When it comes to choosing a litter box, making the wrong choice can have serious consequences for cats: eliminating outside the litter box is one of the main reasons why cats are surrendered to shelters. Unfortunately, cat parents often select litter boxes based on human aesthetics rather than on what cats really need. The following considerations are critical when it comes to choosing a box.

How big should the litter box be?

Bigger is always better. Cats need to be able to comfortable turn around while they’re in the box, which means it should be at least 1 ½ times as long as the cat, preferably even bigger. For some really large cats, even the largest litter box on the market will not be large enough. Those cats might need alternatives such as under bed storage containers.

Covered or uncovered

I believe that a covered box is rarely if ever a good choice. There are some cats who seem to like the privacy these boxes provide, but most cats don’t like them. Many are too small for cats to comfortably do their business. A covered box traps odors inside, which can lead to litter box avoidance. I liken a covered box to the human experience of using a port-a-potty. Don’t you avoid having to use those if at all possible?

Depending on what type of litter you use, dust can be a bigger problem in a covered box than in an open box, since dust gets trapped inside the box as cats dig.

The most important reason for not getting a covered box: it prevents cat parents from observing their cats while they’re in the box. I’m not suggesting that you should hover and watch your darlings eliminate every single time, but by being able to see what they do in the box even just occasionally, you’ll be alerted to potential health issues. A cat who is straining while in the litter box may have a life-threatening urinary blockage.

If you absolutely have to have a covered box, at least remove the filters provided by some manufacturers. These filters are meant to trap odors and dust inside the box, which is nice for the humans, but not so nice for the cats (think port-a-potty again.)

Automatic or self-cleaning litter boxes

I’m seeing more and more of these automatic litter boxes come on the market. Some are even Wifi enabled. Cleaning the litter box is part of the responsibility of caring for a cat. It may not be the most fun job, but do we really need robots and apps to do the job for us? And if your cat is near the box when it goes into its self-cleaning mode, he or she may get startled and never us the box again.

How may boxes?

The rule used to be one box per cat plus one, but it really depends on your cats’ personalities and the layout of your home. Some cats don’t mind sharing, others won’t even use the same box to urinate and defecate. If you have a multi-story home, you should have at least one litter box on each floor. This is especially important as cats get older and stairs may be more difficult to navigate.

Where to place the litter box

While you may want to place the litter box in an out of the way location, your cats may not agree with your decision. Litter boxes should be in or near the general living area where you spend time with your cats. Don’t place them close to where your cats eat and drink. One of the worst possible locations for litter boxes is a laundry room, near noisy appliances such as washers and dryers or furnaces.

Don’t place litter boxes next to each other. Cats may view this as one large litter box rather than as individual boxes.

What litter should you use?

With the overwhelming array of litter choices, it can be challenging to choose the right one. Keep in mind that many of the newer offerings were developed with human sensibilities in mind. Most cats prefer a soft, sand-like, unscented substrate.

Never use scented litter. While a scented litter may smell pleasant to human noses, it will overwhelm cats’ sensitive noses. A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times better than that of humans.

Despite the availability of many good alternative litters, the best cat litter that I’ve found, and have used for many years, is Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat (affiliate link*.)This clay litter clumps harder than any other litter I’ve tried, it has virtually no dust, and, most importantly, cats like it.

If you are going to switch litters, always make sure you you keep the original litter that your cats are currently using in at least one box. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth tempting fate and risking litter box issues by changing litters if what you use is working for your cats.

Keep the litter box clean

Cats are fastidious creatures. Using a dirty litter box goes against their nature and at  worst, will cause them to eliminate outside the box. Think of a dirty litter box as the same as a public restroom with unflushed toilets. How many times have you walked out of a restroom like that, no matter how badly you needed to go?

Boxes should be scooped at least once a day, preferably several times a day. If you use clumping litter, change the litter once a month and thoroughly clean the box with hot water and unscented soap. Replace plastic litter boxes completely every six months to a year. Porous plastic will break down and absorb bacteria over time. If you don’t want to keep replacing plastic boxes, consider investing in a stainless steel litter box.

If you must use litter additives to control odor, use enzyme or probiotic based products with no added scent. Baking soda is an inexpensive litter additive that provides good odor control.

Our favorite litter boxes

I like open, high sided litter boxes. A long time favorite is the NVR Miss Litter Box. You can find some of our other favorite litter boxes in our Product Guide.


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