The Basic Litter Box - Cat Info Detective

The Basic Litter Box

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake here, ready to share with you all you need to know about the humble litter box… how exciting! (hehe)

There are many litter boxes on the market today, along with scoops, mats and other accessories.

As a curious cat, I’ve followed the trails for these various boxes, from typical plastic to fancy “self-cleaning”, so you can decide what works best for you and your cats.

paw prints coming in from a distance

Let’s start with the classic…

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

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 at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.


Any products on this page are for your information and convenience only… I make no money from them.

Check descriptions and reviews carefully for any products you wish to buy.

Only the manufacturer can guarantee quality, color accuracy or anything else.

Traditional Open Litter Boxes

Black cat in litter box

When people think of a litter box, these are typically what they picture.

They’re available at pet stores, some grocery stores, superstores, and online suppliers like Amazon, PetSmart, and Chewy.

Most open boxes come in plastic and stainless steel. Some are now made with fiberglass or resin but aren’t always available.

calico cat licking paw

Both plastic and stainless-steel boxes come in different sizes, some with side shields to help contain pee.

Plastic is cheapest but must be replaced over time since it absorbs odors.

There are various grades of plastics, so some are better quality, sturdier, and less absorbent than others.

person cleaning a cat's litter box

Manufacturers often recommend replacing them every 6 months, but that depends on the amount of use and when it starts to smell bad.

Replace them when the smell doesn’t go away after cleaning.

Metal is durable but some cats (and people) don’t like the sound of scratching when claws hit the metal.

kitten pooping in litter box

Open boxes have sides that range in height from about 5″ to over 10″, some with a low 2-3″ entrance for kittens or arthritic cats.

Bear in mind that the rule of thumb for litter boxes is to have 1 for each cat + 1 extra on every level of your house.

4 basic open boxes is a lot cheaper than 4 automatic self-cleaning boxes!

Low-Sided Open Box


Grey tabby cat hanging out in a litter box

There are various medical conditions that can affect a cat’s ability to easily and painlessly get in or out of a box.

Arthritis is a common problem in older cats and is just as painful for them as it is for people.

Young kittens and declawed cats also find the low-sided boxes beneficial.

kitten in litter box

Pay attention to this because if your cat connects pain with the litter box, she’ll find somewhere else to go. Not what you want!

Low-sided boxes come with 2-3″ sides, which may be fine for your cat to get in and out easily, but if you have a mad litter flinger, these won’t contain it all… a frustrating situation!

face of sleepy cat - senior, older

Some people use a storage box with tall sides and cut a low entry in the front.

That gives you the low entry your cat needs and high sides to help contain litter.

Yes, the litter can still come out the front, but it’ll be a lot less… hey, you can’t have everything!

Another option is to have a regular box with a ramp for your cat to easily walk in and out.


ramp to litter box

Ramps are useful to help your kitty get into a regular or high-sided box (if your cat likes it, of course).

There are some that come with a litter box but not sold separately.

Ramps can be hard to find but if you’re handy you can make one… kitty will have a custom-made entryway!

Just be sure the opening isn’t too high for your cat to easily exit from the inside, since there’s no ramp there.

“DIY Cardboard Cat Ramp Made From Amazon Box, Great For Senior And Handicap Cats”, Cat Toy Lady, June 19, 2021

She’s making a larger size ramp for a bed but you can go smaller and simpler for a litter box.

Here’s a ramp available online… Purrfectly Clean Paws® Anti-Tracking, Scratcher, Cat Litter Box Ramp (this info is only for your convenience… I make no money from it.)

High-Sided Open Box

cat playing

High-sided open boxes help contain litter mess and are good for a stand-to-pee cat or a mad litter flinger.

The large ones also work well for large breed cats like Norwegian Forest Cat or Maine Coon.

Longhaired cats are often sensitive to their fur brushing against the sides (especially in a covered box), so having boxes at least 1 1/2-2 times the size of your cat is very important.

sphynx cat looking in litter box-silica

You can make your own from storage containers (see “The diy Litter Box“) or buy ready-made ones (see the list below).

Some regular size boxes have the option of a shield that can work well for those who need higher sides.

Just be sure the shield doesn’t leak where the base meets the box.

cat watching other cat in litter box

Curious about other types of litter boxes, litter, and accessories? Check out “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

“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

The Cat Whisperer“, by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY, 2013,

“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 Solutions for Aging Cats”, Litter Robot

“Litter Training”, Kitten Lady

Simply Paws Design

“The Special Needs of the Senior Cat”, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Feline Health Center

Total Cat Mojo” by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017

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’s the Best Litter Box for Senior Cats”,

“What Your Cat Wants”, by Francesca Riccomini, Thunder Bay Press, Octopus Publishing Group, San Diego, CA, 2012,

Updated April 13, 2024

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