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Covered vs Uncovered Litter Box: Our 2023 Comparison, Pros & Cons

Snuggling with a purring cat can be one of the most relaxing experiences. Unfortunately, opening your home to a cat also means tolerating the presence of at least one litter box. If you’re considering a new litter box purchase or getting your house ready for your first cat (congratulations!), you might have questions about which type of box is best for you.

While styles and sizes vary, most litter boxes can be broken down into two categories: covered or uncovered. In this article, we’ll compare the two types of litter boxes side-by-side to help you decide which to pick.

Click below to jump ahead:

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Overview of Covered Litter Boxes:

Styles of Covered Box

Covered litter box styles range from simple pans with a lid to elaborate furniture pieces designed to hide a full litter box from view and give you somewhere to set your evening wine glass. They may have an opening in the top or the front, and some include a door flap. Most are rectangular, but some are designed to fit into a corner.

Two cats using a self cleaning litter box
Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock

Why Choose a Covered Litter Box?

People often choose covered litter boxes because they’re trying to minimize the mess and smell associated with them. Sometimes they’re also trying to keep it out of sight.

Price of Covered Litter Boxes

Overall, covered litter boxes are more expensive than uncovered ones. This is especially true for the litter box hideaway furniture options. Inexpensive covered litter boxes can suffer in quality, often with messy results.

Ease of Cleaning

Unless you get a self-cleaning covered litter box, you’ll have at least one extra step involved in cleaning a covered litter box: removing the cover. Once that’s completed, there’s not much difference between scooping the two types of boxes. Cats that don’t squat completely while peeing may spray the seam of the covered box and cause a mess outside the box. Waste sometimes gets caked into the corners of a covered box as well, making it a bit tougher to clean.

two cats sharing a litter box
Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock

Will My Cat Use a Covered Litter Box?

It’s hard to predict how your cat will react to a covered litter box. If they’ve never used one before, they may not like the idea of peeing in an enclosed space. Cats that are constantly on the lookout for other pets may fear being trapped in the covered litter box and avoid it. Huge cat breeds can struggle to fit into many covered cat boxes. On the flip side, your cat may feel more secure in the covered box and refuse to use more open locations.

  • Helps control odor and litter mess
  • More visually appealing
  • Some cats may feel more secure
  • Generally more expensive
  • It may be harder to clean
  • The cat may refuse to use it

cat paw divider Overview of Uncovered Litter Boxes:

Styles of Uncovered Litter Boxes

two cats on litter box
Image Credit: Guajillo studio, Shutterstock

Uncovered litter boxes are generally just rectangular, plastic pans. They are available in various sizes. Some come with extra-high sides to help keep litter and urine contained. Disposable litter boxes are also available, meant to be tossed instead of cleaned. Triangular boxes meant to slide neatly into corners are another style of the uncovered litter box.

Why Choose an Uncovered Litter Box?

As we mentioned, some cats won’t use a covered box, and you’ll automatically need to choose uncovered. You may also select an uncovered box because they are cheaper, easier to clean, or sturdier than covered.

Price of Uncovered Litter Boxes

The cheapest litter boxes available are generally uncovered. More specialized boxes, such as those with extra-high sides, will cost more. Disposable containers will likely cost a little more but may still be cost-effective, depending on how many cats you have.

orange cat beside litter box
Image Credit: jamesjoong, Shutterstock

Ease of Cleaning

Uncovered boxes provide easy access for scooping. Depending on how high the sides are, you may be sweeping or vacuuming up litter daily. Like with covered boxes, some uncovered ones also have hard-to-clean corners. Your cat may also spill urine or poop outside the box if the sides aren’t high enough.

Will My Cat Use an Uncovered Litter Box?

Unless your cat has litter box aversion for some reason or has only used covered boxes, they should have no issue using the uncovered box.

  • Generally cheaper
  • Easier to clean
  • Some cats may prefer them
  • High side and corner boxes available
  • Less effective at containing mess and smell
  • Harder to hide that you have a litter box

cat paw divider Other Factors to Consider

Some other factors to consider when comparing covered versus uncovered litter boxes are the size of your cats and how many you have.

Vets recommend having enough litter boxes for every cat in the house, plus one extra. Do you have the space for all those boxes if you choose taller, covered litter boxes? Do you have the budget to buy multiple covered boxes rather than cheaper, uncovered ones?

Large cat breeds like Maine Coons may not fit well in a covered box. Even if they feel comfortable using it, they’re more likely to make a mess because part of their bodies may hang over the edges.

Does the Box Require Special Litter?

Some self-cleaning litter boxes (most of which are covered) require special litter. Self-cleaning litter systems or disposable boxes, which may be uncovered, also need a specific type. If these aren’t readily available, it could make cleaning the litter box more expensive and less convenient.

kittens in cat litter box
Image Credit: Kachalkina Veronika, Shutterstock

How to Encourage Your Cat to Use a New Litter Box

If you’ve decided to switch from one type of litter box to the other, there are some tips to make it easier.

Ensure the new box is still in the same spot as the old one. Use the same litter and avoid any unfamiliar litter deodorizers or cleaners. You may want to place potty pads around the new litter box to make your life easier. It will be easier to clean should your cat rebel and poop or pee outside the box.

Consider using an attractant or catnip to lure your cat to the new box. You could also stoop to bribery by offering treats when you catch your cat interacting with the new box, whether or not they actually use it. This reward should help your cat form positive associations and encourage them to pee in the right spot.

Help! My Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box

If your kitty won’t use the new litter box or suddenly starts peeing inappropriately around the house, the first step is to rule out any medical condition like bladder stones or an infection. Once the vet gives your cat a clean bill of health, it’s time for a psychological assessment.

Is your cat stressed by the new litter box? Has some other stressful situation (new baby, new neighbor, home renovation) occurred that could be causing the potty problems?

It doesn’t always take introducing a new cat for this to happen. Some other shift in your cats’ relationship or their time with you could trigger a power struggle.

To help, make sure you have adequate litter boxes for all your cats, placed in locations throughout the house, at least one on each floor. Consider making a safe space for your cats, with food, water, toys, litter, and a bed all in one room so they can hide if they feel the need.

Ask your vet about behavior modification medication or pheromone sprays and plug-ins. Inappropriate urination can be a puzzling riddle to solve and, unfortunately, often results in cats rehomed out of frustration.

cat paw divider Conclusion

As you can see, covered and uncovered litter boxes have strengths and weaknesses. If money and space aren’t a consideration, your choice may come down to your cat’s preference and your personal taste. If you have more than one cat, you might even consider keeping both kinds of litter boxes around, at least until you learn what their preferences are. Try to keep the litter box disruption at a minimum to avoid stressing your cat.

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Featured Image Credit: (L) Lightspruch, Shutterstock | (R) New Africa, Shutterstock