Open or Closed. What Litter Box Does Your Cat Really Want?


Cats can be quite particular when it comes to their litter boxes. While owners may prefer covered litter boxes for containment of odors and mess, cats often have different criteria that factor into their preferences. Studies have shown that most cats prefer open, uncovered litter boxes over covered ones. One study found that 23 out of 26 cats preferred using an uncovered litter box versus a covered one (Grigg, 2013). Uncovered boxes allow for more room to move around, better ventilation, and an unobstructed view of their surroundings. However, some individual cats may exhibit a preference for covered boxes, especially if properly acclimated. Understanding the pros and cons of both open and covered litter boxes can help cat owners make the best choice for their feline companions.

Closed vs Open Litter Boxes

A closed litter box has a hood or top that encloses it, while an open litter box is uncovered and open at the top. Closed litter boxes are designed to contain odors, litter scatter, and mess inside the box. The hood creates a contained environment that aims to keep both cat and owner happy.

In contrast, open litter boxes provide easy access for cats to enter and exit the box. There is no hood or roof over the litter, allowing for full air flow. With an open design, cats do not have to squeeze inside an enclosed space.

Some key differences between closed and open litter boxes:

  • Closed boxes contain smells and prevent litter from scattering outside the box.
  • Open boxes allow for more air circulation to help control odors.
  • Cats may feel cramped or confined in a closed box.
  • Open boxes give cats full view of their surroundings for perceived safety.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both closed and open litter box designs that may factor into a cat’s preferences.

Pros and Cons of Closed Litter Boxes

Closed litter boxes offer some advantages that make them appealing to many cat owners. Here are some of the main pros of closed litter boxes:

Odor Control

The enclosed design of a closed litter box helps contain odors inside the box, preventing them from spreading throughout the home. The lid forms a barrier that traps smells inside. This makes closed boxes ideal for people who are sensitive to litter box smells or who want to minimize odors in smaller living spaces.

Privacy for Cats

Some cats appreciate the increased privacy and security that a closed litter box provides. The enclosed sides give them a sense of safety while doing their business. Shy or anxious cats may feel more comfortable in a closed box that offers a hiding spot.

However, closed litter boxes also come with some potential drawbacks to be aware of:

– Harder to monitor your cat’s health since you can’t see them using the box as easily

– Ventilation may be poorer, allowing smells to build up inside

– Difficult for larger cats to turn around and move inside

– Can trap odors if not cleaned frequently enough

– Some cats dislike enclosed spaces and may refuse to use the box

Pros and Cons of Open Litter Boxes

Open litter boxes provide cats with easy, unrestricted access to enter and exit the box. Unlike covered boxes, open boxes have much better ventilation which allows odors to dissipate. According to Modkat, open boxes allow cats to see and hear their surroundings, making them feel less isolated.

However, open boxes have some downsides. Litter can be easily kicked out of the box, creating a mess. Odors are not contained like they are in covered boxes. Some cats may feel too exposed in an open box and prefer more privacy. Owners may not like the look of an open box as much as a covered box furniture piece.

Overall, open boxes offer cats easy access and good airflow, but less cleanliness and privacy. It comes down to the cat’s personality and the owner’s preferences on which style works best.

Cat Preferences

Many cats prefer an open litter box that allows them easy access and quick escape routes. According to one source, cats favor open boxes 4 to 1 in studies. Open boxes allow cats to see any potential threats approaching and provide an unobstructed view while using the facilities. Some cats may feel vulnerable or trapped in a covered box with only one entrance/exit point. An open box offers cats multiple escape routes if needed.

Cats also tend to prefer open boxes because the smells disperse more readily. Covered boxes can trap odors inside, creating an unpleasant environment for cats with a sensitive sense of smell. With an open box, fresh air circulates freely.

Additionally, high-walled open boxes provide more legroom and space for cats to dig, squat, and bury. Low-sided uncovered boxes can feel cramped and crowded in comparison.

Owner Preferences

When selecting a litter box type, owners should consider factors such as odor control and aesthetics (source). Many owners prefer closed litter boxes because they help contain odors inside the box. Closed boxes have a hood or top that prevents smells from escaping into the home. This can be beneficial for owners who want to minimize litter box odors. The enclosed design also makes the litter box more discreet and hides the sight of waste for owners who want a neater, cleaner look. Some closed boxes resemble furniture and can blend into home decor more seamlessly.

However, some owners may prefer open boxes for easier cleaning access and monitoring of waste. Open boxes allow owners to scoop out waste without removing a hood or lid. The open design also provides better ventilation to help dissipate odors. Additionally, some cats dislike the confined environment of a closed box and may avoid using it. Ultimately, owners should weigh factors like odor control against their cat’s preferences when selecting the type of litter box for their home.

Litter Box Location

When choosing a spot for your cat’s litter box, it’s important to place it in a quiet, low traffic area of your home. Cats prefer to eliminate in private and can easily be startled by loud noises or sudden movements. A litter box placed in a busy hallway or next to noisy appliances in the laundry room could cause your cat stress and deter them from using it.

Ideally, pick a spot that is convenient for your cat yet out of the way. A spare bathroom or closet works well, allowing your cat privacy while keeping the smells contained. Avoid placing litter boxes near their food and water bowls, as cats don’t like to eliminate close to where they eat. You’ll also want it to be easily accessible – cats don’t like to have to climb up or down stairs to reach the litter box.

The location you choose should be low-traffic, quiet, private, and easy for your cat to access when nature calls. This will encourage regular litter box use and prevent accidents around the house.

According to Catster, “Ideally, quiet and easy-to-reach places are the best places to put cat litter boxes.” (

Litter Box Size

Choosing an appropriately sized litter box is important for your cat’s comfort. According to PetFinder, the litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of your cat [1]. A litter box that is too small can cause your cat discomfort when trying to turn around or dig. As a general rule, boxes should have the following internal dimensions:

  • Kittens: 16″ x 16″
  • Small cats under 10 lbs: 18″ x 15″
  • Average cats 10-15 lbs: 24″ x 18″
  • Large cats over 15 lbs: 28″ x 20″

For multi-cat households, provide one extra litter box per cat plus one extra. Larger boxes allow more space for each cat. Pay attention to signs your litter box may be too small like litter scattered outside the box or your cat perching on the edge while eliminating. Providing an adequately sized litter box allows cats to comfortably dig, bury, turn around, and eliminate.

Tips for Transition

When transitioning your cat from an open to closed litter box, it’s important to take it slow and make the change gradually. Cats tend to resist abrupt changes, so a gradual introduction is key. Here are some tips for a smoother transition:

– Place the new closed litter box next to the old open one, so your cat still has access to their familiar toilet area. Over the course of a week or two, start placing the old one further away while keeping the new one in the same place.

– Try leaving the lid of the new closed box open at first, then slowly over a few weeks close it more and more.

– Make sure the new closed box is big enough for your cat, and has higher walls if your cat likes to dig and kick litter. This will help them feel comfortable using it.

– Use positive reinforcement by giving treats and verbal praise when your cat uses the new litter box. This establishes good associations with the new box.

– Avoid punishment or scolding if your cat has accidents, as this can backfire and cause stress. Be patient and keep the transition gradual.

– Use cat attractant litter or spray to encourage your cat to use the new closed litter box.

With time, positive reinforcement, and a gradual transition, you can help your cat accept and use a closed litter box successfully.


In summary, both open and closed litter boxes have advantages and disadvantages. Cats often prefer open boxes as they don’t like feeling trapped or ambushed, while owners may prefer closed boxes to help control odor and tracking of litter. Key factors in choosing between open vs. closed litter boxes include the cat’s preferences, litter box location and size, ease of cleaning, and containment of litter scatter and odor. There is no definitive answer on whether cats prefer open or closed boxes, so it’s best to experiment to see what works for your individual cat. The most important thing is providing an easily accessible, large enough litter box that your cat feels comfortable using.

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