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10 Types of Cat Litter Boxes & Their Differences

Sphynx cat in litter box

Whether you’re a veteran cat owner or it’s your first time, one of the first pieces of “cat” equipment you’ll buy is a litter box. While it’s considered essential, most people don’t give a whole lot of thought to the litter box itself. Particularly for new cat owners, litter boxes might all look the same.

The truth is, not all litter boxes are created equal. Cats can be very particular about their bathroom facilities. Shape, size, depth, and many other attributes can play a role in how your cat feels about her litter box.

To aid you in your search, let’s take a look at the different kinds of litter boxes.


The 10 Types of Cat Litter Boxes

1. Open litter boxes

cat in Frisco Open Top Cat Litter Box With Rim

Open cat litter boxes are simple. Sometimes referred to as litter pans, these are large, uncovered pans that you fill with cat litter. They’re not fancy, but they do the job.

  • These litter boxes are basic, which also means they’re inexpensive. If you have more than one litter box or multiple cats following the “one box per cat” rule (more on that later), the cost makes it affordable to buy as many as you need.
  • Open boxes are compact, so you can place them just about anywhere.
  • They’re easy to clean.
  • No assembly is required.
  • Cats like them because they can see what’s going on around them.

  • Since these boxes aren’t covered, there are no barriers to odor. You’ll need to commit to cleaning an open litter box every day to prevent it from smelling.
  • There is nothing to prevent the cat litter from being flung on the floor for cats who dig or fling their litter around.

2. Covered litter boxes

Catit Jumbo Hooded Cat Pan

Covered boxes are identical to uncovered boxes, except they have a lid. Most of them are simple covers with an opening for entry and exit, but some can be very elaborate with domes and swinging doors.

  • All the advantages of an open litter box remain, with the added benefit of a cover.
  • Odors and cat litter are contained within the box.
  • Some cats prefer the privacy offered by the cover. Cats who are prone to stress can often be found “hiding” inside their covered litter box.

  • Covered boxes are more difficult to clean, as you have to either remove the lid or clean around it.
  • With regards to cleaning, because the cover blocks odors from escaping, the box can be extra gnarly to clean. Particularly if the lid doesn’t come off, you will have to stick your head right inside the stinky litter box. Some more elaborate litter boxes have ventilation holes or carbon filters to avoid this; we strongly recommend this option when purchasing a covered litter box.
  • These boxes are bulky and take up a fair amount of space.

Our recommendation:

3. Disposable litter pans

cat stepping out of Nature's Miracle Disposable Cat Litter Box

As the name implies, disposable litter pans are made from sturdy plastic and designed to be thrown out after use.

  • These boxes don’t have to be cleaned, as you dispose of them when you’re done. This is a great feature if you’re away for several days, as you can throw out the whole pan rather than fishing through a week’s worth of dirty cat litter.
  • These litter pans are usually made from biodegradable material, so you don’t have to feel guilty about filling up landfills.
  • Relatively inexpensive if used as temporary options, like when you’re on vacation.

  • Expensive if used to replace a permanent litter box.
  • These pans aren’t built with your cat’s comfort in mind, so some cats won’t like them.
  • Disposable pans aren’t very durable. They can be easily damaged by your cat’s claws or collapse from excess weight.

Our Favorite Cat Litter Deal Right Now:

4. Self-Cleaning litter boxes

Litter robot automatic cat litter box_Chewy

No cat owner loves cleaning out the litter box. These litter boxes were designed to take this chore off your list. Self-cleaning litter boxes are basic litter pans. Some have a lid, some don’t, but what they all have is a motorized rake that moves back and forth through the pan on a regular basis. The rake gathers up waste and drags it into an enclosed container attached to the litter box. Most self-cleaning litter boxes have a sensor that tells them to clean shortly after your cat leaves the box, making sure no waste is in the box for any length of time.

  • The most obvious advantage of self-cleaning litter boxes is that they self-clean. This is a great feature for busy cat owners or those who go several days between cleanings.
  • Odors are minimized because they clean shortly after each time your cat visits the litter box.

  • Self-cleaning litter boxes aren’t foolproof, so it doesn’t mean you can completely ignore cleaning the box. Bigger clumps of waste will build up over time if the rake has trouble removing them.
  • While there are safety mechanisms to prevent the rake from harming your cat, your cat doesn’t know this. Some cats are skittish about using facilities that come alive right after they’re done.
  • These litter boxes run on power, so you’ll need to place them near a power source and plug them in.
  • They cost significantly more than regular litter boxes.

5. Sifting litter boxes

Also called sifting pans, these are available in both open and closed styles. Sifting pans have a grate at the bottom that sits inside a separate container to help with cleaning. By periodically “sifting” the top pan side to side, you are left with the dirty clumps in the top pan to dump out into the trash.

  • Sifting boxes make manual litter box cleaning easy because they remove the need to dig and scoop.
  • These boxes also reduce litter waste as you don’t accidentally scoop out clean litter with the dirty stuff.

  • Cleaning involves lifting a tray full of heavy clumps, so it may not work for owners with back issues or other ailments that prevent heavy lifting.
  • They are easy to clean but not easy to deep clean. Every few weeks, you will still have to scrub out your litter box.

6. Top-entry litter boxes

cat in Frisco Top Entry Cat Litter Box

If litter tracking and flying litter are a problem for you, try a top-entry box. This litter box design has a tall cover with a hole in the top for entry and exit. They are higher than traditional litter boxes and fully enclosed. The lid can be removed for cleaning.

  • Top-entry litter boxes do a great job containing the cat litter so your cat can’t fling it onto the floor.
  • Because they are fully enclosed, they prevent odors from escaping.

  • The top entry holes in these litter boxes can be small. If you have a large cat, they may not be able to fit.
  • Senior cats and kittens will find it difficult to get in and out of the box.

Our recommendation:

7. Corner litter boxes

Van Ness High Side Corner Cat Litter Pan

There’s nothing special about the design of a corner litter box other than being shaped with a 90-degree corner to save you space. These are sold as open or closed boxes but fit tightly into the corner of a room.

  • They fit in the corner of a room, taking up less space.
  • For open corner litter boxes, your cat’s entry point is restricted to one side, potentially limiting the mess.

  • Corner pans are usually smaller than other litter boxes.
  • Larger cats may feel confined because the walls are on two sides of the box.

8. Extra-large litter boxes

Frisco High Sided Cat Litter Box

Much like corner litter boxes, this type of litter box is an open or closed litter box that is deeper and larger than a typical box. Usually, they are bigger in all dimensions:  length, width, and depth.

  • Great for larger cats, but smaller cats who have difficulty containing their messes may also benefit from an extra-large litter box.
  • The ability to add extra cat litter also means you can go longer between cleanings.
  • Great for multi-cat homes that don’t want multiple litter boxes.

  • Extra-large size means they take up more space inside your home.
  • These boxes require a ton of cat litter to fill them.

9. High-sided litter boxes

Nature's Miracle Just for Cat High-Sided Litter Box

Many of the litter boxes recommended in this list are already high-sided, so this probably doesn’t need its own entry, but we’ll discuss it anyway in an effort to be thorough. High-sided litter boxes are different than regular-sided litter boxes as the walls are significantly higher. High-sided boxes are usually not designed with lids because the higher sides already prevent litter from spilling over the edges.

  • Similar advantages to top-entry litter boxes, but with a lower entry and exit point for your cat. This makes them a great option for kittens and senior cats.
  • Cats love to dig in litter boxes, and these ones provide an especially deep digging playground. The walls, however, prevent litter from spilling onto your floor.

  • High-sided litter boxes are only high on three sides. The low entry side leaves an open space for litter to be flung out of the box.
  • These boxes may still be too high for some cats to get in and out of.
  • They can be harder to clean because of how far you have to bend over the box.

10. Designer litter boxes

cat stepping out of Merry Products Cat Washroom Bench Decorative Litter Box Cover & Storage

Designer litter box models are essentially litter boxes in disguise. There’s nothing special about the litter pan itself, but it’s hidden out of sight within an end table, bench, or plant. Made to fit in with your home’s décor, you can park your cat’s litter box in the middle of the living room, and no one will know the difference.

  • Designer boxes are much more attractive than regular litter boxes.
  • Great for small spaces as you can build them into the room.

  • They have the potential to spread litter box odor into your living space, so you’ll need to be on top of cleaning them regularly.
  • Designer boxes are the most expensive type of litter box.
  • There is potential for your cat to start thinking that every plant or table is a litter box.


How Many Litter Boxes Should You Have?

There are many reasons to have multiple litter boxes, even in single cat households. Cats like options, and the more space they have to roam, the more options they’re likely to need.

Pet experts recommend using the N+1 rule when it comes to litter boxes. That is the number of cats you own, plus one extra litter box. However, this doesn’t mean that one litter box won’t suffice. It just means you have to choose wisely and clean frequently.

If you have multiple cats that get along well, don’t fight, and share the litter box without issue, it might be found to have a single litter box. Keeping the box clean in this situation will be extra important as there is more waste, and cats don’t like using the dirty litter. It may mean cleaning the litter box multiple times a day.

multiple kittens in a litter box
Image Credit: Albina-Tiplyashina, Shutterstock

How Big Should Your Litter Box Be?

Whichever style of litter box you choose, it should be large enough for your cat to comfortably squat inside, with a little extra space. They’ll need enough room to turn around and dig without having to step a foot out of the box.

Your litter box should be at least the length of your cat, measured from their nose to the tip of their tail, and at least as wide as your cat is long (without her tail extended).

Determining Which Litter Box is Right for You

The good news is that you have lots of litter box options to choose from. The bad news is that it can be hard to choose which one your cat will like that also fits best with your lifestyle.

Take into account your cat’s personality when deciding whether to purchase an open or closed litter box. If you have a cat who prefers privacy or is shy and likes to hide, she might do better with a closed box.

Kittens and senior cats will tend to do better with low litter box sides or at least one low side for easy entry and exit. Cats with bad aim, who spray or fling their litter everywhere, probably need higher sides or closed boxes to reduce the amount of mess.

kitten and the litter box
Image Credit: Ekatsyerina Kostsina, Shutterstock

Think Outside the Box

While there’s plenty of budget-friendly litter box options out there, sometimes the best litter box for your cat is not a litter box at all. A little creativity can go a long way. If you feel like you just can’t find the right fit, here are some “out of the box” ideas that work great as cat litter boxes:

  • Plastic, under-the-bed storage boxes – they have enough length and width and can be bought in multi-packs.
  • Garden potting trays – these are great for cats with mobility issues as they have low sides.
  • Storage bins – deep plastic storage bins can double as litter boxes and contain your cat’s mess. Use the big ones for multiple cats or smaller ones for single cats. You can leave the bin open or cut a hole in the lid for easy entry and exit. When it’s time to clean the litter, it’s easily removed and snapped back into place.


Final thoughts

Think about it in human terms. The litter box is your cat’s bathroom. Do you like your bathroom cramped for space?  Or located next to a noisy washing machine?  What if you had to navigate a high wall to get to your bathroom or use the bathroom in the dark?  This is what it feels like for cats who have the wrong litter box. While some factors can be avoided simply by changing the litter box’s location, others are dependent on the box itself. If your litter box makes your cat feel uncomfortable or too difficult to use, they will find a different bathroom spot; it probably won’t be a spot you appreciate!

It’s hard to be “wrong” about choosing your cat’s litter box, but sometimes you will have to perform a bit of trial and error to find the best one for you and your cat. If you can’t find one that fits, there are options for making your own. In the end, the best litter box is one that suits both your cat and your lifestyle.

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Featured Image Credit by Lightspruch, Shutterstock

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