Dirty litter boxes are dangerous to your cat: Why you’ll want to avoid them

A dirty litter box is unsightly and smelly, but it also carries some serious health risks for you and your cat. It’s all too easy to let your cat’s litter box go uncleaned for too long, especially if you’re busy and only remember about the box at the last minute. But just like you make a point of feeding your cat every morning, you also need to make picking out and then deep-cleaning his litter box a part of your routine.

There are many dangers of not cleaning cat litter that can lead to serious diseases harmful to both you and your cat. The solution to preventing them is easy, especially when you think about the products that can simplify keeping your cat’s box clean. Be sure that you know the risks that a dirty litter box can pose and how you can reduce those risks for you and your furry friend.

Orange cat sitting in a covered litter box, looking out

Ammonia exposure

As urine and feces build up in the litter box, they can start to release ammonia. This toxic gas can cause all sorts of unpleasant symptoms, including headaches, asthma attacks, and, if left unchecked, pneumonia. Ammonia can stress your immune system and be harmful to your health in general.


Also called cat-scratch fever, Bartonellosis is a disease that can spread from cats to humans. According to Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, this disease can be potentially life-threatening and can even lead to hospitalization. People with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk.


Salmonellosis is another disease that can spread from cats to humans during the process of cleaning a cat’s litter box. This disease causes symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.


According to Pet MD, toxoplasmosis is a disease that cats can spread to humans. It’s caused by a parasite that is present in the feces of some cats. It can result in flu-like symptoms if you’re infected, and it can cause miscarriage or stillbirth in pregnant women.


It’s also possible for you to get parasites from a dirty litter box. Parasites live in cat poop, and if you become infected with roundworms, you can have symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, and coughing.

Cat illnesses

Cats are very particular about their litter boxes, and if yours feels that his litter box is too dirty, he might decide not to use it. He could start relieving himself in other areas of the house. According to Anasazi Animal Clinic, it’s also possible for your cat to be contaminated by bacteria while using a dirty litter box, which can contribute to problems like feline urinary tract infections, or UTIs.

How to reduce these risks

To limit the risks of these illnesses and conditions, focus on ways to keep your cat’s litter box clean. Create a litter box cleaning schedule that ensures the box will be completely emptied, scrubbed, dried, and refilled at least once a week, if not more often. Make sure to also scoop your cat’s litter box daily to help reduce messes and smells between those deep cleanings.

If you have a hard time keeping up with the litter box cleanings, consider using a robot-type litter box that can automatically clean itself instead. These types of litter boxes tend to be an expensive investment, but they can save you the time and effort necessary for frequent box cleanings.

If you’re looking for ways to make clean-up easier, you might experiment with using litter box liners. These liners often make it easy to clean out all of the litter at once, and they help prevent litter from getting stuck to the bottom of the box.

Cat sitting in front of a Litter Robot litter box

How to stay safe when cleaning litter boxes

Because there are numerous diseases and parasites that you could possibly pick up while cleaning a litter box, it’s important to get into good litter box cleaning habits. It’s best to wear gloves when cleaning litter boxes and then immediately take the dirty litter out to a trash can or dumpster. Always wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning a litter box. Avoid letting children and pregnant women handle litter boxes.

Cleaning your cat’s litter box can be an inconvenience, but it’s an important part of keeping not only your cat but also your human family members safe and healthy. Developing good litter box cleaning habits can help to reduce the risk of health issues for your cat as well. In addition, good litter cleaning habits can also encourage your cat to continue using his box as intended. It can be difficult to correct behavioral issues if your cat starts relieving himself in the home, outside his litter box. To head off those issues, focus on keeping your cat’s litter box clean and inviting instead. Once you get into a routine, cleaning your cat’s litter box will just become another part of your schedule and help keep you and your feline friend happy and healthy.

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