The basement can be a great spot for one of your cat’s litter boxes. It’s out of sight and prevents ‘litter box smell’ in the main living areas of your home. But remember, it’s important to have multiple litter boxes spread throughout the house — at least one per cat, plus one.
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Is it okay to put a litter box in the basement?
Most basements make a perfectly acceptable location for a litter box.
Many cat parents find the basement to be an ideal location because it keeps the litter box out of sight, keeps that ‘litter box smell’ out of the main living space, and is often near the litter supplies, making topping off and cleaning up more convenient.
But not all cats will find all basements so ideal.
Litter boxes should be in areas your cats frequent
Litter boxes should be placed in areas of the home that your cat frequents.
The dark, musty corner of the basement is probably not very high on their list of hangouts.
Having to venture to an otherwise untraveled area to use the litter box may lead to unwanted behaviors, like going outside the box.
Litter boxes should be in peaceful, low-traffic areas
Litter boxes should be placed in areas where your cat will feel comfortable.
While basements are generally quiet and low-traffic, they can also be full of distressing sounds and scents.
The laundry area of your basement probably isn’t a good fit. The washer and dryer are quite loud when running. The overpowering smells of detergent, dryer sheets, and fabric softener may be off putting. Remember, a cat’s sense of smell is much keener than ours.
Basements also generally house the furnace, which can be very startling to a cat whenever it switches on.
Cats prefer multiple exits
In the wild, cats are very particular about when and where they’ll ‘go’ because it’s a time when they’re particularly vulnerable to predators.
While your home doesn’t have any predators, it doesn’t override your cat’s instincts.
Litter boxes should be placed in an area with multiple exits.
Avoid areas that may make your cat feel cornered-in. If your cat is startled while using the litter box, and is unable to comfortably flee, you can rest assured that they’ll avoid that litter box in the future.
Damp basements aren’t ideal
And finally, if your basement is particularly damp, the humidity may worsen the smell of the litter box, encourage the growth of bacteria, and shorten the lifespan of your litter.
This can be partially offset by running a dehumidifier in the basement, well away from the litter box itself.
Litter box rules still apply
There are a couple rules of thumb when it comes to placing litter boxes.
Unfortunately, these rules often negate much of the assumed benefit of having a litter box in the basement.
One per cat, plus one
First, it’s recommended to have at least one litter box in your home per cat, plus one extra.
Or more accurately, one litter area per cat, plus one extra.
When litter boxes are placed too near one another, your cats will perceive them as a single litter box. Stimuli that makes your cat want to avoid a litter box will apply to any litter boxes in the immediate area.
If you have one cat (meaning you need two litter boxes), you can’t just place them side by side in the back of the basement.
One on every floor
Second, you should have at least one litter box on every floor of your home that your cat frequents.
Many cats don’t use the basement at all. And even when they do, they almost always spend a significant amount of time on the other levels of your home as well.
You’ll still need a litter box on the main floor and any other floor your cat has access to.
Having a litter box in the basement isn’t a valid excuse to keep litter boxes out of the main living areas of your home.
Consider your cat’s age, mobility, and health
Not all cats will have such an easy time venturing to the basement to use the litter box.
Senior cats, overweight cats, and cats with any other condition that affects their mobility may struggle to navigate the basement stairs.
Older cats, kittens, and cats with IBD or any other condition affecting their bowels or bladder may struggle to make it to the basement in time.
Understanding your cat and their limitations is crucial when choosing where to place their litter boxes.
Unused litter boxes don’t count
For any litter box location, make sure your cat is actually using the box.
You don’t get bonus points for having the correct number of litter boxes if one is being completely ignored by your cat.
It provides no benefit to them if never used.
If your cat won’t use one of their litter boxes, move it to a different area of your home and see how they respond.
Moving your cat’s litter box to the basement
When moving one of your cat’s litter boxes to the basement, it’s important to remember that every cat will handle the change differently.
Some cats may pick up the scent of a newly moved litter box, investigate, and begin to use it immediately. While helping others adjust may feel like pulling teeth.
Regardless, with enough patience, you can make the process as smooth as possible for both you and your cat.
How to move the litter box to the basement
- Get a new, extra litter box that is identical to the current litter box. The same style and the same litter. Dealing with multiple changes at once will make the process more stressful for your cat.
- Replace the current litter box with the new one in the same location. Move the old litter box to the new location in the basement.
- Introduce your cat to the new location. Let them investigate. Sit them inside if they’re agreeable, but don’t force it. If they’re hesitant or show any signs of opposition, stop and try again later.
- Gradually move the new litter box (the one in the original location) toward the new location a few feet each day.
- When you finally reach a point where the litter boxes are side by side, keep both litter boxes in place for a few days before removing the extra.
- More often than not, your cat will confidently be using the litter box in its new location by this point.
If your cat is particularly easy going, you can try a similar method without the extra litter box. Just move the current litter box gradually toward its new location, a bit each day.
What to do if your cat isn’t adjusting to the new location
Unwanted behaviors, like going outside the box, are to be expected during the transition. Don’t blame your cat. They’re not being spiteful, it’s just a natural part of the adjustment.
If your cat isn’t taking to the new location, remember that the most important part is that they’re comfortable and confident with their litter setup.
You can try again more slowly, but sometimes you need to accept that the new location just isn’t a good fit for your cat.
It’s okay to put a litter box in the basement. Just be sure that the area you choose has multiple escape routes and is in a peaceful, low traffic area.
But keep in mind, having a litter box in the basement doesn’t mean you don’t need other litter boxes in other areas of your home.
It’s important to have at least one litter box per cat, plus one extra, spread throughout the house — including at least one on every floor that your cat frequents.
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.