The Best Litter Box for Your Cat: My Recommendations

best-litter-box

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The average cat uses the litter box three to five times a day. It would make sense that something that is used so frequently on a daily basis requires that we humans put a lot of thought into it. Unfortunately, cat guardians often select a litter box for all the wrong reasons – or at least for the wrong reasons from the cat’s perspective. Choosing the wrong litter box can have dire consequences for cats: litter box avoidance is one of the main reasons why many cats are surrendered to shelters.

Keep the following in mind when choosing a litter box:

Size matters

Generally, bigger is always better. You want your cat to be able to comfortably turn around in the box. A good rule of thumb is that the box should be at least 1.5 times the length of the cat from the nose to the base of the tail. For some really large cats, even the largest litter boxes may not be big enough. Alternative boxes such as sweater storage or under the bed storage containers can make great litter boxes.

Covered vs. uncovered boxes

I don’t recommend hooded or covered litter boxes, and most cats don’t like them, either. While some cats seem to like the privacy they provide, these boxes are often too small for the cat to comfortably turn around in and do their business. What’s worse is that they can trap odors inside, making them very unpleasant for the cat to use (the equivalent of a human port-a-potty!) Dust can also be a bigger problem in a covered box, as it becomes more concentrated when cats dig.

A covered box prevents guardians from seeing how the cat acts while in the box. Knowing what’s normal for your cat and being able to detect any changes in litter box behaviors can help detect health problems early. A cat who is straining in the litter box may be on the verge of being blocked, which is a life-threatening emergency.

The bottom line: in most cases, covered boxes are for humans, not cats. If you absolutely must use a covered box, at the very least, remove the filters provided by some manufacturers. They’re designed to trap dust and odors inside the box, which may be nice for the humans, but not for the cat (see my port-a-potty analogy above.)

I do not recommend automatic or “self-cleaning” litter boxes. If the mechanism malfunctions while your cat is using the box, or even if the box goes into its cleaning action while your cat is anywhere near it, she may never use the box again.

Location, location, location

Don’t put the litter box in out of the way places. If the box is hard to get to, your cat may not use it. Don’t place litter boxes near in basements near noisy appliances such as washers, dryers, or furnaces. In a multi-level home, you should have at least one box on each level. This becomes especially important if you have senior cats who may have trouble getting up and down stairs quickly enough to reach a box. Don’t place litter boxes near feeding and watering stations. Cats don’t like to eliminate where they eat.

Don’t locate litter boxes right next to each other. Cats tend to view that as one large box, and if they don’t like to share a litter box, you loose the advantage you’re trying to gain by having multiple boxes in the first place.

How many boxes?

The rule of thumb has always been that the number of litter boxes in a home should equal the number of cats, plus one. It will depend on the personalities of the cats within a household whether you really need that many boxes, but too many is always better than too few. Some cats don’t mind sharing, while others won’t even urinate and defecate in the same box. Use the rule as a guideline and adjust according to your individual needs.

Litter

The choices for different cat litters are becoming overwhelming, and many of the new offerings are developed with the human and not the cat in mind. Most cats prefer a soft, sand-like, unscented clumping substrate.

Never use scented litter. Cats have a much stronger sense of smell than humans, and while a scented product may smell nice and fresh to us, it can be overpowering to sensitive cat noses, and it can cause cats to avoid the litter box.

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. 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 want to experiment with different types of litters, always make sure you keep the original litter that your cats are currently using in at least one box. A word of caution: if you don’t have litter box problems, don’t tempt fate by offering different litters. You may inadvertently create a problem by confusing your cats.

Avoid using liners or grids – most cats don’t like them. Be careful about using litter mats. These mats are designed to trap litter so it doesn’t track, but the rough surface of some of these mats are hard on soft kitty paws and can lead to litter box avoidance for some cats.

Keep the litter box clean

Once you’ve chosen a box, keeping it clean will ensure that your cat continues to use it. Boxes should be scooped at least once a day, preferably several times a day. Add litter as needed. At least once a month, dump out the entire litter box and thoroughly clean it with hot water and unscented soap. Don’t use harsh chemicals or ammonia based cleaners. Replace litter boxes completely after 6 months to a year. No matter how well you clean, the porous plastic will start to break down and eventually absorb bacteria.

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

NVR_Miss_litter_box

We think the NVR Miss litter box is the ultimate litter box, and we have used it for several years. This high-sided box prevents litter from being scattered all over the place, and it’s perfect for vertical pee-ers. It’s also nicer to look at than a homemade high-sided litter box.

I’m not sure why Ruby likes to sleep next to it occasionally – it probably has more to do with the fact that it’s right outside my office than that she actually likes sleeping next to the litter box!

You can find some of our other favorite litter boxes in our Product Guide.

*FTC Disclosure: The Conscious Cat is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to products on Amazon. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.

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18 Comments on The Best Litter Box for Your Cat: My Recommendations

  1. Karen Lucas
    June 9, 2017 at 9:34 am (3 weeks ago)

    I use the Breeze system Ingrid and had no trouble transitioning the cats. They were all rescues who had been used to pellets used at shelters or foster homes. The pellets last a long time and the pads the tray holds last about 2 weeks. One cat covers his poop, the other two do not. I love the system. I wish the pans were larger as one of my cats is big so when he pees, he pees straight back. I have puppy pads tacked onto small bulletin boards behind the pans which trap his pee. The girls have no trouble and none of the cats has ever done anything outside of their litter pans. Each cat has his/her own pan although the boy uses all of them. I changed to pellets because I would watch the cats use the litter (including Dr. Elsey’s) and hop out and sit and ingest the litter when cleaning their paws and I was tired of dust even Dr. Elsey’s had a small amount of dust when the cat would scratch to get a spot ready to use or to cover up and if I could notice it then they are right on top of it. It may not be harmful but I’ve had too many cats develop chest/intestinal problems as they got older.

    Reply
  2. Christina
    June 7, 2017 at 3:58 pm (3 weeks ago)

    I have been using a covered litter box since my male cat pees standing up. He’s fixed, so I’m not sure if it’s the same as spraying. Nonetheless, the pee goes straight back, maybe similar to the vertical peeing you mention. Nothing at petco/petsmart has been high enough, but I do have the largest of the covered boxes they have. Definitely taking a look at the NVR box as I would prefer the open box. You make some great points on the cons of covered boxes. Thanks for the article!

    Reply
    • Cheri Collins
      June 9, 2017 at 6:39 pm (3 weeks ago)

      A male cat can and sometimes will “spray” after he’s been castrated. It’s urine, serving the same purpose: marking.

      Reply
  3. Maureen
    June 5, 2017 at 5:54 pm (3 weeks ago)

    I have 3 cats and have made huge litter boxes out of 36 gallon Rubbermaid storage boxes.I cut 9×9 openings and all I need is a box cutter.I have also used Dr. Elseys for years but, I think they have changed their formula and am trying to change the cats over to Smart Cat.It is hard because I have had 45 lbs of Dr. Elsy’s in each box. This work because I feed raw and so their stools are always small and solid and the urine of a raw feed cat does not smell. I just use a heavy duty metal scoop and if anything has stuck to the side of the box I just hit it and Dr. E clumps so well there is no small pieces. Then I clean up the sides and I am done. Such big boxes and lots of litter means urine never sinks to the bottom. That saves money . It is a system that has worked well for me.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 6, 2017 at 5:28 am (3 weeks ago)

      Sounds like a great system, Maureen. Let me know how you like the SmartCat litter compared to Dr. Elsey’s.

      Reply
  4. Sharon
    June 5, 2017 at 10:13 am (3 weeks ago)

    Surprised you use clumping litter. The crystals that cause the
    Clumps get on the kitty’s claws, they clean their paws and guess what? Those clumps are in their tummys. Been there with my cat. It can make them ill.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 5, 2017 at 3:24 pm (3 weeks ago)

      I’m sorry you’ve had issues with clumping litter with your cat. I realize that it’s a controversial topic.

      Reply
  5. Janine
    June 5, 2017 at 8:43 am (3 weeks ago)

    We had a trial and error period with one of my cats. In the end it was a bigger box that she needed and that’s why she was pooping over the edge. At the time the big boxes were hard to find. I ended up finding it on Ebay. Plus litter was a concern. She only like original clay.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 5, 2017 at 3:25 pm (3 weeks ago)

      Your kitty is not alone, Janine. I’ve found that clay litter seems to be preferred by many cats – my guess is it’s because it’s the most like the sand they’d use in nature.

      Reply
  6. Jennifer
    June 5, 2017 at 8:10 am (3 weeks ago)

    Dear Ingrid:
    I have purchased many of your recommended products over the last few years and have always been very happy with them.

    But the NVR Miss Litter boxes have been a litter box “game changer” for my household.

    As the former executive director of an animal shelter in Northern Michigan I still have a house full of kitties that were not adoptable, as do my parents who were my go to kitten/hand feeding foster parents.

    As you can imagine, there are a lot of kitty personalities in play.

    As of today I have purchased four (4) of the NVR Miss boxes and I will continue to purchase them until all the litter boxes in my home are replaced with the NVR Miss boxes.

    Also, the company is very responsive and caring. The owner/designer of the box sent me a lovely email note stating that if I still had any problems with cats urinating over the edge he would send out additional panels for the sides at no charge. He mentioned that he created this box because it broke his heart that so many cats are surrendered to shelters due to litter box issues. I will say that my kitties have never wet over the edge of this fabulous box.

    Reply
  7. Sue Brandes
    June 5, 2017 at 8:05 am (3 weeks ago)

    We have the NVR Miss Litter box and we like it. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
  8. J.Leaman
    June 5, 2017 at 6:57 am (3 weeks ago)

    Blake (my Apple face siemese) comes and gets me if he thinks his litter box is dirty. He watches me to make sure I do a good job!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 5, 2017 at 3:26 pm (3 weeks ago)

      Allegra and Ruby occasionally supervise my cleaning efforts, too!

      Reply
  9. Cheri Collins
    June 5, 2017 at 4:13 am (3 weeks ago)

    Perhaps I should add, I scoop the litter boxes twice / day. I keep them clean. I’m using Smart Cat litter now. One of the boxes has a lower entry at one end. The 13 yr-old cat has arthritis for sure, and could have trouble getting in the box if there weren’t a lower place in the wall for entry.
    The best litter catcher mat I’ve found (and I’ve tried a lot of them) are Toftbo bathroom rugs from IKEA.

    Reply
  10. Cheri Collins
    June 5, 2017 at 4:02 am (3 weeks ago)

    Three cats live with me. We only have two litter boxes as we have a smallish apartment and there simply are not places / spaces for more. But the youngest cat (6 yrs old) likes to be outdoors a lot, so she doesn’t use the litter box much. The oldest, Boo is about 15. He was feral when I made friends with him (earned his trust slowly, over nearly a year of spending time with him every day). He didn’t know what a litter box was for, initially. I got him to try it one day by putting a layer of potting mix for plants over the litter in the box, and putting it just outside the back door.
    He developed a unique style of using the box. He puts both front feet outside the box, one back foot in the box and the other on the rim. He appears to have arthritis now (we have an appointment with his vet coming right up), and I think the angle of the hips in this position has changed. He often pees outside the box. I’m dealing with it by putting puppy pee pads under and around the large box he uses. But I keep wondering, if I found a different style litter pan / box he would use, if that could help? I’ve been very reluctant to try a style which would force him to get into the box, simply because he’s 15 and has always used this posture when using the box to pee. I’m wondering if you have any ideas or suggestions? Any recommendations or opinions?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 5, 2017 at 5:06 am (3 weeks ago)

      Since you have two boxes, maybe change one to one of high sided boxes with a low entry and see whether he’ll use that, Cheri? I have to be honest, though, since your set up with the pee pads seems to work for you, I’d be hesitant to change anything since he has such a unique way of using the box you have!

      Reply
  11. Terry
    June 5, 2017 at 3:16 am (3 weeks ago)

    The best litter box I ever found, and still have, is a huge stainless steel pan from and institutional buffet table. I got it for $2 at Salvation Army. It is 22″ by 13″ by 8″ deep.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 5, 2017 at 5:07 am (3 weeks ago)

      Great idea, Terry!

      Reply

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