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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 your cat doesn’t use her litter box, everyone pays the price.
So how do you keep your cat satisfied with her salle de bain? BestReviews has done the research to spell it out for you in our litter box buying guide.
We interviewed pet behavior consultant and master certified pet first aid/CPR and safety instructor Arden Moore to get her insight on how to choose the right litter boxes for your home, where to place them, and how to avoid common mistakes as a cat owner.
Arden is a pet behavior consultant and master certified pet first aid/CPR and safety instructor. Arden is the founder of Pet First Aid 4U.com, host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio, the author of over 25 cat and dog books, and is a regular contributor to leading pet publications. She has provided dog behavior consulting for four $500,000 dream dog park projects and interviews leading veterinarians, business leaders, and ordinary people doing extraordinary things for pets.
You and your cat must mutually agree on a box type. This isn’t as cut and dried as it may sound, but 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 a kitten or a senior cat with arthritis, however, a high-sided box can be difficult to navigate.
Low-sided boxes are easier for the cat to access and easier to clean, but 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. 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 your cat's dignity, a covered box contains odors and keeps excrement out of sight.
Not all cats tolerate hooded litter boxes because odors can be trapped inside if the owner does not clean the box frequently.
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” your cats 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.
Read the manual if you buy a motorized, self-cleaning litter box. Incorrect assembly sometimes malfunction and create fear and avoidance. In some instances, the cat may turn to urinating or defecating on rugs, in sinks and other areas outside the litter box.
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.
A hidden litter box like the Merry Products Pet House/Litter Box performs dual functions, but proper positive reinforcement training is necessary to encourage a cat to enter a small opening (like an end table) to urinate and defecate.
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.
When you change litter boxes, put the new box beside the old one and let your cat get used to it. This will encourage the cat to use the new box.
The litterbox 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 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.
Clumping litter is typically made of clay that contains sodium bentonite, a sealant that absorbs moisture and binds pockets of wet litter into clumps. The clumps are much easier to scoop than the loose waste you would encounter in a box of non-clumping litter. Although you still need to scoop every day, the entire box needn’t be refilled quite as often as with non-clumping litter. (Experts suggest a complete refill every two to four weeks.) Notably, this type of litter costs significantly more than its non-clumping clay counterpart.
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.
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.
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, your cat 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 your cat's regular litter until she has completely transitioned to the newer material.
Some cats have allergies. Cheap litter made from clay gives off dust that can be trapped in a hooded litter box and inhaled, affecting these cats' respiratory systems.
According to our expert, litter boxes need to be located in various places in a multi-cat household and not merely lined up in one room. This prevents a bully cat from lying in wait and pouncing on another cat using the litterbox. But where should you place your litter boxes? Choose an area 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 your cat to acess, she might not use it. Furthermore, if a dominant animal “claims” a certain box in the home, other pets may not use that box.
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!
To avoid potential behavior issues (stress, anxiety, cat-to-cat aggression), you need to provide one litter box per cat PLUS one in the home. For a home with three cats, you would need four litter boxes.
Here’s a look at some FAQs consumers ask about litter boxes.
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.
Even large and automated litter boxes should be inspected and cleaned daily. If waste piles up, some cats will go elsewhere.
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.”
Old litter boxes thoroughly cleaned with mild dishwashing soap (never bleach, a strong odor detested by cats) can be donated to local animal shelters and cat rescue groups.
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.
No matter what litter box is selected, where the litter box is located in the house can encourage or deter a cat from using it. If the litter box is, for example, in a dark basement or next to noisy appliances like washer/dryer, some cats will boycott due to the dim light and noise.
Environmental changes can also be a factor. These 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.
If you've ruled out most environmental factors, possible medical causes—infection, diabetes, arthritis, blindness—should always be investigated by a veterinarian.
Abruptly changing the location of the litter box can stres your cat 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 your cat to the new box and put her inside it. Leave both the old and new boxes in in place until your cat 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.