By properly attacking the source, it’s fairly simple to address these unwanted odors.
What causes litter boxes to smell?
It is the ammonia in a cat’s urine that gives your litter box its distinctive smell. Cat urine is quite concentrated, which is why it has such a strong scent. Removing solid waste eliminates a different odor source, but the bouquet of liquid waste often persists, even with diligent cleaning.
It’s usually not enough to remove liquid waste daily. Urine has a wonderful way of finding its way into cracks and crevices where its magic remains. Masking or neutralizing the odor can help keep the box from becoming an unwanted annoyance.
Some litters contain masking agents
Baking soda is one of the most common additives used to neutralize the ammonia in cat urine. This works well, as long as there is enough coverage. More often than not, a baking soda additive reduces, but does not eliminate the smell. It’s challenging to ensure all the urine gets exposed to baking soda.
If you’re using a traditional clay litter, you may opt for a scented variety. These can be effective in masking or changing the smell of your box to make it more acceptable. There are also litter additives available which will help mask or absorb the odors.
Alternative litters naturally absorb odors
Most alternative litters made from wheat, wood, corn or plant fiber control odor quite well without added fragrances or additives. They can be more effective than clay litters, until they get saturated.
Some alternative litters also have an added benefit of reduced tracking and dust, since their granules are larger than clay. While these litters can be more expensive than traditional clay, the added odor control properties reduce your daily litter box maintenance.
Silica gel litter offer a unique compromise
About 15 years ago, a new type of litter made from silica gel became available. We’re familiar with silica gel from the little packets of desiccant found packed inside supplements or electronics to absorb moisture.
This alternative litter is extremely low maintenance because of its light weight, odor control and absorption properties. The unique structure of silica gel first absorbs the moisture of cat urine, locking the odor as it is neutralized. The odor-free liquid then evaporates from the litter.
With these litters, solid waste removal is still required for daily maintenance. Liquid waste remains and is “processed” by the silica gel. The box remains dry and odor-free until the litter becomes saturated. An “average” cat will saturate a litter box in 3-4 weeks. The litter is then dumped out, the box rinsed or cleaned, and refilled.
What about silica dust?
Silica dust can be a real concern for some cat owners and cats. A dusty clay litter can contribute to silicosis, which is an inflammatory lung disease. Some veterinarians no longer recomend the use of clay litter, although documented cases of silicosis caused by cat litter are rare.
Alternative litters, including silica gel litters, do not contain silica dust.
Traditional clay litters are the most economical litters available, although some name-brand clumping clay litters rival alternative litters in price. If your preference is for a clumping clay litter, it may help to look for a less-tracking version. These typically have larger granules, which can reduce dust as well as keep litter and odors inside your box.
A clean box is the key
Regardless of the litter you choose, keeping your box clean is essential. Most litter boxes are soft plastic, which scratches easily. Once urine has found these scratches, it takes up residence. Combined with any residual smell remaining in the litter, these are the critical sources of odor to keep under control.
If you’ve been diligent about cleaning and changing your box, but the smell remains, it’s time to look elsewhere. Chances are there’s been some “incidents” outside the litter box. An inexpensive blacklight can help reveal any stray urine on carpet or upholstery.
Your choice of litter or additive will go a long way to controlling litter box odors. Changing and cleaning your box will ensure your efforts are not wasted!
Do you have a favorite tip or product to keep cat box odors under control? Let us know!