Sharing your home with a feline or two can be a really fulfilling experience for a cat owner. (Okay, we can never truly “own” cats; they own us, but you know what we mean.) They’re soft, cute, cuddly when they want to be, and they also make for amazing internet content.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. If there’s one thing that universally every cat owner knows to be true, it’s that the incessant scooping and cleaning of the cat litter box just plain sucks. This unpleasant and smelly task often takes more time and effort than we want it to. And if you happen to get a little lazy — even for a moment — your cat will absolutely not let that slide. At best, they’ll whine and cry until you scoop out those smelly nuggets for them. But the worst-case scenario? They just might decide to “thank” you by going outside their litter box, leaving you with not one, but two messes to clean up.
Thankfully, automatic cat litter boxes exist to help take some of the work out of looking after your cat.
How do automatic litter boxes work?
The best automatic litter boxes can detect when your cat has soiled the litter and then takes that opportunity to rake the waste into a separate compartment. You won’t have to individually scoop out each clump as you would with a traditional litter box; you just need to empty out the waste bin on a regular basis. It’s basically like the cat poop equivalent of a robot vacuum with a self-emptying base: While you don’t have to clean anything each and every time it runs, you do have to eventually empty the base when it’s full. Overall, it saves you time and energy on a task that literally no one ever looks forward to, so that’s a major win if you ask us.
Is an automatic litter box a good choice for all cats?
Ensuring that your cat has a clean litter box every time it needs to relieve itself can help your cat actually go in its box instead of on the floor. So, an automatic cat litter box is a particularly great investment for finicky cats that need a pristine environment every time they go.
However, it should be noted that most automatic litter boxes are meant for adult cats and are therefore not suitable for kittens less than five pounds. This is because self-cleaning litter boxes tend to have built-in weight sensors that stop the automatic poop-scooping from occurring while a cat is doing its business. Little kittens are just too lightweight to use these automatic litter boxes safely, so it’s best to wait until they’re a bit older to make the switch.
What kind of kitty litter is best?
Be sure to read up on the specifics of what each litter box maker suggests, but the main thing you want to look for is clumping kitty litter. Not only is this going to make things way easier for your self-cleaning litter box to detect and remove the waste, but non-clumping varieties will make it harder for the sensors to find (and thus dispose of) all that unwanted stuff.
Do automatic litter boxes actually work?
Yes, they really do. Not only does an automatic litter box do the scooping for you, it also keeps odor at bay. You’ll no longer have cat poop and pee just sitting out in the open in your house. It’ll be swept into a sealed chamber to help repress the smell.
Be aware, though, a lot of self-cleaning litter boxes are enclosed, which not every cat will like. If your cat doesn’t regularly like a covered box, opt for one that’s open. Automatic litter boxes also make noise while they’re cleaning themselves, which could scare timid cats. There are quieter options out there for cats who get spooked easily.
How to train your cat to use an automatic litter box
Understandably, your cat may be a little scared of their new electric-powered, self-cleaning litter box. I mean, you would be too if some weird robot started swirling around your toilet every time you did your business. (Seriously, who among us hasn’t been startled by one of those super-loud, automatic-flushing public restroom toilets?)
The good news is that it’s pretty easy to get your cat adjusted to their new potty-time pal. While it’s easiest to train younger cats, older cats can be quite adaptable as well, especially when you know the right steps to take:
Set up the automatic cat litter box next to the traditional litter box that your cat has been using, but do not plug it in just yet as the sound and motion of the cleaning cycle may scare your cat away. If it comes with a cover, leave it off until your cat becomes acclimated.
If the self-cleaning litter box allows for it, fill it with the same type of clean litter that your cat is already accustomed to. If the automatic litter box requires a different type of litter, try sprinkling some of the new stuff on top of the old litter in the traditional litter box to ease the transition.
Keep the two litter boxes side-by-side for at least a week to allow your cat to adjust to the change. During this period, you may choose to place some soiled litter with your cat’s waste in the automatic litter box to help your cat understand that’s where they should do their business, or add a bit of catnip or litter box attractant to lure them to the new cat box.
After your cat has begun using the new box, turn it on and let it begin its cleaning cycle — but only while your cat is at a distance and has you nearby for calming reassurance. And definitely give your cat some much-deserved praise and their favorite treat each time you see them successfully using the new cat box.
Keep an eye on your cat to make sure that they’re using the automatic litter box regularly. If they continue to use the old box, don’t scoop the cat waste from the dirty litter. This should discourage them from using the old, soiled litter box and coax them toward the fresh and clean litter in the new one.
The process could take a few weeks or more, so don’t get discouraged if it’s taking a while for your cat to adjust. With your encouragement, reassurance, and patience, they should get there eventually.
What are the benefits of using a self-cleaning litter box?
Well, it’s right there in the name, isn’t it? It’s self-cleaning, meaning you don’t have to hunch over the litter box and tediously sift through dusty kitty litter, mining for chunks of your furry little loved one’s solid waste product. It is, hands down, the worst household chore, but an automatic cat litter box essentially eliminates it from your daily to-do list. That’s pretty priceless right there.
An automatic cat litter box is also a great choice if you’re out of the house often. We all know cats are quite self-sufficient creatures, but cleaning their litter box is pretty much the only thing they can’t do for themselves. So whether you’re at work all day or you like to go away for long weekends, your kitties will be much happier with a self-cleaning litter box that can take care of that task for them. (Pair it with an automatic cat feeder and they just might forget you even exist!)
But aside from the convenience, a self-cleaning litter box is also a really hygienic choice for all the humans and animals in your household. Let’s face it: even the world’s best cat litter can’t mask every smell when that solid waste is just hanging out in your living room. An automatic cat litter box, however, can help eliminate the lingering stink of number ones, number twos, and that gets-stuck-in-your-nose scent that many cat litters have. Not only is that good news for you (and your houseguests), but a clean box will encourage your cat to use it regularly. And if you also own a dog who likes to go digging for the world’s worst snacks, a self-cleaning litter box will automatically scoop away the temptation before your pup can get to those forbidden nuggets.
Last but not least, some automatic cat litter box models can even save your back — and your wallet, in the long run — from having to haul pounds upon pounds of dusty cat litter into and around your home. While many do allow you to use your cat’s preferred regular litter — whether that’s clay litter or a clumping litter — some are designed to be used with washable granules that rarely need replacement, or odor-neutralizing, dust-free crystal litter that can go as long as an entire month without changing.
With all of that in mind, here are our top picks to help you find the best automatic litter box for you and your cat in 2022.