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Litter Box 101

By Colleen Williams
June 5, 2012 • 3 min. read
cat and litter box

When it comes to choosing a litter box for your cat, the endless aisles of products can be confusing to a pet parent. The type of box and litter you choose depend on your cat’s habits, personality type, and size.

Choosing a Litter Box

There are two main types of litter boxes – covered and open. Uncovered boxes are typically square and can vary in size, depending on your cat’s needs. Boxes that are covered often have removable tops or are all one piece.

An open box is best for kittens; it’s easily visible and young cats can get in and out with ease. As your cat grows older, you can purchase a larger size of box. Felines who aren’t too fond of small spaces or like to keep a lookout may prefer an uncovered box. However, cats that like to “dig” in their boxes may spray litter everywhere – in these cases a deeper box can help.

Some cats prefer their privacy; if your pet is shy or startles easily, choose a covered litter box. If you’re going with a covered box, select one with a removable cover – this makes scooping the box much easier.

Placing a rubber or bristly mat at the entrance to your litter box can help curb litter messes. Deep plastic storage bins can also be an option for pet parents whose cats tend to spray or get litter everywhere. They’re also cheaper and you can cut the bin to suit your cat’s needs. If you choose this route with an older cat, make sure you cut a small entrance in the bin.

Automatic litter boxes are becoming more popular as their prices go down. This type of box self-cleans, but makes noise during this process; if your cat is jumpy,

Plastic storage bins are a cheap, do-it-yourself option for pet parents with finicky felines who kick litter or spray. Image via it may be afraid of it. Pet parents who are allergic to litter particles may find an automatic box easier.


Choosing a Type of Litter

The most important thing after selecting your litter box is what goes inside it – the litter. There are four kinds of cat litter that are the most common: clay, clumping, silica, and “recycled.” As with choosing a box, you should take into account your cat’s age, bathroom habits, and personality when making your decision. Some felines are very particular about their litter and you may have to go through several types before your picky cat approves of one!


clay cat litterType: Clay

Made of: Small particles of natural clay dried out and solidified.

Price: $2 – $10 per bag

Kitten-friendly?: Yes.

Human-friendly?: Pet parents with dust allergies should avoid this type. Cats may also be allergic to the dust or scent.

Scoopable?: Solid wastes are easily scoopable, but urine dampens the litter, which some cats may find uncomfortable.

Lifespan: After 3 – 5 days, the litter must be completely dumped.


Type: Clumpingclumping cat litter

Made of: Bentonite clay particles that naturally stick together when wet.

Price: $5 – $25

Kitten-friendly?: No; kittens may eat the litter or accidentally ingest it, leading to intestinal blockages.

Human-friendly?: This type can be dusty, a con for some pet parents.

Scoopable?: Urine causes the litter to solidify, making both liquid and solid wastes easy to dispose of.

Lifespan: As long as waste is scooped daily, litter can last up to a month.


Type: Silicasilica cat litter

Made of: Crystals or “pearls” composed of sodium silicate, a chemical compound.

Price: $10 – $30

Kitten-friendly?: No; ingesting these particles can cause stomach problems.

Human-friendly?: Yes; silica litter has the highest absorbency rate of all litters, preventing odors, as well as not being dusty. However, it cannot be used with automatic litter boxes.

Scoopable?: Solid wastes are easily taken care of, and silica crystals absorb urine, turning yellow after use.

Lifespan: With daily scooping of solid waste, silica litter can last up to a month.


Type: “Recycled”pine cat litter

Made of: Earth-friendly materials, like pine or newspaper compressed into small pellets.

Price: $5 – $15

Kitten-friendly?: Yes, although some kittens may not like the pine scent.

Human-friendly?: If you’re not a fan of pine, stay away from this litter. Environmentally conscious pet parents will love this!

Scoopable?: Solid wastes are easily scooped out, while urine dissolves the litter into dust.

Lifespan: With daily scooping of solid waste and dissolved litter, recycled litter can last 1 – 2 weeks. The box should be dumped when the litter has mostly dissolved into dust.


Just like humans, cats are very finicky about their hygiene habits. Imagine how you would feel if your bathroom was constantly smelly and messy, or the toilet was too small! It’s a good idea to scoop your litter box daily to prevent odors from arising. If you’re in a multi-cat household, infectious diseases can be spread through litter boxes, so have one litter box for every feline family member.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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