Cats are fastidious creatures who keep themselves clean and, very conveniently, take themselves to the toilet. As low-maintenance as Kitty is, however, she still counts on you to provide her with a litter box ... the right litter box.
If you’re a cat owner, you may have noticed that if the box doesn’t suit her, your cat won’t use it. And when Kitty doesn’t use her litter box, everyone pays the price.
So how do you keep Kitty satisfied with her salle de bain? BestReviews has done the research to spell it out for you in our litter box buying guide.
You and Kitty must mutually agree on a box type. This isn’t as cut and dried as it may sound; you have choices. Consider these popular options.
This old-fashioned litter pan is typically rectangular and made of plastic. For many cats, it’s the perfect place to do business.
Under the umbrella category of open-top boxes, you will find both low-sided and high-sided versions. The advantage of a high-sided box is that litter and debris are less likely to fly out as the cat does her business. If you have an older cat who has trouble maneuvering, however, make sure she has an easy way to get inside.
Low-sided boxes, by contrast, are easier for the cat to access and easier to clean. However, you may find yourself sweeping kicked-up litter bits from time to time.
You’ll probably have to figure out which type of siding your cat prefers by trial and error, but fortunately, the open-top box is one of the cheapest litter boxes on the market.
A covered cat litter box is basically a traditional box with a lid. Privacy-loving humans often believe this is the best choice for their pet. In addition to preserving Kitty’s dignity, a covered box contains odors and keeps excrement out of sight.
From a cat’s point of view, however, a covered box isn’t necessarily ideal. Not only do odors stay trapped inside the box—an offensive proposition, to be sure—but cats with a limited view of their surroundings may feel vulnerable. What’s more, larger cats may feel like they don’t have enough room to freely maneuver within the confines of an enclosed litter box.
The goal is to create a “bathroom” Kitty wants to use. For some cats, a covered box is perfectly acceptable, but others will pooh-pooh it.
Operated by battery and/or electricity, a self-cleaning litter box can be a godsend for cat owners who have neither the time nor the patience to change Kitty’s litter regularly. Prompted by an automated sensor, this type of box sifts and removes waste from the litter pan for you.
Be sure to thoroughly read the directions before operating a self-cleaning litter box. Many products stipulate a certain type and amount of litter. Failure to adhere to the guidelines could result in poor cleaning or other mechanical problems.
As convenient as they are, self-cleaning litter boxes are the most expensive on the market, and they make a bit of motor noise. Some cats—particularly the skittish ones—will be leery of this. If your cat appears to be intimidated by the noise, cut the power for a few days and let her use her self-cleaning toilet like a traditional box. Once she grows comfortable with it, you can gently reintroduce her to the motor noise.
Those who would like to camouflage the evidence of their pet’s bathroom habits can do so with a hidden litter box. This type of box looks like a regular piece of furniture, but it harbors a deep, dark secret inside: Kitty’s toilette.
A hidden litter box might double as a nightstand, a credenza, or a large plant holder. People who live in apartments or homes without basements may be particularly drawn to the hidden litter box.
Because most hidden boxes are encapsulated, the same drawbacks of a covered litter box (trapped odors, cramped quarters, feelings of vulnerability) often apply to these pieces of functional “furniture.” What’s more, some cats have innocently mistaken nicer pieces of furniture for their litter box and soiled inappropriately. Before buying, consult your “pet owner intuition” to determine if your cat would be a good candidate for this type of receptacle.
Kitty’s box should be filled with litter, but what kind? If you buy a self-cleaning box, you must use the type specified by the manufacturer’s guidelines. Otherwise, it’s up to you. Here are some of your choices:
Non-clumping litter. Non-clumping litter is typically made of clay, although some manufacturers have experimented with other materials (see below). This type of litter requires you to scoop excrement daily and replace the entire litter supply weekly. Non-clumping litter is one of the cheapest cat litter choices, but it calls for a bit more human effort than some other types. And, because it can get stuck between the paw pads, cats sometimes track it around the house.
Scented litter. Scented litter attempts to cover up odors with a perfume-like additive. The idea sounds fantastic at first, but buyer beware: some cats are turned off by the artificial smell. Rather than buying scented litter, the Humane Society of the United States recommends that cat owners spread a thin layer of odor-absorbing baking soda on the bottom of the box before filling it.
Crystal litter. Made of silica gel, this highly absorbent type of litter looks like a bunch of small white or colored pellets. It’s pricey, but it requires less frequent changing than clumping litter. Humans also appreciate it because Kitty is unlikely likely to track the larger chunks around the house. However, the safety of prolonged silica gel exposure has been questioned by some researchers.
Biodegradable litter. Cat litter products made of corn, wheat, wood, and paper also exist. While they may be more environmentally friendly than other materials, some cats turn their nose up at them. If you want to try biodegradable litter, we recommend placing a box of the new stuff beside a box of the old familiar. That way, Kitty can give the corn/wheat/pine/paper box a try when she’s ready. Another approach would be to gradually mix biodegradable litter in with Kitty’s regular litter until she has completely transitioned to the newer material.
Laurel works for a large company that is dedicated to pets and pet care. She's worked hands-on with animals for the past seven years, including volunteer work with rescue shelters and working with veterinarians. Laurel grew up around animals as her mother was a naturalist and ran an animal rescue organization. For the last two years, Laurel has worked full time with both domestic and exotic animals, as well as focused on dog grooming and training.
Cats can get persnickety about where their litter box is placed. Kitty’s satisfaction is your goal, so where should you place her box? We recommend a location that is:
Quiet with little traffic. Cats prefer to do their business in a place that feels safe. If an area is too noisy or filled with unpredictable foot traffic, she may feel vulnerable and choose to take her business elsewhere.
Easy for the cat to access. If it’s not convenient for Kitty, she might not use it. Furthermore, if a dominant animal “claims” a certain box in the home, other pets may feel that they cannot partake of that box. A good rule of thumb is that for every cat in the house, you should have at least 1.5 boxes ready to go.
Away from food bowls and water dishes. Cats are sensitive to odors and don’t like to mingle them. This is not surprising. It seems that both cats and humans are averse to eating their meals in the bathroom!
Here’s a look at some FAQs consumers ask about litter boxes.
Experts recommend that you keep 1.5 boxes on hand for every cat. A household with just one cat could suffice with just one box, but two would be even better. A household with two cats should have at least three boxes, and a household with three should have four or five.
The bigger the better. You could certainly buy a kitten-sized box for a kitten, but that kitten will reach adulthood within a matter of months.
The temptation to use these harsh chemicals on a stinky box is strong, but experts generally recommend the soap-and-water method first. For particularly tough odors, try soaking the bottom of the box with one inch of vinegar for half an hour, then rinsing it thoroughly.
While replacing the litter inside the box is a definite must, replacing the box itself is not always necessary. If you clean and maintain it regularly, the box should last several years or more. Some consumers say they don’t replace a box until it looks “grungy.”
Inappropriate elimination (failure to use the box) can have a medical or environmental trigger. Possible medical causes—infection, diabetes, arthritis, blindness—should always be investigated by a veterinarian.
Possible environmental causes include a change in the household (new person, new pet, new furniture), a change in litter (unscented to scented, clumping to non-clumping), an unclean box, or a new litter box.
Abruptly changing the location of the litter box can stress Kitty out. Don’t do it if you don’t have to! But if you must, do it gradually. One solution is to inch the box to its new location at a pace of about one foot per day. Another solution is to buy a new box and situate it in the new location. Take Kitty to the new box and put her inside it. Leave both the old and new boxes in in place until Kitty has clearly become comfortable with her new lavatory.
Buying litter boxes, scooping poop, and refilling your cat’s box with fresh litter are hardly glamorous tasks, but most cat owners would agree they’re a small price to pay for the entertainment, companionship, and love provided by these adorable furry friends.