Sometimes it takes a lot of patience to please a finicky feline. From their food to their preferred lounging spot, cats are very particular about just about everything, so it should come as no surprise to pet parents that their furry companions can be just as discerning about litter boxes.
From top-entry boxes that help contain messes to scoop-free automatic models that take the hassle out of everyday cleaning, litter boxes come in all kinds of designs and sizes these days. But pure aesthetics aside, there are practical considerations to keep in mind too, especially if you have a senior cat with mobility issues or you need something that’s travel-friendly.
With these criteria in mind, we spoke with a few veterinarians and pet experts about what cat owners should be thinking about when they’re shopping for a new one, plus picks for the best cat litter boxes to check out now.
Cat Litter Boxes 101: Here’s What To Know
One of the big questions you might be asking yourself about litter boxes (especially if you’re a new cat owner) relates to size. Specifically, how big—or small—one should really be. According to Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, director of primary care at Bond Vet in New York City, a box should be “large enough for the cat to comfortably turn around and dig in the litter.”
A good rule of thumb is to look for a box that is about one to one-and-a-half times the length of your cat. Privacy and accessibility are other key factors. “[A box] should have low sides or an easy entrance to allow cats of all ages and sizes to enter and exit without difficulty,” Dr. Fadl tells Mental Floss. “Some cats prefer privacy when using the litter box, so covered or enclosed options might be preferable for them.”
Because pets generally prefer spacious boxes, one that’s difficult to enter or that makes it tough for them to turn around and easily cover waste could lead to some negative behaviors, like pooping and/or peeing outside the litter box. Another thing that could spell trouble? Placing your cat’s litter box in a bad spot to begin with.
“I don’t recommend putting litter boxes in closets, basements, garages, or ‘furniture’ designed to hide them,” Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior expert with Rover.com, tells Mental Floss. Instead, Dr. Delgado says boxes should be set up in quiet areas where your pet regularly hangs out, which may give them a sense of safety as they do their business while allowing them to still “see what is going on around them.”
Certain feline hot spots should be off-limits, however. According to Dr. Alejandro Caos, a veterinarian at The Vets, a pet care facility in Denver, Colorado, cat owners should never put litter boxes near a pet’s food or water bowls, in the interest of maintaining good hygiene. And for multi-cat households, forcing cats to share a single litter box could be a recipe for disaster.
“It’s generally recommended to have one litter box per cat in the household, plus an extra one,” Dr. Caos tells Mental Floss. “Having multiple litter boxes distributed in different areas of the house provides cats with more options and reduces the likelihood of litter box conflicts or overcrowding.”
Once you have your pet’s litter box picked out (and more on that latter), you can start to think about the right kind of cat litter to fill it with. Generally speaking, clay-based clumping litter is the go-to pick for most owners, and experts say it works well because it makes scooping urine and solid waste straight from the box a lot easier. As most cat litter boxes are made from nonporous plastic material and have smooth surfaces, using clumping litter can make the whole cleanup process significantly less stressful.
Speaking of that scooping schedule, experts say doing it once or twice a week won’t cut it. “It’s very important to cats that they have a clean place to eliminate, and if the box isn’t scooped daily, they are not having a pleasant litter box experience,” Dr. Delgado says.
Ideally, you should aim to clean up after every time your pet answers nature’s call. Scooping waste daily can help reduce odor buildup, meaning it benefits both you and your pet. If the stress of that sounds daunting, you may want to consider investing in a litter box you can use removable liners (from $3) with; Dr. Delagado says other features—like boxes that have sifters or built-in cleaning mechanisms—can also be worth considering.
The Best Cat Litter Boxes For Every Kind of Cat
1. Best Cat Litter Box For Odor Control: Catit Jumbo Hooded Cat Litter Box; From $40
Let’s face it, owning a cat can mean tangoing with some pretty rank smells on a regular basis—and not the kind that make you want to write songs about it, either. A litter box with built-in odor controls is a must-have, according to experts. “[Some litter boxes] may have features like activated carbon filters or odor-trapping systems that help reduce and eliminate unpleasant smells,” Dr. Caos says. “These additional features can enhance the effectiveness of odor control.”
If you don’t want a whiff of something foul every time you bend over to scoop, then the Catit Jumbo hooded cat litter box—which usually goes for $54—is ideal. You can slip an active charcoal filter into the hood to tackle those stubborn stenches, while its detachable swinging door helps trap in unwanted aromas, too.
2. Best Budget-Friendly Cat Litter Box: Petmate Open Cat Litter Box; From $8
Searching for an affordable litter box that won’t put a big dent in your budget? Luckily, pet experts say you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on a good one. There is a wide range of litter boxes available on the cheap from retailers like Amazon and Chewy.
While Dr. Delgado claims you don’t need anything too fancy—a large open box will do the trick if you’re really in a bind—you may want to stick to a non-covered one. Most open litter boxes are not only affordable, but they might be better for your overall household, too. “Research has shown that cat owners are less likely to scoop and clean a covered litter box daily, so I recommend using an open litter box and scooping it twice a day,” she says.
For more of a dedicated (read: traditional) litter box, Dr. Delgado recommends the Petmate open cat litter box. Prices start at around $8 and depending on where you shop, you can choose from up to five different sizes. More importantly, the open top will help you keep an easier eye on the contents and know when it’s time to scoop.
3. Best Automatic Cat Litter Box: Litter-Robot 4 Automatic Self-Cleaning Cat Litter Box; $699
From robot vacuums to video doorbells and more, smart tech gadgets can help make everyday household tasks easier. A self-cleaning litter box that takes the stress out of scooping every day fits right into the mix, and experts say that while they tend to be pricey, they can be well worth the investment. “[Self-cleaning boxes] are beneficial for busy cat owners or those with limited mobility,” Dr. Fadl says.
The Litter-Robot 4 by Whisker is among the best that money can buy. Safe for up to four cats in the home, this innovative model doesn’t require any scooping, reduces litter tracking, and can contain unwanted odors so they don’t spill out of the box and into your abode. After your cat does its business, the home appliance goes into action by separating waste from litter through a series of rotations.
Once the separation cycle is complete, the Litter-Robot 4 drops the waste into an airtight and odor-controlled bin, so it’s ready for quick disposal. It even connects to your phone via the Whisker App, so you can see if the bin is full or if you need to add more litter. While Dr. Fadl warns that some kitties may be “frightened by the noise or movement of these [self-cleaning] boxes,” these tricks might better acclimate your pet to the new gadget.
Buy it: Chewy
4. Best Litter Box for Senior Cats: Petmate Booda Clean Step Cat Litter Box Dome; From $40
Elderly cats may need help when it comes to getting in and out of a litter box, so you may want to grab one specifically designed with Fluffy’s mobility issues in mind. You should look for something with a low entrance or a ramp so your furry friend can enter and leave easily. “This can help senior cats with mobility issues or arthritis access the litter box more comfortably,” says Dr. Caos.
Normally priced between $60 to $64, the Petmate Booda Clean Step cat litter box dome—which is made from recycled materials—features a textured ramp, which helps prevent tracking and litter overflow. Meanwhile, its dome design gives pets additional privacy to do their business in peace, but can also be detached from the ramp for hassle-free scooping.
It’s also important to monitor your senior cat’s litter box habits and make adjustments as needed. “Some older cats may benefit from having multiple litter boxes placed in different areas of the house for easier access,” Dr. Caos adds. “Observing your cat’s preferences and behaviors will help you determine the most suitable litter box for their specific needs as they age.”
5. Best Top-Entry Cat Litter Box: IRIS USA Top Entry Cat Litter Box; From $37
Top-entry boxes are designed for cats that prefer a little privacy. According to Dr. Caos, they offer more of an enclosed and secluded space, which can make some cats feel secure and more comfortable while they’re taking care of business. “If your cat tends to be skittish or prefers a quiet and private environment, a top-entry box might be suitable,” Dr. Caos says.
These types of litter boxes, which have a small opening on the top for a cat to jump into from above, can also be suitable for cats that tend to “kick litter out of the box or for owners who want to reduce litter tracking,” Dr. Fadl says. And if you have other pets at home who like to nibble on what’s inside the box, this type of model could act as a great deterrent. According to Dr. Caos, top-entry boxes help prevent “[other pets] from accessing the litter and potentially causing a mess or consuming the litter, which can be harmful.”
If you’re on the prowl right now for a top-entry cat litter box, consider this one from IRIS USA. With its rounded shape, it looks sleek, but there's more to it than just aesthetics. The grooves on the top lid act like a built-in mat to reduce litter scatter, while its high walls offer privacy and help prevent spraying and overall spillage. The lid can even hold up to 20 pounds, so bigger kitties can hop on it, too.
6. Best High-Sided Cat Litter Box: Nature’s Miracle Advanced High-Sided Corner Litter Box; $25
Felines that don’t fully squat when they’re relieving themselves need a high-sided litter box. The elevated walls help ensure that their urine doesn’t spray all over the place. Moreover, if your pet tends to kick around litter or vigorously dig, this type of litter box also makes sure everything stays where it should, more or less.
“Any high-sided box should have a low entryway so the cat can get in and out of the box easily,” Delgado says. At $25, this pick from Nature’s Miracle is worth checking out, as it offers tall sides, a lower entry point, and a non-stick surface with antimicrobial coating that helps reduce litter caking and prevent bacteria buildup. Even better, the corner design makes this one a good fit for apartments where space might be limited.
7. Best Disposable Cat Litter Box: So Phresh Disposable Litter Box, Pack of 2; $20
According to Dr. Caos, disposable cat litter boxes can be a solid purchase if you’re traveling with your pet and looking for a temporary way for them to relieve themselves when nature calls. “They can come pre-filled with litter, eliminating the need for scooping or cleaning. Once the litter becomes soiled, you can simply dispose of the entire box,” Dr. Caos adds.
At just $20, this two-pack of disposable litter boxes doesn’t come pre-filled with litter, but could still be an affordable alternative to some of the other boxes already mentioned here. Biodegradable and made from natural and sustainable fibers, it’s sturdy but not leakproof, which is why it’s not really recommended for long-term use. In fact, it’s best if you scoop as soon as your four-legged companion finishes relieving itself for this reason, or you could just place it on top of a cat potty pad (from $18).
“For long-term use, cost-effectiveness, and environmental considerations, traditional reusable litter boxes may be a more practical option,” Dr. Caos says. But you might want to have a few stashed away if you’re in a pinch during a trip.