As if the stench weren't motivation enough, if you don't clean your cat's litter box, it could make both of you sick. You wouldn't want to use a toilet that never flushes, so why put your cat through something similar and risk an illness? Keeping it clean keeps everyone healthy.
A cat's waste alone typically won't make her sick, but what's hiding inside might. Generally, if a cat can transfer disease through bodily fluids like saliva and blood, she can transfer it through her waste. So if you have multiple cats in your home and one of them is sick, she can get your other cat sick just by sharing a litter box with her. That's why it's so important to keep your litter box clean and make sure your pets are always up to date on their vaccinations and veterinary checkups.
General disease isn't the only thing that can spread from your cat's buried treasure -- parasites that escape her body through the backdoor can use the litter box as a transfer point between hosts. For example, if a cat comes into contact with the waste of a cat that hosts the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite can make its way deep into your cat's intestines. Again, this is why those regular checkups are so important -- sometimes cats contract parasites like these and don't even show symptoms for a good, long time.
Keeping It Clean
Prevention is the key, then, to preventing your cat from catching a bug or something worse from the litter box. You should clean the box daily, and once a week empty it completely and wash it out with soap and warm water. Don't use anything with too heavy of a scent, either. Sure, filling the litter box with chlorine bleach will completely annihilate any bacteria hanging around inside, but the odor will send you cat running.
Spreading to Humans
Your cat isn't the only one that can get sick from a nasty litter box -- you can, too. Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by parasites that you can find in an infected cat's waste, and humans are susceptible. Immunocompromised and pregnant people are especially at risk, which is why pregnant women are often told to delegate litter box duties to someone else. For this reason and also for the general "ick" factor, it's always a good idea to give your hands a good scrubbing after you clean the litter box.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.