with litter, cat owners have to find ways to eliminate odor, keep the floor clean, and make sure their cats actually use the litter box (rather than the floor or furniture). Read on for eight tips for keeping your cat's box tidy, fresh, and welcoming.

1. PUT THE BOX SOMEWHERE QUIET YET ACCESSIBLE.

Although it might be tempting to stash your cat’s litter box out of sight, placement is important for a cat’s sense of security. “Your cat’s box should be in a quiet place that is easy for your cat to access, and should not be close to his food and water bowls; cats instinctively do not like to eliminate where they eat,” cat behavior consultant Rita Reimers tells mental_floss. Even if you live in a tiny apartment, try to put the box far away from a loud heater or washer/dryer. And because privacy and convenience matter to your cat, you should have more than one litter box if you have more than one cat.

2. STICK WITH UNSCENTED LITTER.

You can buy a bunch of different types and textures of litter, from clay to silica gel to biodegradable and beyond. If your cat isn’t using his litter box, try gradually changing the type of cat litter until your cat finds one he likes. If you still have no luck, try sand

According to cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett, cats have 67 million scent receptors, while humans have only 5 million, so sticking to unscented litters is considerate of your cat’s strong sense of smell. “It is best to avoid overly scented and perfumed cat litters that not only may be unappealing to your cat, but may actually make him sick when he cleans his paws after using the box,” says Reimers.

3. PUT BAKING SODA IN THE BOX.

Because your cat probably won’t love scented litter, you can try keeping the area around the litter box smelling fresh by sprinkling a little baking soda on the bottom of the box, under the litter. Experiment to find a good balance between using enough baking soda to cut down on bad odors, but not so much that you offend your cat’s sense of smell and discourage him from using the box.

4. WASH THE BOX TO ELIMINATE ODORS.

Feline behavior consultant Anita Kelsey tells mental_floss that to cut down on odor, you should scoop out your cat’s waste material from the litter box twice a day. Additionally, simple washing can help improve the smell. You should “thoroughly wash the tray once a week [to get it] ready for a complete batch of fresh litter. This should keep the litter tray and area smelling clean,” says Kelsey.

5. GET A NEW BOX EVERY YEAR…

No matter how well you maintain your cat’s litter box, it’s bound to get worn down from daily use. Your cat’s nails and the scooper can scrape the plastic, creating tiny grooves that are a breeding ground for bacteria. You should buy a new litter box every year, but try to get one that is similar in size and appearance to what your cat is accustomed to using.

6. …OR MAKE A SIMPLE DIY ONE.

If you’d rather not purchase a litter box every year, consider DIY-ing a box. Use a large plastic rectangular storage tray that is the right depth and has "the length and space for a cat to maneuver naturally,” says Kelsey. The box should be big enough for your cat to dig, cover her waste by scraping litter back, and circle. “Many commercial litter boxes are too small for the average domestic cat and especially for the larger breeds,” says Kelsey.

7. AVOID COVERED BOXES.

A litter box with a hood does a better job of keeping odors confined and stray pieces of litter off your floor, but your cat probably prefers an open, uncovered litter box. Because cats turn around and dig inside their boxes, a cover can restrict your cat’s movement, and cats need to feel that they can easily escape, lest potential predators box them in.

8. KEEP IT SIMPLE.

According to Johnson-Bennett, electronic litter boxes create more hassle than they’re worth. Some of these self-cleaning boxes have loud motors, clog easily, and don’t have enough space for your cat to move. Additionally, you won’t be able to monitor your cat’s waste for clues about his overall health. “When you clean the box, it’s an opportunity to check on your cat’s health. It’s during cleaning time that you may notice constipation, diarrhea, a larger-than-normal urine clump, or no urine clump at all,” writes Johnson-Bennett.

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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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Animals
10 Notable Gestation Periods in the Animal Kingdom
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The gestation periods of the animal kingdom are varied and fascinating. Some clock in at just a few weeks, making any human green with envy, while others can last more than a year. Here are 10 notable gestation times for animals around the globe. The lesson? Be thankful that you’re not a pregnant elephant.

1. ELEPHANTS: 640-660 DAYS

Elephants are pregnant for a long time. Like really, really long. At an average of 95 weeks, the gestation period is more than double the length of a human pregnancy, so it shouldn't come as a shock that female elephants don't often have more than four offspring during their lifetimes. Who has the time?

2. HIPPOS: 8 MONTHS

A photo of a mother hippo and her baby in Uganda

Yes, it takes less time to make a hippopotamus than it takes to make a human.

3. GIRAFFE: 14-15 MONTHS

Baby giraffes can weigh more than 150 pounds and can be around 6 feet tall. Another fascinating tidbit: giraffes give birth standing up, so it's pretty normal for a baby to fall 6 feet to the ground.

4. KILLER WHALE: 17 MONTHS

There’s a reason for the long wait: after that 17 months, Baby Shamu emerges weighing anywhere from 265 to 353 pounds and measuring about 8.5 feet long. Yikes.

5. OPOSSUM: 12-13 DAYS

A baby opossum wrapped up in a blanket

Blink and you'll miss it: This is the shortest gestation period of any mammal in North America. But since the lifespan of an opossum is only two to four years, it makes sense.

6. GERBILS: 25 DAYS

Hey, they get off pretty easy.

7. GORILLAS: 8.5 MONTHS

It's not a huge surprise that their gestational periods are pretty similar to ours, right?

8. BLACK BEAR: 220 DAYS

A pair of black bear cubs

Also less than a human. Interestingly, cubs might only be 6 to 8 inches in length at birth and are completely hairless. 

9. PORCUPINE: 112 DAYS

This is the longest gestation period of any rodent. Thankfully for the mother, porcupine babies (a.k.a. porcupettes) are actually born with soft quills, and it's not until after birth that they harden up.

10. WALRUS: 15 MONTHS

Baby walruses? Kind of adorable. They certainly take their sweet time coming out, though.

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