At what point on the the graph do automation and cat security meet?
July 2, 2014 5:16 AM   Subscribe

I want to automate cat litter scooping, however, I do not want to frighten our cats or take away their sense of territory. Can these goals be reconciled?

I need to reduce the amount of time I spend on chores, including scooping cat litter. To that end, I was looking at the completely automated (and very expensive) (Litter-Robot and the manually-rotated Omega Paw Self-Cleaning Litter Box.

However, I came across this counter-argument to automated litter boxes from the My Cat From Hell guy. He says that litter box smells give cats a sense of ownership and that scooping after every time they go (which the Litter-Robot does automatically) is alienating to them. It makes sense to me; when Dr. Wily goes in Bonus Cat's box, he gets annoyed and has to go in there and fix things up.

I don't want to alienate anyone; we already have a tense adversarial situation between our two cats, which we're slowly defusing (we think).

Is there a way I could get one of these fancy litter boxes, but somehow make them scoop only once a day or so? Or is their ability to scoop dependent on frequent scooping? And is that good enough to not wipe out the cat smells necessary for them to feel secure in their ownership?

Other ways of accomplishing less time spent scooping while not freaking anyone out are welcome, too.
posted by ignignokt to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The Omega box you could do once a day, no problem. The automated ones, in my experience, tend to not work well if they are not running constantly - the mechanism gets overwhelmed by a day's worth of clumped-up litter, if you have multiple cats. (That said I've usually been talking three or four cats, maybe it's not so bad with two.)

A couple of other possibilities - there are some litterboxes with plastic grid bottoms nested in an outer container so you can sort of lift-and-sift rather than manually scooping. Also some mesh liners you can put in a regular box for the same effect. I personally found the former to be fairly effective at time-saving. The latter less so; my cats tended to rip through the mesh while digging/burying so it didn't work properly as a sieve.

Possibly off-the-wall option, which is what I'm using now: the Tidy Breeze, which uses absorbent pads rather than scooping litter. My cats won't use it for feces, so we still have a regular box too, but they'll pee in it and it's easy and fast clean-up - I just swap the pad out every couple of days, and you change the pellets once a month. Has definitely cut down on scooping time and on lugging heavy bags of cat litter home from the store. Not cost-effective compared to regular litter, but I recommend it if you're looking to swap money for time. The cats seem a little confused that they pee and it's just gone, but they dig around in the pellets a little anyway, seem to feel as if they've buried something, and then go about their day.
posted by Stacey at 5:28 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Omega box doesn't work. It is VERY poorly designed - many tiny crevices where litter sticks and cements and prevents operation, plus just plain ol' not working. Owned one for years & cursed it; ended up scooping by hand.
With regards to Galaxy, some of the urine smell is bound to get on surrounding litter. Maybe that's enough? Never tried.
posted by Nyx at 5:33 AM on July 2, 2014

Screw an expensive, robotic cat box, get a Breeze. They're $23 at Petsmart.

It's a two-tiered system. Cat pee goes into a pad, so no pee clumps to hassle with. Poo sits on pellets, and gets scooped daily. You use one pee-pad, per cat per week. I've used this with my cats since they were kittens and we're all very happy. No cat-box smell in my house (and we have two)

Can't say enough good things about Litter Genie either.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:38 AM on July 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

My mother has provided an automatic litter box for probably close to 10 years. None has ended up disempowered, and while it is convenient, one could not say that it entirely eliminates odor.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:41 AM on July 2, 2014

We use Litter Genie + clumping litter and couldn't be happier. The litter genie contains used litter in a bag formed from a continuous tube, and it essentially seals it off.

"cleaning" the cat box requires one pass with a slotted scoop to pick up the clumps (usually one to two a day + one poop) & drop them in the top of the Litter Genie box. Then you close the lid, slide a baffle out so the litter drops into storage, and slide the baffle back.

About once a week you open the Litter Genie, where all the dirty litter is nicely contained in a bag. You cut the bag off, tie a couple of knots, and dispose of the litter. Unless your robotic litterbox takes out the trash, this part is at least as clean & easy with the Litter Genie.

It doesn't smell at all, the cat is happy to use the box, and cleanup is minimal. The bags are kind of expensive but it would take several years to cost as much as a robotic litterbox.
posted by mr vino at 5:50 AM on July 2, 2014

Yes, a sifter litter box with wood pellet litter will cut down time spent scooping. Because moisture makes the pellets break down to sawdust, the dirty litter is sifted to the bottom tray and the top litter stays fresh. I still need to scoop the solids, but with one cat, that's a once-a-day ten-second job.

I use this one from Oz Pet with the optional hood, but presumably you could get something similar in your neck of the woods.

Honestly, the biggest benefit for me isn't less scooping, it's that I end up lugging home much less cat litter. I used to go through a bag a week of the crystal stuff, and now it's about ten bags a year of the pellets.
posted by Georgina at 5:52 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love the litter robot. Cats have a better sense of smell than we do and I think they would still smell the dirty litter in the drawer below the globe.

It has a 90-day guarantee. If your cats hate it you can send it back. But I love it and my cat loves it too.
posted by sockermom at 5:53 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about scooping too often, cats don't need to smell their feces and urine to know it's their box. They leave scent marks on the entire box anyway. Territorial cats might dislike if another cat enters their box, but they also dislike if other cats walk over their bedding or use their water bowl.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:53 AM on July 2, 2014

I was horrible at maintaining my cat's boxes. It's a wonder they never tried to murder me in my sleep. I tell you this, because I got the Tidy Cats Breeze system that several people have mentioned and it's made dealing with the litterbox a.. breeze. I just stock up on pads when there's a sale or I have coupons.

Take my word for it that you don't want to wait longer then a week to change the pad if you have 2 cats. Just.. it wasn't pretty.
posted by royalsong at 5:54 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have the Omega Paw box and I feel differently about it from the poster above - I think it's great. But you can't just use any old litter with it or I think you would have the same problem that person does. We use Dr. Elsie's, which is a special litter and not the cheapest, but the box absolutely works and is easy to do and doesn't require any scooping, which is a big win in my book.

Because not every bit of waste gets caught into a clump in the clumping litter, there is always a tiny bit of actual cat waste in the box unless you completely empty it and refill it, so any cat with a nose should be pretty easily aware that this is their litter box.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:11 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I should add that we only roll the Omega box less than once a day (and we have 2 cats!) because we are super busy folks, and it still works for the most part, but if there is too much waste in the box and it fills up the collection drawer part, then it's tricky to pull out the drawer or you may have to do it twice, and you have more potential for leaving pieces of waste in the box, so I would recommend not doing it the way we do.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:19 AM on July 2, 2014

I have a robotic letterbox that takes out the trash: a Cat Genie. They are not cheap, but they work very well (especially the newer version that had been out the last few years). It ends up costing $5/month per cat.
posted by ravioli at 6:20 AM on July 2, 2014

Proud long time owner of the Litter Robot and I can't say enough great things about it. The waste falls in to a drawer below the globe and I clean it out once a week or so. My cat and any foster cats I've had take well to it and I've had no troubles what so ever. Expensive yes but I was happy to have never scooped again and the design is such that there is no maintenance to it, just normal cleaning as you would with any litter box.
posted by firetruckred at 6:39 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Speaking from experience, the one time I fully cleaned my kitty's litter box and washed it with soap and water, my cat rebelled by peeing on my bed.

I swiftly learnt that sometimes it's better to have a dirtier litter-box rather than a clean one.

I'm not interested in getting a self-cleaning litter box because I *know* it would piss my cat off.... but I don't need one because of the litter I use. Feline Pine litter is really good. You can totally get away with cleaning it every other day and it doesn't smell at all.

Good luck whatever you choose to do, and here's hoping the kitties adapt to whichever solution you decide upon!
posted by JenThePro at 7:57 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I believe Cat Genie's can be set to clean once a day instead of every time. And they know if the cat using it and wait if it is, so the cat doesn't get freaked out.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:06 AM on July 2, 2014

Thirding the Litter Robot. For the first week you leave it off and run it "manually" (this involves flipping a switch) so as not to startle your wee beasties. Then you turn it on, and it runs well after the cat is done (it's got a weight sensor) and stops if cat #2 comes in.

It's pretty quiet, and my two cats seem to like it, since one comes and stares at it possessively and tries to climb in when I "service" it once a week. I have very VERY normal cats. They are not super smart or sweet or scaredy or ready for their own tumblr. They are just very average. And they are fine with it.

As needed I give it a going over with Clorox wet wipes as well, inside and out. It's been 3 months and I have no problems. There is definitely a smell, since the pee clumps go below the sci fi orb. So they know it's their potty but it's always clean when they step in. And I will never scoop ever, ever again (until the apocalypse, YMMV)!
posted by Lardmitten at 8:09 AM on July 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Glad to see the Breeze system getting so much love! I scoop the poop every couple of days (that's about all my cat poops anyway), and I do a full clean once a month when I change the pellets. It's definitely reduced my litter box maintenance time by at least an order of magnitude, plus I don't end up with litter EVERYWHERE in my house.

One caveat -- my cat is not terribly picky about anything, and he needed some convincing to make the switch. He never went outside of box, but I can tell he prefers normal litter. There's a pretty big initial outlay in cost (though probably less than the automatic litter boxes) for something your cats might outright refuse to use.
posted by natabat at 9:53 AM on July 2, 2014

We have one of these and our little old lady cat loves it and uses it in preference to the older hand-scooped box upstairs. It scoops 20 minutes after she gets out.

We also have friends with the Litter Robot and they're happy with it (as are their cats). I suspect the cats' temperaments will be a bigger issue than the noise the box makes.
posted by immlass at 10:20 AM on July 2, 2014

Another "thumbs up" for the Omega Paw. I clean it once a day and use Integrity clumping litter; no smell, takes less than a minute, no scooping. .. love it.
posted by The otter lady at 11:06 AM on July 2, 2014

We had an Omega Paw, and one of the raking litter robots. We abandoned them both, not because the cats were put out by being attended to but because theydidn't make our lives any easier. In fact, they made it worse.

These days we use a big rubbermaid storage tub and big-ass cast aluminum scoop.
posted by Good Brain at 12:18 PM on July 2, 2014

No opinion on robotic litter boxes here, but the single one item that made littler scooping much less of chore for me was a solid METAL scoop. Like this one.
posted by monospace at 12:39 PM on July 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. Those have been some really helpful answers. It sounds like there is indeed some territorial smell retained even by the automatic boxes.

Based on this thread, I've decided to gamble on the Litter-Robot (you can get your money back, minus $50) but will consider the alternatives if it doesn't work out. I'll let you know how it goes!
posted by ignignokt at 6:59 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I commend you on your choice. I was coming in to nth the Litter Robot. I've had mine for 4 years (and I bought a refurb) and the day it dies is the day I buy another one, refurbed or new I don't care, and pay for overnight shipping. My ex and I actually bought one off Craigslist for $120 or so last year, just so we would have one in storage in case the old one died (it went with him when he moved out). With three cats it had to be emptied twice a week. With two I can get away with once a week. It is the only litter box in the house. Nobody has ever had potty issues (THANK YOU JESUS) and my two cats are pretty big boys (13 and 15 lbs - the latter is slightly pudgy but they're both tall) yet they still fit inside. Every cat that has lived in my house since the Robot arrived (there have been five) has taken to it readily and as far as I can tell, no one has territory issues (and my two boys don't even like each other). I recommend it to everyone with cats and will continue to do so forever and ever because it is the awesomest thing ever.

And while I generally love Jackson Galaxy, in this instance I believe he is, like the drawer of a Litter Robot, full of poo.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:09 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nting the Litter Robot. Keep an eye on the craigslist, occasionally one pops up in the Boston area. It's also very economical as far as litter usage goes. I also completely agree with elsietheeel.
posted by Ferrari328 at 6:10 AM on July 3, 2014

I predict that within a year you are recommending the Litter Robot to someone else on Metafilter. It changed my life, and was worth every single penny. I justified the cost like this: If there was a neighborhood kid who asked to be paid $1 every day to come clean my cat's litterbox every time it was used, would I take them up on it?

Damn skippy I would, although I would think that was one weird kid.

I've had mine for over a year so that hypothetical kid's price is even lower. It should last for a long time if you take care of it. I have mine plugged into a surge protector just in case, because it is really that precious. And yes, I will buy a new one as soon as this one dies, even if it dies tomorrow, because I have found what all cat lovers call the holy grail: A way to have a cat without dealing with their shit.

To be fair, my cat still gives me shit, but it's more of the knocking-things-off-the-table and waking-me-up-at-4-am-to-sit-on-my-pillow type of shit, not literal waste that I have to clean up every darn day unless I want my house to smell.
posted by sockermom at 12:32 PM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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