The choice of cat litter boxes today seems endless. And new ones seem to arrive on the market daily. The problem is that most of the litter boxes are made more for cat owners instead of the cats who use them.
In a multiple-cat household with lots of cats, you must consider the needs of the cats before your own. Some cats like to dig deep in the litter and others like to fling the litter everywhere before going.
Some squat to pee and others start out squatting then raise their bottoms up until they are almost standing. Others prefer to pee in one box and poop in another. And many cats will not go in a box after another cat has used it.
And kittens have different litter box needs than adults. Older cats also may have litter box needs different from the rest.
So how in the world do you know what type of cat litter boxes to get?!
Because we have lots of cats, we also have lots of experience with cat litter boxes. The general rule is 1 box per cat plus 1 extra. To be honest, we don’t follow this rule. The number of cats we have can vary, plus we have an outdoor cat enclosure with a very large litter box. However, we also have a few cats that don’t go outside so the focus of this section is on the indoor cat litter boxes.
We keep our cat litter boxes very clean and they are located in various locations throughout the house so our cats feel comfortable and use their boxes faithfully.
It is important not to put all of the litter boxes in one location. Cats need to feel safe and comfortable when using their litter box so if they are all crammed together in one room, some of the cats may be too uncomfortable to use them.
With lots of cats, there may be a cat that likes to ambush another cat while she is using the box. If this happens, she may be afraid to use the litter box. And if all the boxes are in one room, a bully cat may lay in the doorway preventing access to the litter boxes.
We have cat litter boxes located in 4 separate areas of the house (not including the outdoor box) so if a cat can’t get to one area, she has 3 others to choose from. There are also different numbers of boxes in each location providing the cats with a choice of the litter box as well as litter box location.
You know you will need several litter boxes to make your cats happy so now you have to decide what type to get. We’ll start by telling you what doesn’t work in a multiple-cat household.
1. Cake Pan Type: These are the most common and least expensive types of litter boxes. They can be purchased at pet stores, discount stores, and even grocery stores. The problem with these is that they are too small and shallow for many cats.
Cats like to have room to turn around before picking a spot to dig. Small boxes don’t allow for this. Also, cats that like to dig deep will dig down to the bottom causing urine to stick to the plastic. Sand fling-rs will fling the sand out all over the floor, and ‘elevator peers will urinate outside the box. You will be spending lots of time cleaning the box and the area surrounding the box! Too much mess and work!
2. Covered Boxes (including those disguised as furniture and potted plants) – These boxes may be fine for 1 or 2 cats but for lots of cats they are not a good idea. They tend to be too small, too shallow and there is only one small opening that limits escape. With multiple cat usage, they become like a public port-a-potty and can get quite stinky inside despite the odor control features some of them have such as odor-absorbing charcoal in the hood. Also, because they are enclosed, some cats may not like going inside to do their business. Small, enclosed spaces are great for napping but not necessarily for going potty.
3. Lift and Sift Type Boxes – These boxes are similar in size and shape to the cake-pan type boxes. They include a middle grate that enables you to lift out the clumps while letting the clean litter fall back into the box. These boxes also tend to be too small and shallow. Stuff gets stuck in the grate so they have to be washed clean each day to keep them odor-free. Also, some cats don’t like the feel of the grate when they dig.
4. Self-Cleaning or Automatic Boxes – These types of boxes are very expensive (remember, you need lots of boxes) and despite the description, are not very clean. Wet and solid litter can get stuck in the mechanical parts making it very difficult to keep them clean and odor-free. Also, as with the other types mentioned, they are too small and shallow. Some of them require a special litter which can be expensive. And some cats are frightened by the noise they make and may avoid using the box.
5. Cat Genie – This is a new type of litter box on the market. It hooks up to the household toilet and flushes itself. Nice idea but not if you have lots of cats. They are hugely expensive ($350) and designed for use by only ‘2 or 3 small cats’. These are actually shaped like a toilet and seem very small. We have not tried this and have no plans to. It is way too expensive and, quite frankly, we don’t have enough room in our bathrooms to accommodate their use.
These are just a few of the most common types of cat litter boxes available on the market today. You may need to try a few different ones to see what works best for your cats. Or, you can do what we do!
We don’t use actual cat litter boxes at all. We make our own out of high-sided, flat-bottomed 30-gallon storage boxes. These can be purchased at most discount and home improvement stores and are usually cheaper than anything labeled as a litter box.
Be sure to buy ones that are made of softer, slightly flexible plastic. The hard, non-flexible ones tend to split unevenly when cut.
We cut a ‘U’ shaped opening in one side or end of the box using a hacksaw. The opening is about 8 inches wide and the bottom of the ‘U’ is about 7 inches from the floor. The edges of the opening are then sanded smooth.
The opening doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, a couple of ours ended up crooked! The main thing is that the cats can get in and out of it easily and that the edges are smooth. If you can’t get the edges smooth enough, cover them with duct tape. This will keep the cats from injuring themselves on rough edges and the tape can be changed easily if it gets soiled.
We fill the boxes with about 4 inches of litter. This lets the deep diggers dig without reaching the bottom so stuff doesn’t stick to the bottom. The high sides keep the sand fling-rs and ‘elevator peers from flinging sand all over or peeing out of the box. And the size allows the cats to turn around as much as they like to find the best spot to dig.
For kittens, we use smaller, 18-gallon storage boxes and cut the opening about 3 inches from the floor. This usually works for elder cats that have developed arthritis too. Kittens and arthritic cats tend not to dig very deep so 2 inches of litter in the box usually works fine.
And we noticed that when the kittens are around 4 months old, they start to use the bigger cat litter boxes. Once all of the kittens are using the bigger boxes, we trade out the kitten box for a bigger box.
If we have an older cat that prefers the lower entry box, we maintain a couple of boxes just for them.
To help minimize the tracking of the litter when the cats leave the boxes, we use a Litter Welcome Mat in front of each box. We have tried various types of litter mats and we prefer this one. All of the cats walk on it without a problem and it collects the litter in the bottom so it can be easily poured back in the box, minimizing waste. A folded towel is also helpful to reduce litter tracking if you don’t have mats.
Whatever type of box you use, we don’t recommend using liners in the boxes. They tend to get torn by the cat’s claws trapping litter and urine odor in them ultimately defeating their purpose. We consider them a waste of money. And if you use big boxes with enough sand, you don’t need liners.
Our cats love their big, roomy bathrooms! And we love them because the cats use them faithfully and they are easy to keep clean. We have tried many different cat litter boxes over the years and making our own out-of-storage boxes has achieved the best results for both us and our cats! If you have any doubts, try it yourself and see what your cats do. We bet you will soon be making more!