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?”
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
- Who Is Skye Blake?
- Defining "Best"
- What Your Cat Won't Use
- The Type of Litter Box Your Cat Wants
- What Humans Want in a Litter Box
- What's Reasonable to Expect?
- Older Kittens & Adult Cats
- Young Kittens
- Litter Boxes That Are Too Small
- Senior, Arthritic or Special Needs Cats
- Boxes for Declawed & Post-Surgery Cats
- Litter Boxes in Living Areas
- Privacy Screens
- Dealing with the Mad Litter Flinger
- Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes
- Traveling with Your Cat's Litter Box
- Accessories for Your Cat's Litter Box
- List of Sources
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
Sources are given at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
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.
Try to find that happy compromise!
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 or transparent sides – 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!
What Humans Want in a Litter Box
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 that could save her life!
- 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…
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… most 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, they gradually mix it in until it’s accepted.
There are lots of litter varieties, made from some surprising ingredients at “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?”
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.
The shallow boxes that hold canned cat food are great for kittens just learning to use the litter box.
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!
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“.
Low-sided litter boxes good for kittens are at “The Basic Litter Box“.
Learn more about types of litter for kittens at “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?”
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
Discover more about do-it-yourself boxes at “The DIY Litter Box“.
Senior, Arthritic or Special Needs 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, 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…
Another idea is to try using a ramp in front of the box to make it easier for her to get in and out of the box.
You still may want to use a lower entrance.
Low-sided litter boxes good for older cats are at “The Basic Litter Box“.
Learn more about types of litter for special needs and medical issues 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.
Learn more about types of litter for special needs and medical issues at “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?”
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.
The good news is there are now stylish boxes and furniture enclosures made 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… discover more at “Furniture Litter Box Enclosures”.
A possible option for small areas is the corner litter box, but if you have multiple cats, be sure to position these where a cat isn’t trapped in it by another cat.
Check out “The Corner Litter Box“.
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… as always, if you forget to clean it your nose will remind you it’s there!
Discover more about privacy screens and what’s available at “The Privacy Screen for Litter Boxes“.
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 and your cats can see if it’s safe to come out.
They’re 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 some litter might still get out, but the rest of the box has very high sides.
Curious about what types of litter might work best for your mad litter-flinger? Check out “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?”
Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes
Technology has now hit the litter box industry!
There are many different types of “self-cleaning” litter boxes on the market.
The main ones are robot, roll & clean, sifting, and self-washing/flushing.
All function either automatically or manually and there are pros and cons with either method.
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.
The drawbacks include cheap knockoffs and frauds, so it’s best to know which ones are legitimate.
Discover more about self-cleaning litter boxes at “Supplies for Cats“.
Traveling with Your Cat’s Litter Box
Disposable Litter 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 Boxes are another version of portable travel litter boxes.
They’re flexible and have zippered covers to keep litter from spilling out.
Here’s a helpful video about dealing with litter boxes on the road…
Accessories for Your Cat’s Litter Box
There are a few necessary and not-so-necessary items available for use with litter boxes.
Things like mats, scoops, and disposal systems are available if you need them.
Discover more about them at “Supplies for Cats“.
If you’re having problems with a cat peeing or pooping outside the litter box, take a look at “Behavior” to find out what might be causing this and how to fix it.
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re 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.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
I make a small commission on some of the sources listed below if you choose to purchase them from here.
Some products listed link to companies that sell them, whether or not I make any money.
“16 Stand-Out Cat Litter Box Furniture Options to Fit Your Style”, The Dog People
“77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat“, by Susan M. Ewing, Fox Chapel Publishers International, Ltd., 2018
“The Best Kind of Litter Box for Longhaired Cats“, by Jet Perreault, Petful, Dec 5, 2014
“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
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting & Owning a Cat“, by Sheila Webster Boneham, PhD, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY, 2005
“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
“Litter Box Happiness for Cats of All Ages”, Dr. Sophia Yin, CattleDog Publishing, January 25, 2017
“Litter Box Issues With Cats”, VetMed, Tufts University
“Litter Box Solutions for Aging Cats”, Litter Robot
“Litter Training”, Kitten Lady
“Making a DIY Temporary Litterbox From Cardboard“, The Honest Kitchen, August 26, 2019
“The Special Needs of the Senior Cat”, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Feline Health Center
“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
“Total Cat Mojo” by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017
“What’s the Best Litter Box for Senior Cats”, FitSeer.com
“What Your Cat Wants”, by Francesca Riccomini, Thunder Bay Press, Octopus Publishing Group, San Diego, CA, 2012, www.thunderbaybooks.com
Updated July 15, 2023