When 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!
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. 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 for your cat 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).
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 hight 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 recomendation 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 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.
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.
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).
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. They’re typically plenty long and wide enough, with just the right depth, too. I love using the inner drawers of the ones linked below, as they've got great dimensions for most cats: approximately 27" long, 15" wide, and 4.5" 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. 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.
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!
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.
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