Improve my cat's litter box experience (and my own...)
February 23, 2017 10:40 PM   Subscribe

I've read such glowing reviews that I'm considering getting a Litter Robot, but I thought I'd ask the experts here whether they think my particular problem with my cat's litter box methodology will be solved by it before shelling out nearly AUD$900.

First, obligatory cat picture of my beautiful Ski.

She's a big cat (about 7kg/15lbs) and generally just walks up to the litter box, steps in, squats slightly and leaves her deposit. The problem is, she regularly leaves her bottom hanging over the edge of the litter box and thus her deposits are actually outside the box. This is not ideal for either of us.

I suspect that with the Litter Robot she will probably go in and turn around and thus our (my) problem will be solved, but is there anyone out there who can offer some real life experience here?

Alternatively, any thoughts on how to get her to move further into the box before doing her business? She has a large box around 37x32x19cm (lxwxd, 14.5x12.5x7.5") and she does have to step up and over to get in. She is obviously unimpressed with the mess around her box, but unfortunately doesn't understand how to solve it.
posted by eloeth-starr to Pets & Animals (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can't speak to the automated box, but you can purchase top-entry boxes or high-sided boxes that would help with the issue. We switched to top-entry because our dog likes to snack after the cats, and it's worked well.
posted by Nyx at 11:04 PM on February 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I have a LR2 and while I love it, it is a bit cramped inside and there have been some accidental misses from my biggest cat (17#) who prefers to use it with her butt hanging out of the opening. Everyone else turns around to face out while doing their business. My LR does not have the bubble window nor is it the bigger open air one they just came out with.

TBH, the box dimensions of yours sounds small. Try subbing in a plastic storage bin, I use a ~66 liter one as a litterbox. The high sides means zero poop and very little litter gets out.
posted by jamaro at 11:12 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Our litter box is bigger than yours: it's a 600x380x220mm storage container, filled to a depth of about 120mm with a wood pulp based clumping litter. That's deep enough that the clumping works almost perfectly almost all the time, so we only ever have to scoop out clumps and turds and occasionally top up with new litter; it never even gets close to smelling bad so we never have to change out a complete fill.

I made a 300mm tall surrounding fence out of corflute sheet, with retaining tabs cut to fit down through the stacking slots in the box's rim.

The fence doesn't completely surround the box; there's a doorway gap about 180mm wide in the middle of one of the long sides. Puss doesn't like having his face end up right next to a wall after climbing in, so he always turns himself to line up with the length of the box, which means his arse always ends up completely inside it. He's also a rather enthusiastic digger-in, and the fence retains all the litter he flicks up while he's doing that.
posted by flabdablet at 11:14 PM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your "large box" would be considered tiny in my house. I went to IKEA and bought the biggest damn plastic storage container they had, and cut a doorway in it. It's at least 36 inches long, and probably 24 inches wide by about 24 inches tall.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:46 AM on February 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is it a covered box? We've used several different styles of boxes over the years: older version of the litter robot, scoop free, standard, and a roll over one. One of our cats, 10 lb, will occasionally* go outside like yours with uncovered boxes. Put a cover on the same box and the problem goes away.

We liked the litter robot, but didn't have room after moving to a smaller apartment. My sister took it, but her cats were terrified of it.

* Shortly after getting a cover back on the box, we discovered the cat had a bladder stones. I'm not sure if the problem started because of some general discomfort or if the timing is coincidental, but something to keep an eye out for just in case.
posted by ghost phoneme at 4:50 AM on February 24, 2017

Definitely see if a bigger box works before spending all that money. I have a cat like this and these litter boxes work for us even without the lid on.
posted by something something at 6:07 AM on February 24, 2017

Here's an image search for storage bin litter box with lots of ideas and variations.

I went this route with an older cat who would step into her covered box but pee out the entrance, or high up on the sides, which would run out of the seam between the cover and bottom of the box. My first version was something like this one, with a door cut into it but she still peed out the door. The final version was an unmodified clear bin like this because she was still spry enough to hop in and out.

No more pee problems, and no more kicking litter out the door problems.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:29 AM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Try a bigger box with higher sides first. All my litter boxes are homemade. I cut the holes by heating up a utility knife over the stove (please be careful). I also don't use the lids, but how your cat will respond to the lid will depend on the cat and the height of the box. Giant storage-tub boxes have solved all my hanging-butt problems (this can be an issue with kittens too).
posted by Anonymous at 6:29 AM on February 24, 2017

We have a Litter Robot, and at least one of our dingus cats poops in it facing the back wall, with his tail sticking out the entrance. So you're not guaranteed the spacecat-looking-out-the-portal picture, but we've had no misses, at least.

Pre-robot we had the same giant corner litter box that something something links to above, to help control our dingus cat's urge to kick litter out the sides and roll around in it. It's huge and even without the lid the sides are nice and high.

The Litter Robot takes up a good bit of space for not a lot of pooping room, so try a plain big box first.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:44 AM on February 24, 2017

You could try a top-entry litter box. I've owed the CleverCat model and really liked it - had to get a different one when my one cat became a tripod (he was still game but it seemed like it was harder for him).

ModKat makes a top-entry box also, but I have the Flip which is a little deeper than some boxes in terms of where the entry is and might stop the cat from crouching right at the entrance.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:44 AM on February 24, 2017

Agreed your litter box is small-ish. We cut an front entry way in storage bins for our cats' literboxes. Our smallest boxes are 15.2" wide and 18.3" deep (fit's a bathroom cabinet with the door removed). Our large boxes are something like 20" wide and 27" long. Our 22lb ex-tomcat can comfortably turn around. Also great is the sides are 12+ inches high; with the 7 inch high walls of our original boxes and 2" of litter, our ex-tom would often pee over the edge hitting the wall behind that.

The only problem with the storage containers vs. standard liter boxes is the bottom usually is curved with annoying lips. You definitely don't want to run "low" on your litter (or use that crappy s'wheat stuff), or the lip fills with the clumped liter that's hard to scoop out.
posted by nobeagle at 6:51 AM on February 24, 2017

We use a Rubbermaid storage bin for a litter box, and it's been a great success. We used to have a covered box, and it was a smelly, messy horror. Cats are, of course, finicky, and yours may not enjoy being in a closed space when doing their thing, and it doesn't guarantee your cat will not still do the half-in/half-out routine.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:38 AM on February 24, 2017

Ditto the experience with the LR being too small for bigger cats. Our old 17#er was not able to use it. She tried a couple of times, but was unhappy with it.
posted by bonehead at 7:38 AM on February 24, 2017

My issue with the Litter Robot is that it never really covers the waste disposal area. There is always a gap, semi-filled with bristles, between the receptacle and the sphere. So on one hand the clumps are pretty much scooped immediately, but on the other hand it smells more than our sifting box that we clean 1-2x a day. We junked the Litter Robot.
posted by wnissen at 8:39 AM on February 24, 2017

Response by poster: Very interesting suggestions from people, thanks!

I hadn't realised my litter box wouldn't be considered large - it's pretty big compared to the ones I've seen at other people's places and in pet stores.

I like the idea of the top entry boxes, although I'm concerned that her arthritis might make it more difficult for her in future. I also have the same reservation about these as I do with the litter robot and any other enclosed litter tray - I'm not convinced that she'll actually be willing to go inside. She might surprise me, although better to try with a cheap version first :D

The flip lid looks like a viable option and some of the homemade ones look really good - there was a covered on with entry/exit holes side by side on the long edge of the box - I think that might be a good option. Also one with the litter box inside a larger box. I truly hadn't realised there was such a variety of options! And I'm rather enthused about the DIY option right now.

An extra question - it looks like a lot of people don't use liners for their litter trays. Is this really a thing? I would have thought the pee would seep into the plastic and make it smell bad even when clean.
posted by eloeth-starr at 11:45 AM on February 24, 2017

Regarding liners: I can't bear the idea of throwing away that much plastic, so I've basically always just used litter directly in the box (also when I was a kid I had a digger and though Mom used liners, they were useless as the cat would shred them), and as long as I scoop regularly I get no smell, and certainly none once everything is scooped. If the plastic gets scratched up enough after a few years to make it hard to clean, I go get a new box.

Many years ago I only used clay litter and that would get smellier, but with clumping litter life is good. Some day I might try all the fancy pine shavings litters or whatever, but so far I am cheap.
posted by clone boulevard at 12:53 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've never had an issue with pee smell, and I've used a wide variety of storage tubs (usually the cheapest available). I wash my boxes with cleaning solutions that contain bleach when I change the litter though, perhaps that helps? I usually do this about once every 4-5 weeks.
posted by Anonymous at 2:56 PM on February 24, 2017

We use disposable trays made out of paper pulp. To control mess, we put it down on an extra-large puppy pee mat. We scoop daily, but when it gets too stinky, every two-three weeks, the whole thing can go in a brown bag and out with the compostable waste as part of our municipal green bin program.

Not the cheapest answer, but it seems to work ok, and the boys, who are quite picky about the state of the their box, seem happy with it. And it's not going to landfill, but to soil.
posted by bonehead at 3:17 PM on February 24, 2017

I don't use liners because my vigorous diggers claw holes through them. When I'm doing a whole bin cleaning, I use liquid dish detergent* and water: no undesirable scents after.

*I once inadvertently gassed myself by applying bleach to an ammonia-heavy cat cleanup situation, an experience I'm not eager to repeat.
posted by jamaro at 3:34 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

We have a kitty who is unaware of how large her back end is and doesn't bury, too. Not cute. N'thing the DIY storage box solution. Make the litterbox with the lid side up so you can try it covered or uncovered. Start with a high barrier to get into the box so kitty learns to "jump" over it into the box. You can lower it over time so it's easier re: arthritis. Just get kitty into the habit of landing and using the box somewhere other than right near the entrance. They are creatures of habit.

Gigantic is the correct size for litterboxes, according to cats. With the storage boxes, we just use clump & seal litter scooped 2x day, changed weekly, and scrub out the whole box every few weeks. Replacing the whole box every 6 months is a good practice if your cats have claws and scratch the bottom of box. The etches into the plastic can trap bacteria and other yuck that is difficult to erradicate.

I should add that we have not tried a litter robot with this kitty because of her size. She is 12 pounds of pure furry love, and the chance of her turning around on cue seemed slim. Also $$$.
posted by Kalatraz at 4:31 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really like the big transparent tubs. Seems like my cats are happy with slightly more light. I have a large open top cardboard box that the tub sets in, and there is a piece of scrap carpet in the box. The cat exits the litter box and turns left to the 'door' cut into the side of the cardboard box. Between the 5 inch 'hop' out of the litter box, the carpet to wipe feet on, and the other 'hop' to get out of the box, almost all the litter is cleaned off their feet. But even with the 90 degree turn, I have one cat that can manage to dig a whole to China and get litter onto the garage floor.

posted by BlueHorse at 6:06 PM on February 24, 2017

One of my cats developed this Moon Pee(ks)* issue about a year ago and I replaced the litter box with a storage container tall enough to allow them to fully stand inside, and wide enough to provide a big tunnel to the side opposite the entrance. I use a 30 gallon / 114 L container (the largest cheap one I could find) to provide a spacious walk-in toilet. The dimensions are 32 3/8" L x 19 3/4" W x 17 1/8" H (or 82.2cm L x 50.2cm W x 43.5cm H). I cut a large front entrance (on the narrow side) to allow them to enter easily, with a tall enough bottom lip to prevent much loose litter from escaping, but low enough to hopefully address any possible old age issues. (My cats are seniors anyway.)

The type of litter may make a difference in odour -- I started using the corncob litter several years ago in lieu of clay or other alternatives. In Canada, I get the PC Green corncob litter. When the cats were briefly In the US, I got the equivalent by the brand Fresh Results. (It's the only litter they're willing to "go" in. Damn kitties.) The soiled litter is removed once if not twice a day; our cats appreciate a clean box, so we do our best to encourage them to go inside the box. Haven't had any problems since getting this enormous storage container.

I have never used litter pan liners for my cats, but I have lived with a roommate's cat that used liners, and maybe it was the type of litter (wheat rods -- the kind that look like rabbit kibble) used, but urine would always pool at the bottom of the liner. And if the cat dug, there'd be a pool both above and below the liner.

*Moon Pee(ks), the fourth album by Human Power
posted by mayurasana at 7:37 PM on February 24, 2017

My cats shred plastic liners, but have done well with newspaper liners. We have a large box and an unfolded section of the daily paper works well. You need a little heft to the section so the cats don't catch a single sheet and pull it up into the litter. Six to eight sheets works perfectly. It does become saturated with pee, but the box is much easier to clean and I've never noticed a lingering embedded odor. FWIW I use old fashioned non-clumping litter because my cats freaked at the clumping variety.
posted by citygirl at 8:44 AM on February 25, 2017

Nthing Squeak Attack - we use the same type of plastic storage bin, and one even longer when we still had our dearly departed Bengal cat who was very tall.
posted by getawaysticks at 12:58 PM on February 25, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks to all your inspiration, Ski has a new litter box. It has received the deposit of approval, so I'll see how we go :)

There were so many good answers that I don't think I can pick a best answer, so thank you all!
posted by eloeth-starr at 2:17 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

it looks like a lot of people don't use liners for their litter trays. Is this really a thing? I would have thought the pee would seep into the plastic and make it smell bad even when clean.

The main reason I use the wood-pulp-based clumping litter I linked above is that even quite a thin layer of dry wood pulp does a really excellent job of absorbing ammonia, the main stinky chemical produced as cat urine breaks down. The actual clumping agent in that litter appears to be bentonite - the same clay that ordinary clumping litter is completely made of. I'm guessing that the Catlux litter is about 80% pulp, 20% bentonite by volume. For odor control, it's streets ahead of straight bentonite or silica gel litters.

Box maintenance consists entirely of using a mesh scoop to remove turds and clumps, and throwing in another bag of litter when the post-scooping depth drops below four inches. I do this every other day. The storage bin we're using for a litter box has a nice flat bottom, and the litter scoop does a good job of scraping off any clump deep enough to hit bottom. I never wash the box out because it just doesn't need it.

The only time that our huge litter box has got a bit whiffy is when I was away for a couple of weeks and left it to the tender mercies of little ms. flabdablet, nominally the cat's "owner"; she proceeded to ignore it entirely (apparently litter boxes are "gross"). When I got back, about half the litter in the box had formed into three massive wet clumps and the bathroom was a little pee-yew. After a mammoth scoop-out and a top-up, the stink just disappeared. Gone.
posted by flabdablet at 5:35 AM on February 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

In other words: if the pee wants to seep into the plastic of your litter tray more than it wants to seep into your litter, you're using the wrong litter.
posted by flabdablet at 6:11 AM on February 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Coming to this late, but: we have a Litter Robot Open Air and it does indeed have a much bigger globe than the LR2. No over-the-edge problems yet. The globe has quite a high lip, and a slight tilt backwards, which I think tends to discourage this -- they have to actively step over the lip and into the globe before they can get into a squat.

We had previously used a top-entry Clever Cat box, which worked well to prevent vigorous-scraper Jacqueline from kicking litter out onto the floor.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:44 AM on February 27, 2017

We have just purchased a LitterRobot. Results:

The older cat with bad arthritis in her back (13 yrs, 10 pounds), who also hung her butt over the edge, immediately took to the LitterRobot and uses it with no problems (we bought the ramp/steps attachment to help her get into it).

The younger cat with definite opinions on litter arrangements (8yrs, 13 pounds), who has what the vet calls butt-rise so that he tends to spray the wall behind the box, haaaaaaaates the Litter Robot so much that he has taken to peeing in places carefully chosen for their association with me and my husband (i.e. I was late for work this morning because he peed in my clean laundry basket), even though he still has a traditional litter box sitting next to the robot.

(For those who may be worried about it: his new pattern of going outside the box does not match his usual pattern when he has problems with crystals, and we have a vet visit scheduled to check him out and make sure it's just hate for the robot and nothing else.)
posted by telophase at 2:51 PM on February 27, 2017

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