Litter Box Options: Choosing One For Your Cat

By Chyrle Bonk, DVM July 05, 2019

If you are amazed by all the different types of cat litter out there, you might want to take a minute before you consider this…there are nearly as many types of litter boxes as well!  You may think that a box is just a box and that you and your cat wouldn't notice a difference. However, the features of a litter box can be the difference between your cat using it, litter being strewn around your house, and there being an unmistakable odor emanating from it.  Let’s take a look at the different types of litter boxes, what they do best, where they could use improvement, and how to pick the right one for your feline friend.

The Pros and Cons Of Different Types Of Litter Boxes

High sides, low sides, self-cleaning, and covered - they’re all out there.  Some cats are going to prefer different styles over others.  Understanding what each style has to offer is the first step to getting your cat sitting pretty in the litter box of their choosing.

  • Standard Litter Box

A standard litter box is just that - no frills, no bells, and no whistles.  Standard litter boxes are uncovered and have sides that are around 4 to 6 inches high.  They come in different sizes and colors. 


Standard litter boxes work well for most cats.  They are easy for cats to get into. The different sizes accommodate whatever space you have available, and they are easy to fill and clean.  Best of all, they are inexpensive, allowing multi-cat households to fully stock up without breaking the bank.


For cats that spray, have poor aim, or kick litter out of their boxes, standard litter boxes may present some major issues.  The sides of standard litter boxes aren’t high enough to keep everything contained in these situations.  As a result, you’ll end up with a mess on your floor or walls.  Standard litter boxes also leave a cat exposed while they're doing their business.  However, some kitties want their privacy and won’t tolerate this litter box configuration.

  • High-Sided Litter Box

Similar to a standard litter box, high-sided litter boxes differ in that the sides are much taller, making the box deeper.  Most high-sided litter boxes have one side with a low spot, making it easier for kitties to get inside.  These litter boxes also come in different sizes and colors.


High-sided litter boxes have the distinct advantage over standard litter boxes in being better at containing stray litter pieces.  They also keep those poor aimers from spraying your walls.  Moreover, high-sided litter boxes offer a bit more privacy than those with lower sides, yet they are still fairly inexpensive so that you can get one in every color and size.


While the higher sides do help to contain more of the litter box mess, they can be more difficult for kitties with arthritis or other mobility issues to get into.  If your kitty happens to suffer from one of these issues, take into account that even with the dip-down side, it may still be hard for your cat to climb over.  Therefore, a cat with mobility issues might refuse to use it.

  • Covered Litter Box

Covered litter boxes offer near complete seclusion by having tall sides and a covered top.  Kitties access these litter boxes through a doorway that is either completely open or has a push-through flap.  Again, these litter boxes come in different sizes and heights to fit into your available spaces. 


Covered litter boxes work well for kitties that enjoy their privacy.  They can also help contain odors a bit better and keep dirty litter out of sight.  Some covered litter boxes come with built-in air filters to help clean up any fumes that escape through the vents. 


More privacy might be good for some cats, but bad for others.  Kitties on the skittish side might not like the idea of going into a dark hole to use the litter box.  Instead, they will choose to use the rug outside the litter box door.  Confining litter box odors so that we can’t smell them may seem like a great option for us, but when your cat goes into the litter box, they might not like the smells that are trapped inside.  This could cause them to go elsewhere for relief. 

  • Top-Entry Litter Boxes

Top-entry litter boxes turn the covered litter box on its side, literally.  These litter boxes are fully confined with the access opening on top so that it’s more like a mineshaft than a cave.


The benefits of top-entry litter boxes are the same as covered litter boxes with the additional plus of no litter tracking.  Since your kitty has to jump into and out of this style of litter box, there is no dragging of the feet, meaning litter doesn't get spread outside of the box.  The full confinement also means more privacy and no litter kicking or spraying messes.


For kitties that don’t care for entering a covered litter box, a top entry type is all the worse.  Not only do cats have to enter a dark hole to get to the litter, they also have to jump down into it.  Top-entry litter boxes definitely aren’t for cats with arthritis or limited mobility either.

  • Automated Litter Boxes

Automated litter boxes can really take the hassle out of scooping and cleaning up after your cat.  These litter boxes work by either sifting or combing feces and clumps out of the litter pan after your cat uses it.  Some of them work as soon as your cat is finished and others work on a set schedule.


Automated litter boxes help you save time by cleaning the litter box for you.  They can also reduce litter odors because they dispose of waste as soon as your cat leaves it.  This will leave no time for the smell of urine and feces to dissipate into the air.


Some automated litter boxes require special litter in order to work properly.  This litter is usually more expensive than your typical clay variety.  They can also be downright scary for some cats to use.  Most kitties don’t take to automated litter boxes right away and will need some coaxing in order to get comfortable with the noise and movement.

What Are the Different Features Available For Litter Boxes?

Wait, there’s more!  So much for a basic litter box - you can get these other features to really spice things up for your cat.

  • Self-cleaning

We talked about this in the automated litter box section, but there are many other ways that a litter box can be self-cleaning.  For example, there are litter boxes that can be plumbed into your water and sewer system so that they flush and clean themselves.  Another style of self-cleaning litter box that doesn’t require electricity or any special filters is a rolling style.  With these litter boxes, you roll them over on to their side, then onto their top and then back again.  This separates the clean litter and then deposits the dirty clumps and feces into a pull-out tray.

  • Sifting

A similar type of litter box to a self-cleaning one is a sifting style.  These litter boxes contain a separate sifting tray that allows clean litter to fall through to the bottom of the litter box while you lift out the dirty clumps.  It works like scooping, only it allows you to clean the entire litter box in one easy motion instead of multiple scoops.

  • Odor Control

Odor control coatings are available on many styles of litter boxes.  This coating is antimicrobial so that odor causing bacteria aren’t a factor in the smell of your litter box.  While this does help decrease some odor, it can’t do much for the urine and feces odors themselves.  However, having less bad bacteria is always a good thing, right?

  • Non-stick

While we’re talking about special litter box coatings, let’s touch on non-stick litter boxes as well.  If you use clumping clay litter, then you’re probably familiar with the cement-like residue it can leave on the bottom of your litter box.  Non-stick coatings help those clumps slide right off so that they don't have to be chiseled out.

  • Hidden

If you’ve got the odor issue under control, but are worried about the aesthetics of your cat’s litter box, then look into getting a hidden one.  No, this doesn’t mean that you’re setting your cat on a treasure hunt every time he or she needs to use the litter box.  It means you can get litter boxes that look like furniture.  Most are made to look like end tables or small cabinets with a small access door for your cat with a larger, closable access door for you.  No more litter box mess out in the open for you or your guests to view!

  • Corner

If you’re tight on space or in need of multiple litter box options, then a corner style litter box might work for you.  These are triangular shaped so they can fit snuggly into corners.  That means that there’s no cumbersome litter box to walk around or bump your leg on.  Corner litter boxes come in standard, high sided, and even covered versions.

How To Choose A Litter Box

Selecting the right litter box depends on you and your cat.  Obviously cats come in different sizes so you should choose a box to match or better yet, one that’s much bigger if you have the space.  Bigger litter boxes help cats that have trouble aiming and work better for multiple cat households.  However, you’ll also want to take the number of litter boxes that you need into account as well when choosing a litter box size.  As a general rule, you should have one more litter box than the number of cats you have.  That means for one cat, you should have two litter boxes.  For six cats, you should have seven or more litter boxes

Next, you’ll want to look at whether you need high sides or a cover.  If your kitty tends to kick litter out or has trouble with aiming or spraying, a high-sided or covered litter box is better.  Kitties that like to hide under blankets or furniture may prefer a covered or top-entry litter box for more privacy.  You’ll want to make sure your kitty is physically able to get into one of these types of litter boxes before you get one though.

Afterwards, think about how much you do or don’t like to clean the litter box tin order o decide if you want a self-cleaning, automated, or shifting type box.  The other special features are completely up to you.

How Deep Should You Fill The Litter Box With Litter?

The depth of litter that you need in a litter box depends on the litter and litter box type.  Most litters recommend 2-3 inches, but this can change if you’re using a paper or biodegradable litter.  For kitties that like to dig deep, you may want 4-5 inches.  Multi-cat litter boxes should be on the deeper side to make sure there is enough clean litter to go around.  Check the labels on the litter of your choosing, and then do some experimentation.  Generally, the more litter you put in the less often you have to clean the box (as long as odor doesn’t become a problem).

How Often Should You Clean The Litter Box?

On that final note from above, how often does a litter box need to be cleaned?  This depends on your cat’s personality, your sense of smell, the type of litter, and the box that you’re using.  Some kitties will refuse to use a litter box at the slightest inclination of it being dirty.  For these cats, you may need to scoop several times a day and clean the whole box once to twice weekly.  Other cats are more comfortable with a little mess, and you may only need to scoop once a day.  Lastly, multi-cat litter boxes are definitely going to need to be cleaned more often.

Use both your cat and your own best judgment to determine how often you should clean the litter box.  If you’re noticing an odor, not enough clean litter left after scooping, or your cat is unwilling to use the box, then it is definitely time for a cleaning.  The more often, the better!


Who knew that there was so much to selecting a litter box for your feline friend?  The best way to find a litter box for your cat is by having them try out multiple different types.  Observe your cat’s bathroom behaviors with each one, and then choose a box that best accommodates that behavior.  That way you may notice less fuss, less mess, and a happier home for both you and your cat.

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