Felines given an abundance of choice when it comes to relieving themselves
Could you imagine voluntarily eating cat litter? Three years ago, veterinary surgeon Pauline Taylor watched a sales person mix a spoonful of corn-husk kitty litter into a glass of water, then drink it.
'My mouth went open, I reckoned if this lady had this much confidence in the litter, it really was all-natural,' she recalls.
Nowadays, finicky felines have an abundance of choice when it comes to relieving themselves. 'There are a lot of different types of cat litter, depending on where you look [in Hong Kong] and your budget,' says Taylor, who is also the director of Pets Central.
According to Taylor, cat owners can find traditional litter made of clay (in sizes from small pebbles to fine grain), but also recycled paper, bark-type litter, biodegradable corn and silica crystals.
For those on a budget, supermarket cat litter starts at about HK$30 to HK$40 for a small bag, while larger bags of biodegradable (and flushable) will set owners back about HK$300.
'Budget is important for a lot of people, they generally choose on budget. But if a problem starts, then they will look for an alternative,' says Taylor, who has owned 14 felines over the years. 'You name the different types of cat litter and I've tried it. Some you don't need to change for a month, some are water soluble and others you throw into the garbage. Those are not very environmentally friendly.'
For some cats, Taylor says, cat litter can get stuck in the paws. 'Particularly long haired cats, litter can get stuck far between the pads, and not cleaned. It can be difficult to get out, so owners need to watch out for this,' she says.
Problems may also arise when there aren't enough litter trays to go around. 'Two cats will usually tolerate one tray, but for three you should have two trays,' Taylor says.
For larger cat households, she recommends one litter tray per cat.
How often should you change the litter? Some owners make it deep, about five to seven centimeters, then remove the top layer when necessary, Taylor says. Others may use a shallow amount and change it every day. 'My recommendation is to have deep litter and check it twice a day, remove fecal matter and any clumps in the morning and night. It only takes a few seconds. This also keeps the hygiene and husbandry up to date,' Taylor says.
She recommends owners empty the box and clean it every week with bleach and boiled water. And she warns owners never to use Dettol for cleaning, as even small amounts can kill your precious cat.
Veterinarian Maggie Bradley at NineLives says the best brand of litter is the one your cat likes. She says: 'It's a very individual thing for the cat. It's best to experiment. Some prefer a fine grain, while others are happy with big pellets.'
As using a litter tray is not normal feline behaviour, cats will urinate in different places in the wild to communicate with other felines. 'The fact that they are happy to use the tray makes things easier for us. But if things go wrong and a cat urinates outside the tray, people are wrong to assume that the cat is angry or wants to hurt the owner,' Bradley explains. 'They are just doing what is natural.'
For some rare cats with asthma, Bradley recommends staying away from dusty litters that can trigger a reaction, while felines with skin allergies should avoid litters that are highly perfumed since they tend to cause more allergic reactions, she says.
If are thinking of buying a cat tray with an enclosed lid, Bradley advises against it.
'I'm not a big fan of enclosed trays, they reduce the smell for us, but for the cat it can be overpowering,' she says. 'But some cats do like them and they minimise mess. If you are having a problem, the first thing I would do is take off the lid.'
Taylor adds: 'Some cats can get frightened easily by noises, such as a washing machine, and never go back [to the litter tray]. Cats need to be secure when they go to the toilet, it's a very private business.'