10 Different Types of Cat Litter Boxes: Which One’s Best for Your Cat?

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Cats evolved to use the bathroom whenever and wherever they pleased. It didn’t matter if that was the middle of the jungle floor or right out in the open on the Serengeti; if they wanted to go, they did, right then and there.

So why is it, then, that modern cats seem to need special (and no doubt expensive) containers in which to do their business?

Well, the short answer is that cats have realized we’ll give them whatever they want as long as they promise to stop peeing on the couch. That doesn’t mean that all litter boxes are the same, however, and on the list below, we’ll take you on a deep dive through some of the most popular options on the market today.

1. Open Boxes

Open Top Litter Box-Iris-Amazon
Image: Open Top Litter Box/Iris, Amazon

Also known as litter pans, these are just that — large, uncovered pans you fill with kitty litter. They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done.

Pros of Open Boxes

While they’re undeniably basic, that also means they’re cheap. If you have multiple cats (and you’re following the “one box per cat” rule), this makes it easy to buy as many boxes as you need.

They’re also compact, so you can hide them in out-of-the-way places without them dominating the room, and they’re easy to clean because there’s nothing in your way while you scoop.

They allow cats to see what’s going on as they do their business. Cats like this for two reasons: they can’t read the newspaper, so they need something to do, and being able to see what’s happening allows them to scan for threats.

Hopefully, that’s not an issue in your apartment, but it’s hard to talk them out of thousands of years’ worth of conditioning.

Arm & Hammer 22195 Rimmed Wave Pan Large (Colors...
  • RIMMED LITTER PAN: The high rim of this cat litter box helps hold litter liners...
  • MICROBAN: Kitty litter is treated with Microban antimicrobial product protection...

Cons of Open Boxes

Since there’s nothing covering the top of the box, there’s nothing to slow odors down. You should invest heavily in deodorizers and be committed to cleaning the box every day, but even then, expect to smell what your cat has been cooking.

Likewise, there’s nothing to keep the litter in as your cat digs and scratches around. If you have other animals in the house, like dogs or small children, then these boxes will offer no barrier to them digging through the litter, either.

2. Covered Boxes

Dome Litter Box-PetMate-Amazon
Image: Dome Litter Box/PetMate, Amazon

Often, these are exactly the same as open boxes, except they come with a matching lid. These lids can be simple covers or elaborate domes with swinging doors, but the basic idea is the same.

Pros of Covered Boxes

Covered boxes have almost all of the advantages of open boxes (save two — more on that in a minute), plus they address many of the flaws the open models suffer from.

The cover helps contain odors and keep litter in the pan, and some felines prefer the privacy that a lid provides. You may even find your cat hiding inside the litter box when she gets stressed.

Petmate Booda Dome Clean Step Cat Litter Box 3...
  • DOME LITTER BOX: This cat litter box with dome lid encloses cats on all sides,...
  • CONTAIN ODORS: This kitty litter pan features a charcoal filter for the dome...

Cons of Covered Boxes

There are two flaws that covered boxes create that open boxes don’t have: they make it a little more difficult to clean, as you either have to remove the lid or work around it, and they add a lot of bulk to the unit. As a result, you’ll need to devote a fair bit of space to each box.

The fact that these boxes can contain odors is a huge bonus — until you go to clean them, that is. Then, you’ll be sticking your face into several days’ worth of concentrated funkiness. Some boxes have lids with ventilation in them; we recommend looking for one, especially if it also comes with a carbon filter.

3. Disposable Boxes

Disposable Litter Box-Argee-Amazon
Image: Disposable Litter Box/Argee, Amazon

These are usually basic pans without lids, except instead of being made of sturdy plastic or other durable materials, they’re cheaply-made and designed to be thrown away after use.

Pros of Disposable Boxes

You don’t really have to clean these boxes; instead, just throw the whole thing away when you’re done with them. Typically, that’s after you come home from a trip, so instead of digging through a week’s worth of clumps, you just toss the pan in the garbage.

They’re often made of biodegradable materials, so there isn’t much concern about harming the planet (depending on what kind of litter you put in them, of course). They’re also cheap, but not so much that they’re a budget-friendly alternative to more permanent models if used year-round.

Kitty Lounge Disposable Litter Tray, Black,...
  • Toss when soiled, clean tray is underneath
  • Odor free with no messy clean up

Cons of Disposable Boxes

There’s absolutely no thought given to style or comfort, so don’t expect your guests or your cat to be wowed by your litter box (although if your guests are regularly wowed by your litter box, it may be time for more sophisticated friends).

They’re not the least bit durable either, so your pet could easily damage it accidentally, or it could collapse as you carry it to the trash. Neither outcome is pleasant.

4. Self-Cleaning Boxes

Self Cleaning Litter Box-Omega Paw-Amazon
Image: Self Cleaning Litter Box/Omega Paw, Amazon

While every cat lover could talk for hours about how wonderful these animals are, they all struggle to find anything nice to say about cleaning out the litter box. Self-cleaning boxes were designed to take this nasty task out of your hands entirely.

These are basic pans, with or without a lid, except they have a motorized rake or similar mechanism that periodically moves through the box, corralling waste and dragging it to an enclosed container.

There is usually a sensor on the rake that activates it a few seconds after your cat leaves, so you know she’ll be safe and that the mess will be taken care of ASAP.

Pros of Self-Cleaning Boxes

The biggest pro is also the most obvious one: they clean the box for you. This makes them good for busy owners, or those who travel frequently and need to go several days between cleanings. Also, we’ll just come right out and say it: they’re really good for lazy owners, too.

Because they work so soon after your cat’s done, they cut down on odors quite a bit, as the smell doesn’t have much time to permeate your house.

PetSafe ScoopFree Ultra Self-Cleaning Cat Litter...
  • Automatically Removes Waste: No scooping, cleaning or refilling...
  • Unbeatable Odor Control: Crystal litter removes smell by absorbing urine and...

Cons of Self-Cleaning Boxes

As with any time-saving technology, they’re not foolproof, so don’t think you can just ignore the litter box from now on. They can struggle with big clumps of urine, and if they can’t complete a rake cycle, the litter will just build up until you remove it manually.

Also, while self-cleaning models have safety mechanisms to prevent them from harming your cat, she doesn’t know that. Many cats are understandably skittish about popping a squat inside a machine that could potentially come alive and try to drag them away, so you may have trouble getting your pet to use one.

There are limitations in terms of placement, too. Since you’ll need a power source, you’ll have to place the plug near a wall outlet. This could mean that the litter box shares more of your personal space than you’d like.

Oh, and they’re much more expensive than regular boxes, but we’re pretty sure you already assumed that.

5. Sifting Boxes

Sifting Litter Pan-Arm & Hammer-Amazon
Image: Sifting Litter Pan/Arm & Hammer, Amazon

Available in both closed and open styles, sifting boxes are regular pans with grates on the bottom. The pan sits atop another container, and you clean them by periodically lifting the pan and rolling it from side to side.

The clean litter falls into the container below, leaving you with only the mess — which you simply dump in the trash or toilet.

Pros of Sifting Boxes

Sifting boxes are the easiest to clean manually, as there’s no need to spend fifteen minutes digging and scooping. They also make it hard to miss any waste, as the drained sand reveals every single present your cat left you.

Scooping litter often causes lots of waste, as clean stuff gets mixed in with the dirty and thrown away. Sifting boxes help cut down on that, so you may find yourself saving money as well.

Pet Mate 42036 Arm & Hammer Large Sifting Litter...
  • SIFTING LITTER BOX: This sifting kitty litter box includes two regular pans & a...
  • LARGE CAT LITTER BOX: Simply lift the sifter pan in order to separate soiled &...

Cons of Sifting Boxes

You do still have to do some work, and since that work involves lifting a tray of sand, these boxes may not be a great idea for users with back issues or similar ailments.

Also, while they’re easy to clean, they’re difficult to deep clean, so expect a chore on your hands every few weeks or so.

6. Top-Entry Boxes

Top Entry Litter Box-Iris-Amazon
Image: Top Entry Litter Box/Iris, Amazon

If you hate dealing with tracked litter and other dirty messes, a top-entry model may be just what the doctor ordered.

These pans have tall covers over them with a large hole on the top for your cat to enter and exit. They’re roughly the same size as other pans, they just take up more vertical space. To clean them, you simply remove the lid and scoop as you normally would.

Pros of Top-Entry Boxes

They do a great job of containing the litter, as they cut down on tracking and prevent your cat from kicking granules out of the box. There are usually ridges or other patterns on the lids that help remove any stray granules from her paws before she steps down.

Like any other covered box, they also keep toddlers and dogs from digging around in the box, as there’s too much space between the lid and the litter for little hands or snouts to reach.

IRIS USA (586962) Top Entry Cat Litter Box with...
  • Unique and stylish design that gives your feline friend privacy. Bpa free
  • Prevents litter scatter. Keeps Fidos nose out of the cats business

Cons of Top-Entry Boxes

You have to be completely honest with yourself before buying one of these. Look at your cat. Is she fat? No, honestly, is she? If she is, asking her to squeeze through a small hole may not be a good idea.

Likewise, older, arthritic cats and little kittens won’t be able to use these, either, as they may find it impossible to get in and out.

7. Corner Boxes

Hooded Cat Litter Box-AmazonBasics
Image: Hooded Cat Litter Box/AmazonBasics, Amazon

These barely warrant their own section, but we promised to be thorough in the introduction, so here we are.

Corner boxes are regular litter boxes, except shaped with a 90-degree angle so that they fit snugly in the corners of a room. They can be sold with or without lids.

Pros of Corner Boxes

They fit in the corner. Beyond that, they’re exactly the same as any other litter box, with one small exception.

If you use an open box, putting it in the corner limits your cat to a single-entry point. This could potentially reduce mess; likewise, any litter kicked in the direction of the wall will likely bounce back into the pan.

AmazonBasics No-Mess Hooded Corner Cat Litter Box,...
  • Hooded cat litter box in a triangular design
  • Wedge shape allows litter box to be easily placed in corners

Cons of Corner Boxes

These units are usually smaller than other pans, so you’ll need to clean them more frequently.

Also, some cats — especially larger ones — will feel confined by having the walls so close to them, so you may have issues convincing them to use it.

8. Extra-Large Boxes

Stainless Steel XL Litter Box-iPrimio-Amazon
Image: Stainless Steel XL Litter Box/iPrimio, Amazon

Again, these are regular pans with one difference. In this case, they’re much larger than usual.

Extra-large boxes are often longer, wider, and deeper than basic pans.

Pros of Extra-Large Boxes

If you have an extra-large cat, it just makes sense to get her a box to match. However, smaller cats can also benefit from them, especially if they have trouble containing their mess inside the box. Giving them more real estate increases the likelihood that they’ll have a better aim.

All the extra litter lets you go longer between scoopings as well, as there will still be plenty of space for your cat to find a clean section to use. This makes them good for multi-cat homes, too.

Petphabet Jumbo Hooded Cat Litter Box, Extra...
  • Petphabet Cat Litter Box ideal for Multiple Cat Households Even in A Studio...
  • Removable & Clear Top Cover. high back and lid reduces spillover.Your cats won't...

Cons of Extra-Large Boxes

Obviously, they’re going to take up more space in your home. That may be well worth it given their advantages, but it’s an inescapable fact that you’ll be sacrificing some of your living space to your pet’s outhouse.

They also require a massive amount of litter. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll spend more; rather, the costs should be about the same. You will have to likely buy in bulk, though, and pouring all that litter can be hard on your back, not to mention kicking up a bunch of dust.

 

9. High-Sided Boxes

Rimmed Litter Pan-Arm & Hammer-Amazon
Image: Rimmed Litter Pan/Arm & Hammer, Amazon

High-sided boxes are exactly what they sound like: regular pans, except the walls stick up much higher than normal.

They can be sold with lids, but they’re often not, as that defeats the purpose of the tall walls.

Pros of High-Sided Boxes

These pans offer most of the same advantages of top-entry boxes, except they can provide a lower entry point. This makes them more suitable for older cats and kittens.

Because they’re so deep, there’s plenty of room for your cat to dig, and most kitties love nothing more than to dig in the sand. The walls will keep the granules from flying everywhere while they paw around.

Arm & Hammer 22195 Rimmed Wave Pan Large (Colors...
  • RIMMED LITTER PAN: The high rim of this cat litter box helps hold litter liners...
  • MICROBAN: Kitty litter is treated with Microban antimicrobial product protection...

Cons of High-Sided Boxes

The low entry point is a kind of Achilles’ heel, as it leaves an open space for sand to get kicked out of the box. Also, the entry point isn’t that low, so it still may be hard for some cats to get in and out.

They may be harder to clean as well, as you might need to bend over the top to dig in there. This can be hard on users with back issues.

10. Designer Boxes

Storage Bench Designer Litter Box-Unipaws-Amazon
Image: Storage Bench Designer Litter Box/Unipaws, Amazon

These models are pans in disguise. The litter box is basically the same as any other, but it’s hidden inside something — like a potted plant or an end table, for example. This lets you put the box out in plain sight, without revealing its true nature to guests.

Pros of Designer Boxes

They make great conversation starters, as your company might be curious as to why the cat is climbing inside your peace lily. Then again, they might force you to explain why there’s suddenly an awful stench permeating the room (although that might give you plausible deniability). Luckily, most are built with some form of odor control.

They’re much more attractive than regular boxes, so you can put them anywhere without uglifying the room.

unipaws Designer Cat Washroom Storage Bench,...
  • Multi-Function Cat House:Beautiful night stand hides your cat’s litter box...
  • Easy-to-Use:Pull out, clean and slide back under the counter. Wide top space...

Cons of Designer Boxes

Have you ever gone to someone’s house and thought, “This is great, but I wish they’d sit me closer to the litter box?” Most people are perfectly fine with the litter box being in a hidden, out-of-the-way place, so you may not want to drag yours out into the living room.

They tend to be much more expensive than regular boxes as well, and because they’re camouflaged, you may have a harder time convincing your cat to use it. You may also have issues with your cat understanding that not every plant or piece of furniture in the house is a potential bathroom.


Which Litter Box is Right for You?

If you’re searching for a new box, the good news is you’ll have plenty of choices. This is one decision that’s hard to get wrong, but even so, there may be some trial-and-error until you find one that both you and your pet are comfortable with.

Of course, until you find a suitable one, you may want to keep all your roasting pans safely locked away, just in case.


Featured Image: Self Cleaning Litter Box/PetSafe, Amazon