Ashes to Ashes, Cat Litter to Cat Litter

Our shelter adoption feature was going to be Abby, a beautiful Ragdoll but she was adopted in record time. No surprise there.

Cats are sources of eternal wonder and surprises. Our foster gal Nou Nou has settled in nicely and left her mark literally. She uses her litter box normally and is exceptionally neat and tidy. I thought she might enjoy testing a new automatic cleaning litter and I placed in near her regular litter box. Odin loved it. She did not (I’ll review the litter box another day). Everything was fine until I noticed paw prints on my desk, the piano and near the fireplace. At first I thought it was dust but on closer inspection, it turned out to be fine ash from the fireplace. We’d been burning more fires than usual given the cold winter and not cleaning out the ashes lately.

It didn’t take long to find the ash-loving kitty. One day I’m sitting on the sofa and I hear the tell-tale sound of a cat scratching in a litter box, except there wasn’t one nearby. I look up and there’s Nou Nou digging and scraping in the fireplace. If that wasn’t enough evidence, the scent of fresh poop confirmed it. It was time for a deeper investigation of the middening. Sure enough, she’d been using the super-sized brick litter box a few times but thankfully no pee.

For centuries people have used fireplace ashes for cat litter and they pose no hazard but this was one habit I don’t want to encourage. Until clay cat litter was commercially made and sold in 1947, cat owners made do with newspapers, sawdust or fireplace ashes but they were messy. In those days there were more indoor-outdoor cats and many did their business outdoors. These days we have so many litter choices, maybe too many.

After cleaning and using an odor neutralizer in and around the fireplace, I placed a decorative screen to block access and placed a small litter box outside. Nou Nou happily used it, as neatly as ever, but again only for poo. The next step will be to move it closer to another litter box that she likes, away from the fireplace and once she uses it, to remove the screen. At that point, I’ll probably remove the other litter. My sense is this behavior is territorial and linked to the new litter box that Odin used. It demonstrates how a small change can promote new unwanted behavior. With a cat who is territorially insecure, it’s important not rock the boat. She’s using a new cat bed on my desk that I hope will help her feel more secure. I’m also a big believer in having a variety of different litter boxes in convenient and accessible locations. We currently have seven boxes on three floors.

Has your cat ever used the fireplace as a litter box?

litter box adventures



27 thoughts on “Ashes to Ashes, Cat Litter to Cat Litter”

  1. How do you remove the oder so you can have a fire and not smell that horrible smell . I tri red winded and baking soda. Is there anything else I can use? Jan

  2. Just a gas fire here and no, I haven’t pooped or peed in it!! I’ve only ever used the one box I have indoors or the great outdoors where I am spoilt for choice 🙂

  3. If she always used her litter and box, you should give it back. In her same place. Put the tester somewhere else.
    You can completely turn off a cat from using one, if you move it or change the litter in one she was perfectly happy with before.
    I know this from experience with many cats and kittens I’ve helped find forever homes.
    Lots of cats need 2, one for pee and one poop.
    Good Luck

      1. Trust me, it’ll never happen again.
        I’ve been completely been put in my place. I’ll take my name off your mailing list.

  4. You’re right about the tiniest thing causing disruption. The a/c repairman has all of us acting strange today, even though he’s long gone.

    PS. I saw your comment asking if I had gotten your email, and I re-forwarded my last response from March 8. Did I miss another message, or did my response never reach you?

  5. No fireplaces here but we do occasionally have a box of litter that has a lot of dust and we have tracks. I always use unscented litter which sometimes is hard to find. It seems that crazy people all want scented litter which cats definitely don’t seem to like but will use because it is what they have available.
    It is so sad to think that people just assume that a cat is being mean or nasty when they don’t use their box when in fact it 99.999% of the time some related issue that isn’t the cats fault and that they have no control over causes it. Sad, sad, sad.
    Skeeter and Izzy and the Feral Gang + Twig & Peanut & Romeo >^..^<

  6. Wow, the head peep remembers how even a little bit of ash would track around the house an enormous amount when she lived where there was a fireplace with the cats who came before us. We can’t imagine what the house would look like if people were using ashes all the time as litter!

  7. Fireplaces were always screened or blocked off somehow, so the idea is new to me! I really have not had litterbox problems with any of my cats when they were HEALTHY. Sick cats is a different story, and an understandable one.

  8. I read article about older times when ashes were used for kitty litter. (Can’t remember where but maybe I read it here in your post.) We usually have our fireplace covered with screen, so don’t know if my boys would like to use it. Goro might…so better keep it covered 🙂

  9. No, the cats can’t get into the fireplaces. But I did have to put a layer of very decorative pine cones in the larger plant pots. That worked well and looks nice.

    Humans just need to be problem solving detectives when it comes to litter box issues. In your shelter work, you probably hear of people surrendering cats because they didn’t care enough to figure out solutions.

  10. Never knew ashes and sawdust were used in the olden days.


    Come to think of it, my family must not have used litter boxes, because I don’t ever remember any in the house. My dad grew up with barn cats, who were employed as mousers.

    So when I was a kid, our 6 cats – Tawny, Ginger, Siami, Feathers, Kitty, Kitty II, (all Siamese except Feathers) — over a 20-year period, we never had a litter box. They were all outdoors a lot.

  11. Our fireplaces 1) don’t work so no ash, or, 2) either have wraparound screens or are out on the should-be-catio (as Sparkle called it), so they’re totally inaccessible. So no fireplace litter boxes here!

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