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The Fine Art of Litter Box Care

By: J. Anne Helgren

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Choosing the right litter box is also important. You may have to experiment to see what kitty likes. If kitty is a kitten, you'll need a litter box shallow enough (about three inches) that she can step in and out easily. As she grows, you should buy a deeper pan (up to six inches), to help prevent her from scratching litter out of the box.

When she's big enough, you can explore the myriad choices available, from simple pans to high tech cleaning systems. Enter "cat litter box" into Google's search engine ( and you'll have more choices than you dreamed possible. Generally, litter boxes come in six basic types:

  • Basic litter box. This simple model, a rectangular plastic pan, is perfectly suitable and some cats prefer its no-frills design. This model is the least expensive. Many of the more elaborate boxes have features designed for your convenience – certainly an important consideration since you're the one doing the work of cleaning and maintaining the box.

  • Rimmed boxes. These have a removable plastic rim that attaches to the lip of the box. These are good for holding liners in place and also helps prevent scattered litter. Too, cats that are uncomfortable with hooded boxes may feel more comfortable with these, since they aren't confining and don't prevent quick escapes. These are also easier to clean than hooded boxes.

  • Covered (hooded) boxes. These come with removable domed covers that keep kitty from scratching litter out of the box, contain odors and hold a liner in place, if you desire. These can be helpful because they give the cat a feeling of privacy, which many cats desire when using the box. They also keep urine and feces inside and prevent accidents, if kitty often misses the box. Even urine sprayed on the hood walls drip back into the box to make cleanup easier. Some hooded boxes provide a ventilating grill at the top where a replaceable carbon filter is inserted to trap and control odors, although fancier (and more expensive) boxes use more advanced filtering systems. One model has its own built-in air purifier.

    However, the confining nature of a covered box can have a negative effect on some cats, making them feel trapped, particularly in multi-cat households with dominance disputes. Too, large cats may have trouble maneuvering inside and cats with long hair may have trouble staying clean. To avoid those problems, extra large boxes are available, and some come with extra wide openings to give the cat more room. One model has a retractable lid for easy cleaning.

  • Lift and sift boxes. These consist of two basic rectangular plastic litter pans and a sifter pan to clean the box. Some come with removable hoods as well. The sifting tray rests inside the litter pan, and the litter is poured on top. Kitty does her business, and when the box is ready to clean, you simply lift out the sifting tray, taking the wastes and leaving the clean litter. After emptying the sifting tray, you put it into the second box, and pour the clean litter from the first box into the second. You store the now-empty first box on the bottom of the entire contraption, and the box is ready to use again. This type eliminates the need to scoop. However, this type of box works best with certain types of litter. It's also important to put enough litter in the box, or clumps can adhere to the sifting tray, requiring you to clean it each time you sift. Still, this setup can be effective and inexpensive. An alternate kind tilts or rotates to sift the clumps and deposit them into a basket or receptacle for removal.

  • Multi-purpose boxes. Boxes are available that double as furniture and other household items. One model is shaped like a tall planter, with an artificial tree on the lid and an easily accessible hole cut in the side. The top can be removed for easy cleaning and an odor control system helps cut down odors. Another fits in the window like an air conditioner and provides a partitioned enclosure outside the window. One side provides a ventilated area for the box and the other provides a retreat where kitty can view the great outdoors. Vents circulate the air and keep odors down. Several companies make cabinets that double as dressers and other concealing furniture items. Multi-purpose boxes can be helpful if you have limited space.

  • Self-cleaning litter boxes. Self cleaning boxes plug into an outlet or run on batteries, and are used with clumping litter. The cat enters the box and triggers the sensor, setting a timer. A few minutes after the cat exits the box, the mechanism activates, and a rake sifts the litter and dumps the solid wastes and clumps into a lidded receptacle. When the receptacle is full, you simply empty it. Another type offers a futuristic looking robotic globe on a high-tech base that rotates seven minutes after kitty leaves the box, sifting out the clumps and solid wastes and depositing them into a drawer in the base. You empty the drawer when it's full. The cleaning cycle cannot begin with kitty inside, and there are no moving parts that might harm her. These are good for cats that simply must have a clean box all the time – or else. The downside is cost; these run between $200 and $300.

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