Clean Your Cat’s Litter Box Every Single Day
If the pungent smells aren’t enough to compel you to clean your cat’s litter box every day, consider that a filthy box is a fertile ground for a number of germs, including a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, says Dr. Keith Poulsen, a veterinarian with the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Spread through cat feces, T. gondii can cause toxoplasmosis, a disease that may result in flu-like symptoms. Of the more than 60 million Americans the CDC says may be infected, most are protected by healthy immune systems.
Toxoplasmosis can cause birth defects in children of pregnant women who have been infected. For this reason, “most doctors and veterinarians recommend handing off litter box duty to someone else in the family during pregnancy,” explains Poulsen.
Litter boxes are also breeding grounds for intestinal parasites like roundworms and hookworms that can be transmitted to people, especially children, says Poulsen.
Cleaning litter boxes also cuts down on the build-up of ammonia, which Dr. Liz Stelow, a veterinary behaviorist with the University of California-Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, says can irritate our delicate nasal membranes.
What is the best way to clean a litterbox? After emptying the litter, Stelow recommends using a mild dish soap and completely rinsing and drying. “Anything stronger may keep your sensitive cat away from the box,” she says. For pet stains, she suggests using an enzymatic cleaner that will eat away at organic matter. “But be sure to check the expiration date, as these enzymes are produced by bacteria and will cease to be effective over time.”
It’s also a good idea to have at least as many litter boxes as there are cats in the home, says Dr. Sonja Olson, a senior clinician in emergency medicine for BluePearl Veterinary Partners. She says it allows individual cats to mark their own territory while avoiding peeing around the house. This holds true for kittens, too, who she says are often treated for gastrointestinal parasites.