Cat Behavior 101,  Cats,  Feline Fine Art

Why Bigger is Better in Litter Boxes: An Illustrated Guide

If you love cats, sharing makes us purrrr :-)

If you’ve ever seen a cat outdoors in nature doing their business, you’ll see what every indoor cat would like to do. We believe bigger is better in litter boxes and here’s why.

Cats need space to turn around, dig, scoop, crouch, pee, poop, turn around again, dig some more and cover. Some cats are super diggers, while others love to pee vertically. In the wild, cats cover their feces to prevent predators from tracking them. Regardless of your cats inclination, the more space the better. In our home, we have multiple litters in different sizes including a large clear plastic container for Odin who is a digging maniac. If you have a messy litter box user or a very large cat, I recommend using a 28 gallon clear plastic storage container. Place the lid underneath the container.

Our cats also do their business sometimes outdoors and Odin kindly demonstrates what’s involved. This also solved the mystery of his recent dirty schmutz face. First, a nice walk and sniff fest. Spring is early this year and I can only imagine what an olfactory smorgasbord awaits our crew.

pine-tree-cat-sniff-cat wisdom 101-odin

Next stop: a quick spritz or peemail as it’s jokingly referred to these days. Odin is marking territory with a quivering tail and a few quick spurts of urine. He’s sending a message to any other cat passing through the area. While cats are naturally territorial, spraying isn’t only about defining boundaries but feline communication signaling: I was here, this is mine, I’m available, I’m king of the cats or not, I come here all the time, I’m X age/gender, I’m pissed off and who knows what else? Perhaps Odin was hoping Mystery Miss will stop by and leave him a message.

Most cats, male or female, neutered, spayed or not will spray outdoors. It’s one of the additional sensory experiences outdoor cats enjoy. I observe my cats do this perfectly natural behavior almost every day. When a cat sprays indoors, it’s sending a clear message something is not right. It could be a medical issue but he’s usually pissed off and probably stressed. The cat may have territorial issues with another cat in the home, unknown cats roaming outdoors or with the cat parent from leaving him alone too much, stress from marital discord, traveling and any number of other reasons. Once a cat goes down this smelly road, it’s best to nip it in the bud quickly with a visit to the vet and then if needed, a consult with a cat behaviorist.


Note his body and tail position. Cats spray tail up at nose level. The difference between spraying and regular urination is position and location. When urinating, cats uses a squatting position on horizontal surfaces like their litter or in this case, the fluffy soil of a flower bed. A small hole is dug and crouching, the urination begins. Defecation requires more serious prep work…


of digging and more digging with multiple changes in position.

feline-cat-digging-litter-garden-soil Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Odin digs until it feels just right. This takes about several minutes. I ‘m convinced he takes longer for the sheer pleasure of it. By now he’s dirty and almost there…


Ah, the sweet satisfaction of being one with nature.

Turn around, a quick cover up and it’s off to the next adventure. Now, don’t you want to get your cat a larger litter box?


Does your cat have any unusual litter box habits?


  • Tinch

    Two of my three are strictly indoor cats. D-2 is the outdoor boy, the one that goes three blocks away to steal food! He lost a collar over there and a lady called to tell me she had it and where to come get it! That’s how I know!

  • Cheysuli

    That is one big old litter box out there! When Georgia got old and couldn’t tell if she was in the box, we got one of the under the bed plastic containers so it was low enough for her to step into without trouble but REALLY big so most of the time her bum wasn’t sticking out (although she managed to miss that at the end too…Piddle pads work GREAT).

  • Teri and the cats of Curlz and Swirlz

    Great post! I have 2 NVRMiss boxes but the one the cats use the most? It’s a black tub used for mixing concrete in. You can find them at Ace Hardware and Home Depot. They are inexpensive, $10-15, and while they don’t work for ‘vertical’ peeing cats, they are large, smooth and easy to clean, and cheap so easy to replace as needed. The behaviorist group the cat hospital where I work uses recommended the tubs to me. Here’s a link so you can see what they look like: http://amzn.com/B001AQ0CDI

  • Fuzzy Tales

    I have giant litter boxes for the boys, even Rubbermaid totes too, and darned if Nicki doesn’t pee in the front left corner of them all. Doesn’t matter HOW big, that’s where he goes. LOL.

    Neither seems inclined to use my little garden, which is fine by me. šŸ™‚

  • Nadbugs

    A public service! Adorable! I’m on my way for the bigger box. Please thank Odin profusely for being this open about what some would call a private matter.

  • Catherine Turley

    i do have one cat that squats in the box, but then rises to standing position when he pees and it all hits the wall. i can’t buy too deep of a box because my elderly cats wouldn’t be able to get into it. i took the cardboard base from the canned cat food and propped it against the inside of the litter box on the side he normally aims toward. so far, so good.

    • Ingrid King

      Catherine, I have a “vertical peer,” too. I went through a lot of boxes until I found the perfect one that is high enough (and large enough) to contain all pee without spilling over. Layla doesn’t like comments containing links, but if you google “NVR Miss litter box” you’ll find the website with all the information.

  • Kathryn

    Ah, cat nature 101 and cat in nature 101.

    We do have a big, almost gigantic box with the catmouse ionizer… and a cardboard litter tray and plastic liners and crystals and also the baking powder and scooper. Schweet.

    If we could let them go outside, it would be great. Cars, skunks, skunks, cars.

    He is sooo coot.

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