Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 2, 2023 by Crystal Uys
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:
The 6 Tips to Choose Your Cat’s Litter Box
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 it according to your individual needs.
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.
6. 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.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
The NVR MIss boxes have become very expensive, now that they can’t ship from Canada. The company in Tennessee which sells them says $35 for shipping!! I was going to order 2, but with the price of the boxes + shipping they were going to be $50 per box!! I didn’t order.
Now we know why we love our fur babies–we can’t figure them out. I’ve had a cat and/or cats for 20+ years and believe me, you aren’t going to figure them out. I used clay litter for years and converted to scoopable litter after I adopted a Siamese last year. She’s 11 so she’s picky. My Maine coon is 6, had him since he was 10 weeks old and he’s so easy going he didn’t seem to mind. It’s a process, folks! Don’t be frustrated–remember Rule # 29: In ancient Egypt cats were gods; remember Egypt!
Great information about cats and litter boxes. Thank you. One negative…..you said “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.” Earlier this year I read that the clay in clay litters is not biodegradable and tons of it are in land fills…….I was not aware of that and had been using clay litter for at least 25 years……………………… “biodegradable cat litters provide an alternative for those who are concerned about that possibility. They also provide an alternative for those who prefer a more ecologically friendly “green” product. Such biodegradable cat litters may be made from recycled paper products or plant-derived materials such as pine, wheat, corn, beet pulp, and soybean. Because these products are biodegradable, they do not clutter landfills……………”So, this year, I switched to a biodegradable cat litter made of grass, called Smart Cat. It is expensive, but IMO worth it, if you can afford the extra cost. I decided that I had to afford it even though I don’t have a large income. There are a lot of choices now other than clay litter and I think that many cat people would stop using clay litters if they became aware that they are not good for our environment. You respected website would be a good place for cat people to learn that. Maybe a future article?
I’d like to mention the KittyGoHere Senior Cat Litter Box – not for every cat and maybe not for many vertical pee-ers but it was definitely the answer for my precious Mei Mei who had chronic kidney disease. Mei Mei was always the perfect cat and even though her kidney disease was not severe yet (kidney values) and she’d only had it for a year, she was peeing “bricks” several times a day. I was dismayed when I began noticing pee outside the box and constant checking to make sure I scooped frequently didn’t help. The one day I caught her in the act and there was a revelation.
Mei Mei was 14 and she didn’t jump the way she used to so I’m sure there was arthritis. But also, I had noticed that the “bricks” of urine fell apart when I tried to scoop them immediately which meant that there was too much urine and it was to dense to clump quickly. I watched her trying to hold herself up while she peed and it dawned on me she was having to sit in it while she was doing it. I thought how I would feel as female if I had to squat to pee in the woods and couldn’t get high enough off the ground. She was lifting herself up to perch on the 5″ lip of the box to keep her butt up and the pee was running down the outside of the box. I figured a higher-sided box wouldn’t help her but then I found the KittyGoHere Senior Cat Litter Box and decided to give it a try. I guess my assessment was correct as she had no further problems. Although the box has 5″ sides, the entry is much lower and so easier for arthritic cats to step into, plus the box is quite large (20×15 or 24×20). I got the 24×20. Because of the lower opening, the box doesn’t hold as much litter as one might put in a different box but for Mei Mei, the size offered her more areas to drop her “bricks” than the two in a normal box. And it really did seem so much easier for her to enter the box. Mei Mei has moved on now, but interestingly my very long-legged Siamese Gus who does stand when he pees loves the roominess of the box and we’ve had no problems. His sister Claire who is quite tiny seems slightly overwhelmed by the size and will use both the regular box and the larger one. The only very minor issue is that Gus is a sloppy boy when it comes to covering his work so some litter will spill from the low opening but it’s always dry and easy to sweep up with a dust pan. Again, not the right box for every cat but there may be other kitties with Mei Mei’s issues and It might help solve them.
Cats with Arthritis
Cats that need a larger litter box
THE very best litter I have found after trying what feels like every litter on the planet is Drs. Foster and Smith’s Signature Series All-Natural Clumping Cat Litter. Lightweight litter made from 100%-natural, USA-grown grasses and clumps better than clay. High-volume litter gives you 2.5X more litter per pound – and more litter box refills per bag. Low-tracking, 99%-dust-free litter also minimizes litter scatter. Appealing sand-like texture, plus no chemicals or fragrances. It isn’t inexpensive, but well worth the cost – watch for great sales. Give it a try. P.S. I am not an employee of Drs. Foster and Smith, nor am I a paid reviewer. I just think it’s the best litter I’ve ever found. Give it a try!
The best type of litter boxes are the plain and simple ones. Nowadays we see too many litter boxes which are ‘automated’ and are supposed to make our life easy. But then again, how much time out of our day does it take to scoop things up or replace the litter? small effort no?
I couldn’t agree more, Mark!
I forgot to mention that we use a covered box for the kitty with EPI as he also pees standing up. We tried everything including NVR and extra large plastic crates and he is such a tall cat that nothing worked and I would tack up puppy pads at the back of the pan since that was where he peed. Then I got an extra large covered pan which is clear plastic so I can see what he is doing. He has his own room since he is very aggressive towards his younger sister. I can see what he is doing and this is working better than anything else for this particular kitty. It all depends on the cat and his preferences…have had 14 cats over the past 40 years and have learned what works and what doesn’t right along with them.
I’ve got 2 male kitties , age 3 months old, from the shelter and both like to play in the litter box before and after using it. even like to sleep in it!
i’ve had them for 1 month now and do not know what to do?
can someone suggest what to try?
How many litter boxes do you have? With two kittens, you need at least two, ideally, three. Offer alternatives to sleeping in the litter box – regular boxes lined with a blanket or towel, cat beds, etc. in the vicinity of the litter box and see if that discourages them from sleeping in it.
I agree with some of the other comments here. I think the new systems that use PERMANENT litter like Tidy Cats Breeze or the Cat-illac (watch out if you search for this because your spell check will turn this to “Cat-lilac”) Cat Toilet should be included here. You never have to buy or change litter again with these systems!!
I don’t recommend these types of litter boxes. No because no matter how well designed these systems may be, I believe litter needs to be completely changed out at least once a month.
The Breeze system doesn’t recommend keeping the same litter and not changing it out – how often depends on the kitties and how firm their stools are – the pads generally last about a week – it really is a great system for kitties with no stool issues. Have one for my 13 year old as she is very healthy and nice solid small stools. I change out her litter about once a month. Her older brother however has EPI so we use Fresh Step for him as with the Breeze system we would be changing it every day. Kitties from shelters often sleep in their litter pan as there isn’t a lot of room in their cages. The kitties we adopted from an overcrowded SPCA at Christmas at age 14 slept in their litter pan since there was no other place for them to sleep. Once they came home they slept anyplace. The idea to place a box with a blanket near by is a good onel
Owners of Breeze or Cat-illac that want to change litter frequently are using dried beans in these systems. They are cheap and all natural so you can change the litter as often as you like and it’s much cheaper than buying Breeze pellets
Just wondering if anyone has ever tried this new litter,
“Pretty Litter?” It is sent by the couple that started the company and developed the Litter. It’s totally white in color, and you don’t “scoop” the urine, but rather mix it in with the litter. Just scoop the “poop.” It detects various problems with the kitty, by changing colors after it pees!!! Like turning purple or blue etc. Each color can mean something, ie: UTI, and so on! Very interesting actually. I’m a Nurse, so I ordered some, but have not started it yet….my kitty had some major surg. recently…Ingrid will know….Resorptive Tooth Syndrome….ugh!..we are just starting down this path!
Thought I’d give her time to heal. Sounds interesting tho, this new litter….different, not for every cat I would guess…mine is a Tortie, like Ingrid’s, so wish me luck! Sharell
We’ve covered Pretty Litter here on The Conscious Cat before, you can find more information (along with feedback from readers who’ve used it in the comments) – if you type “Pretty Litter” into the search box in the sidebar, you’ll find the articles.
Thank you Ingrid…you know EVERYTHING!
Started using it, and we both love it!
I’ll let you all know.
Would you mind further explaining the term “vertical pee-er”. I can’t really figure it out in my mind. What does this physically look like? Does it mean the cat is not squatting down far enough to direct the urine into the bottom of the box and rather slightly up the side of the litter box? Thank you.
Ruby starts out squatting to pee, but as the stream of pee is coming out, she gradually raises herself up on all four legs, so that by the time she’s finishing, she’s peeing standing up. Since she tends to pee toward the edge of the box, this results in the urine stream starting out at the level of the litter, but gradually rising to the edge of the box (and until we had the NVR Miss, frequently over the top of the box.) I hope this helps.
yes, that absolutely helps. I was trying to determine if my cat had the same issue. He raises up a bit but not as much as Ruby and he seems not to choose to go any higher than an inch or so but he is hitting the side of the litterbox when he does it. he doesnt do it all the time though. If it turned out my cat was on his way to being a VP I wanted to be forearmed. 🙂 Thanks very much.
I USE ARM & HAMMER SLIDE CAT LITTER AND DONT HAVE ANY PROBLEMS WITH MY 2 CATS THEY LOVE USING IT. NO ORDER AND NO MESS. I GUESS THATS WHY THEY CALL IT SLIDE..
I smiled at the picture of Ruby sleeping next to the litter box. My 2 cats for some reason like to sleep on the litter mat in front of the litter box. The texture of the mat doesn’t seem very comfortable to me, but what do I know?
I buy the deep and large clear storage plastic bins from Walmart about 3 times a year when I notice they are getting scratched. They cost about 10 dollars Canadian. I too have a male Siamese who stands to pee and I got tired of the mess. These high boxes are perfect for him.
My large male cat doesn’t pee over the edge of the litter, but he frequently leaves poo outside the box and he kicks litter ALL over the place. Do you have experience with that kind of problem?
In some cases, leaving poo outside the box can be marking behavior. Some cats like separate boxes for urine and stool. Try placing a second box either next to your existing one or elsewhere in the house and see if that fixes the issue. If this is a new behavior, take your cat to the vet to rule out any medical issues just to be safe.
I was wondering if you have ever tried cat spot litter. If you have, what were your thoughts? It is a coconut based litter.
I’m not familiar with that litter, Jason.
I ordered a NVR Miss litter box. It came while I was out, by the time I brought the box upstairs it was late. I took the NVR Miss out of the cardboard box, but left it in the hallway because I didn’t want to set it up for use right then. I turned it on its side, so nobody would think it was ready for use. Rosie slept in it. And slept in it again. I put a thick, folded bathmat in it and she’s sleeping in it every night. Cats!
LOL Cheri! I think you should let the NVR Miss folks know – I bet they’d get a kick out of this!
Ingrid, maybe Ruby likes the mat under the litter box (in the photo). It looks like a Drymate? I have some of them — they make them for all sorts of uses, in various sizes — it’s a nice surface for a cat to sleep on, I think. I’m going to try putting one in one of the places my Rosie likes to sleep.
Yes, it’s a Drymate mat. It’s possible that she likes the feel of it. But we also have a Drymate mat under our second litter box on the lower level of the house, where I rarely spend time, and she never sleeps on that. 🙂
i have two cats and a yorkie about the same size of the cats, i have to keep their litter boxs in the basement and put a gate across the stairs. He thinks its a treat box just for him. So how can i place a cat box on the first level of my home ?
Put a litter box up off the floor — on a table or a storage unit or a cupboard. IKEA has a lot of storage solutions you can configure to your needs, and also inexpensive tables.
I’d follow Cheri’s suggestion of putting the box off the floor where you Yorkie can’t reach it. If that doesn’t work, this may be one of the few situations where a covered box may be needed if your cat will accept it although I suspect the Yorkie could still get into a covered box, but it may not be as “enticing” to him/her as an open box.
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.
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!
A male cat can and sometimes will “spray” after he’s been castrated. It’s urine, serving the same purpose: marking.
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.
Sounds like a great system, Maureen. Let me know how you like the SmartCat litter compared to Dr. Elsey’s.
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.
I’m sorry you’ve had issues with clumping litter with your cat. I realize that it’s a controversial topic.
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.
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.
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.
We have the NVR Miss Litter box and we like it. Thanks for the post.
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!
Allegra and Ruby occasionally supervise my cleaning efforts, too!
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.
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?
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!
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.
Great idea, Terry!