I'm looking for a decent automatic cat box
January 8, 2015 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I know you are not my cat, and that any cat's reaction to a new situation may be terror and refusal. Having said that, I want to make the cat box chore to be less awful and am considering getting an automated cat box to take some of the ick factor out of the work.

Right now we have two cats and two plain old pan cat boxes with Fresh Step clay litter. My cats are terrible about spraying litter around the laundry room, even with a hood and cat box welcome mat in front of the exit. I suspect that's because they want more frequent cleanings than we can do.

In your experience as an automated cat box owner-slash-enthusiast, would having an automated setup reduce the need for constant manual cleanings? How often does one empty out the dunny bin? Is there different litter? Are there other consumables to consider?
posted by boo_radley to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't exactly an answer to your questions, but you should consider Yesterday's News or some other non-clumping litter. We put a layer down every day and dump the box every night. No scooping, no mess.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:19 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: roomthreeseventeen: "This isn't exactly an answer to your questions, but you should consider Yesterday's News or some other non-clumping litter. We put a layer down every day and dump the box every night. No scooping, no mess."

How's that work around 5PM? House a little whiffy? or all good?
posted by boo_radley at 11:23 AM on January 8, 2015

Having had a Litter Maid that didn't work for me since Princess liked to pee in the corner next to the rakes and when they moved it messed up the box. I now have a Litter Robot and it's the absolute best thing ever. One cat, remove the garbage bag every other week, refill litter and done. It's EXPENSIVE but works really well. Keep an eye on Craigslist, a used one occasionally pops up. The litter robot customer service is also really really good. If they are litter flinger I recommend getting the lip and the little door.
posted by Ferrari328 at 11:26 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a friend with 5 cats and several Litter Robots and he swears by them.
posted by radioamy at 11:32 AM on January 8, 2015

I have a ScoopFree automated litterbox, and use the Forever Tray instead of the SF's disposable litter tray's (which are pricey). It uses crystal litter.

Pluses - it definitely cuts down on necessary cleaning/emptying frequency. The rake works great at scooping solid material under the hooded compartment, and the crystal litter is pretty good at solidifying "soft" solids quickly and absorbing liquid odors. An occasional stir of the litter definitely helps, and I scoop out the compartment every couple of days instead of daily. I change the litter about every 2 weeks (they claim it can go longer, but after 2 weeks it's starting to get iffy).

As far as spraying litter around the room - the hood (I have the Ultra) definitely helps, and it's better than an open, traditional litterbox, but I have yet to find a solution that completely prevents this guy from tracking litter out of the box and around the room. No combination of litter or litterbox has been great, although this one works better than most.

I've always been intrigued by the Robot that Ferrari328 mentions, but always cringe at the price (even the ScoopFree price tag was hard to swallow, but I've found it worth it).
posted by Roommate at 11:34 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I had two Litter-Maid automated litter boxes. I recommend against them. I threw the first one away when it broke and eventually gave the second one away to a cat charity.

In my experience the moveable rake would either (1) get stuck on a pee clump and return to a stowed position or (2) fling poop out of the box rather than scoop it into the hopper.

I returned to conventional litter boxes. Someday I am going to invent the ultimate littler scoop and render automated litter boxes obsolete.
posted by Rob Rockets at 11:37 AM on January 8, 2015

I want to second the Litter-Robot - I'm on my second one, (the first is with the ex), and they are nothing short of amazing. They use plain clumping litter, and with one cat a bag will last about forever, or many months.

They dispose of the waste into the waste receptacle that you empty once a week, plop a new waste bag in, (even a grocery bag works), and that's it.

There is very little smell, almost no mess and they are as close to magic as one gets. There are lots of reviews on Amazon. Cats love them as they are always clean, smell good, and out of five cats that I've lived with, not one was not an avid user with no prompting.
posted by tatiana131 at 11:47 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you want to try something affordable first, that isn't robotic or automatic, please check out the Breeze system.

It's super easy to use, and there's no cat pee smell.

The Breeze uses pellets that sit on a sieve. So the cat pees, it goes through the pellets into an odor locking pee-pad. Poop sits on top of the pellets and you scoop it up daily. If you keep a Cat Genie right by the box, you can easily scoop and dump.

There aren't tons of pee clumps in the box and the cats can deal with a turd or two before protesting. They really like the pellets, and they don't get tracked all over the house. That's not to say that you won't occasionally step on one, but they're easy to see and sweep up. (But OUCH!)

So much easier!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:48 AM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

I found that cleaning the litter box got a thousand times easier and faster when I switched from a plastic to a metal scooper. I also have 2 litter boxes and cleaning them takes literally 2 minutes, max.
posted by Librarypt at 11:49 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've never had luck with the automatic boxes—the rakes and moving parts get very hard to clean. But I love this middle-ground product—the Tidy Cats Breeze. It includes a slotted tray—the urine funnels down into an absorbent (diaper-like) pad. The poop stays in the main tray and dries out very quickly. Combined with a Litter Locker poop disposal system, it is very easy to use and much easier to clean than the automatic systems, in my experience.

However, it can be pricey—you need to buy the pellets and the pads (one pad a week for one average cat, pellets refilled once a month)—though the overall system price is cheaper than the automatics.

I like it a lot, especially because I travel often, and it eases the burden of cat cleanup for our housesitters.

posted by soulbarn at 11:50 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

We have a Litter Robot. It's awesome if you have the space (it is yooooge) and if your cat is willing to go in there. One of our cats adopted it quickly; the other occasionally uses it but prefers the regular old box. (We're considering experimenting with using only the Litter Robot in the near future, but who knows how that'll work out.)

It is ridiculously easy to clean. It does not completely prevent our cat being a jerk and occasionally kicking litter particles out of the box, but the lip accessory thingy would probably mitigate that somewhat.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:54 AM on January 8, 2015

I had and loved a Litter Robot, but fair warning, it wasn't a good long-term solution for my cat (20 pounds, huge and leggy) - he was just TOO BIG for it. He made these huge big pee clumps that clogged up the works, plus he sometimes would think he was inside when he really wasn't.

I have often thought that the LR would have been PERFECT for my previous cat, a petite 7-pounder who made dainty little pees.

My current monster now has a homemade litter box that I made by cutting a hole into the side of one of those huge plastic storage tubs, and FINALLY he won't pee over the side by mistake. I still miss the ease of the LR scoop process, though.
posted by oblique red at 11:55 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had an early version of the CatGenie box. Love love loved it!!

It hooks up to your toilet, washes and dries the non-dissolving crystals. Everything automatic. I can say enough good about it.

I no longer own this. I now also scoop after they go, and dump the box daily. I use the pine wood pellet type littler. My trick? I buy 40 lbs bags of horse stall litter (exactly the same product as pine cat litter) for $6 to $8.
posted by jbenben at 11:55 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

How's that work around 5PM? House a little whiffy? or all good?

It's fine. (We have two cats)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:59 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm in a 660 square foot apartment with one feline poop cannon.

We use the Omega Paw rollaway. It is not automated but is much nicer than stoop and scoop over an open litter box.

It doesn't solve the litter trail problem or really control odor much more than any other closed box but it is very easy to clean out regularly enough to easily keep things under control.
posted by srboisvert at 12:14 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

We also have the omega paw rollaway. It is awesome and cheap.
posted by bartonlong at 12:23 PM on January 8, 2015

On the previous advice of other MeFites, I too got a Litter Robot. Given that they last for years, I can amortize the cost over a long time.

I love it for the time savings and ease of use. It took my two cats a couple weeks to move over to using it exclusively. They didn't really care for the step and for a while I had boxes around it as a platform, while I simultaneously made their normal boxes less pleasant to use. I get some litter around it, but the door lip helps contain most of it.

A couple reasons why I love it and wish I'd gotten it years ago:
1) No special liquids, litters, etc. Use any regular clumping cat litter (and start off with the same kind you already use).
2) All the mechanical bits are KEPT SEPARATE from the litter and pee/poo. It won't gunk up rakes/etc or trash the mechanism.
3) Emptying it once a week or so (two cats)
4) It's a really slick piece of engineering

I had the Omega Paw (large size) and my two made it horribly gummy, and it missed smaller clumps. I still had to interact with it every day, sometimes multiple times.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:39 PM on January 8, 2015

Response by poster: bookdragoness: "
I had the Omega Paw (large size) and my two made it horribly gummy, and it missed smaller clumps. I still had to interact with it every day, sometimes multiple times.

posted by boo_radley at 12:55 PM on January 8, 2015

I LOVE pine litter. Urine will slowly turn the pellets into sawdust. Solids can go down the toilet (non-clumping!). It does odour better than Yesterday's News, in my opinion. While some cats need to be transitioned into the new texture (my cats prefer clay or World's Best) you will also have to teach your cats not to be scared of any robotic action too.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:40 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Scoopfree. I've had one for three year now, and cat litter consumes roughly five minutes of my attention every 2-3 weeks.
posted by Hatashran at 5:35 PM on January 8, 2015

Gummy like gummed-up with semi-solids. The idea is you roll the Omega Paw box all the way right and everything falls over then rolling it back left/flat and the "pristine" litter drains away and you pull open a drawer to remove the clumps. Unfortunately, the drawer never fit quite right and smaller pee clumps filled some sort of gap where they didn't fall into the drawer nor back into the main litter area.

Over time (a month), most of the grate portions filled with semi-solid small clumps and it was a horror to clean out. I was using Fresh Step clumping litter and this was one of three boxes for two cats, too. Not sure where it went wrong and I'm glad it's working for other people, but I gave it away and will never recommend it.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:48 PM on January 8, 2015

This is what I said back in July about the LR and I still stand by every word.

"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."
posted by elsietheeel at 8:43 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just got back from a two-week holiday stay with my folks where I brought my cats. Just have a regular litterbox at their place for the kitties and I missed my LitterRobot SO MUCH. It is the best. I never have to deal with their waste other than taking out the bag once a week, as compared to what felt like endless scooping and sweeping up scattered litter at my parents place
posted by raw sugar at 9:53 PM on January 8, 2015

Over time (a month), most of the grate portions filled with semi-solid small clumps and it was a horror to clean out. I was using Fresh Step clumping litter and this was one of three boxes for two cats, too. Not sure where it went wrong and I'm glad it's working for other people, but I gave it away and will never recommend it.

We don't have this problem at all so either we roll differently or the difference is in the litter (we use Worlds Best Multi-cat). The only trick I have developed with the omega paw is that I have to bang the bottom of the box as sometimes the pee soaked litter sticks to the bottom and needs a whack to be dislodged. Or maybe it is due to you having two cats

An important caveat is that I work from home most of the time so I am pretty much on-top of the litter situation all the time. It never sits for very long after a poop otherwise our tiny apartment would reek.
posted by srboisvert at 6:07 AM on January 9, 2015

srboisvert: We don't have this problem at all... I am pretty much on-top of the litter situation all the time.

That's probably the largest difference. I commute to work and have never dealt with litter multiple times daily. When we had the Omega Paw, I would roll it once a day or so. My cats had three boxes - one was for pee, one was for poo, and the Omega Paw got both jobs in some proportion that left a gummy mess. Additionally, this was in Virginia where it was more humid than where I'd lived before, so clumps stayed damp longer. Under these usage conditions, it does not perform well.

The hands-off approach is, therefore, a major part of why I love the Litter Robot since it runs automatically 7 minutes after every box use without interaction from me. Yay - more time for petting-kitty interactions in my limited home-time!
posted by bookdragoness at 6:46 AM on January 9, 2015

I just ordered the CatGenie that jbenben mentioned above. This is not the trash can thing that is just a repurposed DiaperGenie. This is an automated poop scooper and flusher with reusable granules instead of litter, that the machine washes itself! You never ever have to do litter again. Earlier versions had some problems, so if you read poor reviews on Amazon, notice that more recent reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

If that didn't sound like the best thing since sliced bread with Nutella, then I'd totally go with jbenben's other suggestion of horse stall litter and just dump the whole thing every day.

I wish I could give jbenben's answer 10 favorites.
posted by ellenaim at 6:59 AM on January 9, 2015

Because you've gotten a lot of great reviews for the LitterRobot, I feel compelled to tell you about the dark side.

I got one because we had 3 cats, and one of them is a princess with litterbox issues who I thought would do better if it was only cleaner. She was, of course, the one of the 3 that absolutely refused to use it at all, ever.

The boys would use it, and just the two of them would cause the containment part on the bottom to get so full, so fast (or alternately, a clump wouldn't fall all the way into the bottom part and get hung up somewhere) so when the top part spun around the next time, it would smear shit and wet litter aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way around the top part.

I wanted to love it. Hell, I spent something like $350 on it. Ended up leaving it by the curb when we moved, and hated it with a fiery passion by then. Now I'm back to scooping open boxes because one of the boys has developed kidney issues and pees like a horse, but for a short time we just had the princess and she and I both were very happy with the Omega paw.
posted by kattyann at 1:42 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Based on multiple AskMe recs, we switched to Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat litter and are very happy with it. Our litterbox tends to go a bit too long between scoopings (*glares at spouse, whose job it is to scoop it*), but the Dr. Elsey's keeps it pretty non-stinky.

(Also, we find that feeding our cats a raw diet results in an almost odor-free litterbox. I can always tell when the spouse has flaked on getting more of the frozen raw food we use and has tried to slip canned food in, due to the litterbox stench.)
posted by Lexica at 6:10 PM on January 10, 2015

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