A litter box should not be placed on carpet, at least as long as you have an option. Tracked litter and litter dust can spread harmful pathogens that will thrive in carpeting. Urine and ammonia odors are difficult, if not impossible, to remove from carpet and rugs.
But in reality, it’s not always possible to avoid putting a litter box on the carpet. You just have to take the proper precautions to do so more hygienically.
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Why You Shouldn’t Put a Litter Box on Carpet
Whenever possible, aim to put your litter box on solid, non-absorptive flooring. That means not on carpet and not on rugs.
Carpets are a Breeding Ground for Bacteria
Your cat’s litter box is full of bacteria and, oftentimes, parasites.
During cleaning and use, these pathogens are spread to surrounding areas in the form of litter dust and tracked litter.
When placed on solid flooring, like hardwood or cement, it’s relatively easy to disinfect the area surrounding the litter box. Making it safe for us and our pets.
But that’s not the case for carpet.
Carpets are a breeding ground for bacteria. According to Philip Tierno Jr, PhD, an immunologist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center (courtesy of Men’s Health), “your carpet probably contains about 200,000 bacteria per square inch, making it 4,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat”.
Routinely sprinkling your carpet with biological contaminants certainly isn’t going to help matters.
Cat Urine is Tough to Get Out of Carpet
Health and hygiene aside, cat urine is really tough to get out of carpet.
Unfortunately, our cats aren’t perfect (no matter how much we think so). Every now and then they’ll miss the litter box. Even if it’s not an issue now, it may become one as your cat ages.
Because the ammonia in cat urine is so potent, the odor can seem almost impossible to get out of carpet. Vacuuming does nothing. Carpet cleaning powders may help temporarily, but are really just masking the problem.
In the worst cases, urine can soak through carpeting and into the padding below. In which case, even deep cleaning won’t help. The carpet will need to be replaced.
How to Protect the Carpet Under a Litter Box
It’s not always possible to avoid placing your litter box in a carpeted area.
Trust me, I know. I’ve lived in studio apartments where the only options were on the carpet or in the kitchen. And that was an easy choice.
Luckily, with a bit of planning, you can place a litter box on carpet in a safe, sanitary way.
Protect the Carpet Under and Around Your Litter Box
First, to negate the harmful effects of ‘misses’ and spills, you’ll need a waterproof barrier under and around your litter box.
- It should be durable enough to walk on.
- Large enough to catch stray litter and litter dust in a decent radius.
- And easily cleanable.
We preferred a smooth plastic surface that could be wiped with disinfectant regularly, rather than needing to be washed. Our first attempt was a litter mat (essentially a waterproof rug). It got pretty nasty, pretty quickly.
We eventually settled on a large plastic chair mat. Which ended up working really well for us.
Catch Tracked Litter
The less tracked litter you get in the carpet, the cleaner your home will stay.
Our chair mat solution was doing a great job of collecting tracked litter… until it all slid off the mat when my cats ran out of the litter box at top speed.
So we decided to add a rubber litter tracking mat right on top, near the entrance to the litter box.
Our carpet was protected from ‘misses’ and spills, the chair mat collected litter dust to be easily wiped away, and the tracking mat caught stray litter before it could reach the carpet.
Keep the Litter Box Clean
While this is more general advice, it applies double when your litter setup is already less than ideal. Keeping the litter box as clean as possible will limit the amount of pathogens that can spread to the surrounding carpet.
- Scoop poop and clumps as often as possible.
- Sift wood pellets or remove soiled non-clumping litter at least once per day.
- Fully replace litter according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Clean the litter box with warm water and a mild detergent every few weeks.
- Replace plastic litter boxes at least once per year.
Carpet is a potential breeding ground for the bacteria and parasites that may be found in your cat’s waste.
While it’s best to avoid having a litter box on carpet altogether, it’s not always possible. To do so as hygienically as possible — use a large, waterproof barrier under and around the litter box. Add a litter tracking mat on top if you still find litter making its way to the carpet. And practice timely litter cleaning habits.
- Cornell Feline Health Center. (2019, November 21). Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/gastrointestinal-parasites-cats
About Matthew Alexander
Matthew lives in Maryland with his two cats, Puff and Pancho. He’s been caring for and fostering cats with various special needs for more than fifteen years. He hopes to pass some of the insight and knowledge that he’s gained on to the readers of Pawmore.