When you get a cat, a litter box is always at the top of your shopping list. To you, it’s nothing special, just a hulking piece of plastic you’ll shove in some out-of-the-way corner of your home. But to your new cat, it’s their bathroom, and cats care about the place they do their business. That’s why you need to keep your kitty’s needs in mind as you search for the best cat litter box. Otherwise, there will be messy consequences.
“It is a rare day I don’t examine a kitty not using the litter box, and most of the time, it is a box problem, and not a cat problem,” says Dr. Sandra Mitchell, DVM, DABVP (feline), a cat vet who practices in Maine. You’ll know you’ve got it wrong when your cat takes to doing their business everywhere but the litter box. To avoid these accidents, you’ll need to bone up on some general litter-box basics before you decide on which type to spring for.
What to Consider Before Buying a Litter Box
- How big is your cat? Litter boxes come in all shapes, sizes and materials, but the one feature that cat parents most often overlook is roominess, says Dr. Mitchell. “Cats want to have room when they use the box, just like we prefer a regular bathroom to a porta potty,” she explains. Here’s why: Cats don’t want to be trapped with bathroom odors anymore than we do. So, as a general rule of thumb, the best cat litter box would be at least 1.5 times the size of your cat, including the tail, Dr. Mitchell notes. If at all possible, measure your cat before you buy the box. (While that is the ideal size, Dr. Mitchell notes that if your new cat is used to using an undersized litter box without issue, then no need to switch it out for a larger one.)
- How old is your cat? Young cats can tolerate higher sides and entries, while older cats need to be able to step in and out without too much of a climb. If you’ve got a senior, look for one with a low-entry front, Dr. Mitchell advises. A box with high sides and back (but still a low entry) is an especially good choice for older cats who don’t arch their backs when they urinate. “We most commonly see problems in older cats, when they have some arthritis in their back and can’t squat down normally. These cats will stand in the box, and then unfortunately pee over the side,” says Dr. Mitchell, adding that healthy young cats usually don’t have this problem.
- How does your cat behave when in a litter box? If your cat is a litter thrower—“those cats that need to bury the entire planet along with the waste and kick litter absolutely everywhere,” as Dr. Mitchell puts it—high sides and backs are a must for easier clean ups.
- How much are you willing to spend? Litter boxes prices can range from less than $10 for a simple litter pan to over $100 for self-cleaning boxes or ones that look like furniture. You’ll also need to switch out the litter box once the plastic is covered with nicks and scratches, which can retain smells and dirt and make it less appealing for your feline to use. Dr. Mitchell recommends replacing the box every six months or so. So, cost may be another thing to keep in mind as you shop.
With these parameters in place, you’re set to look for the type of litter box that will work best for you and your cat. A word of warning though: “We can try to do our best to follow the ‘rules’ of litter box choice, but in the end, the cat is the judge—if they won’t use it or don’t like it, it is time to start over,” Dr. Mitchell says.
Types of Litter Boxes
Basically, there are about five different kinds of boxes, but which one is right for your cat depends on a number of factors. Here’s what to know about each choice.
Litter pans are the unsung heroes of cat care. They’re durable, they suit most cats and they’re relatively cheap, so you can afford to recycle them every six months or so when they get too many scratches. They’re also relatively easy to get into, which makes them attractive to smaller cats and cats with mobility issues. Look for a roomy litter pan that has high sides and back to keep litter and waste in the box. You’ll get all this (and more) with the extra-large Frisco High-Sided Cat Litter Box, which is made of durable BPA-free plastic. It also has a low front so it’s a snap for senior cats to climb in and out.
Perfect for: Cats of all ages, especially kittens and older cats with mobility issues.
Covered or Enclosed Litter Boxes
Enclosed litter boxes come with a removable lid and are designed to give a cat privacy, keep litter from scattering all over and hide the waste until you have a chance to clean it out. But the same rule of thumb for all litter boxes goes double for covered litter boxes: Bigger is better—and so is taller. If the box is too small, it will tend to trap all of the dust and odors right around the cat as they use it, Dr. Mitchell explains. At 22-inches long by 18.3 inches wide and 17 inches tall, the Catit Jumbo Hooded Cat Pan is roomy and has a carbon filter to remove odor. Bonus: The hood and door may serve as a barrier to any dogs in the house who have a taste for cat waste.
Perfect for: Any cat, but easy-going felines will probably be more inclined to use it with the hood on.
Automatic Cat Litter Boxes
Cats tend to prefer a clean litter box, and usually that requires you, their human, to do the not-so-fun job of cleaning it out every day (or multiple times a day if you have multiple cats). Automatic cat litter boxes do the work for you. Most of them work by using sensors to recognize when your cat uses the litter box. Then, at a set time after your cat leaves (usually 5-20 minutes afterward), it rakes the waste into a covered compartment. The best self-cleaning litter boxes have safety features, like ScoopFree Automatic Cat Litter Box, which will stop the cleaning process if your cat happens to hop back inside.
Perfect for: Healthy adult cats who don’t mind the hum of the self-cleaning motor. Some may not be suitable for young kittens (under 6 months) or senior cats with mobility issues.
Furniture-style Litter Boxes
Litter boxes aren’t the cutest cat accessories around, so it’s no wonder cat parents want to hide them from guests, especially if you have a small apartment and putting the litter box out in the open is your only option. Plus, cats tend to prefer privacy when using the bathroom. That’s where litter box furniture comes in. These stylish pieces do double-duty—serving as end tables or cabinets while concealing the litter pan inside. “Most cats don’t mind litter box furniture, as long as it’s large, and isn’t too confining at the top as to retain odors,” says Dr. Mitchell. The Frisco Decorative Side Table Cat Litter Box Cover, for example, is nice enough to put in any room, has a cat-sized opening that lets Kitty slip in and out, and includes a small shelf to house supplies.
Perfect for: Any cat, especially in homes where space is limited.
Disposable Litter Boxes
Yes, we know what you’re thinking—why would anyone need a disposable litter box? Disposable litter boxes are great for when you travel and the person caring for your kitty back home isn’t a fan of scooping litter. Or you need to take your cat on a trip and don’t want to lug around their everyday litter supplies. With Cat’s Pride All-in-One Kat Kit you get five plastic trays, each filled with three pounds of low-dust clay litter. The litter stays sealed until you’re ready to use the box, so it makes for easy packing. Once you get to your destination, peel back the paper, set the tray down and your cat is in (bathroom) business.
Perfect for: All cats, but especially pets who are on the road or who are being taken care of by squeamish sitters.
Litter boxes aren’t exactly the most exciting thing to shop for, but they’re one of the most important purchase cat parents will make. Getting it wrong can result in a messy situation. Taking your cat’s specific needs into account will ensure you end up with the best litter box for the job.