What Smell Attracts Cats To Litter Box?

The scent of a litter box plays an important role in a cat’s bathroom habits and health. Understanding what attracts cats to their litter box can help owners manage potential issues like inappropriate elimination or litter box avoidance. This article will explore the various scents associated with litter boxes and their impact, from normal cat pheromones to problems linked to odor. With this knowledge, cat owners can make informed choices about litter materials, litter box maintenance, and solutions for odor control to support their cat’s needs.

Normal Cat Smell Preferences

Cats are attracted to certain natural smells that relate to their instincts as hunters. According to the Animal Wised article 10 Smells that Attract Cats, cats are highly attracted to the smell of prey urine. This includes the urine of rodents, birds, and other small animals that cats would hunt in the wild. The strong odor of prey urine triggers their predatory instincts.

Cats also respond to pheromones, which are natural chemicals secreted by animals that influence behavior and communication. Pheromones from other cats, prey animals, and potential mates can all provoke interest and attraction in cats. Certain plants and flowers also emit scents that mimic pheromones and appeal to cats’ senses, like catnip and honeysuckle.

Litter Box Smell

The signature smell that attracts cats to the litter box is their own urine and feces. Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell, much more than humans do. They have a Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth that gives them a sophisticated ability to analyze scents. Their noses contain 200 million odor-sensitive cells, compared to only 5 million in human noses.

When a cat urinates or defecates in the litter box, it leaves behind a unique scent marking from its pheromones and urine/feces. This scent serves as a powerful signal to the cat that this is an appropriate place to eliminate. Even if the litter is cleaned frequently, there is still a residual odor that cat can detect. They are drawn back to the familiar smell to relieve themselves again.

Kittens will imprint on the location of their litter box at a young age, associating that spot with the smell of urine and feces as the proper place to go. The smell then continually reinforces the behavior throughout the cat’s life. So while humans may only notice a clean litter box, for cats the smell triggers an ingrained response to use that location.


Cats release pheromones in their urine and feces that mark territory and allow communication between cats. These chemical signals provide information about social status, mating availability, levels of stress, and boundaries of territory [1]. Feline pheromones are produced in glands near the anus, face, and ears, then released along with urine and feces [2]. When a cat goes to the litter box, pheromones deposited in their waste send a message to other cats that the area belongs to them. The pheromones attract other cats as well, allowing them to detect the signals left behind.

Litter Materials

The type of litter material used in the litter box can have a significant impact on its smell and a cat’s attraction to use it. Clumping clay litters are very popular but can give off an ammonia odor as urine clumps in the litter. Silica gel crystals are highly absorbent and do not retain odors, but some cats dislike the feel of the crystals on their paws. Natural litters like pine and wheat have a mild, pleasant scent but may not control odors as well as clumping clay. Paper litters are very lightweight but often have little odor control. The scent of scented litters may be appealing to humans but can deter cats who prefer unscented substrates. In general, unscented clumping clay litters seem to provide the best combination of odor control and texture that cats enjoy. But each cat has their own preferences, so it’s worth experimenting to find a litter material with an appropriate smell that your cat is attracted to use.


Cats have a strong sense of smell and prefer clean litter boxes without strong ammonia odors. Ammonia is produced when urine breaks down in the litter box. If the litter box isn’t scooped daily, the ammonia smell builds up and can become overpowering for a cat’s sensitive nose. Studies show that clean litter boxes lead to more frequent litter box use by cats.

To keep the litter box smelling clean, feces and urine clumps should be scooped out daily. The entire litter box should also be dumped, washed, and refilled with fresh litter weekly when 1-2 cats share the box. For multi-cat households, more frequent total litter changes may be needed to prevent ammonia buildup. By keeping the litter box clean, cats are more likely to use it consistently.


Where you place the litter box can impact how much smell it produces as well as whether your cat uses it consistently. Cats prefer quiet, private, and easily accessible areas for their litter boxes. Some of the best spots are in a spare bathroom, laundry room, spare closet, or corner of the bedroom (PetMD). Avoid high traffic areas like hallways or the living room, as cats don’t like to be disturbed while using the litter box. You also want to make sure the litter box location is convenient, so your cat doesn’t resort to eliminating outside of the box.

Placing the litter box in an unused bathroom or laundry room provides privacy while keeping odors contained. Bedrooms are another popular choice since cats are comforted by their owner’s scent. Just make sure to place the box away from loud appliances and cover it to help control dust and smells (Daily Paws). If you live in a small apartment, look into furniture like end tables made specifically to conceal litter boxes.

Health Issues

Certain smells coming from the litter box can indicate health problems for the cat. Unusually strong ammonia odors from urine are often a sign of urinary tract infections or kidney disease, which require veterinary attention (Source). Other medical conditions like diabetes can also lead to changes in the smell of urine or feces. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, inappropriate urination or defecation outside the litter box may signal an underlying medical problem (Source). If the litter box develops an unusually foul odor, it’s important to take the cat to the veterinarian for an exam and diagnosis. Treating any medical issues can help resolve inappropriate elimination and restore normal litter box smells.

Solutions for Managing Litter Box Smell to Attract Cat Usage

There are a few key solutions to help minimize unpleasant litter box odors and attract your cat to regularly use their litter box:

  • Scoop daily – Scoop out clumps and solid waste from the litter box at least once per day. Allowing waste to sit will worsen the smell over time.
  • Change litter frequently – Dump out all litter and replace with fresh litter every 1-2 weeks or when odor becomes noticeable. This helps control ammonia buildup from urine.
  • Use odor controlling litter – Opt for litters made to absorb odor and neutralize smells, like clumping litters with activated charcoal or baking soda. Unscented litters can also help avoid overwhelming fragrances.
  • Clean the box – Every 1-2 months, disinfect the litter box with mild soap and water to prevent bacteria growth that causes bad smells. Allow to fully dry before refilling with litter.
  • Add litter deodorizers – Cat-safe deodorizers like litter box sprays or sachets can help maintain freshness between full litter changes.
  • Check location – Make sure the litter box is in a spot that’s easy for your cat to access and offers some privacy. This encourages regular usage.
  • Rule out health issues – Strong urine odor could indicate a medical problem. Check with your vet if the smell persists despite your best efforts.

By scooping daily, frequently changing out litter, and using odor control products, you can maintain a relatively fresh-smelling litter box environment that is attractive and comfortable for your cat to use. Consistent litter box habits reinforce appropriate elimination behaviors in cats.


In summary, there are a few key factors that contribute to the smells that attract cats to their litter boxes:

– Cats are drawn to the pheromones in their urine and feces, which allow them to mark their territory and feel comfortable in their space.

– The type of litter material used can produce smells that either attract or repel cats. Clumping clay litters tend to have the least odor compared to alternatives.

– Keeping the litter box extremely clean through regular scooping and full litter changes is important to minimize unpleasant smells.

– The location of the litter box matters too. Keeping it in a low-traffic and quiet area prevents unwanted smells from spreading through the home.

– Certain health issues like diabetes can change the smell of a cat’s urine and cause inappropriate elimination. Checking with a vet is recommended if litter box problems arise.

By understanding what attracts cats to their litter box and keeping the box clean, owners can create an ideal elimination area that makes both cats and owners happy.

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