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Your cat needs a clean, comfortable, and accessible place to do their business—and you need a box that’s easy to clean and fits in your home. From standard open litter pans to smart solutions brimming with advanced technology, there are lots of types of litter boxes to choose from. So many, in fact, that it’s not always easy to know which is going to be the right fit.
Your cat’s preferences are paramount, but you’ll also want to find the best cat litter box to suit your space and your budget. Certain litter box styles may be more appropriate than others, depending on your cat’s age and health status. You’ll likely also want to consider your own mobility, concerns for the environment, and the makeup of your household.
We spoke to Stephen Quandt, a certified cat behaviorist and founder of Stephen Quandt Feline Behavior Associates,LLC about the different types of litter boxes to help you find the best fit for your home.
The Different Types of Cat Litter Boxes
Whether you’re stocking up on essentials for your very first cat or seeking a better solution than what you’re currently using, the first question to ask yourself is what kind of litter box does my cat prefer?
Quandt suggests that simpler is usually just fine with a cat. “Fancy doesn’t mean anything to your cat,” he says, “so decide if you’re buying the box to help you, to help your cat, or both.”
Here’s a quick overview of the different styles on the market.
|Type of Litter Box
|Few limitations on visibility or accessibility. Wide range of sizes, heights, and shapes.
|Not very effective in containing odor. Low walls may not limit litter scatter or urine spray.
|Helps contain odors as well as litter scatter and urine spray.
|Limits the cat’s ability to see around them as well as options for entry and exit. Trapped odors can be unpleasant for cats.
|Very effective in containing litter scatter and urine spray. Some models help collect litter stuck to cat’s paws to reduce tracking.
|Can be difficult for older and mobility-limited cats to access. Interior space can be an issue—larger cats may find them uncomfortable. Limited visibility.
|Reduces the effort involved in cleaning the litter box. Available in open, high-sided, and covered styles. Some models are disposable.
|Cleaning the slotted trays can be tricky. May limit your litter selection—works best with clumping litter.
|Automatic and Self-Cleaning
|Removes the task of scooping the litter box. Automatically rakes or sifts after your cat leaves the box.
|Can be very expensive. Performance varies from one model to another. Technology can glitch or break down.
|Saves you from cleaning the litter box each month. More eco-friendly than plastic. May be good for travel.
|Recyclable materials may break down or trap odor. Often smaller than standard litter boxes.
|May be easier to store and transport than standard models. Some models are disposable.
|Size is often limited. Some models may require a liner or disposable tray.
|Disguises the litter box. May help contain litter box mess and odor. Some models double as storage.
|Some models can be expensive. Material and build quality vary. Limited visibility and points of entry/exit.
Open litter boxes make most cats happy
This is a simple tray-style design with no covering. Some models have higher walls on three sides to contain litter scatter, often with a lowered entry for ease of access. Open litter boxes are typically rectangular, but some are triangular to fit snugly into a corner.
The benefit of open litter boxes, Quandt suggests, is that they appeal to your cat’s natural instincts. “In nature,” Quandt says, “cats like to scan around for other predators when they’re doing their business.” Open litter boxes don’t restrict your cat’s vision or their ability to enter and exit from anywhere (except in the case of high-sided litter boxes).
Covered litter boxes help with messes and odors
Also known as hooded litter boxes, covered litter boxes typically feature high walls and a removable cover. Not only are they even more effective in containing litter scatter and urine spray, but these litter boxes also help contain odor.
While hooded litter boxes help with smell as far as your own nose is concerned, your cat’s experience may differ. After all, they’re the ones inside the litter box. “Covered litter boxes contain litter better,” says Quandt, “but they also trap odors, which some cats find objectionable.” There’s also the issue of visibility, though some models like the Catit AiRSiFT have a clear door.
Top entry models are ideal for messy cats and curious dogs
Similar to covered litter boxes, top-entry models feature an enclosed design to keep litter box odor and mess contained. In this case, however, the point of entry is in the lid. Many top entry litter boxes have textured or perforated lids that act as a litter mat to catch litter sticking to the a paws, so it doesn’t track all over the house.
Top entry models can be a good choice for households with dogs who like to snack from the litter box. But if the litter box can keep dogs out, accessibility could be an issue for some cats as well. Quandt suggests that senior cats and cats with mobility limitations may find it difficult or uncomfortable to use top entry litter boxes.
The visibility issue applies to this litter box style as well. Interior space may also be a concern—larger cats may feel claustrophobic in a top-entry box, whereas a standard covered litter box may enable them to at least poke their head or tail out.
Sifting litter boxes make cleaning a little simpler
Your cat’s comfort should be the priority when selecting a litter box, but certain designs and features can make your life more comfortable too. Sifting litter boxes, for example, reduce the effort involved in separating feces and urine clumps from clean litter. They come in various styles including open, high-sided, and hooded designs. Some models, like the Kitty Sift System, are also disposable.
These litter boxes typically consist of a slotted tray and a solid tray. You place the slotted tray inside the solid one before adding cat litter. Then, when it’s time to scoop, simply lift the slotted tray—waste and clumps will remain behind while clean litter sifts into the solid tray below.
Sifting litter boxes can simplify the task of cleaning the litter box, but cleaning the sifting trays can be tricky. Quandt also notes that you still have to empty the waste into a trashcan. These boxes also work best with clumping cat litter, he says, which may not suit every cat’s preferences.
Automatic and self-cleaning litter boxes are zero fuss but pricey
If sifting litter boxes reduce the effort involved in cleaning the litter box, automatic models nearly eliminate it. Equipped with sensors that detect your cat’s presence in the litter box, these models automatically rake or sift the litter once your cat leaves. Dirty litter is typically collected in a separate receptacle you empty when full.
Convenience is the key feature of any self-cleaning litter box. There’s not much you have to do besides refill the litter bed and empty the waste receptacle as needed. These litter boxes tend to be pricey, however, and advanced technology comes with the risk of glitches and breakdowns. It’s up to the individual cat parents to decide if the pros outweigh the cons.
Disposable litter boxes are good for travel but less cost effective
While they don’t eliminate the task of scooping, disposable litter boxes save you from having to scrape and clean the litter box. They’re often made from recyclable materials, which makes them an eco-friendly alternative to plastic boxes. Quandt also notes that disposable litter boxes can be a good solution for travel—you can simply dispose of it at the end of your trip.
While disposable litter boxes offer convenience, they’re less cost-effective than standard litter boxes when used as a long-term solution. Recyclable materials also tend to break down sooner and trap odor more than plastic or stainless steel. Finally, disposable models tend to be pretty small. They may be best for kittens and small cats.
Travel litter boxes are portable pinch hitters
Though disposable litter boxes often make a good choice for travel, some litter boxes are specifically designed for it. They’re typically lightweight and may fold flat for easy storage and transport. Cardboard is a popular (and recyclable) material for travel litter boxes, though you can find sturdier models as well. The key is to determine whether the litter box is designed to protect against leaks or whether it needs to be used with some kind of liner or disposable tray.
Portability is the key feature of travel litter boxes. A common limitation is size. If you’re just looking for something to get you through a weekend trip or a move across the state, you may be able to get by with a smaller litter box than is ideal for your cat.
Furniture litter boxes are classy but pricey
If sifting and self-cleaning litter boxes reduce the hassle of cleaning the litter box, furniture-style models address the issue of aesthetics. Ideal for those who prefer an “out of sight, out of mind” approach, these litter boxes are also a good choice for homes where space is at a premium. Many models incorporate additional features such as storage, or they provide space on top to place your cat’s bed or bowls.
As with any type of furniture, material and build quality varies among furniture-style litter boxes. These models often do a good job of containing litter box mess and odor, but they present the same issues as covered boxes in terms of trapping odors and limiting your cat’s visibility and choice of entry. Try your cat on an affordable covered box to make sure they’re on board before committing to litter box furniture.
How To Choose a Cat Litter Box for Your Needs
While choosing a litter box often comes down to a matter of personal preference, Quandt says the largest box you can get is always a good idea. A bigger box provides more room for litter but also space for your cat to comfortably dig around. The best litter box is at least 1.5 times as long as your cat. And don’t forget, you need one litter box per cat plus an extra.
In addition to considering your cat’s size, pick a litter box that will be easy for them to access. Factors like your cat’s age, size, and mobility might make the decision for you. You can also narrow down your options based on specific needs, such as a dog-proof litter box or a litter box appropriate for multiple cats. Here’s some advice for choosing a litter box for specific needs.
|Need or Concern
|Recommended Litter Box Types
|Low entry for easy accessibility. No need to go with a small box.
|Open litter pan with a lowered entry point.
|Easy accessibility—low entry with no need to jump.
|Anything but top entry. Low-entry open-style litter pans may be best.
|Individual preferences vary.
|Try something different than what you’re currently using.
|Litter boxes can become a center for territorial disputes. Limited visibility and single points of entry can be problematic.
|Large open litter boxes. Covered or top entry models with multiple entry/exit points.
|High walls or a cover to contain litter scatter and urine spray.
|High-sided open litter boxes. Covered or top-entry models.
|Households with Dogs
|High walls or cover to prevent a dog from reaching into the litter box.
|High-sided open litter boxes for small dogs. Covered or top-entry models for large dogs.
|Pet Parents with Mobility Restrictions
|High-sided and covered litter boxes may be hard to reach into. Scooping in general may be challenging
|Automatic and self-cleaning litter boxes may be ideal.
|Well-made litter boxes you don’t have to replace often (like cheap plastic) are ideal.
|Some recyclable models may work; otherwise choose durable materials like stainless steel.
Kittens don’t need tiny litter boxes
As Quandt reminds us, a bigger litter box is always better. There’s no need to choose a small litter box your kitten will simply grow out of. Just make sure the box has a low enough entry point that your kitten will be able to access it easily.
Senior cats need low-entry models
Quandt says accessibility is the primary concern for senior cats as well. Older cats may be able to step higher than a kitten, but litter boxes that require your cat to jump are not ideal. Steer clear of top-entry models in favor of litter boxes with lowered entries, like the KittyGoHere Senior Cat Litter Box.
Picky cats might need a change in style
When cats refuse to use the litter box, it’s often because it isn’t kept to their standards for cleanliness. Cleaning the box more often and trying another type of litter may help. In some cases, however, your cat simply might not like the style of litter box.
If your cat doesn’t seem to like their covered litter box, try an open-style litter pan. Solid walls and a cover may prevent your cat from viewing their surroundings and most models limit cats to a single point of entry and exit. If you suspect cleanliness is the issue, try switching to a sifting litter box (or even an automatic model like Leo’s Loo Too).
Multiple cats need boxes with multiple openings
In multi-cat households, litter boxes are a resource that can spark territorial disputes. To assert dominance, some cats will trap another inside the litter box. A single opening prevents the trapped cat from making a safe escape. Top and covered litter boxes aren’t ideal for multi-cat households for this reason. That said, some models like the ModKat XL have openings in the top and side for more versatile modes of accessibility.
Every cat has their own preferences, so the ideal solution in a multi-cat home may be to provide several different styles of litter box. You should have a litter box on each floor of your home and space them out so there’s always one nearby when your cats need to go.
Messy cats can benefit from high walls and covered boxes
For messy cats who tend to fling litter around or spray urine, Quandt recommends high-walled or covered litter box. Considering the concerns previously mentioned about covered litter boxes, try a high-walled litter box first and place a litter mat under it to catch stray litter.
Households with dogs win with covered models
Covered litter boxes and top entry models are generally the most effective in keeping dogs out. If you have a very small dog, a litter box with high walls may be sufficient to prevent access. Automatic litter boxes may work well too because they automatically remove waste.
Rather than purchasing a new litter box, Quandt suggests you can also try moving the litter box somewhere your dog can’t access it. Another option is to create a barrier your cat can bypass but your dog can’t, such as a pet gate with a cat door built in or a FlexLatch.
Pet parents with mobility restrictions may want to consider automatic
If scooping and cleaning the litter box are difficult tasks for you, an automatic litter box may be the ideal solution. For cats used to using traditional litter boxes, there may be some training and a period of transition involved. Place your cat’s current litter box next to the automatic one and slowly start scooping it less often to encourage your cat to start using the new box.
For the environment, consider recyclable or high-quality and long-lasting boxes
When it comes to environmental concerns, litter boxes are less problematic than the litter that goes into them. Standard clay cat litter is not biodegradable, and even natural cat litter often leaves something to be desired. Disposable litter boxes are often made from recycled material, but if they’re caked with dirty litter, you might not be able to recycle them.
The best option may be to invest in a high-quality litter box you won’t have to keep replacing. Quandt suggests stainless steel litter boxes because “they last virtually forever.” They’re more expensive upfront but much more durable than the typical plastic litter box.
How We Chose
We selected the products featured here based on a combination of our own hands-on testing, comprehensive analysis of customer reviews across a wide variety of retail platforms, and interviews with veterinary experts. Our picks are also influenced by the experience of living and playing alongside our own much-loved and strongly opinionated pets, who are never stingy with their feedback.
We prioritized litter boxes designed for durability, accessibility, and cat-friendliness. Additional consideration was given to products suitable for cats and pet parents with specific needs or preferences.
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