Sick and tired of scooping? A self-cleaning automatic litterbox sounds tempting? After all, why not focus on petting and playing with your cat and forget about the smelly daily chores of the litterbox, right? If only life were that simple.
Yes, an automatic litterbox can improve your quality of life and that of your cat as well, but it's important to figure out what you're looking for and find the model that best works for you. Otherwise, you may find out the hard way that it's not worth the investment. Let us walk you through the ins and outs of finding the right automatic litterbox for your needs.
What's an automatic litterbox?
Simply put, an automatic litterbox cleans the litter on its own, so you don't have to. When properly set up, it can operate on its own for days and sometimes weeks, keeping the litter free of feces and urine clumps.
Why would you even need an automatic litterbox?
Cat owners may buy one for a variety of reasons -
- Health issues may make caring for the litterbox very difficult or even impossible.
- Owners who travel frequently may have an easier time finding a good cat sitter if there are no litterbox chores involved.
- Some cats refuse to go in the box unless it's cleaned after each and every use. An automatic litterbox can solve the problem by scooping every time Kitty leaves the box - whether you're at home or not.
- Let's face it, scooping litter isn't much fun. Why deal with smelly lumps of poo and pee if you can get someone - or something - else to do that for you?
Will an automatic litterbox save you time?
Probably so. However, you should keep your expectations realistic. Manufacturers of automatic self-cleaning litterboxes may want you to think that getting one will spare you from ever again having to deal with litter or feline waste. The truth is, it won't. While automatic boxes can indeed greatly reduce and even eliminate daily scooping chores, you will still need to clean the box itself, add litter and possibly get rid of the waste - depending on the type of box.
Automatic boxes can break down too. Judging by the reviews on various brands, this is not a rare occurrence. Take a motor with numerous moving parts and add cat litter... Not the best possible combination out there. If your self-cleaning litterbox does break down, you may have to spend even more time - and possibly money - on getting it fixed.
Will your cat even use it?
That's an excellent question. While most cats do use their automated toilets, some refuse to. If your cat is particularly skittish, the cleaning cycle may deter him or her from entering the box.
Never simply switch an existing working litterbox for an automatic one right away. In fact, never do that with any new box. If your cat regularly uses his or her box, keep it for the duration of the transition. If you do buy one of the automatic litterboxes listed here, carefully follow the instructions provided on easing the transition to the new box.
What to look for when choosing an automatic litterbox?
Cat owners can choose between several types of self-cleaning litterboxes. These boxes vary in size, shape, mechanism of litter sifting and of course, price. We've prepared a checklist for you, based on input from our forum members over the years. Consider these points and see if and how they apply to your own situation. Once you know what you're looking for, take the time to read the reviews about each model and see which is the best fit for you.
How large is the automatic litterbox?
The rule of thumb with choosing litterboxes is this: Bigger is better. Cats like to turn comfortably in their litterbox, sniff around, check on things and only then do their business. Most litterboxes are well sized for a regular cat, but if you happen to own a Maine Coon or simply an exceptionally large cat, you may want to look for the largest automatic litterbox you can find.
Is it covered or not?
While some cats do well with a covered box, others may stay away from it. If your current box is covered and your cat seems ok with it, you could try a covered automatic one. However if your cat isn't used to being enclosed while using the box it's safest to stick with a non-covered automatic one or make sure the model you choose is large and well lit.
How much noise does this model make?
Automatic self-cleaning boxes have motors that operate them, so cleaning the box isn't entirely silent. Some cats may find the mechanical sound of the motor alarming. A particularly noisy litterbox is something you may prefer to avoid, especially if the box is placed near your bedroom. Some automatic litterboxes allow you to set the box on sleep mode during the night, so you can sleep at ease.
What triggers the cleaning cycle
Automatic litterboxes usually have a sensor that tells them when the cat has used the box and left it. They then wait for a certain amount of time, to make sure Kitty is done and is not coming back to the box. Some owners prefer to override the sensors and run the box manually, making sure the motor runs only when they're around to supervise. Consider your own preferences and choose accordingly.
What happens to the waste?
Most litterboxes collect clumps and deposit them in a storage chamber. Depending on how often the box is used, you may need to empty the storage container every few days or weeks. If you expect the box to be used extensively, opt for a larger storage chamber.
At least one litterbox - the Cat Genie - literally flushes the waste down the toilet (or your washing machine drain). Most of the other brands suggest using clumping litter so that both feces and urine clumps are scooped out of the litter. That could mean more waste to deal with when you empty the box. If that's an issue, look into the Scoop Free which uses crystal litter granules that soak up urine, leaving you to deal only with feces.
What about odor control?
You may find the idea of an automatic box especially appealing because a clean box does not smell. In that case, you may want to choose the Cat Genie that removes waste from your home right away rather than storing it for you to remove once every few days. Just make sure to read the reviews and hook it up properly to your drainage or you may find yourself dealing with even stronger odors.
If you opt for a litterbox that has a storage chamber, make sure you go with a model that uses good insulation and stick to good quality litter that will absorb the scents and be less icky to deal with several days - or weeks - down the road.
How will you be cleaning the box itself?
You're getting an automatic box because you don't want to clean cat poo, right? Make sure you don't end up having to clean the box instead of the litter. Read up on the cleaning routine of each model and see which one best suits your needs. Some require that you dis-assemble parts to get them cleaned. Others may just be more difficult to clean than others - read the reviews to see what real users report.
Which type of litter can you use?
Most automatic litterboxes allow you to use any kind of clumping litter. The Scoop Free model requires crystal litter, and the Cat Genie has its own special biodegradable plastic litter. If you're considering the Cat Genie, read the reviews to see just how much litter most users actually run through, to get a good assessment of the actual cost.
If you choose a box that works with clumping litter, opt for fast-clumping fine litter. If the litter granules are too big, they're more likely to clog the sifting mechanism or simply be heavier for the motor to rake through. Also, if the litter doesn't clump fast enough, you'll get poop stuck in the rake. Litter that dries faster means less odor too.
What warranty does the manufacturer offer? What are the refund, return and exchange policies?
If you haven't tried that model before, you risk spending hundreds of dollars on a product that your cat will refuse to use. Even if Kitty is ok with the new box, a motorized litterbox is more likely to break down than a regular plastic box (duh! right?) Before placing your order, carefully review the company's policy regarding returns, exchanges and refunds, including the cost of shipping back the product.
Finally - how much will it cost?
Prices run between $100 and just over $500. That's quite an investment, which is why you need to make an informed choice. Consider not just the cost of the box itself but also of special litter, bags and cleaning solutions that you may have to buy on a regular basis.
So, which automatic litterbox should you choose?
Now that we've covered all the important questions, let's take a look at the leading brands. These links will take you to the Amazon product page where you can dive right into the reviews and see what cat owners just like you think. We also have links to our own reviews section where you can leave a review right here on TheCatSite.com.
Littermaid offered one of the first models of automatic litterboxes on the market and their newer models are still very popular today. This rectangular open box uses a metal rake to scoop clumps and place them in a special drawer. The Littermaid has a sensor which takes note when Kitty is in the box. Once the cat is out, the Littermaid waits for 10 minutes and then begins the raking process.
You can use any kind of clumping litter with the Littermaid and while some assembly is required, it's not very difficult to set up.
Click here to see this the Littermaid on Amazon
The Smart Scoop by Pet Zone follows the traditional concept of a rectangular litterbox serviced by a rake that sifts the litter 15 minutes after Kitty leaves the box.
The manufacturer claims that the box is much quieter than the competition but don't expect total silence (at least, according to the reviewers).
You can use any type of clumping litter with the Smart Scoop. As for the "poop storage" unit, six bags are provided by the company along with the box but owners say used grocery plastic bags work just as well.
Read reviews on Amazon and order your own
This sphere-shaped litterbox cleans itself by slowly turning around and sifting the litter, depositing clumps in a special drawer.
You can line that drawer with your own choice of bags and just empty it as needed. With the Litter Robot, there is no need to buy special bags or litter. You can use any clumping litter so if your cat is already used to a favorite type, there's no need to switch.
The Litter Robot III is the newest model and the largest one (and extra room is always a good thing when it comes to litterboxes).
With the ScoopFree automatic litterbox, you don't even have to see or touch the waste in order to remove it. This box rakes the litter and deposits the clumps in a special tray. You then cover the tray while it's still inside the machine, pulling it out to be placed in the trash. The ScoopFree uses crystal litter which soaks up the urine rather than forming clumps. This allows the ScoopFree litterbox to run automatically for several weeks before the tray needs changing.
The newer ScoopFree Ultra model offers better control of the cleaning schedule. You can set it to rake the box 5, 10 or even 20 minutes after Kitty leaves the box. It also has a special sensor that counts the number of times your cat has used the box, allowing you to monitor changes which could indicate a health problem. The Ultra model also offers a hood which you can take off if Kitty prefers an open box.
Read reviews on Amazon and order your own
Petsafe offers an innovative concept with the Simply Clean automatic litterbox: It never stops cleaning itself.
This round box constantly turns around, allowing the rake to pick up any clumps in the litter. You can use any clumping litter you and your cat are happy with.
Reviewers love the result but apparently, the motor can't always keep up with the task of 24/7 raking and tends to break down. It's relatively cheap and easy to replace though and with a year's warranty that doesn't seem to be an issue for many cat owners. Some owners of this model say that they use a timer on the outlet to make the motor work only during specific times during the day, as a way to make it last longer.
The Cat Genie looks a lot like a toilet and functions like one too, using water to flush away the litter. The cleaning cycle includes several phases. First, the Cat Genie scoops the litter for solids which are then liquefied. Next, the entire bowl of plastic pellets is thoroughly washed using a pet-friendly sanitizing solution. Finally, the Cat Genie uses warm air to dry the litter so that it's clean and ready to be used again.
Where does waste get flushed to? Wherever you choose. Owners can install the unit in various ways, connecting it into the washing machine's drain or simply placing it right under the toilet seat. And yes, the latter requires you to actually flush your toilet after each cleaning cycle.
The Cat Genie can be set to operate either each time your cat uses it or at regular intervals four times a day. There is also a manual operation option if you want to be the one pushing the button.
So, which of these automatic litterboxes should you choose?
Take the time to weigh the decision. Each of these models has its own advantages and disadvantages and price is a consideration too. Remember that it's your cat's decision even more than your own. Since you can't show Kitty this article and ask for his or her opinion ahead of time, make sure you can return the litterbox if needed.
As always, join us in the cat forums where thousands of cat lovers like you share their experiences with everything related to cat care. Don't forget to share this article with your cat-loving friends too, so they too can make an informed decision about the right automatic litterbox!
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