How to Choose the Right Cat Litter and Litter Box

Our tips can make an unpleasant task way more tolerable.

cat litter

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

When you gaze into your cat’s eyes, you feel like you’re making a deep, soulful connection. When you gaze into the corner where you keep their box, you feel like you could scream because of all the scattered granules and noxious odors. You’ll be happy to hear your cat and your cleaning are not to blame—it could be your litter.

To Clump or Not to Clump

Litter will either stay generally granular or clump when it gets wet. Bags are usually marked “clumping” or “non-clumping”; both types are typically made out of clay. “Clumping litter makes it super easy for you to scoop every day,” says Whitney Miller, DVM, director of veterinary medicine at Petco. Non-clumping absorbs more urine, which means less scooping, making it a good choice if  you have a busy schedule. Miller recommends changing litter every other week. When the box gets too gross, even your cat will avoid it and go elsewhere—and that’s a headache for you. 

To make your cat feel the most comfortable, never keep the litter box near their food or a noisy place.

Select a Litter Box 

Until cats can be trained to use the toilet (you’ve seen the YouTube videos—a woman can dream!), a box will have to do. Here’s what to keep in mind when choosing.

Size
A litter box should allow your cat to stand on all four paws and still have space to posture, scratch and sniff. “If your cat can’t move around, the box is too small,” says Miller. 

Type
To make it as easy as possible  for your cat to get in and out (especially if they are elderly or arthritic), go for a box without walls or a top. Admittedly, with this option, you’ll probably want to keep a dustpan and brush handy. If minimizing mess is a priority, a covered box is your best choice. To reduce spills and scatter, try a top-entry box that is entirely enclosed except for the entry hole up top.

Smell Factor

The odor of a litter box could be its own circle of hell. Although your cat’s box might not ever smell heavenly, you can minimize the stench. Look for odor-absorbing litter—which usually contains a neutralizing ingredient like baking soda—or scented litter, which camouflages unpleasant odors. 

Regardless of the type of litter you get (even if it’s labeled flushable), do not flush litter—it may not dissolve in water and could clog your pipes.

Nature’s Call

Cats with various sensitivities—from tender paws to asthma to delicate noses—may benefit from natural litters that are low-dust (or dust-free) and made from walnut shells, wheat or other gentle, biodegradable materials, says Miller. Just be ready to cough up more money: These products may cost up to twice as much as regular litter.

One Butt Per Box

Each cat should have its own box. Granted, enforcing separate boxes may be virtually impossible (you’re familiar with the expression “herding cats”?). Just be sure to use multi-cat litter, which absorbs odors especially well, in case cats end up pig-piling and using the same box, or if you don’t have the space for multiple boxes.