Cat Litter & Cat Trays

cat litter and cat trays

Friends, fellow cat parents, and supporters of the cat community, the time has come to talk about cat litter. We know nobody truly likes cleaning out litter trays. We know most of us would rather do away with the task entirely if we could! Some of us may even have that option. Adding a cat flap to your property could mean you never have to tend to a dirty litter tray again. If that sounds like heaven to you, check out our cat flap guide.

cat litter

This cat needs to report for re-training. Cat litter image courtesy of Geograph.

If, however, you don’t have that option, then you must accept that cat litter and cat litter trays are just a fact of life. So let’s look at making it as pleasant a job as possible for both you and your pet. Not all cat litter is the same. Not all cat litter trays are the same, either! Cats are quirky creatures, and there are some cat litter setups that will appeal to them more than others. Even the type of litter in the tray can have an impact. Both mess and odour can be minimised with the right combination. Let’s get right into it and see what’s out there!

Types Of Cat Litter

It’s not just grains of sand shoved into a bag, you know. It may have been once, but science has moved on. People have spent years of their lives working hard to refine and improve cat litter, and now there’s a whole variety of different materials you can choose from. Unlike some of the similar articles you may have read on our site, we’re not going to offer typical prices on the individual forms of cat litter. They can vary depending on which brand you by, which store you go to, and the volume you buy in. As a rule of thumb, though, you shouldn’t be spending more than $20 for a 15L bag of litter, no matter what it’s made out of.

1. Clay Cat Litter

Description: This was probably the first innovation in cat litter, following from the days of sand being your only option. This is the sort of clay you remember making pots out of at school, albeit a little more smashed up, so your cat can dig into it and bury waste efficiently.

Pros: Clay is a good at absorbing water, so it can deal with urine very efficiently. With clay litter, waste doesn’t tend to spread through the material as it’s absorbed, which means that as long as you’re happy to go in there and fish out waste with a spoon or something similar, one filling should last quite a while. That means it’s an economical choice. Even more so when you consider it’s probably the cheapest option to begin with!

Cons: It sticks to your cat’s paws quite easily. Wet clay is a pretty sticky material – that’s why it’s used in building! If you’re using clay for your cat’s litter, it’s also a good idea to get a little brush and a pan. You’ll be spending quite some time sweeping away little dusty paw prints from the area around the tray. It’s probably not a great choice if you have an expensive carpet!

2. Clumping Cat Litter

Description: This is really just a more refined version of clay cat litter; it uses clay as a base with other active ingredients which encourage the clay to bind together when exposed to water. The idea behind it is that urine and waste matter can be confined to very small areas of the litter tray.

Pros: Used litter within the tray pulls or clumps together into balls. That makes it easy to identify, and easy to remove from the litter tray. Each fill of litter therefore lasts even longer than it does with basic clay.

Cons: Clumps of litter are even more likely to be dragged out of the tray than basic clay is. Performance of the ‘clumping’ agent can vary dramatically from brand to brand, so don’t expect the same performance from every cat litter that markets itself as ‘clumping’. It may be advisable to put something like a bathmat down in front of the litter tray if you’re using clumping litter, just to make cleaning easier. It would also give your cat the chance to wipe its paws before it walks away!

3. Crystal Cat Litter

Description: Crystal litter varieties are designed to be ultra-absorbent. They use silicone as a base material, and they’re usually white in colour.

Pros: They absorb not only urine and waste moisture, but also the odour that comes with it. Because the silicone crystals can take in a lot of moisture, you don’t

This fluffy customer was happy to model some crystal cat litter for us. Image courtesy of HowStuffWorks

need as much of it in a tray as you would with a clay option.

Cons: The crystals will absorb as much moisture as they can deal with, and then stop working completely. Once they’re at saturation point, no more waste or urine can be collected, and it will simply start to pool in the litter tray. That’s uncomfortable for your cat, and messy for you to clear up. You need to check your litter tray regularly to make sure the crystals are still working.

4. Corn, Wheat and Pine Cat Litter

Description: We’re lumping these three types together because they’re virtually identical. They’re considered to be more ‘natural’ solutions, and therefore more likely to appeal to a cat’s instincts. They generally come in the form of little pellets.

Pros: You can flush these products straight down the toilet after use, because they’re biodegradable. It’s easy to tell when the litter is used and ready to throw away, because the pellets dissolve into dust on contact with waste products. Natural cat litter is considered to be less likely to stick to cats paws and fur than other varieties.

Cons: They’re generally not as absorbent as clay or crystal cat litter. They’re also not as good as masking odour, although perfumed varieties are available that work to mask the smell. Because absorption isn’t as good, more litter is required each time to change the tray, so you’ll be buying new stock regularly.

Various brands are available that combine several of the features of each product. You can buy clumping crystal litter, for example. You can also buy ‘deodorising’ variants of any type of cat litter to help with the smell. Things like grain size vary from brand to brand too, and therefore some brands are more likely to stick to your cat’s paws than others.   Once you’ve decided on which form of cat litter sounds best to you, you’ll probably have to sample a few different brands until you find the one that works best for you and your cat.

Types of Cat Litter Tray

Now we’ve looked at the pros and cons of different types of cat litter, it’s time to decide what type of litter tray you’re going to put it in! Of course, you may not want a litter tray at all – most people actually prefer an enclosed box. Things tend to be less messy that way. Let’s break them down for you.

1. Basic Litter Tray

Description: The clue is in the name. This is just a plastic tray which you fill with cat litter. There’s no roof and no sides – your cat just walks in, does its business and walks out again.

cat litter

Basic doesn’t mean ‘bad’. This cat is more than happy to use a basic tray. Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Pros: Access isn’t an issue – there’s nothing to detach or take off before you can replace or change litter. Some cats will actually prefer this option because they can come and go as they please. Basic trays are usually the best model to use for litter training, because they’re easy for the cat to find and get into.

Cons: Just as some cats love it for being accessible, others hate it because they feel vulnerable using them. No walls and no roof also means no containment. The odour from the box will drift out of it and fill the room it’s in, meaning regular changing of the litter is an absolute must. There’s also nothing to stop your cat digging too enthusiastically, and kicking its litter – and in some cases, waste – half way across the room.

Typical price: This is a basic unit with a basic cost. Definitely below $10, and sometimes below $5.

2. Covered Litter Tray

Description: This is what most people visualise when they think of a litter tray. In fact, they look more than a little like cat carriers. (On the topic of cat carriers, if you’re in the market one, we’ve got a cat carrier guide right here). This is a piece of cat furniture with a door to enter and exit, and is otherwise covered on all sides. Although the door is usually in the front of the litter tray, some models have an entry and exit point in the roof to minimise the risk of cats kicking litter out of the door, or dragging it with them when they leave!

Pros: Covered cat litter trays allow your cat privacy when they need to go to the toilet, which most cats require. The odour is also – to an extent – contained within the box, which makes for a nicer home environment. Litter is less likely to be kicked or dragged out of a covered litter tray than it is with a basic one.

Cons: There aren’t many. There’s a reason that covered litter trays are the most popular choice among cat owners, and that’s because they’re well designed and they do the job they’re there for. However because the odour is contained within the box, and the litter is out of sight, it can be tempting to leave them a while between cleaning and litter changing. This allows odour to build up within the box, and if it becomes overpowering it will actually put your cat off using it. When that happens, they’ll find somewhere else within your home to use, and you won’t like it very much!

Typical price: $20 or thereabouts should get you a basic, plastic, clip-together covered litter tray. There are (significantly) more expensive models on the market, and they tend to have more attractive appearances and/or greater capacity.

3. Self Cleaning Litter Tray

Description: We know exactly what you’re thinking. This sounds too good to be true, right? And yet they really exist! Self cleaning cat litter trays have been on the market for a little while now, and they’re a revolution. They use some pretty neat technology – usually, there’s a motion sensor inside. The sensor works out when your cat has entered and left the box. After it leaves, it deploys a rake to collect waste and scoop it into a compartment within the box.

Pros: They’re a massive labour saver. All you need to do is periodically collect the waste out of the compartment and dispose of it, then top up the litter inside. This is great news for people with restricted mobility, as the constant bending and crouching up and down to replace litter is a thing of the past. They’re also fantastic for people who are away from home a lot. Because the litter tray constantly cleans itself, they can be left alone for days on end. Some of the higher end models claim they can be left to work on their own for weeks!

Cons: Generally speaking, self cleaning litter trays only work with specific types of litter. They also require special liners. You’re limited to the range of options you can buy from, and the specialist types are usually more expensive than their basic equivalents. Some models are better at the job than others, and you’ll still have to periodically check to make sure that all of the waste really is being scraped away by the mechanics. As with anything containing moving parts, they can break. There’s also the noise factor. Between the moving parts and the mechanical noise, some cats could be put off using them at all. And if they misfire and try to collect litter when your cat is still inside, good luck persuading it to go in there again!

Typical price: They’re considered to be a luxury product. You’ll pay a luxury price to go with it. You’ll struggle to find any below $100, and some models are much, much more.

In Closing….

So there we have it. Those are the types of litter tray available to you, and the types of litter that you can put into them.

Don’t forget that you’ll also probably want to buy litter tray liners. Unless you really fancy the idea of scraping used litter off the bottom of the tray by hand, they’re a must-have. A cat-friendly deodorising spray won’t hurt either. Nor an anti-bacterial spray to help you clean the inside of the litter tray. Let’s try to answer any questions you might have.

Are Covered Litter Trays Better Than Basic Ones?

Well, to be honest self-cleaning ones are better than both, but we appreciate that they’re not a small purchase! In general, a covered litter tray is better than an open one. We’d only recommend using an open litter tray for training purposes. Kittens will find them easier to use than covered trays. Some cats can suffer claustrophobia, and so they might prefer an open tray, too. Nine times out of ten, though, you’ll find yourself doing less cleaning and odour masking work with a covered tray.

What Type Of Cat Litter Is Best?

There’s no correct answer to that question. Sorry. All of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. Look again through the pros and cons of each kind, and consider how fussy your cat is. Some cats hate having litter stuck to their paws. If that’s your cat, it may prefer one of the more natural options. If you want to spend less time cleaning out the tray or replacing litter, you might prefer the ultra absorbent crystal litter varieties. Chances are you’ll have a little trial and error before you find the perfect fit.

How Do I Get My Cat To Use A Litter Tray?

cat litter

This youngster has already got the hang of it! Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Through patience, persistence and encouragement! Almost every cat is happy to use a litter tray. They just need the idea introducing to them gently. Try following these steps.

  1. Start with a basic type of litter and an open tray. We’d suggest a ‘natural’ type of litter, as it’s should appeal to your cat’s basic instincts. Whatever type you choose, stick it it for the duration of training. Chopping and changing litter types will only confuse your pet. Avoid anything with deodorants or chemicals during the training stage. The open tray is easy for your cat to find and identify.
  2. Choose a space carefully. Cats like a bit of privacy when they need the toilet. The middle of a room is never a good idea! A quiet corner is a good choice. Don’t put it too close to their food – cats are clean creatures and won’t go to the toilet near where they eat.
  3. Introduce your cat to the litter tray. The easiest way to do this, believe it or not, is just to pick them up and place them in it. It’s likely that they’ll have a quick pad around and then walk away, but they’ll remember where it is. The majority of cats understand what it’s for automatically, and will come back when they need to use it.
  4. Correct their behaviour. Next time you notice your cat ‘going’ in an area you don’t want them to, immediately pick them up and put them in the tray, and then give them a treat. You’re building a positive association between needing the toilet, going to the tray, and being rewarded. Do not scold them for using the wrong ‘area’ for going to the toilet before you move them, this will have the opposite of the intended effect. They’ll view being put in the tray as being part of the punishment. Repeat this step as many times as necessary – you should find they get the idea quickly. Cats are intelligent, and they understand what they tray is for.
  5. Keep the litter tray clean. This is vitally important whilst they’re learning to use it. You don’t want them being put off by messy under-paw conditions, or bad smells. Clear out waste at least once a day, and keep the tray well topped up with fresh litter. Once your cat is confident, you can begin experimenting with covered trays, and different cat litter types, but makes sure they’re completely comfortable using the tray first. That means going at least a couple of weeks without accidentally going to the toilet anywhere else in the house.

Thanks for taking the time to read our guide. We hope it’s been useful to you!