How to Use Gravel as Cat Litter

Many cats will use gravel as litter. However, it’s essential to use the correct type of gravel and set up the litter box correctly for this to work. Gravel cat litter works best with two stacking litter boxes with gravel on top and newspaper and baking soda in the lower box.

Buying, storing, and disposing of cat litter is a hassle, and this gets many people wondering if they can use a durable litter material such as gravel. The answer is yes, as long as your cat agrees.

The best way to find out is to try a gravel litter box and see if your cat will accept it.  

Here’s how to set up a litter box using gravel.

You will need:

  •  Two litter boxes that stack together
  •  One bag of clean pea gravel
  •  A stack of newspaper
  •  One large box of baking soda


1. Drill Holes in the First Litterbox

First, drill or punch about a dozen 1/8-inch (3mm) diameter, evenly spaced holes in the bottom of one of the litter boxes.

Be careful not to crack the plastic as you make the holes. The holes will let your cat’s urine pass through the gravel in the upper box and collect in the lower one.


2. Wash the Gravel

Next, wash the gravel to eliminate any dust or contaminants, and then let it dry. Use small diameter, round gravel so that it’s comfortable on the kitty’s feet.


3. Pour Baking Soda in the Second Litterbox

Then, pour a layer of baking soda approximately ¼-inch (6.3mm) thick evenly on the bottom of the tray that does not have holes.

Next, place a couple of sheets of newspaper over the baking soda. The newspaper absorbs much of the liquid, and the baking soda helps to control odors.


4. Pour 1.5 Inches of Gravel into Litterbox #1

Now put approximately 1 1/2-inches (2.5cm) of pea gravel in the box with holes. Put this tray over the tray with the newspaper and baking soda.


5. Place the New Litterbox

Keep the gravel litter box in the same spot where you had the old box because cats do not like to have their bathroom area moved.

You might want to locate the gravel box near the old litter box at the same time and give your cat a choice of which one to use at first.

If your cat likes a covered litter box, or this is what you prefer, there is no problem using this litter box design with a cover on top.

Read on for ideas about training your cat to use gravel for litter and when to avoid using this material.


Choose a Small, Round Gravel to Use as Litter

Cats prefer small, rounded pieces of gravel as litter. The best size is approximately ½-inch (10mm) in diameter.

Larger gravel is too difficult for cats to scratch in, and smaller sizes easily stick to the cat’s feet and get tracked out of the box.

The pieces of gravel should all be rounded and smooth and not angular or irregular in shape. The pads on a cat’s feet are sensitive and sharp gravel hurts them, making your cat less likely to use the gravel as litter.

When you’re considering gravel for a cat litter box, ask yourself if you would be comfortable walking on it with bare feet. If so, your cat is likely to find it comfortable to scratch in as well.

The best type of gravel for a cat litter box is called pea gravel because it’s about the size of a green pea. (When it’s used for a litter box, some people call it “pee gravel” for obvious reasons.)

You can often find small bags of pea gravel at hardware stores and lumberyards. In addition, businesses that sell bulk landscaping and concrete supplies have stockpiles of pea gravel, which many people use in garden areas for walkways and mulching.

Another source of small, rounded stones is aquarium gravel, which you can find at pet stores.

Once you get the gravel, it’s a good idea to wash it off thoroughly to get any dust or other unwanted material out. For example, if you get a bucket of pea gravel from a concrete supply company, it could have cement, sand, or other contaminants on it.

Once the gravel is clean and dried, it’s ready for use in the litter box.


Clean your Gravel Litterbox Daily

It’s essential to keep a gravel litter box clean, or your cat might not use it.

Each day, scoop out the solids from the gravel and dispose of them as you would when cleaning any cat litter box. If you are flushing the waste down the toilet, be sure there is no gravel in it, or it can easily block the plumbing pipes.

Change the newspaper and baking soda in the bottom tray at least once per week or more often if there is odor or standing liquid waste.

Every few weeks after cleaning out the box, take the top tray outside and rinse the gravel off with a hose. You can also let it sit in the rain for a few hours on a rainy day. Once the gravel is clean, let it dry off before putting it back on the other tray.

You can reuse the gravel indefinitely.

If you decide to stop using gravel litter, do not flush it down the toilet, or you will need an expensive visit from a plumber.


Switching Litter Takes Time and Training

Getting your cat to switch to gravel litter might take some time and patience. Cats are fussy about their bathroom habits, and not all cats will accept a change in litter material.

One way to switch to gravel litter is to start by filling the top tray with gravel in one half of the tray and litter the cat already uses on the other side.

Over time, your cat might become used to the gravel, and you can slowly eliminate the other litter and move to gravel only.

Another option is to set up two separate litter boxes simultaneously, one with pea gravel and another with the litter the cat already uses. Your cat might become curious about the gravel and start to use it once it becomes familiar.

You can also try adding a small amount of a non-toxic, cat-safe dry herb to the gravel to make it more attractive to your cat – many cats like the scent of catnip, lemon balm, sage, and rosemary, among others.

If you don’t know what herbs scents your cat likes, it’s a good idea to test one on your cat first by putting some on their scratching post or a favorite toy to see how they respond before you add it to the litter box.

If your cat does not like the new litter, do not get angry or punish it. Punishment does not work for changing a cat’s behavior.

Instead, try making the change slowly while watching how your cat responds. If the switch to gravel litter does not work, accept this and use a litter your cat likes.


Gravel Litterboxes can also be used Outdoors

If you have an outdoor cat or neighborhood cats that use your garden area as a litter box, you might consider building an outdoor litter box.

One study done in Japan found that neighborhood cats quickly learned to use an outdoor litter box instead of pooping in garden areas.

To set up an outdoor litter box, all you need are four boards and a few nails or screws to assemble them into a square frame. An outdoor litter box does not need a bottom.

Instead, make the box frame about the same size as a plastic litter box or larger with sides approximately 2 to 3-inches tall, and don’t worry about putting a bottom on it.

Put the box in a quiet part of the yard and fill it with gravel or sand. Show your cat where it is located, and there is a good chance it will get curious and try using this box.

In addition, neighborhood cats using your flower beds as their bathroom may also learn to use this outdoor box instead of fouling your landscape.


Gravel as Cat Litter is more Economical than Clay

There are multiple advantages to using gravel as cat litter, as long as your feline friend accepts it:

  • Saving money not buying bags of disposable litter
  • No disposal costs because the gravel is reusable
  • Saves space in landfills
  • Recycling old newspaper
  • Reducing litter dust and tracking around the house

Reusable gravel and old newspaper are also considerably more ecologically-friendly than bentonite clay cat litter.


Sometimes Gravel Cat Litter Doesn’t Work

The biggest reason not to use gravel as cat litter is if your cat won’t accept it. Cats do not like changes in their environment, and changing the type of litter could result in the cat relieving itself where you don’t want it to go.

In addition, cats that have been declawed are not likely to scratch in gravel, so it’s probably best not to try gravel litter for a declawed cat.

Another potential problem is that a pea gravel litter box might have more odor problems than one containing commercial litter. The bad smells could be a problem for you or your cat.

Older indoor cats are also more likely to find gravel litter unacceptable. However, it doesn’t hurt to set up a gravel litter box next to the one your cat already uses and see what happens.

Buying and disposing of cat litter is a hassle, and clumping litter made with bentonite clay is terrible for the environment and takes up space in landfills.

Pea gravel is a reusable material, and many cats will use it. The best way to know if your cat will accept it is to give it a try.

Writer: Mary Innes

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