Get your free digital cat health and safety book for a limited time.

Litter Box 101: How to Choose the Best Litter Boxes for Your Cat and Why You Need To

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: December 7, 2017

Updated: July 10, 2023

Our mission is to help save dogs' and cats’ lives through our educational content. To support our efforts, this page may contain affiliate links. We earn a commission for qualifying purchases – at no cost to you.

best litter boxes for catsWhen you first get a cat, your next stop is usually the pet store for kitty supplies. A litter box is always at the top of that list, but few people give much thought to the box itself.

Looking at them, you might think that any one box is about the same as any other. However, not all litter boxes are created equal; more to the point, not all litter boxes are created equal for all cats.

Cats can be very particular about the size, shape, depth, and other attributes of their litter boxes. And rightly so! Think about it, how would you like it if the bathroom you had to use each day was super small and cramped? Or if you had to climb over a wall or navigate through a maze to get to the bathroom? Or if the toilet flushed randomly whenever you walked by it?

None of those scenarios sound fun, right? Yet that’s exactly what it can feel like for cats whose only options are litter boxes that are too small for them or have sides or enclosures that are too cumbersome to navigate.

And as for the “flushing randomly” problem, that’s a real concern for cats with automatic scooping litter boxes – many cats are spooked by the sound and movement that occasionally emanates from their box!

choosing best litter box for cat

And if a cat is spooked by their box or “inconvenienced” by the size or complexity of it, they’re more likely to go looking for somewhere else less spooky and more comfortable to go. Your laundry or bed will do just fine — thank you!

Want to avoid that and the stress that the wrong boxes will cause your cat? Follow these tips to help ensure that you’re finding the right boxes for your cat.

How Many Litter Boxes You Should Have

Even in a one-cat household, it shouldn’t be “one and done” when getting litter boxes.

n plus one litter box rule

Everybody likes to have options, and for many reasons, it’s a good idea to give them to your cat, too, when it comes to where they pee and poo.

The general rule is to have one more litter box than the number of cats you have — it’s called the “n+1 rule.” For example, 2 cats = 3 litter boxes, and so on.

Having too few litter boxes is a common cause for many of the “toileting problems” that result in cats being brought to the vet or relinquished to the shelter.

How Big the Litter Box Should Be

This is perhaps the most important thing to consider when choosing your cat’s litter boxes. Cramped quarters are no fun for anyone!

Make sure the litter boxes you choose are large enough for your cat to fit inside comfortably, with some room to spare.

They should have ample space to move and dig around in it without having to step out. There should be plenty of space for them to easily avoid any “deposits” that are still around from earlier visits.

As a general rule, the correct size litter box should be at least as long as your cat, from their nose to the tip of their tail (when extended), and its width should be at least as wide as your cat is long (with their tail not extended).

mazel the cat pooping in large litter boxPreventive Vet kitty, Mazel, loves using the XL Tidy Cat Breeze litter box system, and his mom loves that it's easy to clean and controls odor really well.

It's not the least expensive option, but it truly does keep bad smells at bay, and there's no messy litter getting everywhere.

At most, a few pellets make their way out of the box, but they're easy enough to toss in the garbage or, if they're clean, right back into the box.

How Tall the Litter Box Sides Should Be

The height of the boxes’ sides is also a very important thing for you to consider. And your cat's personality and "condition" will partially dictate the height of the boxes they need.

  • Best Box Height For Most Cats: For cats that aren't "sprayers" or don't routinely kick litter out of their boxes, a box with walls around 5–7" high is typically great (especially if the box is large). Check out my recommendation for the best overall litter box for general use below.

  • Best Box Height for "Sprayers" and More: If you've got a "sprayer," "kicker," or a cat with bad aim in your "clowder" (the official name for a group of cats), then you'll want the sides to be tall enough to minimize the risks of these undesirable habits; but of course, your cat still needs to be able to get into and out of their boxes with ease and without pain.

    So look for boxes with three sides that are tall enough to prevent pee, poop, or litter from hitting your floor (usually wall heights of around 8–12" are good) but that also have a lower entry/exit side to make getting in and out easy (this side should be around 5–6"). See below for my litter box recommendations for "sprayers," "kickers," and those with bad aim.

  • Best Box Height for Mobility Issues: If you've got a young kitten or any cats with arthritis or other mobility problems, then you'll definitely need boxes with at least one side that’s super low. For most of these cats, an entry/exit side that is around 2.5–3.5" typically provides a good balance of ease of entry/exit for your cat, while still being able to keep litter in. Check out my litter box recommendation for young kittens and arthritic cats at the end of this article.

Cat in Covered Litter Box-614172-edited.jpg

How to Choose Between Covered and Uncovered Litter Boxes

There’s no definitive answer here. Some cats prefer an uncovered box; others don’t. Of course, there’s no telling which “camp” your cat will fall into.

So feel free to go either way here or to test it out by giving your cat a selection of boxes to choose from. Just be ready to adapt if your cat starts giving you indications of a clear preference one way or the other.

If you do go the “covered” route, just make sure the opening isn’t too small or difficult to get to and be ready to switch to uncovered boxes should your cat ever develop asthma or arthritis.

Why You Should Avoid Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes

There are many self-cleaning boxes on the market now, and it can be tempting to drop a little extra cash for the convenience of a box you never have to scoop. But as inconvenient or unpleasant as you might think it is to scoop litter boxes each day, it will be far less convenient or pleasant when your cat is startled by their automatic litter box and becomes too scared to use it.

Then add in the fact that many of these self-cleaning boxes require special (read: expensive) litters; not to mention that the daily scooping ritual with regular boxes provides an important opportunity to spot any changes in your cat’s pees and poos that could indicate a developing health concern (e.g., diabetes, kidney disease, constipation, or even urinary obstruction).

What’s The Best Litter Box For Cats?

Best overall litter box: Oddly enough, for most cats, the "best overall litter box” for general use usually isn’t a traditional litter box! The thing that most often fits the bill is actually a large, plastic under-the-bed clothes storage box.

iris underbed container used for cat litter box

They’re typically plenty long and wide enough, with just the right depth, too. I love using the the ones linked here, as they've got great dimensions for most cats: approximately 32.5" long, 17.75" wide, and 6.5" tall — and you can get them in multi-packs to save money!

For "sprayers," "kickers," and those with bad aim: As outlined above, these guys typically need boxes with three sides that are tall enough to contain the mess yet with one entry/exit side that's short enough for them to get into and out of easily.

Especially as a cat ages, getting in and out of their litter box can cause another set of problems and a whole lot of discomfort (as many cats over 7 years old have arthritis).

These first two box options fit the bill, with three high sides and one lower one.

Nature's Miracle High-Sided Cat Litter Box

high sided litter box natures miracle

PetFusion Large Litter Box
low entry litter box good for cats with arthritis petfusion

You could also switch to covered boxes, but you've got to be extra careful to scoop covered boxes at least once daily, as they are more likely to trap ammonia and other smells that can irritate your cat's nose/lungs and drive them out of the boxes.

The Modkat boxes are a little pricey but function great for many cats and homes.

Modkat Litter Box with Top and Front Entry
Modkat extra large litter box with top and front entry

For very young kittens and cats with arthritis or other mobility problems: Here again, the best option isn't always a traditional litter box. Garden potting trays are often your best bet!

The one linked below — which has overall dimensions of 24" long, 21.6" wide, and 8" tall, with a front entry/exit side that's just 2.5" tall — is perfect!

KittyGoHere Litter Box for Mobility Issues
best litter box for senior or arthritic cats kitty go here

Tierra Garden Tidy Tray can make a great litter box for cats with mobility issues!
diy litter box for cats with mobility issues Tierra Garden Tidy Tray

Of course, getting the correct size, shape, style, and number of litter boxes for your cats is just the start. Check out “Litter Box 101: Setting Up and Maintaining Your Cat’s Litter Boxes” for more tips, tricks, and other useful information to help create potty harmony in your home and avoid all manner of problems.

Got a few minutes to help us help you and other cat lovers?

Please take our anonymous cat feeding and litter box survey.

Cat Care Survey

About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.

Must-have digital books for dog and cat owners