Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Do Outdoor Cats Still Need a Litter Box? Vet-Reviewed Needs & Facts

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

By Kerry-Ann Kerr

siberian cat in garden

Vet approved

Dr. Chyrle Bonk Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

It may seem like outdoor cats don’t need a litter box since they can go anywhere, but that is also precisely why some owners think litter boxes are necessary. Just because your cat can do their business anywhere doesn’t mean you want them pooping in your shed, your child’s sandbox, or your neighbor’s yard. So, the answer to this question is up to you, but if you want to know if outdoor cats can use a litter box, the answer is yes; they certainly can!

Why a Litter Box Is a Good Idea

Outdoor cats gravitate towards areas with loose dirt to conduct their business. They will also pick spots they think need to be marked as their territory. For example, if they notice another cat in their yard, they’ll mark the area with feces or urine to try to deter the intruder.

Problems occur for owners and their neighbors when cats pick places you’d rather they didn’t, like flowerbeds. Thanks to their meat-heavy diets, their excrement can be pretty acidic, which isn’t the best fertilizer. Additionally, digging and burying their poop can also disturb your flowers further. This is annoying, but if a cat is pooping where kids play, it can also be dangerous. A child can fall ill if they come into contact with infected cat poo 1 and touch their mouth.

A litter box encourages your cat to keep their mess in one place deemed acceptable by you and not in someone else’s yard, where it might cause an issue. A litter box also gives a cat a safe place to poop should they feel threatened by other cats in the neighborhood. This not only decreases stress on your cat but helps avoid accidents. might accidentally go inside.

cat on a disposable litter box
Image Credit: Mr.Piya Meena, Shutterstock

Setting up an Outdoor Litter Box

We aren’t suggesting that you have to transition your outdoor cat into an indoor one unless that is something you want to do. Instead, you can set up a litter box outside in a safe place.

So, let’s look at precisely what you’ll need:

1. Find a safe place

Choose somewhere as quiet and secluded as possible. Take cues from your cat by noting where they like to poop, and make sure the spot you pick is away from their water and food dishes.

2. Litter box frame

You won’t need anything too fancy; even a basic wooden frame without a bottom will do. Just make sure that it’s durable enough to survive the weather. The sides must be low enough so your cat can get in and out easily enough. It will need to be big enough for your cat to move about and dig; a good rule is that it should be as wide as your cat is long.


3. Fill the frame

Avoid traditional litter because rain will cause it to clump. Sand is soft, easy to dig in, and feels natural. At first, you might need to mix dirt and leaves into the sand so that it feels like another part of the yard. This will help your cat get used to it. Be sure not to overfill the litter box so your cat can dig freely.

4. Repeat

The ideal number of litter boxes is one for each cat plus an extra one. If you don’t have enough, your cat might go somewhere else. Fights can also break out if you have more than one cat, as they are territorial about their litter boxes. If you choose to put a litter box in a shed or outdoor building, you could even add a traditional litter box as their extra one if they have been known to pee and poop in there.

5. Be patient

Your cat will need to figure out how to use the litter box, which could take time. If you can, put some of your cat’s feces in the box so that they’ll feel more comfortable using it. Also, reward them when you notice them using it. You may need to change up your plan to suit their needs as well. This may include moving the litter box, covering it, or using a different substrate.

How Often Should You Clean the Outdoor Litter Box?

Scoop the outdoor litter box regularly, as you would an indoor one. Cats don’t like having dirty paws; if the litter box isn’t clean, they will just go elsewhere. Regular cleaning will also reduce odors and the presence of flies.

An outdoor litter box is a little more work to set up, but it’s worth it if you feel your cat will benefit from it. Establishing a good outdoor litter box routine will also help you transition your cat to an indoor cat if that is something you’ve been thinking about.

person cleanign a litter box
Image Credit: chatchawarn Loetsupan, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Outdoor cats don’t necessarily need a litter box because the world may be seen as their toilet. However, it can cause problems since cats aren’t always as fussy as we’d like them to be about where they relieve themselves. If you think your outdoor cat would benefit from having a litter box, it’s not too difficult to maintain. Ensure you pick a safe, secluded spot and establish a good cleaning routine to encourage them to keep using it.

Featured Image Credit: Michael Hüttl, Pixabay

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database