How deep should litter be in the box?

How deep should litter be in the box?

Litter-box training your cat can be a chore. Cats tend to be picky about everything in their lives and litter is no exception. The box needs to be the right size, the litter needs to be the right sort, and the litter can’t be too deep or not deep enough. If this is your first time caring for a kitty, you may struggle to determine how deep the litter is.

How deep should litter be in the box? Generally speaking, the litter should be around 5cm (2ins) to 8 cm (3 ins) deep. Some cats may benefit from a little extra litter if they are deep scratchers.

If you’ve landed on this page, you have questions about cat care as it relates too litter-box use.

  • How deep do I need to fill the litter-box?
  • Why is my cat shoveling litter out of the box?
  • Why won’t my cat go all the way into the litter-box?

Luckily, we have the answers you’re looking for. Just keep reading to find out everything you need to know.

How deep should litter be in the box?

You need to fill the litter-box to between 5 cm (2 in) and 8 cm (3 ins) deep. If you put too little litter in the box, your cat may feel that it’s not sufficient to cover everything up and decide to find another spot. If you put in too much, your cat might not be comfortable using the box because the surface feels unsteady under her feet. It’s also wasteful and unnecessary; you’ll end up going through more litter than you need to. You want to ensure that your cat has a thick enough layer of litter to bury everything but not so much that she won’t enter the box or feels compelled to kick her litter onto the floor.

It’s often tempting to just toss an extra layer of litter on top of the existing litter rather than change your cat’s tray. This is a mistake, however. If you keep on adding litter rather than changing the box, you’ll end up with a deep layer of litter that’s also dirty and unsanitary — a recipe for litter-box refusal.

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When filling the box, you may feel like you don’t want to use too much litter and an inch or less is fine. For some cats, this might be okay. For most, though, it’s going to be too shallow and may make your cat anxious about using her box.

Why is my cat kicking litter out of the box?

It can be hugely annoying to provide a clean and tidy litter-box, only to have your cat decide that she’s going to grit the entire area with chunks of kitty litter. You sigh, fetch the dustpan and clean up… only to have the same thing occur a few hours later when your cat next uses her box.

Cats who kick litter out of the box often don’t realize they’re doing it. They think they’re just burying their waste in the usual way and have overestimated the amount of space that they’ve got to maneuver in. You can help here by providing a boxy with higher sides.

In other instances, a cat may kick litter around because there’s simply too much in there for her to feel comfortable. A litter-box with litter that’s too deep can feel highly unsettling under your cat’s paws; the litter gives way under her feet and gives her an unpleasant sense that the ground is giving way. She may decide to kick her litter around as a way to address this; with less litter between her and the bottom of her box, she’ll feel more confident about stepping in there.

Another reason that your cat inadvertently kicks litter out of her box is that the box itself is too small. Most commercially available litter-boxes are actually on the small side for many cats. To find out how big the box needs to be, measure your cat’s length from her nose to the base of the tail. This is the minimum width you’ll need. Now take that figure and multiply it by 1.5. This gives you the minimum length of the box. For example, if your cat measures 50 cm from nose to tail she’ll need a box that’s at least 50 cm wide and at least 75 cm across. This might seem excessive but your cat really needs that space in order to turn around comfortably. You can resolve a lot of litter-box issues simply by laying on a bigger box. It’s okay if your cat’s secondary litter tray isn’t as big but she should have at least one tray that’s properly sized.

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If you can’t find a large enough litter-box, don’t worry. Just use a large plastic storage crate. You may need to cut down one side to allow the cat easy access; don’t forget to sand down any rough edges so she doesn’t get scratched climbing in and out, as this could discourage her from using her box.

Why won’t my cat get all the way into her box?

Some cats seem to get the idea of the litter-box but don’t seem to grasp that they need to be all the way inside to use it properly. This can be exasperating, particularly if the wrong end of the cat is outside of the box and you’re left with cleaning to do. You may be filling the litter-box too deeply, meaning that your cat is anxious about putting all four paws inside the box.

As with cats who kick litter out of the box, you may also be offering a litter-box that’s too small. If you’re offering a covered litter-box, this could also be the culprit. Some cats really appreciate the privacy of a covered box but others feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable. A correctly sized box that doesn’t make your cat feel confined can resolve the issue of a cat who doesn’t want to get into the box properly.

Your cat may also be reluctant to get into the box if the litter needs changing. Try cleaning out her box and putting down fresh litter more often to see if this solves the problem.

What type of litter should I use?

There are so many kinds of litter on the market that it can be a little bewildering. Clumping, non-clumping, clay-based, wood-pulp-based, litter made from paper pellets, litter made with sand, litter with fragrance, litter without, all making grandiose claims about their special properties.

For the most part, you will want to steer clear of fragranced formulas. Some cats don’t seem to mind it but others are strongly deterred by the presence of fragrance in their litter. In some cases, your cat may even be allergic to the fragrance used in the litter. The subsequent reaction might put your cat off using her litter-box. Fragranced kitty-litter doesn’t really work well anyway — it just adds an unpleasant chemical fragrance to the odor of the litter.

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Cats are not usually fans of cellulose-based litter products. Using shredded paper, paper pellets or wood pellets may sound like a good idea but cats seem to find something about these materials objectionable. I’ve never found my cats willing to use paper litter of any kind. A well-trained cat who finds her box filled with paper-based litter may reluctantly use it the first few times; however, she is likely to protest and may begin refusing the litter-box if you keep putting it in there. There seems to be something about the tactile experience that bothers cats.

On the whole, I find a standard clay-based litter works very well and is acceptable to every single cat I’ve owned. I like to get the clumping variety over the non-clumping type because it makes scooping easier between litter changes. I prefer a low-dust formula if possible; this stops the cat from ingesting the material when licking the dust off her fur.

How often should I change the litter-box?

Failing to clean out the litter-box regularly is one of the chief causes of litter-box refusal. If you let waste build up inside the box, your cat will become deeply unhappy about using it and may start to have bathroom accidents outside the box.

In between litter changes, you need to scoop out the waste from the box and get rid of it a couple of times a day. I find it easy enough just to bag up the clumps and dispose of them with the household waste twice a day. If you find this a struggle, use a litter disposal system such as the Litter Genie. These products are designed to seal away litter in a secure container until you have time to throw it out.

Litter-boxes should be cleaned out completely at least once a week. Throw away the old litter, toss out the box liner and clean the box thoroughly before putting in a new liner and a fresh layer of litter. I personally prefer to use newspaper over the plastic liner as this seems to have a less objectionable texture for cats.

Article by Barbara Read
Barbara read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.