If cats are using your child's outdoor sandbox as a litter box then you have a few options to stop the behavior. For instance, you can put up a barrier, use cat deterrents or, if your cat is the culprit, consider keeping your cat inside. It's not an easy task, but the one thing you do not want to do is ignore the problem because it can be a danger to the children who play in the sandbox.
Why Cats Use the Sandbox
In the wild, cats naturally excrete in soft or sandy soil for easy burial. They use their paws in a backward sweeping motion to cover their feces. In the backyard, that sandbox is a natural outlet for this instinct in cats who pass through or hang out in your yard. It really isn't much different than your cat's indoor litter box.
If you do not stop cats from defecating in the sandbox, it can be harmful to people. During playtime, children can potentially be exposed to toxoplasmosis, a parasite disease that is carried in cat feces. Most cats that have it do not show any symptoms, either. And, even if your cat is healthy, you cannot account for strays that may be carrying this common cat disease.
Beyond that, it's also unsanitary and rather disgusting to have cat feces or urine in a sandbox that kids play in. It must be cleaned up immediately and deterrents used to prevent it.
How to Stop Cats From Using the Sandbox
While the cause for this behavior issue is simple, the solution is not. Every cat will be different, so you might have to try a few different types or combinations of deterrents before you find the solution that actually works. This is especially true if you're dealing with stray or neighbor cats who you do not have the same control over as your own.
The easiest solution is to put up a good defense against unwanted critters. Simply make it a habit to cover the sandbox whenever children are not playing in it.
Many store-bought sandboxes come with a cover that is designed to keep rain and animals out when not in use. You can also fashion a cover for a homemade sandbox using things like wood or lattice structures or heavy outdoor fabrics.
You can go on the offensive as well. Installing a device like a motion-sensitive water sprinkler is another way to keep animals away. These are often used for gardens, so you'll find them in the gardening section of hardware stores.
If you put a sprinkler right next to the sandbox, then cats will certainly get the message. The downfall of this method is that, depending on the direction of the spray, it can also get the sandbox wet.
There are several natural deterrents that you can use around the sandbox to deter cats from entering it. Any of these natural substances—either alone or combined—can make for a great anti-kitty cocktail that is not harmful to animals or people. You will, however, need to reapply them frequently as they will fade away due to rain, sun, or wind.
- Cats dislike the smell of vinegar, so spray a vinegar-water solution around the sandbox perimeter.
- Cats are not fans of citrus smells, either. Save orange, lemon, or other citrus peels and sprinkle them around the box. You can also grind the peels in a blender and mix it with water for an easy-to-use spray.
- Cats also cannot stand coffee grounds or cayenne pepper and either can be sprinkled around the sandbox.
There are a variety of commercial sprays designed as cat repellents, which are also commonly used by gardeners. They contain preparations that are offensive to cats but are not harmful to either cats or children. Do be sure to read the labels carefully, though.
These sprays can be effective when applied around the border of a sandbox. Rain and sunlight will dissipate the spray over time, so you will need to reapply frequently.
Transition to Indoor-Only
If your cat seems to be the cause of the sandbox mess, you might need to transition them to be an indoor-only cat. To start the process, provide the cat with enough litter boxes inside the house and train the cat to use them. The rule of thumb is one box per cat, plus one extra in the beginning. Once the cat is trained, you can that drop down to one box per cat.
Supervise Outdoor Time
If your yard is safe from your cats escaping, and predators and other cats can't enter, then you could still let your cat outside periodically. This will only be effective if can supervise them at all times. You can even teach your cat ways to play outside; similar to their canine counterparts, some cats love to play fetch.
Whenever you notice your cat heading to the sandbox, pick it up, and move it elsewhere. Use your discipline tone and find some sort of distraction that's more tempting than the sand. Eventually, your cat will learn to keep away from the sandbox.