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What’s Up With Fancy Litter Boxes, Anyhow?

Do cats really need automated, self-cleaning designer boxes? My answer is a resounding no!

JaneA Kelley  |  Jan 9th 2015


Do you know what this crazy punk-rock cat mom with a taste for fun and funky home decor uses for her cats’ toileting needs?

A litter box. A plain and simple open-top litter pan. No plastic liners, no robotic scoopers, no spinning sifters, no gentle watery flush to remove "liquid waste." Just a plain old litter box.

My litter boxes don’t double as pieces of furniture. They weren’t hand crafted by fifth-generation vegan craft-elves in a solar-powered workshop in the middle of the Oregon redwood forests. They don’t look like molded-plastic spacecraft, sofa end tables or miniature Quonset huts. They’re just litter boxes.

Lest you think me d├®class├® and proletarian in my tastes, let me reassure you that I do love high-end furniture. I can watch home decorating shows all day and fantasize about how amazingly I would design my home if I had all the money in the world.

But in this case, form has got to follow function.

“Form must follow function” is a principle of modernist architecture and industrial design; it argues that an item should be designed primarily to accomplish its intended purpose, and aesthetic considerations are pointless if they interfere with an item’s function.

I take a more middle-ground approach with most things: I like stuff to be both useful and beautiful. But when it comes to litter boxes, I’m totally in the "form follows function" camp. It’s pointless to make a litter box people love but cats hate; after all, cats are the intended users and the litter box should be designed with cats, not home decor or people’s desire not to see their cats’ waste, in mind.

My biggest beef with most of these fancy-pants litter boxes is that the vast majority of them are too small to comfortably accommodate an average-sized cat. How would you feel if you had to go to the bathroom in a space where you had to duck your head just to sit on the toilet and you kept banging your knees against the wall? Not too great, I’m guessing.

Covered litter boxes? Litter boxes hidden in closets or in the basement? People say that’s all about Kitty’s privacy, but I’ve seen a lot more people using that cover as great excuse to ignore the nastiness within because it’s hidden from view. How would you feel if you not only had to duck your head and bang your knees in your tiny little bathroom, but you also had to be barefoot in urine- and feces-contaminated sand?

Automatic robo-boxes? Yuck! I can’t stand auto-flush toilets because most of the time they flush before I can even start to wipe. They’re also ridiculously noisy, and it startles the hell out of me when I’m just beginning to stand up and suddenly WHOOOSH-ROAR-GLUG-GLUG-GLUG! But at least I know what it is and I know I’m not about to get run over by a street sweeper. Just imagine if you were a cat and some mechanized monster started doing its cleaning duties while you were in mid-poop. Would you ever want to go back in again? I think not.

And people wonder why cats start doing their business outside of the litter box.

My litter boxes are out and proud — one in the kitchen, one in the living room and one in my bedroom — and they’re big! But they don’t reek because hey, I clean them every day. You don’t need gold-plated, hand-crafted, bidet-fitted luxury litter cabinets (complete with storage drawers for litter box utensils); you just need at least one open box per cat, fresh litter and the motivation to spend three whole minutes a day scooping waste out of said boxes.

Call me simpleminded if you wish, but I just don’t see the need for designer cat boxes.

What about you? Do you use automatic litter boxes, covered or hidden boxes, or any other fancy litter disposal tools? Or do you share my belief that a simple open-top litter pan is the best way to go? Sound off in the comments!

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.