Why is My Litter Box Stinky?

On strike until litter is cleaned. (Image: Allen Watkin via Flickr)
On strike until litter is cleaned. (Image: Allen Watkin via Flickr)

(Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links (read more about it here). However, my opinions are my own and I would only endorse items that I would let my cats use.)

Q: Help, my house smells like the litter box! How can I enjoy breathing in my house without having to wear a face mask at all times?

Mr. Poopy Pants and Ms. Bum Bums have brought many joys to my life. They were there when I went through my N-th breakups and needed a distraction. They are happily waiting at the door every time I come home from a long and terrible day at work.

With the joy, unfortunately they also bring with them an eye and nose sore that is the litter box. Back when I was living in a micro apartment, the litter box was within direct line of sight from the dining area. Somehow one of them always needed to use the box while guests are having dinner. Let’s just say that there were lots of leftovers every time I host.

The bad odor originates from two things: poop and pee (duh!). They contain urea, which bacteria would digest to form ammonia (aka stinky litter smell). There is also poop smell, which is produced immediately during pooping.

To control the odor, various litter manufacturer uses different methods: masking the smell, prevent bacteria growth, sealing the waste, etc. Some works better than others (you can read more about it here). While choosing the right litter is important, you are an equally important factor in odor control. 

Litter Depth:

Each manufacturer has a recommended litter depth, which is generally about 3 inches. They are not just saying this so you use more and therefore buy their product frequently and drive up their stock price.

Litter boxes are made of plastic which is porous material. Plastic will absorb urine that is pooled at the bottom of the box. A shallow litter presents two problems: a pool of urine is an excellent breeding ground for bacteria, and the plastic “pores” will now also have bacteria.

More bacteria means more ammonia production to ruin your dinner parties. See the problem?

There are some exceptions to this of course. Older cats with arthritis may need to “grip” more, which makes them uncomfortable in a deeper litter. Bigger cats may need more than 3 inches since they pee more.

Cleaning Frequency:

Ideally, scooping as soon as the “package” is dropped is the best. That gives little time for bacteria to grow and process the urea.

Assuming you do not have a lady-in-waiting, you probably do not have time for that. Only you and your cat can decide the best frequency (Mr. Poopy Pants provides visual cues when it is no longer acceptable).

All I can say is that cats are clean animal. Just like human, they do not like to use gross washroom. As a reference, I clean mine once daily.

Change-out Frequency:

So you scoop frequently, litter is always spotless, and it is always as deep as an Olympic size swimming pool. Great! Now you need to throw everything out and do a complete overhaul.

To make sure there are no bacteria that accumulates, put a fresh batch of litter every 4 – 6 weeks.  While you are at it, do not forget to clean the box and scoop with hot water and unscented soap.

Cat Food:

You are what you eat. This is SO true for cats. Cat diet is rich in protein which makes cat poop protein-rich. This is why dogs love to snack on cat poop.

Most cat food has grain filler (corn, wheat, etc.), which is difficult for cats to digest. The result is stinky, larger poop. If you still struggle with stinky litter, try switching their diet to grain-free food. I have been using this one for a while and have been satisfied.


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