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There are so many litter box models on the market today, it can be hard to know what the right one is for your cat. Maybe you’re interested in getting a hooded or top-entry box to help disguise the box or help with litter tracking, but it’s important to realize not all cats prefer them. Let’s discuss the differences between covered vs uncovered litter boxes so you can make a more informed decision when deciding on what litter box is best for your cat.
Litter boxes that are large enough, in easy to access locations, that are cleaned regularly and that are filled with the litter type your cat likes are all more important factors than an open vs. closed style litter box. Offering your cat both options is the best way to know which one your cat prefers using.
Uncovered Litter Boxes
These are your classic, standard litter boxes (typically rectangular in shape although sometimes round or designed to fit into a corner). They come in a wide range of sizes and allow your cat open space to use his box without being trapped. Cats typically don’t have a problem using these at all, especially when they’re put in proper locations and the right litter is used.
Many cat owners don’t like open litter boxes because they can be smelly and unsightly. Another issue is the litter tracking – many cats are very messy and spill litter outside the box and even track it around the house.
However, you don’t have to switch to a covered box to solve some of those issues. There are higher sided litter pans available that can help minimize tracking, and regular cleaning will help cut down the smell.
You can also check out our recommendations on ways to hide a litter box here for ideas on how to keep litter boxes out of the way without necessarily switching to a covered design.
Covered Litter Boxes
Enclosed boxes are becoming increasingly popular as many people seek ways to hide their cat litter boxes, cut down on the smell, and minimize litter tracking. A cat litter box is not the most attractive thing in the world, and with most homes requiring multiple boxes, it’s natural to seek solutions to help your living space be more visually appealing.
Hooded and top-entry litter boxes are a couple examples of the enclosed style options. They even have litter box furniture that you can use with a traditional open style box. The furniture pieces will help disguise your cat’s litter area so much so that you can place it anywhere in the home without having an obvious “litter box station” right in your living space.
The downside of this is that some cats don’t like using their litter box in a closed-off, trapped space. And with top-entry boxes, cats are required to jump quite high to get in their box, and then make a giant leap out again. This is not ideal for all cats, especially ones that suffer from arthritis or are older and less agile.
Do cats really prefer uncovered over enclosed type litter boxes?
The truth is, the root cause of many inappropriate elimination issues is the litter box itself. It could be anything from not having enough boxes to choose from, boxes that aren’t cleaned regularly, dislike for the particular litter type, or even a litter box itself that’s too small or too enclosed for their preference.
The general advice from cat behaviorists is that cats prefer open litter boxes. They don’t like to be cornered or feel trapped while doing their business. Since hooded and top-entry enclosed style boxes typically only allow your cat one exit, they might be hesitant to use it. This could be especially true for cats who have had some prior bad experience with the box (for example, perhaps they felt cornered by a child or a dog while they were using it.)
Another aspect cats may not like about enclosed litter boxes is the smell. It might help cut down on the stink factor for you, but your cat has to deal with the smell each time they visit the box. You can prevent that from becoming a big issue, however, by regularly cleaning the box (2x per day).
Is there any research backing up this claim that cats don’t like enclosed litter boxes?
The Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine actually did a study about cats’ preference for open vs. closed litter box styles. They tested 28 cats and gave them a choice of the two different types of litter boxes.
The study concluded that with all factors kept equal (both boxes cleaned regularly, same location, litter type) the vast majority of cats did not show a preference for using one box type over another. However, 4 of the cats studied actually preferred using the covered box, while 4 of them preferred the uncovered style.
However, this is the only research to date on this exact topic, and the trial group of 28 cats is extremely small. The documentation of this study also makes it unclear on the exact definition of covered boxes, but we don’t think top entry litter boxes were used.
The important takeaway here is that the most important aspect of keeping your cats happy with their litter box is making sure it’s cleaned regularly, in an ideal location, and you’re using their preferred litter.
With all that said, some cats really do have a strong dislike for covered boxes which is proven in this study. So if you do opt for a closed-off style, it’s always a good idea to offer an open box too, at least until you know your cat is fine with their enclosed box.
If your cat is not using his litter box and urinating elsewhere in your home, re-evaluating the litter box situation should always be the first step.
Read also: The Best Litter Box for Your Cat