Skye Blake, here… Cat Info Detective. Coming to you from headquarters to help you answer that important question… “What’s the best litter box for my cat?”
Ask yourself this… How do you define “best”? Best for whom? You? Your cat? Both?
When it comes to litter boxes in general, most cat behaviorists have found it’s best to keep it simple. The more complex the box, the more risk of it malfunctioning, and the less likely your cat will use it.
Litter boxes, as with litter and food, are marketed to you, the human, since you buy it. But you don’t use it, your cat does… so she gets the final say, doesn’t she? (We fabulous felines know how to work it don’t we!)
This means you’re responsible to find something your cat wants as well as what works for you. Follow the trails below…
Follow the Trails Below…
- What Your Cat Won’t Use
- The Type of Litter Box Your Cat Wants
- The Type Humans Want
- What’s Reasonable to Expect?
- Older Kittens & Adult Cats
- Young Kittens
- Litter Boxes That Are Too Small
- Senior or Arthritic Cats
- Boxes for Declawed & Post-Surgery Cats
- Are Covered Boxes a Good Idea?
- Litter Boxes in Living Areas
- Furniture Litter Boxes
- Privacy Screens
- Dealing with the Mad Litter Flinger
- Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes
- Traveling with Your Cat & Litter Box
- Related Products For Your Cat’s Litter Box
- Related Pages of Interest
- List of Sources
What Your Cat Won’t Use
Your cat won’t use any box if he feels…
- the box will hurt him
- the box is too small for him to turn around to cover his business
- his sensitive whiskers brush the sides
- the litter bothers his paws
- the box is too dirty
- it’s covered so he can’t see a feline, canine, or human ambusher when exiting
- any other mysterious reason humans can’t understand!
The Type of Litter Box Your Cat Wants
What he wants is…
- something big enough so his fur and whiskers aren’t rubbing against the sides and top (if covered)
- uncovered to see three directions to be sure he won’t be attacked and has escape routes (this may not be necessary in a quiet one-cat household)
- some cats want one box for pee, one for poop (the 1 per cat + 1 extra box rule helps with this)
- a clean box when he needs it
- litter that is comfortable to stand on and dig in
- big enough to turn around in and shake litter off his paws
- the right to change his mind at any time about any box or type of litter and for reasons humans can’t understand!
The Type Humans Want
OK, let’s be real here people… you want somebody else to deal with it, right? Out of sight, smell, or sound. Gotta remember, though, you’re dealing with living critters.
So, if you want the fun, cuddles, love, and entertainment we felines give, you have to accept the other end too! It’s not that bad and you’ll be returning the favor. You’ll be watching for changes in her potty habits and that could save her life!
What humans want in a litter box…
- hidden… not have to look at it
- no odor… walk in the house and never know you have a cat
- attractive, stylish
- stays clean for a long time
- easy to clean, doesn’t absorb odors
- something to keep the dog out (if you have one)
- keep the litter from being flung all over & tracked
- keep pee in the box with a stand-up-to-pee cat
- something your senior or arthritic cat can easily enter and exit
- large enough to fit a large cat (like a Maine Coon)
What’s Reasonable to Expect?
Is it reasonable to expect to find the best of both worlds? Can you satisfy both you and your cat?
Yes and no. Frankly, it depends mostly on how finicky your feline is. If you have more than one cat, you have to consider the needs of each one. It becomes more of a balancing act with multiple cats.
You may ask… “Why bother with what the cats want if it means I can’t have it the way I want?” There’s an easy answer…
If you don’t, you’ll end up with them finding “better” places to do their business. You’ll create problems you and they don’t need… you’ll be cleaning up LOTS of pee!
You may find that throughout your cat’s life the size and shape of any litter boxes you use may change. Your cat may decide she doesn’t like what she’s been using (she retains that right, remember?!)
Maybe she’s getting older and finding it hard to get in and out. Or she’s grown from a small kitten to a large cat and the boxes are too small for her to be comfortable turning around and digging.
Perhaps you’ve spend tons of money on a fancy self-cleaning, rotating electric “box” and she’s afraid of it… oops, that’ll never work!
Remember the one box per cat + one extra rule? Mighty expensive with fancy litter systems… something to consider.
So what’s reasonable to expect is that you can find something you both can accept, being aware can change over time as your kitty’s needs change.
A helpful video to get you started… “Top 12 Best Litter Boxes (We Tested Them All“, All About Cats, May 4, 2020
You can find specific examples of available litter boxes at “Litter Box List”.
Older Kittens & Adult Cats
You just got your cat and don’t know what type of box is best for her. If possible, ask whoever you got her from what kind of box and litter she previously used and start with that.
Once your kitty is settled in, you could try getting something else if you’d like, set it next to one she uses and give her a chance to try it. Remember… cats don’t like change.
So, many people use the same litter in a new box for a little while to get their kitties used to it. Then if they want to also change the litter, gradually mix it in until it’s accepted.
You’re caring for tiny kittens who lost their mother and you don’t know what kind of boxes to use. Once they’re old enough to use litter, kittens need a low uncovered box with pellet non-clumping litter.
Never use clumping litter with young kittens. They eat EVERYTHING and clumping litter will swell up in their little tummies. This can cause a life-threatening blockage… not a good start to life!
The shallow boxes that hold canned cat food are great for kittens just learning to use the litter box. Making a cardboard box for kittens works well. These are easy for them to walk into and use. A good “how-to” explanation is at “Making a DIY Temporary Litterbox From Cardboard”, The Honest Kitchen, August 26, 2019.
Litter Boxes That Are Too Small
All cats need enough room to enter the box, sniff and circle, scratch, squat and cover, then exit without touching the sides (or top if covered). Feline skin and whiskers are extremely sensitive so long haired cats are especially sensitive to touch.
The boxes must fit all your cats. The general rule is…
length = 1 1/2 to 2 times the length of your largest adult cat (excluding tail)
width = about the length of the largest adult cat
For example, if your largest cat is 12″ long from nose to hindquarters, your box should be at least 18″-24″ long and 12″ wide.
Given a choice of regular or large size boxes, most adult cats will take the large ones.
Smaller may be what you want in order to fit it into that out-of-the-way spot, but it’s not ideal for your cat. You’re risking him finding a more comfortable place to go.
Think about it… would you prefer a cramped bathroom where you just get in and out quickly (port-a-potty), or a spacious, comfortable one you’ll visit again (spa).
Using Storage Containers
Many commercial boxes are too small, especially for large breeds or obese cats. One trick is to use the translucent storage containers like the kind you find at WalMart or Target.
They’re bigger and you can choose from low or high sides (nice for stand-to-pee cats). They absorb less than other plastic boxes so they last longer. You can also cut a low entrance in one side for senior or arthritic kitties.
These also work well for multi-cat households. Kitties don’t feel trapped since they can see lurking potential threats, have escape routes, and know when it’s safe to leave.
Mieshelle Nagelschneider, “The Cat Whisperer”, recommends 6″ tall x 16″ wide x 21-23″ long (about 15 cm x 40 cm x 56 cm) for most cats. Taller ones are available if you have a litter flinger or stand-up-to-pee cat.1“The Cat Whisperer” by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com, p. 111
Senior or Arthritic Cats
Your cat is getting older and has arthritis or other medical problems. It’s painful or not possible for her to climb over the side of a box. She needs a box with a low entrance side and litter that’s easy to walk on and comfortable for paws and joints. Containers for under-bed storage have low sides… good for older cats or kittens who need a low entrance.
You should also make sure her boxes are located in her living areas so she doesn’t have far to walk. She’s not able to move as quickly as she used to and might not make it in time.
If she’s a stand-to-pee cat you can get the high-sided storage container and cut out an entrance.
You can make one yourself with this video… “Best Litter Box… How to Make an Easy-Access Box for Old Arthritic Cats”
Another idea is to try using a ramp in front of the box. This might make it easier for her to get in and out of the box. You’ll still want to use a lower entrance.
You can find a list of boxes, systems and related items at “Litter Box List”. There are special litters made for senior cats and those who need extra soft litter. Find out more at “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?”
Boxes for Declawed & Post-Surgery Cats
Your kitty is declawed or recently has had surgery. Since declawing is actually amputation of his toes, some declawed cats have pain the rest of their lives and it throws off how they walk and move. This makes using the litter box and digging uncomfortable and downright painful.
Some declawed cats do just fine with any decent litter box as long as the litter is soft and fine-grained like sand.
The best box for declawed or otherwise impaired cats is something with a low entrance area and plenty of room to turn around.
Your vet will be able to recommend good boxes and litter for post-surgery and other medical needs.
There are disposable pee pads also that can help with medical conditions or post-surgery needs.
Type of litter is what’s most important here. Find the softest litter you can so it doesn’t feel like he’s walking on broken glass. Paper litters are often recommended for post-surgery healing time. There’s no dust to get into wounds and cause infections.
Find out more about types of litter and what’s available for special needs at “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?” You can find a list of boxes, systems and related items (like pee pads) at “Litter Box List”.
Are Covered Boxes a Good Idea?
Enclosed covered boxes seem like a good idea to contain odor, but in reality they turn the box into a port-a-potty environment… poor kitty!
Think about it… do you enjoy the smell of a port-a-potty on a hot summer day when 100 other people have used it before you and it hasn’t been cleaned??!! You want to get out of there as fast as you can… and so does your buddy!
Just scoop or clean twice a day and it won’t smell so you won’t need a cover. If regular cleaning doesn’t seem to be working and there’s still a strong pee smell, this could indicate your kitty is having a medical problem. It would be worthwhile to get him to the vet right away for a checkup.
Another downside is that some covered boxes are expensive, so if you buy one and your cat decides a few months later he doesn’t like it, you’re stuck having to find something else.
Litter Boxes in Living Areas
Your cat needs to have boxes in her living spaces (your living room, bathroom, and bedrooms) for scent security and ease of use, especially if she’s older.
Frankly, you need them there as well to be reminded to clean them regularly and monitor the waste for signs of medical problems. See “The Cat Box…Location, Location, Location” for more details.
But you can’t bear the thought of seeing or smelling litter boxes in these areas! You’re convinced it’s unsanitary to have them anywhere but the garage, basement or bathroom. You certainly don’t want anyone to have to look at or smell them when walking by.
These conflicting needs call for some creative thinking on your part. Let’s review what your kitty needs from you regarding litter boxes…
- proper size
- located in her living areas out of walkways
- comfortable litter
- daily scooping/proper cleaning (thus, no smell)
- open view to surroundings to watch for possible attack
- enough open sides to have escape routes (from other cats, dogs, or children)
Since every situation is unique, you have a good chance of finding something that will be acceptable to both you and your feline friend.
The good news is there are stylish boxes and furniture made now to fit the decorating senses of cat owners while giving cats a place to go.
The bad news is cat behaviorists are finding that many cats don’t like them because they violate requirements for comfortable, secure use… namely, too small, enclosed, smelly and have no escape routes.
There are, however, some rather ingenious ideas available. Find out what’s out there at “Litter Box List”.
Furniture Litter Boxes
Furniture litter box enclosures are basically a box-type end table or enclosed bench with a side or top entrance, a place to put a regular litter box, and a door for access to remove and clean it.
There are numerous options available in a range of prices and quality. They can be very stylish, with a price to match, and can work well for being aesthetically pleasing to people as well as functional for a cat.
If you’re handy you can make one out of an old stereo cabinet or end table… just put on your creative thinking cap!
If you buy a furniture box enclosure but your buddy won’t use it, you can still use it as an end table or other decorative piece.
If your cat must have an open box and won’t accept furniture enclosures, an easy, stylish way to hide a box is a folding privacy screen. Just put it in front of the box and it’s out of sight. You should scoop every day anyway, so if you do odor won’t be an issue.
Dealing with the Mad Litter Flinger
Your cat digs like mad and flings litter everywhere! Litter gets tracked all over the house… Arrrrrrg!
People dealing with this problem often use covered or open high-sided boxes. Litter mats and pellet litter can also help. Large mats do best since your kitty is walking on it longer, which cleans more off his paws.
Larger pellet litters don’t stick to the paws nearly as much as small-grained, sandy litters. However, some cats don’t like walking on or digging in pellets. You’ll have to figure out what your buddy likes.
Some covered boxes are designed with steps or a top entrance where litter comes off his paws as he comes out of the box. As always, these must pass inspection by your kitties.
The large high-sided see-through storage boxes are great. They’re open, yet deep enough to catch most, if not all, that the mad litter flinger throws at them. You can cut an entrance to whatever size and height your cat needs.
There are now boxes with high sides that are basically a covered box with the top removed. This is a nice option for those dealing with litter flingers and stand-to-pee cats who need an open box. The entrance side is open so there may still be some issue but the rest of the box has very high sides.
Find out more about these and other litter boxes at “Litter Box List”.
Sandy, fine-grained litter sticks more easily to paws than large pellets so it tracks around the house. Since you don’t want to be constantly vacuuming and finding it in your bed and sofa, your first thought would be to get a large pellet litter.
Well, not so fast… most cats prefer the softer fine-grain to large, hard pellets. So, if you’re one of the lucky ones with a cat who’s fine with large, hard pellets, go for it. If you’re like the rest of the cat world, you’ll have to compromise with your cat’s preferences.
This is where litter mats come in… they help clean off your cat’s paws as he comes out of the box. Mats come in a range of sizes. The larger the mat, the more it will “wipe” his feet as he leaves.
Even though you may still have some tracking, the mats help keep it limited to the area just outside the box. You’ll still be vacuuming but it’ll be confined to a small area and you’ll be much less likely to find litter on your pillow!
Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes
Technology has now hit the litter box industry! You can buy a fancy box that rotates like a drum or rakes the litter, separating waste from the clean litter.
There are many different types of “self-cleaning” litter boxes on the market. All function either automatically or manually and there are pros and cons with either method. The main types are robot, roll & clean, sifting, and self-washing/flushing.
The idea is that you don’t have to touch or do anything with the litter. However, this doesn’t make them completely maintenance free… you can’t completely ignore the box or your cat will remind you! (Your own toilet flushes but you still have to clean it, right?)
These boxes require clumping litter, usually clay or silica.
Self-cleaning litter boxes are usually expensive so I recommend looking carefully at the manufacturers’ websites as well as any reviews you can find before making the investment.
Cat behaviorists have found it’s best to keep litter boxes simple. The more complex the box, the more risk of it malfunctioning, and the less likely your cat will use it.
You’ll want to evaluate these factors…
- Ease of use for both you and your cat
- How chill or nervous your cat is in general? (Will he accept this alien being?)
- How quiet is the unit? (Some cats won’t go near it if it makes noise even if they’re not near the box when it happens.)
- In multi-cat households, can you afford more than one box?
- Ongoing expense of any special trays, litter, and replacement parts
- The size of the actual area your cat will be using to do his business
- The bulkiness of the whole unit
- The amount of maintenance and cleaning involved (they’re not maintenance free)
- Reliability of the mechanism over time… what’s its track record?
Robot (Automatic) Boxes
These don’t look like regular rectangular boxes. They’re oval or round and run either manually or by an electric motor. There are a few different brands and new ones are constantly being invented… always on the hunt for that perfect box!
The idea of automatic boxes is that they sense when your cat exits the box, then start rotating after a preprogrammed amount of time (e.g., 20 minutes). If the cat returns before rotation begins, it’ll reset the timer. The idea is to keep the box from scaring or injuring the cat.
Once the rotation begins, the clumps and poop fall or are scooped into a tray and the rest of the litter sifts through to be re-used. You dump the waste drawer when the indicator shows it’s full. It’s important to note that only clumping litter can be used and certain types, such as paper or wood based litters cannot.
Litter-Robot has a version that’s Wi-Fi enabled and has an app. The site says: “The Connect app gives you additional freedom from your litter box duties by allowing you to view the waste drawer level, get notifications, troubleshoot, and see recent usage history for insights into your cat’s health.”2 https://www.litter-robot.com/litter-robot-iii-open-air-with-connect.html
- You don’t have to scoop the litter daily, just dump the tray when full
- You can monitor it with an app from your phone
- They have warranties, money-back guarantees and trial periods
- Very expensive – about $150 to $700 USD
- Not economical for multi-cat households
- Power cord requires locating the box near outlets
- Some require on-going purchase of special trays, litter, etc.
- Poop sometimes sticks to the sifter or sides
- Parts can malfunction (jam)
- Box can be difficult to wash (yes, they have to be washed occasionally)
- The area inside that your cat uses is small
- Could be hard for a longhaired cat with sensitive skin to turn around without brushing the sides and/or top
- If the box makes a noise or starts rotating while the cat is still in or exiting the box, it might scare her… she’ll never use it again
- Cannot be used for kittens or any cat under 5 lbs. (sensors won’t register them)
- Not recommended for cats with digestive or urinary problems
Manufacturers have attempted to deal with the problems listed above, so newer models are improved from the earlier ones.
Before investing in such a high-priced box, check the manufacturer websites for details (Petree Litter Boxes and Litter Robot are a couple of them). This will help you determine whether it’ll work for your household.
Roll & Clean (Manual)
These manual rotating boxes (also know as “litter spinners”) are a nice idea, however some people find them difficult to clean, with soiled litter sticking to the sides. People seem to love or hate them.
Lesser quality ones can have trouble with internal parts not working right or falling apart too quickly.
Sifting (Manual & Automatic)
There are two types of sifting litter boxes… automatic and manual.
Manual sifting boxes are simply a traditional box with a fitted sieve through which the litter can fall, keeping clumps and poop on top. You shake it, then dispose of what’s left on top. These work only with clumping litter.
Automatic sifters have a rake that starts 20 minutes after the cat leaves the box. They have sensors to read when a cat enters and exits.
The rake sweeps poop into a covered compartment. You dump the tray when it’s full (although it should be done daily). Chewy has one that has disposable trays.
Automatic boxes are not to be used for kittens (under 6 months old) or cats with digestive or urinary problems.
These work best and are most economical for a 1 or 2 cat household.
Some automatic sifters use crystal litter that adsorbs (not absorbs) liquid and traps odors. Crystals only need to be stirred so you don’t have to buy litter constantly.
See “Silica Cat Litter” for more about this interesting type of litter. An explanation of “adsorption vs. absorption” can also be found there.
You can find a list of boxes, systems and related items at “Litter Box List”.
There’s one interesting litter system by Cat Genie that washes and flushes with the same concept as a regular toilet. It hooks up to your water line and uses washable litter granules.
The website says “CatGenie acts like a cat box, cleans like an appliance, and flushes like a toilet”. This might work well in certain situations.
While these boxes have some features that certainly appeal to people, there are some drawbacks that are important considerations when deciding whether or not to risk an expensive choice. See Cat Genie for all the details.
For other options, you can find a list of boxes, systems and related items at “Litter Box List”.
Traveling with Your Cat & Litter Box
Disposable boxes are useful for travel, cat shows, and other temporary circumstances. They’re treated to be waterproof and can be refilled and used for about a month.
Collapsible portable litter boxes are great for travel. They’re flexible and have zippered covers to keep litter from spilling out.
You can find a list of disposable and portable boxes at “Litter Box List”.
Related Products For Your Cat’s Litter Box
There are additional items that are helpful when dealing with cat litter. Some people find them useful, while others don’t like them.
You can find a list of these related products at “Litter Box List”.
These give you a place to put clumps when scooping your box rather than using your trash cans (think “diaper genie”). They close at the top to control odor and have liners for easy disposal when full.
Keep one next to each box for convenience. You may decide to dispose of them when the odor is too much, rather than waiting for them to fill up.
Ever wish you had one of these to scoop out your litter boxes?
Litter scoops are necessary for every litter box. They’re handy even when dealing with automatic boxes. But…
Some scoops let too much dirty litter through, others don’t let the clean litter fall out. Either way you end up with a problem… not getting your boxes clean enough or wasting a lot of good litter. What to do?
The answer is to match the scoop with the type of litter you’re using. With so many litters out there from clay to grass to walnut to tofu, clumping and non-clumping, you need to know how your litter behaves. Is it sandy with tiny granules or firm large pellets? Does it fall apart when wet or clump together? If it’s clumping, are they soft or hard clumps? Soft clumps tend to fall apart when scooped.
Go to “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?” and click on “Types of Cat Litter”. You’ll see a list of many different kinds of litter, each linking to its own page where you can find out more about how that litter handles waste.
The smaller, sandier granules will need a scoop with smaller holes as will non-clumping litters. Large clumps can handle larger holes to let the rest of the litter fall through faster.
Scoops come in plastic, cast aluminum or stainless steel. Plastic is cheaper but aluminum and stainless steel won’t break, last longer, and are stronger.
Scoops have holes of different sizes and shapes. Some are long and oval shaped, others are small and round. Then there are those with a combination of hole sizes and shapes.
Liners are available for litter boxes just like your kitchen trash can. The idea is to lift the liner when the litter’s dirty, tie it up and throw it away. There’s only one problem with this…
Most cats’ claws slice up liners and urine pools underneath them in the bottom, making a smelly mess. That certainly defeats the purpose! Some cats don’t like the feel of the plastic, either.
If you have a cat who is delicate about digging, these might work for you, but cat behaviorists recommend not using them.
As you can see by now, there are many choices of litter boxes and more being developed all the time. If you follow basic guidelines, you’ll find something both you and your kitties can accept. Now that’s worth the time and effort, isn’t it!
Find your boxes at “Litter Box List” …
Related Pages of Interest
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary. Primary are always preferable and have the most reliable information because primary sources are original and directly referenced. Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. However, sometimes they refer to primary sources. Thus, when I use secondary sources most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
Please note that some of the sources listed below sell litter products or link to places that do. These are for your convenience only. I make no money from them.
List of Sources
“77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat”, by Susan M. Ewing, Fox Chapel Publishers International, Ltd., 2018
“Cat Speak”, by Bash Dibra with Elizabeth Randolph, New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY, 2003
“The Cat Whisperer”, by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com
“Cat Wise”, Pam Johnson-Bennett, Penguin Books, an imprint of Random House LLC, New York, NY, 2016
“Litter Box Happiness For Cats of All Ages”, Dr. Sophia Yin, CattleDog Publishing, January 25, 2017
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting & Owning a Cat”, by Sheila Webster Boneham, PhD, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY, 2005
“The Special Needs of the Senior Cat”, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Feline Health Center
“Decoding Your Cat”, by American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, editors: Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB; Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, DACVB; Carlo Siracusa, DVM, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, NY, 2020
“What’s the Best Litter Box for Senior Cats”, FitSeer.com
“Litter Training”, Kitten Lady
“Litter Box Solutions for Aging Cats”, Litter Robot
“The Best Kind of Litter Box for Longhaired Cats“, by Jet Perreault, Petful, Dec 5, 2014
“Total Cat Mojo” by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017
“Litter Box Issues With Cats“, VetMed, Tufts University
“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss“, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011
“What Your Cat Wants”, by Francesca Riccomini, Thunder Bay Press, Octopus Publishing Group, San Diego, CA, 2012, www.thunderbaybooks.com