Kinds of litter
There are various kinds of litter available.
* The traditional clay based litter is composed of clay particles that will absorb urine to some extent. In general, you need to scoop out solid matter regularly, and change the litter entirely once a week or so. Variations on clay particles include green pellets (resembling rabbit food) or shredded cedar (like hamster bedding). Examples include Tidy Cat, etc.
* There many varieties of cat litter that clump into little balls. This way, the urine can be scooped out along with the feces. In theory, you never need to change the litter again, you only add a little more to replace the loss to cleaning out the urine and feces (which offsets the initial cost). Sometimes the clumps break apart and there are some "extra strong" varieties to address this problem. The litter is usually sandy and tracks rather easily. Some cats seem to develop diarrhea with this litter; some people are rather allergic to the very fine dust from this type of litter. Currently, this appears to be the most popular type of cat litter, judging by what is available at pet supply stores.
There is a non-sandy clumping litter called "Booda's Ultra Clump"; a drawback includes the clumps sticking to the pan itself (baking soda, pan liners, or small amounts of sandy clumping litter will remedy this). But it eliminates the tracking problems of the sandy kind of clumping litter. (It looks like regular clay-based litter.) There are now several brands similar to this.
There exist some warnings about the safety of clumping litters. While some are extremely vague and unverifiable, such as the dust causing "immune system problems", one warning to take more seriously involves cats that ingest clumping litter. Since it swells into a solid mass, this can cause obstructions. Cats most at risk include kittens (who do not have to ingest very much to create a problem), and those who lick off large amounts of clumping litter from their paws or bodies. However, many cats have used clumping litter for years without problems, so whether clumping litter is a problem probably needs to be made on a caseby case basis. Some references (all of these references are anecdotal and do not represent any serious studies of the potential problem):
* 4060 grade sandblasting grit made out of corncobs is an inexpensive alternative to clay-based clumping litter. It clumps as well as the flushable kind of clumping litter, and also smells better. It isn't available in all areas. In Ohio, The Anderson's General Store chain carries it for around US$10 for a 50 lb. bag, comparable to plain clay-based litter.
* Coarse corncob litter (commonly sold as "animal bedding and litter" by pet suppliers) about the size of peas, can be used. This is used in conjunction with a litter pan that has a screen and a drain pan underneath, into which the urine drains (and feces are removed as normal). It is almost completely dust free, unlike clay-based litters.
* "Good Mews." It is pelletized organic cellulose fiber ("scented with cedar oil--a natural flea and tick repellent"). It absorbs up to 1-1/2 its weight in water. According to reports, it is not dusty, sweeps up/cleans up easily, does not track, and does not cling to the tray when moist.
* There is at least one brand of litter that is intended for multiple cat households. This is Max Cat's Multi Cat, and it comes in both traditional clay and clumping forms.. Reports are that it pretty much works as advertised. Another way to control strong ammonia smells is to mix baking soda in with the litter.
* A litter called "PineFresh" is a natural pine wood litter that comes in little pellets. The pellets disintegrate in the urine and solid waste is scooped out. It's a bit expensive, plusses are described as: you don't have to change the litter as often provided the solid waste is cleaned out daily and the disintegrated stuff is sifted out twice a week. There is virtually no odor and no dust and it comes with a money back guarantee. It flushes just fine down non-septic systems. The product is manufactured by: Cansorb Industries 555 Kesler Road Cleveland, NC 27013.
* Plain sawdust or wood shavings can be used as litter. Some cats may not like it, since it doesn't absorb as well and may feel wet. But it is very cheap.
Some cats seem to prefer certain kinds of litter over others, you may need to experiment. A cat displeased with its litter box generally makes its feelings abundantly clear by finding a "better" litter box, such as your bed or sofa.
When disposing of litter, it is best to wrap it up in two bags and tie securely, for the benefit of the garbage collectors. For disposal of solid matter, it is best to put it in the trash in a bag as well. Some people flush solid matter, but be aware that septic tanks will not do well with clay litter pieces (even the small amount clinging to scooped items). Clumping litter is supposed to be flushable, except with septic tanks.
Do not use kitty litter as a fertilizer in your garden. It is not a manure since cats are not vegetarians and should not be used as such. It can be incredibly stinky, can attract neighborhood cats, and there's a chance that it would be unhealthy for your plants and for you (if you eat fruits/vegetables which were fertilized by it). Keep in mind that when an outdoor cat "uses" your garden, it usually varies its poop-place and so there's not a concentration of feces, whereas if you dump litter, it's usually concentrated in a single spot.
Cats can be fussy about the cleanliness of their litter box. Many people scoop solid matter out on a daily basis. If a cat is displeased with the litter box for a variety of reasons ranging from cleanliness to the type of litter used, it may well select another spot in your house more to its liking!
Litter boxes are shallow plastic pans. Some cats have a tendency to scatter litter outside the box when they bury their stool. This can be solved by getting a cover for the cat box, commonly available at pet stores. Another way to minimize litter tracking is to put a rug, especially a soft rubber one, just outside the litter box.
For easier litter-changing, some owners will use litter box liners. Some cats rip these while burying their feces; if the problem persists, just don't use liners.
To contain litter tracked outside the box, it is often worthwhile to put the litter pan in a larger shallow cardboard box that will collect most of the litter stuck to the cat's paw pads when it jumps out. Keep the area around the litter box as clean and free from spilled litter as you can. This helps the cat distinguish from outside and inside the litter box. Guess what can happen if this distinction is not clear.
If you have multiple cats you may have to put out several litterboxes. If you have a young cat and a large house, you will either need to place several litterboxes down so that there will be one near enough at any point or you will have to confine the young cat to an area of the house within easy reach of the litter box.
Disinfect the the litter box and top (if any) on a regular basis to prevent illness and disease. Bleach is a good disinfectant around cats, although you should be sure to rinse thoroughly and air out all the fumes. Do NOT use pine-oil based cleaners as these are toxic to cats.
It is possible to train a cat to use the toilet rather than a litter box. One book is How to Toilet Train Your Cat: 21 days to a litter-free home by Paul Kunkel, published by Workman Publishing, 708 Broadway, New York, NY 10003, and simultaneously published in Canada by Thomas Allen and Son Publishing (no address given). ISBN no. 0-89480-828-1. Cost, $5.95.
The cat must be well trained to the litter box first. Move the litter box into the bathroom next to the toilet. Little by little (2 inches every two days) raise the litter box until the bottom of the litter box is at the level of the toilet (seat down, lid raised). Then slowly move the litter box over to the top of the toilet. This accustoms the cat to jumping UP to the toilet to eliminate. When the cat is comfortable with this, cover the toilet (under the seat) with strong plastic wrap like Saran wrap and fill the middle with litter. Decrease the amount of litter until the cat is peeing into the plastic and then make a hole in the middle of the plastic so the cat gets used to the sound of urine and stool hitting the water. Sooner or later you eliminate the plastic.
Placement of litter box
Beyond making the litter box readily accessible to your cat, there is some consideration as to an aesthetically pleasing placement. Utility closets that the cat can always access are useful. Laundry rooms work well, bathrooms less well (especially in guest bathrooms). One suggestion was to build a chest with an entrance at one end big enough to contain the cat box. The chest can be displayed like furniture and yet be discreet. If you can't build a chest yourself, it should be relatively easy to saw an opening in the side of a pre-made chest.