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9 Things to Know About Automatic Litter Boxes

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Things have come a long way since the first litter box — E-Z Klean Kitty Toilet — came out in the 1940s. E-Z Klean boasted a metal and paper-lined pan filled with whatever people could find around their homes, such as dirt, sand or ashes. Today the sky’s the limit when it comes to cat litter hygiene. Cat boxes come in all shapes and sizes, covered or uncovered, self-cleaning or manually scooped. Naturally, advances in technology are reflected in kitty cleanliness, so app-controlled litter boxes are now all the rage! Here are 9 things you need to know.

  1. Automatic litter boxes have been around for about 30 years. The first patent for an automatic litter box was filed in 1991. In 1997, The LitterMaid cat box was introduced and originally marketed on television commercials, winning the coveted red seal of approval — As Seen on TV. Then in 1999, The Litter Robot was created by Brad Baxter, the current chief executive officer of AutoPets, Litter Robot’s parent company.
  2. Like any appliance, research before you buy. “There’s lots of misinformation when it comes to automatic litter boxes,” says Jacob Zuppke, the chief operating officer and president of AutoPets. He says with so many brands on the market now, cat owners should do their research. “It’s really like buying an appliance for your home. Know how they work. Cats deserve a clean litter box, and they’re walking around your house after using them. Automated ones are just humanizing litter boxes.”
  3. Automatic litter boxes may not be for every cat. Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of multiple books on cat behavior and a pioneer in her field, also urges research when it comes to these high-tech appliances. “Even though the entire box may be large, the actual usable litter area for the cat is small.” Some adult cats may find them uncomfortable. She also thinks motorized boxes can frighten felines as well. Jacob admits that not all cats like automated litter boxes. “Our research shows 3% of felines don’t do well with these devices, such as skittish or territorial ones.” The company says 97% of their customers do report their cats take to it just fine and use their automated appliances on a regular basis.
  4. The one-litter-box-more-than-the-cats-you have rule still applies with automatic litter boxes. Cat behaviorists like Pam echo concerns about territorial issues. “In a multi-cat home, it’s important to recognize that each cat has a preferred personal area. Litter boxes should outnumber the cats by one. If you take a shortcut by using an automatic litter box to accommodate multiple cats, you aren’t addressing the territorial issues. It’s important to provide choice in order to help maintain peace.”
  5. Technology advances keep improving automatic litter boxes. Those in the automated litter box industry believe advances in technology will eventually address any issues brought up by cat health experts. The industry is growing so fast, many of the innovations being advanced in the United States are being quickly copied by pet product manufacturers all over the world, especially in China. Jacob says his company’s Litter Robot has especially evolved recently, thanks to much research and experimentation. The first versions were extremely expensive to produce because they were vacuum and injection molded. In 2005, the Litter Robot II came out with its signature “bubble” design, which allowed for more space for the cat. In 2015 the Litter Robot III was invented, where for the first time it used gravity to separate the waste from the clean litter.
  6. Wi-Fi enabled automatic litter boxes can help you monitor kitty’s potty health. In 2017, the Litter Robot III became the most advanced with the addition of Wi-Fi, so cat owners could monitor their cat’s litter box use right on their smartphones. Jacob points out that this technological advancement can help detect a kitty’s health issues. One day he was notified on his phone that his cat went in and out of its bubble 18 times in a matter of minutes. Turns out, the cat kept going back and forth thanks to a urinary infection. However, some behaviorists insist manual scooping is still the best bet for monitoring health issues. Pam says, “Only by seeing the dirty litter can cat parents see potential issues such as diarrhea, constipation, parasites and excessive amounts of hair or blood. Even though scooping the box isn’t a fun part of living with cats, it may make a big difference in catching potential health problems at the earliest stage.”
  7. There may be a weight limit and a weight maximum. When it comes to what age a cat can use an automatic box or at what size, it depends on the individual type and brand. At Litter Robot, a cat needs to be at least 5 pounds for the sensory system to work. LitterMaid’s Automatic Multi-Cat Litter Box is for multi cats over 15 pounds while its Automatic Single Cat Litter Box is for a single cat under 15 pounds. CatGenie’s FAQs states it sees the most consistent success when used by two cats who weigh up to 20 pounds each. For large cats, it depends on how the cat adapts to the inside width of 19¼ inches of the CatGenie, but there is no weight limit.
  8. They don’t use all litters. When it comes to cat litter, many models use standard clumping litter. The PetSafe ScoopFree Smart Self-Cleaning Litter Box uses crystal litter, and the CatGenie AI uses washable granules.
  9. Know your cat. Pet manufacturers, behaviorists and other experts say the success of using any product is really all about knowing what your specific cat needs. What works for one will not work for all. Pam says, “Cat parents need to learn what matters most when it comes to a litter box set-up for their animals. Don’t just look for the easiest solution.” The folks at Litter Robot think the industry is rapidly changing, and innovations to accommodate even the most difficult cats are coming. In the end, everyone agrees it doesn’t matter what product you use, automated or not, just make sure your cat is happy, healthy and always has a clean litter box.

The Evolution of Litter Boxes

1940: Traditional enamel baking or roasting pans found in U.S. kitchens
1947: First official litter
1960-1970: Plastic litter pans
1970s: Disposable litter boxes
Cat furniture litter boxes
1980s: Litter box sifters
Hooded litter boxes
1990s: Top-entry litter boxes
Automated litter boxes
2017: First Wi-Fi enabled litter box
Coming in 2020s: First litter box to use UV-C light to eradicate odors/bacteria
First automatic litter box with detachable components for easy cleaning

A+ for Automatic

Not all litter boxes are the same, so do your research. Here are just some of the latest models available.

PetSafe ScoopFree Smart Self-Cleaning Litter Box; petsafe.net

Litter-Robot 3 Connect; litterbox.com

LitterMaid 3rd Edition Multi-Cat Self-Cleaning Litter Box; littermaid.com

CatGenie AI; catgenie.com

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