When I was a little kid, I was sure that by 2016 every household would have its own robot servant. My futuristic fantasies were heavily influenced by the 1980s Jetsons revival, featuring pet-friendly condos in the sky and metal maids.
Flash-forward 30-some years and I’m a grown-up cat lady with my feet firmly planted on the ground. The future did not bring me a robot maid, but recently the folks at PetSafe sent me something robotic — the ScoopFree Ultra Self-Cleaning Litter Box. Unfortunately my kitties — Ghost Cat and Specter — already have a maid (me), and it took some persuading to get them to use a litter box not scooped by human hands.
When the ScoopFree arrived, I was pretty excited about the prospect of a future without daily scooping. The self-cleaning litter box plugs into an electrical outlet, and the rake system does the work for you, moving your cat’s buried treasures into the disposable litter tray’s covered waste compartment. After a period of use (20 to 30 days for one cat, 10 to 15 days for two cats) you throw away the disposable litter tray, no sifting or scooping required.
Unlike some robot litter boxes, the ScoopFree tracks how many times a cat (or in my case, cats) are entering the box. A digital display known as the “health counter” keeps track of how many times the rake has run across the litter. As any cat person will tell you, changes in the litter box habits usually indicate changes in a kitty’s health, so it’s nice to know how many times per day your cat is visiting the feline bathroom.
The system also comes with a privacy hood to help keep litter in the box, but I know from past litter box dramas that my kitties like to poop out in the open (preferably while making uncomfortable eye contact with a human), so I just didn’t add the privacy hood when I assembled everything.
According to the instruction booklet it’s best to place the ScoopFree next to your cat’s regular box, so I positioned the fancy new system next to our boring old containers of clay litter and added a little bit of their old litter to the fancy new stuff. Then I waited … and waited, and waited.
After 10 days the blue crystal litter was still pristine, and the health tracker showed the rake had moved just two times (including my one test). The instruction booklet had suggested not scooping the old litter while getting your cat used to the ScoopFree, the theory being that as the old litter gets dirty the cats will start using new box — but my cats didn’t care. Creatures of habit, they kept going in the dirty boxes instead of trying the new one.
On day 10 my husband got super grossed out by the litter standoff and suggested we take away the old litter boxes, thinking that would force the cats to use the new one. I was afraid that if we removed the preferred boxes my kitties would riot and relieve themselves on the floor or something, so I didn’t act on my husband’s suggestion.
Instead, I consulted the folks at PetSafe, who recommended that in addition to everything I’d already done (adding a bit of old litter to the new stuff, placing the boxes side by side and not scooping the old one) I could also try leaving the ScoopFree unplugged for a few days.
Determined to help my kitties acclimate to this cool new system, I went to go unplug the ScoopFree and found the old litter boxes were missing. I realized my husband had gone behind my back and cleaned up. At first I was concerned, but then I noticed the number on the health tracker. The rake had moved five times in just a few hours, so obviously the kitties were using the box (or were at least jumping in and out of it).
We’re now two weeks in, and Ghosty and Speck are using the ScoopFree all the time. They don’t seem to be freaked out at all. The disposable litter trays super easy to remove and replace, and the crystal litter traps the cat-pee smell as much as possible.
Quality: Well made, tough plastic and metal parts make up the litter box frame. The disposable trays live up to their leak-proof claims.
Style: Litter boxes aren’t really a style item, but this one does come with two colors: smokey grey and purple.
Function: A+. We’ve tried other self-cleaning litter boxes in my house but found the rakes couldn’t quite handle the output of two kitties. The ScoopFree’s metal rake does a great job and doesn’t get stuck.
Creativity: The “health tracker” is a nice touch.
Value: The ScoopFree system starts at $179.99 USD but the disposable litter trays are what will really hurt your wallet. A pack of three trays costs more than $50.00 (although you can save with a subscription). If you’re changing the tray every 10 to 15 days the cost will add up quick.
Once Ghost Cat and Specter started using it, the ScoopFree Ultra Self-Cleaning Litter Box lived up to its claims. It’s a great system for those who value convenience over cost and sustainability — but financially and environmentally conscious cat lovers might find it hard to spend $50 every couple of months on trays destined for the landfill. PetSafe does sell a dye-free litter tray made from recycled, unbleached paper but does not offer a reusable tray for the ScoopFree. If you hate the idea of disposable trays but yearn for a life with less scooping, PetSafe has another (cheaper) system — the Simply Clean Automatic Litter Box — that one doesn’t need trays.
About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten, GhostBuster the Lab and her newest dog, Marshmallow, make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +.