Change sucks but we as human are used to dealing with it. Cats on the other hand, is a creature of habit. Some reacts to change better than others but in general change stresses them out.
With patience and pre-planning, new litter transition can be a stress-free experience for everyone.
When changing litter is necessary?
If they understand human language, you can probably explain why it is necessary to change the litter, such as:
- Cat is adopted into a new home.
- Cat or owner is allergic to the litter (e.g: some litter is very dusty and can trigger asthma).
- Discontinued by manufacturer (e.g: Purina discontinued Maxx Scoop line).
- Environmental responsibility (clay litter is cheap but becomes a a growing landfill issue).
- Budget (let’s be honest here, sometimes we need to make hard choices).
Until they expand their vocabulary beyond “meow”, the only way to communicate the change is by actually changing the litter and letting them find out the hard way. Unfortunately, this abrupt change can be alarming to cats.
Why will my cat care?
Let’s wear our cat hat and analyze why changing the litter is a big deal to cats:
One of the main differences between cats and human is their freakishly strong sense of smell.
In addition to nose, they have a secondary scent sensor in their mouth. As a result, cats have about 40 times more smell-sensing cells in their nasal passage. I mean, they know how the other cat’s mood, diet, availability for mating, stress, etc. just by sniffing each other’s butt. That is pretty amazing.
When the new litter has a stronger fragrance, they can be turned off by the sudden change in smell. Remember, even a light fragrance will be more prominent for cats, especially in a covered box.
Sometimes they are just being a cat and dislike the smell for no reason. The difference in fragrance can discourage them to continue using the litter box.
Cat paw pads are sensitive to touch, just like human palms.
They will recognize the difference of small clay granules vs. large paper pellets. As a small cat in a big human world, they may get freaked out by the difference in texture.
Sometimes the new litter is worse at controlling the pee and poop smell. This is true for those switching from clay-based to eco-friendly litter such as corn, paper-based litter, etc. It makes the litter box smell “dirty” to cats.
Dirty litter, as some of us learn the hard way, can be a deterrent for cats. Even cats do not like dirty washroom!
What is the worst that can happen?
Before you go ahead, let me paint a picture of the worst case.
A cat who is not receptive to the change may decide to avoid the litter box all together and pee or poop on your favorite sweater or couch (ouch!). If this becomes a habit, it will be difficult to re-train them into using the litter box again.
Let’s also not mention that your house will forever smell like litter box because, well, it is basically a gigantic litter box full of absorbent materials for them to pee on.
If this does happen to you, make sure to read our extensive guide on how to re-train your cat to use the litter again.
But I really really need to change!
To avoid unnecessary litter box incidents, consider the following strategies:
Try setting out an extra box with the new litter. This will allow them to try out the new one but still have access to the old litter as a fall back.
Obviously this method is not ideal for every household (e.g: someone with space constraint). Having to walk around an army of litter boxes to get out of your house is ridiculous (and unsafe) and I totally understand it, therefore read on!
The key to reduce stress is to slowly transition into the new litter.
The method below can be done in 3-5 days. If your cat is generally not very receptive to change, you will want to extend the transition period.
The transition involves layering the litter and slowly decrease the amount of old litter over a period of time. This method is obviously only possible if you have some supply of the current litter so plan ahead!
Day 1: Fill the box 1/3 of the way with the new litter. Top up with the old litter.
Day 3: Fill with a 50:50 ratio.
Day 5: Fill the bottom 2/3 with the new litter and top up with the old litter.
The layers will get mixed up once they use the box. That is perfectly ok! The point is to introduce something new in the mix with something familiar.
Tip: If you are adopting a cat, ask the previous owner what brand they are currently using. Ask them if you can have some as sample. Instead of buying a new bag of litter for the sake of transitioning, you can then use this “sample” to top up your box.
Keep in mind that some litter is less effective than others in odor reduction. In the first few days of using the new litter, observe how well it controls odor. If necessary, adjust your cleaning frequency to compensate for the litter performance. As a starting point, follow the frequency suggestions in this post.
You know how much your cat poops and pees. If there is a noticeable change in quantity (and assuming it is not health-related) or there is a litter box incident, go back to the drawing board and figure out what is it about the new litter that deters them from using it.
For example, fragrance is a big one. Even when it is not scented up front, some litter has a moisture-release fragrance so the it won’t be obvious until the litter is spent.
If the new one is more scenty, try to get the no-scent version. Usually cat litter manufacturer has scented and non-scented version of the same line to appease the crowd.
Lastly, any and all recommendations are welcome. I can only vouch for what I have used, but I am sure the world would be grateful for even more secrets, resources, and tips. Keep ’em coming.