What Are the Dangers of a Dirty Cat Litter Box?

Cats can pick up parasites if they are allowed to hunt outdoors and eat their prey.
i cat image by Darren Ager from Fotolia.com

You can get used to the odors of a dirty kitty-litter box, and your unawareness may last until that mortifying moment when a guest's nose wrinkles, or her child asks, "what stinks?" Worse than such embarrassment, though, a dirty litter box poses health dangers for your cat and you.

Dangerous to Your Cat

Cats are fastidious creatures. They don’t like dirty litter boxes. A cat will avoid a dirty box and may start using other places, such as the soil of potted plants or your laundry pile. She may try to hold in her urine. Holding in urine concentrates it, and crystals can form that can eventually block the urinary tract, making it difficult or impossible for the cat to void urine. This can lead to potentially fatal kidney problems.

Dangerous to You

A strictly indoor cat is not exposed to most diseases, but who can guarantee against the occasional escape? Rarely, some diseases can be transmitted from a cat to a human. People with compromised immune systems, elderly people and pregnant women are more at risk than others for contracting a disease from a pet cat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diseases are typically spread to people through the feces of an infected cat. One disease of which you should be aware is toxoplasmosis.


Cats are the definitive hosts for Toxoplasma gondii, and are the only animals that can shed the infectious stage of this parasite in their feces. Virtually all cats who hunt outdoors and eat their prey will be exposed to the Toxoplasma parasite. Meat that is not fully cooked also can expose the cat (or you) to this parasite. A woman exposed to the parasite for the first time in her life while she is pregnant may miscarry, or her infant may suffer birth defects. If you are pregnant, get someone else to change the cat litter box daily. If you must clean it yourself, wear disposable gloves, and wash your hands afterward with soap and warm water.

Litter Box Guidelines

Do not place the litter box in or near the kitchen or where you eat. Clean the box daily. Wash your hands carefully after changing and cleaning the litter box. Instead of dumping the litter box, the CDC and The Humane Society of the United States recommend using plastic liners that you can seal with a twist tie before discarding them. Inhaling the dumped litter box filler could infect you. Empty the litter box and fill it with boiling water for five minutes at least once a month to disinfect it.

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