Litter tray hygiene

Good litter tray hygiene is essential for cat and kittens - find out how to keep your litter trays hygienic and your pets healthy.

litter tray hygiene

Why is litter tray hygiene so important?

Litter tray hygiene is probably the single most important factor in the day-today care of your cat or kitten. There are a large number of feline viruses, bacteria and parasites that are all spread through the fecal-oral pathway. The fecal-oral pathway means that for a cat or a kitten to become infected, it must come into contact with the feces of another infected animal. 

Common feline infectious conditions that use the fecal-oral pathway include: feline coronavirus which causes FIP, tritichomonas foetus, worms, cryptosporidium, campylobacter, giardia, e-coli and toxoplasmosis.  So keeping those litter trays clean really is important!

Kittens' immune systems are particularly vulnerable to picking up these little horrors, so it is worth being especially fastidious with kitten litter tray hygiene.

In this article we will initially discuss the litter tray hygiene regime that we maintain, which is ideal for multi-cat households, breeding households, or catteries. Then we will consider a good litter tray hygiene regime for a house with one, or possibly two kittens. Clearly in multi-cat households it is particularly important to maintain excellent litter tray hygiene. 

Litter tray hygiene in a multi-cat household

litter tray hygiene for British Shorthair kittens

Multi-cat households are more difficult to keep free from all the nasties listed above, for the simple reason that if a cat becomes infected, something we call the ‘Infection Loop’ begins. These conditions are usually brought into the household by a new cat or kitten, or on a visitors' clothes. For this example we will assume the infection is brought in by a new cat, which we will call ‘Cat 1’

The Illness Loop

  • Cat 1 enters the household, and comes into contact with Cat 2 (a healthy cat)

  • Cat 1 infects Cat 2

  • Cat 1 then recovers from the condition, but is still in contact with Cat 2, who remains ill

  • Cat 2 then re-infects Cat 1

  • Cat 2 may then recover, but is still in contact with Cat 1, who is now ill again

  • Cat 1 then reinfects cat 2

This is the Illness Loop. It is a simplified version, but you can imagine from this example, how it would work in a house with 4 or 5 or 10 cats. Especially when you consider that some things, mostly viruses and the parasites, can be passed from one cat to the other on our clothes, by sharing food bowls, or simply walking over the same floor.

A previously healthy household can become a disaster zone very quickly. It is also very important to remember that cats can often carry these conditions whilst being asymptomatic: showing no symptoms. It is therefore not always possible to tell that a cat is unwell, or at least not until it is too late.

How to keep your cats as healthy as possible

In order to avoid this situation all good breeders, catteries and other multi-cat households should follow these criteria:

  1. All new cats introduced to the household should be quarantined for as long as possible. Quarantine means that they have no contact with any of the other cats in the household, and clothes should be changed after every point of contact with the cat.

  2. Ideally, all cats should have their own litter tray that no other cat has access to. This can be done by either having each cat in its own room, or by using large boxes over the litter trays with electronic cat flaps and collars giving entry only to that cat. Sometimes this may not be practical and in those circumstances try to keep litter tray sharing to a minimum - ideally no more than 2 cats sharing (and make sure there are at least 2 trays between them)

  3. Overcrowding must be avoided at all costs - so if you opt for the boxed litter tray option so that you can have more than one cat in a room, we would advise on having no more than two or three cats to a room. Overcrowding increases a cat’s stress levels which is known to have a hugely negative impact on their immune system. Never have more than 6 cats to a room as this is shown to create a very high risk factor for Feline Infectious Peritonitis or FIP, which is a result of a coronavirus mutation and is lethal to cats. 

  4. All litter trays should be completely emptied, disinfected with a virucidal cleaner (so it will kill any viruses) and refilled every day. Clean, disposable gloves should be worn for each litter tray. Read more about litter tray cleaning options

  5. All food and water bowls should be cleaned, disinfected and thoroughly rinsed daily

  6. For large litters of kittens, where they have to share a litter tray and bowls, these should all be cleaned twice daily at least. Kittens should never have contact with any cat other than their own mother, as the colostrum in her milk will have given their immune systems a head start at dealing with anything she may have come into contact with, but their immune systems will not yet be strong enough to deal with anything else.

  7. Any cat that begins to shown even the mildest signs of illness should be quarantined until they are fully recovered, and if they do not recover relatively quickly, should be seen by a veterinarian

  8. Where a breeder has a boy at ‘open stud’ which means that other cats are brought to him to be studded, the stud boy is at a very high risk of becoming infected and carrying multiple conditions. Open studs, particularly those advertised online  rather than just being available to a very small number of fellow breeders, should be avoided. The risk factor is too high. If a breeder is insistent on having a boy at open stud he should have a full fecal profile and a full respiratory profile done by a veterinarian at least every 6 months. Alternatively, or additionally, stud owners should require the owner of the visiting queen to have a full fecal and respiratory profile done within the week before bringing the queen to visit. That is in addition to the SNAP test for FELIV and FIV, although the cost of this would likely put off most people.

Litter tray hygiene in a household with only 1 or 2 cats

Clearly, the more cats there are, the higher the risk and the greater the need for exceptional litter tray hygiene.  In a pet home with only 1 cat or kitten, it will usually be sufficient to scoop the litter tray daily to remove any fecal matter, and then completely change the litter and clean the tray once or twice a week.

Where there are 2 cats or kittens, it would be ideal if they had their own litter tray each that only they could access (e.g. via a large box and electronic microchip cat flap). However, this can be very difficult to achieve and is probably not necessary in most cases. Where this would be absolutely necessary would be where either of the two cats started to show signs of illness - in this situation separate them immediately and give them their own litter trays until the cat has recovered, or you have determined that the illness is not infectious.

If you get your cats from different cat breeders, then make sure that you quarantine them both before you put them together. Cats from multi-cat households are a higher risk category, and if you bring in a cat from two different breeders your chances of bringing in something infectious are doubled. Always choose your breeder very carefully. You can read more on choosing a kitten breeder here

If you have had a cat in your household die recently, and you do not know what caused it, then it is best to wait at least 12 weeks before introducing a new cat or kitten. This is because some viruses can live for around 8 weeks on fabric and clothes. If you know you have had FIP in the household then you are definitely best to wait for at least 12 weeks before introducing another cat or kitten.

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