My cat shits outside, how about yours?

Diego and me, who is still in utter shock that this worked!
Diego and me, who is still in utter shock that this worked!
I had a plan, and it was to get my cat to go to the bathroom outside. (My "outside" means our tiny balcony off of our living room.) This has LONG been a goal, but was only just accomplished with the help of a few key products and some training.

Until recently our cat box was set up in the guest bathroom. But that's when we learned that one of our dogs (cough cough Peezu) enjoys the taste of cat turd. It also meant a cat piss-smelling guest bathroom, and kitty litter assaulting our bare feet.

So, my husband Aaron and I decided that ultimately we'd love to get the cat to do his biz outside — where animals normally do their biz. But there were three substantial obstacles standing between us and this kick-ass plan:

  1. The cat had no way of getting outside on his own volition. Our options were to leave the sliding glass balcony door cracked open or entirely open, but this isn't ideal when you have two dogs who like to bark at things, or if you want to keep your apartment warm.
  2. Limited balcony space. My cat is fat. His litter boxes are large. The balcony is a small rectangle.
  3. We had to make sure that the cat box is positioned in such a way that ONLY the cat can have access so that there shall be no turd munching from the dog.

Here's how we finally worked it all out…

We got the IDEAL patio door in the same silver color as our already existing sliding glass door track. Can't recommend it enough!
We got the IDEAL patio door in the same silver color as our already existing sliding glass door track. Can't recommend it enough!

We purchased a modular patio pet door that is designed to fit into a sliding glass door track. It was pricey, that's for sure, but it's been totally worth it. And, since we're apartment dwellers, this doesn't affect the structural integrity of the building.

Since we have a cat whose freaking photo should be in the urban slang dictionary next to "'fraidy cat", we had to wait a few months for him to get comfortable with/learn how to go in and out of the flap.

But Diego getting used to it wasn't enough to convince us that this plan would work because our poop-eater dog is small enough to also fit through the flap. So as we trained Diego to go in and out (using lots of cat treats!) we also had to train the small dog to understand that the flap is off limits.

After both those things proved to be successful, we moved on to phase two which was finding a litter box.

As I stated, we needed to find a litter box that the cat could access, but the little dog couldn't. This took a year! But I finally found the the Clever Cat litter box! I saw a post about it on Boing Boing where they were touting the fact that the this design foils cats' attempts to kick litter out of the box and also that "…with their head sticking out of the hole. [The cat] Looked like they were piloting a spacecraft." Both those things are indeed AMAZING added bonuses, but the part that got me excited was that this way it's impossible for my dog to eat shit! Hazzah!

So I ordered one of these babies and cleared a space on the balcony for the box. It took about three days of acclimating the cat to the change.

Here are the steps that I recommend if you want to try this:

  1. Bring the cat's current litter box into the place you want to eventually put the Clever Cat litter box.
  2. Once they've used the bathroom successfully outside a couple times, transfer the old used litter (so that it still smells like them) into the Clever Cat and allow them to use it WITHOUT the lid. (Be sure to keep your dogs away from the open litter box if that's an issue.)
  3. Once they've used it without the lid (it took a day) put the lid on the Clever Cat and they'll figure it out — they're clever. ;)
The final outdoor cat bathroom set up. We're lucky to have a little notch of open space between our neighbor's balcony and ours and that's where our Clever Cat sits… and shits!

After two freaking years of scheming, we finally have a cat that goes to the bathroom outside, and a dog that doesn't eat any more cat poop!

Doesn't Diego looked thrilled?
  1. Awesome, way to go!

    I've a question. Amazon says the box is not recomended for really large cats. My boys are 15 pounds each (yes, I know they are fat), do you think they would be about to use the clever cat?

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    • I'd think that the issue is that the hole may be a bit small. The Amazon page says that the hole is 9" diameter. The trick is to make a hoop out of some plastic tubing or something and try to run it over your cat's body. If it can't slide through, don't give up hope! You may just have to devise a different cat box. It looks like a pretty standard storage tub with a lid, so get one that's somewhere near the same dimension and cut a hole that's your-cat sized.

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    • I've got a really lanky 10 pounder who does fine. A really fat cat might find the hole small, but a really large framed cat might find the whole thing kinda small. There isn't exactly a lot of vertical space when you get a generous amount of litter in the box.

      It's basically just a storage tub with a hole in the lid. Unlike most tubs the inside is a smooth contour for scooping and the lid is reinforced and textured to catch litter from feet. That's it.

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    • Also, the box is basically a Rubbermaid tub with a hole in the lid. So we took a tub we already owned, put a small piece of carpet on top of the lid, and cut a hole in it. You could make a hole big enough for a bigger cat that way.

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    • Woah. Is 15 pounds a big cat? My Gentleman's cat is 23 pounds, but he's all muscle.

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      • O.O what kind of cat do you have, a Maine Coon? I was told our normal shorthairs were overweight at 11 pounds…

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        • My cat is a domestic shorthair and has some Siamese somewhere, and he's ~20lbs. Cats come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And he's not really fat! He's just BIG.

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        • To be honest, I suspect he has some bobcat in him (his mama was a barn cat who got domesticated as a kitten and his daddy was a wild tomcat, so they're about as native to our location as cats get). It is entirely possible he also has Maine Coon. He is a pretty, pretty cat, and so are his brothers.

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  2. If only I had an enclosed section of porch! Unfortunately if kitty goes outside during the day while I'm not home, we run the risk of her being consumed by coyotes.

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  3. I wish everyone was that considerate. I totally get that people don't want their cats going to the bathroom in the house but three -THREE – of our neighbors have "outside cats" which basically means all of them use our backyard as a litter box. I'm allergic to cats and dong want cats but still find myself cleaning up cat poo on the regular. I'm printing this out and passing it around out neighborhood ;)

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    • Here's a forum post that might help.
      Basically, make your back yard inhospitable to cats, and they'll leave your yard alone. Also, if there's one particular way they're getting from your neighbor's yard to your's, cut 'em off. Having to scoop cat poop that doesn't belong to you sucks.

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      • Dootsie thanks for posting this. I can try the ground up orange peel to keep the stray cats out of my yard, but I don't know if that would work for dogs.

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        • Though I have little proof from my own experience, I've been told that these things work for dogs (and a variety of other animals, as well):
          – mothballs
          – cayenne pepper
          – predator urine
          – citrus oil (orange peels work for this)

          Basically, anything with a strong smell that's unpleasant to a dog should do the trick. They sniff a lot and their noses are really sensitive.

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          • My dogs are fascinated by all of the stuff you list (of course my dogs are restrained in their own yard, but I was using that stuff to try to deter chipmunks (total fail) and the dogs were drawn to all of it like I put treats in there!) One thing they HATE though…tea tree oil! dunno about cats, but the dogs HATE it!

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          • Aren't mothballs poisonous when ingested? Not sure but worth looking into.

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      • got any tips for keeping cats off a front porch? the neighborhood cats love to harass my boy kitty, and this causes him to pee all over the door. because the neighbors refuse to keep their cats inside, i'm stuck with the option of calling animal control or trapping them and taking them to the shelter myself.

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        • This makes me think that we need a post on how to deal with neighbour's pet problems in a constructive way. Something like the hilarious responses to "you'll see…" because this is one touchy area.

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          • agreed. because lord is it frustrating to be on the receiving end of someone else's cat piss. it's rusting the metal surrounding the window on the side of my door! and lord knows the owners of the things won't pay for it…

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  4. I really wanted to put my cat boxes on our back porch so it wouldn't be a hassle to keep the house clean. We could just sweep the patio then hose it down.

    My mother pointed out that having the litter box outside could potentially attract other cats/dogs that were drawn to the smell (even though our porch is screened in, she didn't want to deal with a bunch of stray animals in our yard, and I don't blame her).

    Have you had any problems with the litter box smell attracting animals?

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    • I have had NO problems so far, but then again, it's up high on a balcony.

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  5. We used to have three rat terriers and a cat. Two of the three LOVED cat poop. One of them ate it so much that she actually started to smell weird. Sort of like cat litter. The time it took to train our cat to jump up onto something to use the litter box was a weird time in our lives. This box would've helped so much. o_o
    Was there any weirdness getting your cat to go down in the hole?

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    • I have one. We had basically zero adjustment period, just replaced one of two boxes with it and left the cats to figure it out. I think they used it within hours.

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    • Yup, Diego is a cautious-ass cat. He took about mmmm maybe an hour to wrap his head around what he'd have to do. But eventually he got brave and took the plunge. I'm so proud! ;)

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  6. That is an awesome idea and you must be really patient to go two years of cat training! Our cat is very adventurous still so if we tried this he'd just climb out of the balcony somehow, but maybe when he gets fat and lazy we could try this!

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    • Two years to do this was nuthin'. It took FIVE years for the cat and the dog to get along. Oi.

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  7. I *LOVE* our CleverCat litterbox. We needed to put a litterbox in our mostly-open-floorplan main living level, and decided to try out the Clevercat box. Our cats all use it and none have ever seemed to have any issues with it. We wound up putting it in our kitchen, by the door to the basement (as far away from food prep areas as possible, basically) and we never smell any unpleasant litter odors or have any litter scattered in the kitchen. It is so awesome.

    Oh, and my super-pudgy 14lb cat is the one that uses it the most. None of our cats is anything close to small, and they all use it without any issues or furry complaints.

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  8. I would LOVE to train my cat to do this! How do you keep your cat from jumping over the patio railing and disappearing?

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    • Our patio is actually a balcony so there's nowhere for him to go. BUT even if it were a legit patio, he's SUCH a 'fraidy cat that he keeps himself in check.

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    • unlike Megan's cat, mine are idiots and have jumped from our second story balcony, scaring the shit out of our neighbors. awesome. our solution? baby gates to block the openings in the slats (keep it classy, san diego), and absolutely nothing close to the railing they could jump from to access the top. (the railing's awfully narrow for them to jump straight onto it – so far they haven't tried.) that, and supervision with discipline. for the most part, we just check periodically to make sure no one's taken a plunge but if we see any wonky behavior, the balcony is 86d for the day. hopefully your cats are more like Megan's and not the terrors mine are. xo

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  9. Great idea but that Clever Cat litter box does seem rather small for lots of cats. I think it would be easy to make a larger version: Buy a big Rubbermaid or Sterilite container and cut a whole in the lid whatever size you like. I assume all those little holes are for ventilation, so either poke a bunch of holes in it or cut another section out of the lid and replace with a screen.

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    • The Clever Cat is actually pretty large. When it arrived I was like "fuck, where the hell am I gonna put this thing!?" But you can see on the Amazon page where someone has done exactly that with with an even larger tub. FYI there are no holes, just groves along the top to catch the litter.

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  10. Maybe I'm missing something, but it looks like it's just a tupperware type tub with a hole in the lid. How does this keep the rain or snow from getting into the litter box and clumping all the litter before your cat can use it? I think it's totally awesome that you got your cat to use a litter box outside, I wish I could do that with mine, but maybe we just get more 'weather' here in the Midwest?

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    • Oh you DEFINITELY get more winter in the Midwest than in Los Angeles. ;)

      My balcony is completely covered. It *actually* rained in LA two days ago and it stayed completely dry. Clearly, this works best in a covered outdoor situation.

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    • Yeah, this is a good covered-balcony-in-Southern-California option. I'm in San Diego and we considered putting the litter box on the balcony too, but our cat would make a break for it.

      We got the Clever Cat litter box and keep it in our office. There is no odor–even right after use. It's the best. Ham was a kitten when we got it, so he took right to it.

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  11. Color me jealous! We have an 18 year old, 20+ pound cat with a seizure disorder who cannot poop in the litter box to save his life. Thank GOD he pees in there. Cleaning up cat poop every day is annoying, but deal-with-able. Cleaning up cat pee would be a much bigger issue.

    We have tried EVERYTHING. Medical screenings at the vet to rule out health issues (Vet: "This guy is ridiculously healthy for an obese, elderly cat!"), different types of litter–even one for "problem cats," increasing the number of litter boxes and how often we clean them, having our carpets fully cleaned to remove any residue that might be encouraging him to poop outside the box, etc. etc.

    It's beyond annoying, but we love him so much. The vet said that litter box issues are one of the top reasons people take their elderly cats to a shelter. So sad! I will keep loving him and picking up his crap, all the while wistfully dreaming of your cats who do their business outside.

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  12. Neat! To avoid providing my wiener dog with a cat-poop buffet, we put a baby-gate across the furnace room door and put the litter box in there. The cat can jump over; The dog can not. As my kitty gets older, though, she may not want to jump so high to get in there, I think we may check out this Clever Cat box, or some variation thereof.

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    • Words I do not want to read while eating lunch: "cat poop buffet". AHAHAHAHA.

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    • We have baby gates separating our litter boxes from our dog's mouth also. We have assists for the middle aged arthritic cat, a small dumpstered chair on one side, a big tupperware container upside down on the other(the side the dog never gets on). We have a baby gate separating the cats' eating area from the dog as well, that has a small vertical cat scratcher on one side and a TV cart on the other.

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  13. Sounds like it works well for your cat, and that's great!

    I don't have acess to an enclosed outdoor area, and unless it was a fully screened in porch or balcony I would still be afraid my cats would manage to get out somehow. I'm about to move to an apartment with a balcony, but it is too close to other balconies and a sloped roof that could tempt them to go wandering.

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  14. I have a pug who LOVES catsnacks and a 25lb cat (he's bigger than the dog, but he's not fat-he's big boned) who loves to make batches of them. I picked up the Clever Cat hoping it would solve all my problems. Hilarity ensued.

    My smaller cat did fine with the Clever Cat. She was old and would pee in anything secluded and mysterious – almost exclusively. But Frank? It was like Winnie the Pooh stuck in the rabbit hole. Eventually Frank managed to get in there, only to tip it over on himself presumably while attempting to turn around in it. Thank Jebus I was there to watch it go down. I felt bad for him. Imagine being in a port-o-potty when some jerk tips it over on you? So I pulled him out and left it for the smaller cat to use while I figured out what to do next. Then the pug decided to jump up on the box and see what the great-smelling mystery hole was all about. That was the second time it tipped over.

    Great product I'm sure, but not for our tribe!

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    • HAHAHAHA! This Winnie the Pooh pug story is adorable.

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  15. I'm trying to get our cats to shit on the toilet… they are very resistant! Any tips for that?!

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    • HA! Okay, so I thought about doing that for a while. But the larger one has been known to do the stereotypical "drink out of the toilet" thing. And, unless I can get Diego to flush, I'm not down for the big dog drinking cat poop soup!

      All that to say… sadly, no. :(

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    • You've probably looked into this, but it's kind of a long process. You start out with filling the toilet with kitty litter (to the brim) and slowly over time decrease the amount of litter in the toilet until they're only using the water and sitting on the seat. I'm not sure about the flushing. I think you can train them to come meow at you when they're finished, but not sure how you distinguish a 'i just pooped!' meow from a 'just reminding you i'm the boss' meow.

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    • It's possible. I'll describe the method that I've heard as effective.

      You have to designate a toilet to cat use only. The lid has to be up at all times, and it's going to have shit in it for a while that makes it not human-friendly.
      Get an aluminum tray that fits into the toilet, so that it rests on the rim and is held down by the seat. Stability-test it to make sure it's not going to collapse under the cat's weight.
      Replace the cat's litterbox with that for a while, so using the metal box is normal. Move the aluminum tray to the toilet–if you cat doesn't "get" it, you might have to move it gradually.
      Lower the level of litter gradually. Eventually, you'll be cutting a hole out in the bottom of the tray that will get bigger and bigger, getting the cat used to straddling the hole.
      Eventually, the cat will be used to straddling and will straddle the toilet seat.

      To be frank, it's a LONG process and sort of difficult, material-wise. Some people use those throw-away aluminum pans, reinforced with duct tape.

      Also, don't flush cat litter. You'll clog the john.

      1 agrees
      • Dootsie, 'member when I was all "You should start writing for Offbeat Home!" and you were all "No no, what would I ever write about?"

        UM. HELLO: CAT TOILETS.

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        • I've never DONE it, but I researched it far too thoroughly for a column I wrote once.
          I write the pet column for my magazine, in spite of completely lacking any sort of credential or pet expertise, outside of owning lots of random animals. XD

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        • We've got one of those. Our little kitty took to it like a pro (evidence: http://ow.ly/i/xm54) but our huge unco guy just fails. Completely. Using kitty litter at all seems to be quite complicated for him, but I think he felt really unstable sitting on the toilet seat, also jumping up would sometimes end up with his face in the bowl. Saying that, the little one continues to use the toilet when she wants to, but prefers to pee in the drain of the bathtub (so icky also why!?) but more than anything she prefers a nice clean kitty litter tray.

          I would give it a go if we had smaller cats or even bigger cats who don't fall over themselves. Here you can see the size difference – http://ow.ly/i/xm95 – though the tubster is even tubbier now.

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    • We tried that, but when one of our cats showed that he was NOT INTERESTED by pooping on the bathmat instead, we realized it wasn't worth his/our sanity to try and continue. The other cat would have been fine, I think, had we not had to put down a litter box!

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  16. Wow! Just… WOW!!

    You're like the cat whisperer! It's like you just won the Cat Triathalon : build, train, shop.

    I have cats so I know that convincing them to do anything out of the norm is like..well, like herding cats. ( Had to go there.)

    Well done!!

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  17. Hmm… I might need to order a Clevercat, if only to avoid those awkard stretch-halfway-across-the-kitchen-and-stare-you-down-whilst-doing-the-biz shits. Sigh. Kitties.

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    • Dude, seriously, if they stick their head out of this thing while they're doing the biz, it just looks ADORBZ and not creepy. ;)

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  18. One more thumbs up for the Clever Cat. I've had one for several years, and I LOVE it. We keep our litter box in the recycling closet, and we rarely have litter outside the box. The only drawback is that our cat loves to paw at the top of the box for who knows why, and the ridging on the top makes that REALLY REALLY loud at 3am. But totally worth it to not have to step on litter all the time. Before we moved into the new apartment with the recycling closet, we actually had to keep our litter box in the dining room and it worked fine to keep litter in the box and not all over the floor.

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  19. My catbox problem was that I really did not want to have a house that smelled like cat at all – I am really sensitive to smells, and I have a really small apartment (and no balcony)! The biggest issue I had was with plastic bags – I wanted to clean the box every time I noticed the kitty using it, several times per day, but that means scooping into a bag, knotting it up, and taking it to the outdoor garbage every time. (My housemate didn't want cat poo, even enclosed in a bag, in the kitchen garbage). Horribly wasteful and time-consuming.

    Solution: airtight cookie jar/canister! They're much cheaper than tiny airtight trash cans – maybe $10. We put it right next to the cat box with a plastic bag in it, and scoop the litter pretty much every time we walk past the box. There's no smell at all – our cat has surprised guests who didn't expect there to be an animal in the house! There's also much less plastic waste – we only take the bag out when it's full, every week or so. It also makes the litter last much longer!

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    • I swear by the Litter Locker ($13 at Amazon right now), although you do need the refills. But it takes my four cats a couple weeks at least to use up one of the refills. And it really does keep the smell away! Your own airtight canister is a little cheaper potentially and still a great idea, but this just makes it so easy to do. Especially with four cats. :)

      And FYI, the Pet Odor Exterminator Candles you can buy at some vets (and on Amazon) actually do a really good job of reducing any odor (such as when your cat get diarrhea all over the house….)

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  20. That litter box. It's so genius.
    If this works for our cats it might be the end of all our problems.. our apartment does not have many spaces for tha litterbox, so it's right in the living room. Sadly, our diva cat has issues with peeing in the back of it so she pees with her bottom as close to the entrance as possible – which results in cat pee dripping to the floor at least once a day. Also, she's a violent digger so no matter how many times a day we sweep the floor, there's ALWAYS cat litter on the living room floor. We've been trying to come up with a way that stops both these very frustrating behaviours.

    The only similar litterbox I found here was almost 150USD soooo I think I'm gonna go the route of building my own. We shall shop for a box with a lid right this weekend. Oh yes. And then even the mighty diva Tinkerbell will keep her pee inside that box or i'll be damned! *maniac laughter*

    …so uh, thank you for this. Very much.

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  21. For people asking about 'toilet training' and about smells: we have been using a litter (probz only available in Canuckistan) that is made out of corn husks and is *TOTALLY FLUSHABLE, YO!*.

    Like, we scoop straight into the toilet and flush! and when it's time to do a total litter change the old litter just gets dumped down the loo!. It is the President's Choice 'Green' brand cat litter, and it is da bomb.

    There is another, pet-shop available brand that is called SWheat-Scoops that is the same kinda ish but made from wheat husks. Also flushable. We just use a regular cat pan, but it would work super well for the cat toilet training things.

    So yeah, cat-havers, there are ways to make your litter sitch less gross and be more environmentally friendly (cos the regular clay based stuff is pretty ick, environmentally speaking). Also potentially more feasible for the 'toilet training' contingent.

    And, fwiw, it *is* more expensive per Lb/K but that's just because it's made of lighter material. So a bag of corn or wheat husk based litter will last you as long or longer as a same-sized but heavier bag of clay-based litter.

    I also find that it's naturally 'deodorising'. YMMV.

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  22. Have a maincoon that goes both inside and out. We don't have any covered areas. What about when it rains??

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  23. What kind of litter do you use? Is there a special outdoor litter I can use that does not attract pests/flies?

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  24. Yesss. So happy to see this post. We have, like, 8 clever cat boxes in our house for our crazy kitties. Solved all of our dog-eating-kitty-poop problems, and keeps the litter off the floor.

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    • Pro-tip– decorate the box with stickers or spray paint it. Or both!

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  25. I have made my own one of these as well. Just bought a hefty plastic tote in a fancy color at the hardware store and used my Dremel tool to cut out a hole for the cat to get through, plus drilled a bunch of small holes in the rest of it for any litter stuck on her paws to fall through. I happen to have two large dogs that love kitty-roca, so this was the only solution we could find. I think I made the hole a bit too big though, because my dogs still manage to contort theirselves into the box to get to the goods. Strategically placed furniture in addition to the box has resolved the issue!

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