Having a cat means having a litter box. And having a litter box means “what the heck am I going to do with this often stinky, always unattractive box full of tiny granules that my cat is going to pee and poop in, and then track everywhere?”
Let’s face it, the litter box is the least appealing part of having a cat. I got my first cat when I was about five days old. O.K., my mother got the cat. But I was there. And I’m pretty sure that’s when I started my endless search for the ever-elusive “perfect” litter box set-up.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who has a delicate little princess kitty who daintily scratches in the litter box, does her tiny business, gracefully covers it up, and steps out of the box with clean toes. I have this:
The cat equivalent of a frat house bathroom. Big boys, big messes! I NEEDED a better solution.
Over the last six years, my cat and home situations have been in constant flux. From adding two (previously stray) cats into the mix with my 17-year-old kitty to moving into the tiniest apartment ever (500 square feet), to owning my first home, to fostering even more cats, and then adopting a one-year-old foster fail, my litter box issues have covered the gamut.
Now, I'm in my first house but still find myself with no out-of-the-way spot for litter boxes. No garage, laundry room, or hallway closet to tuck them into. I have one very large 18 lb. male, who can't fit in an average-size box and somehow manages to hold absurd amounts of litter between his toes (which ends up strewn from one end of the house to the other).
My youngest is an overly exuberant digger, resulting in the chaos you see above. And I have an older female who's just starting to feel her age. It's no small task to find a litter box set up that works for each of them while still allowing me to feel good about my new home, manage odors, and not have to apologize to houseguests for the unattractive nastiness.
I’ve never had much luck with ready-made litter box enclosures. However, I’m a big DIYer. And I hate compromising my home décor in the name of cat poop. If I’m going to invest time and money in something, I want it to suit my needs perfectly. That’s why I like to create my own litter box enclosures based on the space I have available.
It's very important to have multiple litter boxes (even just in a one-cat household!), but space and lifestyle can make that challenging. Here are some ideas and a look at what I'm trying now.
Should Your Cat Use an Enclosed Litter Box?
But first, a caveat. Some cats, like mine, are very easygoing with their litter box needs. They don’t seem to mind litter box enclosures as long as they’re a good size and the box is kept extremely clean. This is not the case for all cats. In fact, if your cat is having any litter box issues at all, shows any signs of stress or anxiety, has medical issues, or is dealing with other changes in your home, I’m going to suggest you abandon the enclosure idea for now and check out this article on the ideal litter box set up instead.
Why? The litter box is generally the first place cats show us something is wrong. Whether they’re feeling ill or they’re overly anxious because of the new stray cat wandering outside the window, these kinds of stressors are often displayed through inappropriate elimination, peeing, and pooping in places other than their box. If they aren’t loving the litter box set up, there’s an even greater likelihood you’ll see inappropriate elimination.
And remember, cats are both predators and prey. The act of “going” is actually a very vulnerable time for them. If they’re feeling anxious, the last thing you want to do when they’re at their most vulnerable is put them in an enclosure where they can’t see what’s coming and only have one small escape route. You know they’re safe. But they don’t. It’s an instinctual thing, not a logic thing.
This is all to say; you may not want to go the litter box enclosure route unless you have a very mellow, content, unstressed kitty. And if anything changes, your litter box setup should be adjusted.
Litter Box Enclosure Solutions
My Current Litter Box Set-Up
If you have a little extra space in your bathroom or laundry room, this is a great option.
The litter box challenge:
I needed an extra-large litter box in the bathroom. The thought of staring at an exposed box, stepping on stray litter in bare feet, and knowing kitty litter dust would be floating around the room where I keep my toothbrush was GROSS! I also needed a little extra counter space.
Thanks to my local big box building supply store, I was able to find a smaller version of the existing bathroom vanity. Placing that smaller version on the opposite wall, next to my washing machine, looked like an intentional design choice. And it gave me the perfect litter box enclosure to keep all the nastiness away from the personal business I do in the bathroom. Of course, if you don’t have room for a second cabinet in your bathroom, you could always use your sink vanity in exactly the same way.
Removing the bottom right drawer and rails created an entry for my cats to access the box. I was able to keep the top drawer in place to store litter accessories. The cabinet doors open to easily clean and fill the box. And I hung a litter scoop hook inside the door.
I topped the cabinet with an inexpensive countertop from Ikea, which gave me the additional counter space I needed for laundry. And I placed a doormat with deep grooves inside the cabinet to trap the crazy amounts of litter that somehow get stuck to my cat’s feet and inevitably get tracked through my house. One of our Preventive Vet colleagues loves the Gorilla Grip mat for catching hitchhiking litter granules. (He has some litter box favorites, too, you might want to check out.)
Depending on the size of your litter box and cabinet, you may even have room to store your litter disposal system in the cabinet. A hook on the other cabinet door is a great spot to hang a small hand broom and dustpan.
For easy disposal of litter, that traps the smell, I use the Litter Champ disposable system – others at Preventive Vet love the Litter Genie. Either one does the trick, but check out our pro tip below.
Pro Tip: The Diaper Genie is nearly three times bigger than the Litter Genie, so you have to empty it out far less frequently. When you're ordering refill bags, you will find they are cheaper for the Diaper Genie than the Litter Genie.
And you don't necessarily have to buy a new Diaper Genie, considering there a number of sites where you can find used baby products. However, if you want the convenience of just ordering a spanking brand new one, it's a good investment.
When Space is Tight
Apartments, condos, and sometimes even houses are too small for a big cabinet enclosure. But you can still create something that looks great on the outside to hide what’s not so great on the inside.
The litter box challenge:
You don’t have much floor space to work with.
Go vertical. You don’t necessarily need a large footprint to DIY your way to a better litter box experience. As long as your cats don’t have mobility limitations, you can go with a tall and narrow cabinet with multiple levels. The cabinet just needs to be wide and deep enough to fit your litter box on the bottom level and tall enough to accommodate a second level so the cat can enter above the litter box.
Here's an example using a Besta storage unit and Samla box. Just make sure tall units like this are attached to the wall so they don't tip, as you may have a cat climbing all the levels, not just theirs.
The litter box challenge:
I can’t fit another piece of furniture in my place just to hide a litter box.
Multi-tasking! You need furniture that can do double duty – useful for both you and kitty. Look around your home. You may already have a piece you can tweak to suit your needs.
Do you have a deep bookcase? Clear out the bottom shelf to house your litter box. Cover the front with a simple hinged or magnet door or even a nice fabric curtain. Don’t forget to cut a small hole in the side of the bookcase or door so kitty can get in and out easily.
How about a big armoire, dresser, or cabinet with a large drawer in the bottom? If you can fit a litter box in that bottom drawer (and you don’t mind cutting an entry hole somewhere on the outside of the piece), you’ve got the perfect enclosure. Best of all, you can just pull open the drawer for cleaning and refilling. See how the Ikea hackers did it with a double-drawer dresser. If your cat has agility/mobility issues, cut the door entry in the bottom drawer.
This crafty space-saver decided to create a litter box enclosure in the base of a glassware cabinet. It might sound cringe-worthy to have the litter so close to the glasses. But the piece is actually constructed from three completely separate cabinets stacked on top of each other. The litter business is nicely confined to the bottom cabinet.
You can even make a bench seat litter box enclosure using a simple low cabinet or chest with a cushion on top. Check out the step-by-step instructions for making this all-in-one window perch and litter box combo.
Take It to the Next Level
If you want to get really serious about your litter box set up, try a few of these ideas.
Some cats are just smelly. There’s no way around it. If your litter box is beyond stinky or you’re particularly sensitive to smell, don’t go for scented litters. Instead, try adding a ventilation system to your enclosure.
I’ve seen everything from dryer vents to bathroom ventilator fans to computer fans used to draw air out of the enclosure and send it outside or through a filter. I haven’t tried this myself. But if you’re handy and so inclined, give it a shot. Just be careful your cat can't get into or near the venting or mechanics of the system.
And a good air purifier works as well for pet odor, dander, and any dust from the litter. If you're creating an enclosed area, though, you'll want to opt for a low-dust litter option. Check out these veterinarian-recommended litters.
Maybe you have a closet you can dedicate to your litter box. Your cat just needs an entrance point. Consider cutting a decorative hole in the wall. If that’s more demolition than you’re comfortable with, cut a hole in your closet door. They’re easy enough to replace down the road.
How about unused space under the stairs? Consider building an ingenious drawer system in the wall.
Pro Tip: I use a microchip door to keep my foster cats, who often have compromised immune systems, out of my resident cats' litter box. This door is also great if you want to keep your small dog out of the kitty litter.
Think Outside-the-House For Your Cat's Litter Box
If you’re open to installing a cat/doggie door in your wall or door, you can set your litter box up in the garage or on your patio. It’s the same general idea of creating an enclosure. You’re just securing that enclosure to the garage or exterior wall and giving kitty an access point from inside the house. Keep in mind, an icy-cold midnight potty break isn’t appealing to you – it probably won’t be appealing to your cat. And you’ll have to access the box for cleaning. So, stick with spaces protected from the elements.
The Ultimate Litter Box Enclosure
This litter box experience (because "enclosure" doesn't do it justice) is the end-all-be-all. The entrance is built into the wall and leads straight into a cabinet setup that holds multiple litter boxes and disposal systems – on slide-out bases, no less. Not only that, it has a motion sensor light and a ventilation system. Wow! I’m redesigning my set-up as we speak.
A Few More Tips
Prefer to keep it simple? I mean, really simple? Take a basic four-leg accent table, use a staple gun or glue to drape fabric along the underside to create a curtain, and pop the litter box inside.
Cat Door Cutouts
If you’re nervous about cutting holes in your furniture for your cat’s entrance to the litter box, try a piece with easily replaceable doors. Ikea’s kitchen and living room cabinets are great options, offering a wide variety of doors. Grab a set of the least expensive doors they have and use them to create your entry. Down the road, you can just swap the doors out (and give everything a major disinfecting) if you’re done using the cabinet as a litter box enclosure.
An important element to giving your DIY litter box enclosure a high-end, polished look is to finish the entrance. Make sure you have a nice, clean cut. Simply adding a little trim or going with a decorative cut-out makes all the difference.
Leave a Light On
Contrary to popular belief, cats don’t see all that well in the dark. Try adding a motion sensor night light to your litter box enclosure so kitty can see where they’re “going.” You can use a battery-powered option like these from Mr. Beams. They can be attached using screws or sticky tape. And they put off an amber glow designed not to disrupt sleep, which is helpful if your litter box enclosure is anywhere near your bedroom. If you want to go high-tech, you can try a product from Ikea's cabinet lighting collection.
If you have a few cats, you definitely should have more than one litter box. Like the uber-example above in the "Ultimate Enclosure" section, you can house a couple of litter boxes in one big enclosure. Just add a vertical divider and entrances on each side for long, horizontal pieces. Or try a stacked option with one box on the bottom level, one on the top level, and entrances on each level.
Make sure your litter box enclosure fits not just the litter box, but also the cat. Some cats make a real event out of a trip to their box, circling, scratching, sniffing. The enclosure needs to be an inviting and comfortable place for them to do their business. The litter box may fit. But is there enough room for your cat to jump in and out of the box easily, stand up fully or sit tall and turn around? Make sure you give them a lot of space. As the old adage goes, measure twice and cut once.
I could literally do this all day. There are so many smart DIY litter box enclosure ideas out there. Think about what you and your kitty need and what you have to work with. Then get creative!
Not into DIY?
If you're less about "DIY" and more about "BUY" there are great pieces of litter box furniture available on Etsy. From super simple to hand-built statement pieces, there's something for everyone.
For a budget-friendly option, try a decorative screen. They hide the mess, and you can choose from many colors and patterns to fit with your décor. Screens are also great if your kitty doesn't like a fully enclosed litter box.
For a clean design aesthetic and small footprint, take a look at this 2-door option. Having the doors on the front means you can use the top of the cabinet for display, making it look even more like a loved piece of furniture and less like a cat potty. There's also a nice little area for storing supplies. And the cat entrance is up off the ground, helping to reduce litter tracking.
This rounded, handmade litter box enclosure is lovely and comes in many different finishes. It's a chest style, opening from the top for litter box cleaning, which is a bit of give-and-take in my book. Top-opening enclosures are often easier for the person cleaning them out. But if you want to place anything on the top surface of the enclosure, those items will have to be removed each time you open it. Think about how you want to use the piece, not just to hide the kitty litter, but as furniture in your home.
Those looking for a real statement piece might consider something like this double-decker cabinet. It's a big, beautiful armoire style and comes in many different finishes. You can easily house two litter boxes in this single enclosure or you have plenty of space for one litter box and all the accessories. This design could be beneficial for people who have trouble bending or kneeling. Placing the litter box on the top shelf would mean less hunching over for daily cleaning.
We’d love to hear about your custom litter box enclosures. Share your ideas and tell us a little bit about what worked for you and what didn’t.