Why Does My Cat Litter Smell So Bad?

Why Does My Cat Litter Smell So Bad?


We all love our little cat buddies to bits, but their pee especially seems to smell worse than other domesticated animals, even dogs! How do such small beings release such strong smells? There is a reason for this; Dr Justine Lee says that because cats originated from the desert, their loop of Henle evolved to become very long. What is a loop of Henle? It’s part of the kidney that allows for the production of urine to be much more concentrated, meaning less water intake is needed. That’s why many of us rarely see our cats drink; because they don’t need to! 

Another factor which may impact the odour of cat urine is diet. Cat urine is full of bacteria that releases ammonia, which is an irritant gas. It’s released after the pee starts decomposing–and it’s what causes the strong and sometimes suffocating smell! The type of protein you feed your cat can affect ammonia levels being released, so switching their source of protein may improve extreme smells. 

Like most things, cats expelling more concentrated urine has its positives; they urinate less frequently, and it's less likely your cat will experience any bacteria growing in their bladder. Of course, the glaring negative is that it smells very bad. But, there is a line we have to draw in terms of bad smelling pee. Extremely strong smells could be an indication of potential issues in your cat’s urinary tract. Knowing the difference between normal bad-smelling pee and maybe-it’s-time-for-a-vet-visit smelling pee is important! 

 How do I Reduce The Smell of Cat Litter?

The obvious answer to this question is to hit the source, clean your litter box regularly. Of course regular cleaning is crucial, but what else can you do? Let’s go through a few more tips and tricks!


1. Consider the type of litter you use

Many cat owners have lives that are constantly ramping up, and we aren’t always home to clean up a mess immediately. Having an effective litter that absorbs urine and the ammonia smell helps keep the whole litter box dry and cleaner for longer. There are many great options out there that absorb smells and messes, but as a general note, litters with added deodorisers may not be the best option. Added deodorisers may be good for masking smells for us, but these scents are often too strong for cats. This can result in utter and complete litter rejection, and uh-oh, more mess.


2. Don’t line your litter box with baking soda

Adding baking soda may seem like a good idea at first; it’s natural so it must be safe, right? Many sources online suggest lining your litter tray with baking soda. However, it may create more problems in your cat’s health and the overall cleanliness of your litter box. The biggest concern about baking soda is that it is toxic if cats ingest too much of it. The rule of thumb is that your cat should not consume over 2-4 teaspoons of baking soda per every 10 kilograms of body weight. This is because baking soda has high levels of sodium, and too much in your cat’s system will create electrolyte disturbances and lead to extreme sickness. Furthermore, it may not even work effectively to mask any smells. 

Too much baking soda can cause the release of ammonia faster; high levels of ammonia exposure can be irritating for your airways and eyes, and in extreme cases can actually be detrimental to yours and your cat’s health. Baking soda also increases the amount of dust in the litter box, which may be unsafe for your cat, especially if they’re asthmatic. 


3. Change your litter box

If you have a plastic litter box, changing it around once a year seems to be the general rule. Especially since cats scratch the box over time, bacteria from their faeces and urine can get trapped. Also keep an eye out on the colouring of your box over time. When plastic is exposed to ammonia, the plastic starts to break down. A telltale sign of this is when there are splotches of discolouration on the litter box. 

There are many kinds of litter boxes you can get; and options like an automatic litter box may seem more enticing. But as we know, cats develop preferences and grow comfortable with what they know, just like us! Something like an automatic litter box can be foreign and daunting, and it depends on each kitty whether they grow to accept it or not! So I’d say to not abandon your usual litter box choice before some testing. 


4. Potential health issues

As we know now, cats don’t drink that much water because they don’t need to. If your cat’s urine is lighter and less smelly, or if the urine patches in the litter are larger, it would most likely mean that your cat is drinking more water. This could be a health issue, Dr Justine Lee suggests it could be an underlying kidney disease, thyroid problems or even diabetes. The Boston Veterinary Clinic suggest further reasons to be dehydration from fevers or upset stomachs. However, there are less serious reasons too, such as a higher salt intake from treats or hotter days. 

Healthy cat urine in most cases is meant to smell strong. Because of their adaptation to desert environments, cats are passed the need of constant rehydration. Though this is normal, there are certain steps we can take to reduce the impact on which the smell has on every cat owner’s life. Want more cat litter tips? Check out this post we made earlier this year for tips on “How Many Litter Boxes Do You Need?”.

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