Why A Top Entry Litter Box? (& When To Avoid Them)

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There are many types of litter boxes on the market but it’s most important to consider your cat’s health and happiness when choosing one. If your cat isn’t pleased with their litter box situation, they’ll find someplace more comfortable to go. And it’s unlikely you’ll be happy with their new spot.


Top entry litter boxes can be helpful in some situations, but they’re not always ideal for a cat.


This article answers the most common questions around top entry litter boxes and explains when you may want to consider getting one, and when you should avoid them.



How Does A Top Entry Litter Box Work?

A top entry litter box works by having a deeper box with a lid on top. The lid has a hole in it so cats can jump up onto the lid and then down into the box through the hole.


Instead of a typical 6 – 12 inch deep litter pan, a top entry litter box is a box that’s usually 15 inches deep.


Often, the lids of top entry litter boxes will have grooves to catch litter that comes out of the box with your cat. Some even have holes in the lid so loose litter particles fall back inside the box.


When it’s time to scoop, you can remove the lid so the top of the box is completely open. Scoop the litter as usual and then place the lid back on the box.


Although top entry litter boxes are deeper, they do not require you to use more litter. Pour litter so it’s 2 – 4 inches deep (here’s why that depth is best) and scoop and change as usual.



Is a Top Entry Litter Box Better?

A top entry litter box is better when you’re dealing with a cat peeing over the edge of a traditional litter box, or kicking litter across the room. You may consider a top entry litter box in the following situations:

  • High-peeing cats – some cats don’t crouch down as much when peeing, either due to preference or sore joints. This leads to urine spilling outside the litter box or getting caught between the base and lid of a regular covered litter box. Top entry litter boxes have high sides and the seams are at the very top, so there’s no way for your cat to get urine outside the box when they’re in it.
  • Excessive diggers – if your cat likes to dig excessively, you may find they kick a lot of litter outside the box. With their high sides and enclosed design, less litter will get outside the box.
  • Multi-pet homes – some dogs like to head to the litter box for a “treat” (here’s why and how to prevent it). Top entry litter boxes can be a good solution to keep some dogs out of the litter box. If you have a small dog, they likely won’t be able to jump up on the lid. However, bigger dogs have been known to get their heads into top entry litter boxes or get the lid off.
  • Small spaces – many cat owners who live in smaller spaces or don’t have an ideal place to tuck the litter box out of the way, turn to top entry litter boxes. The design of them tends to be sleeker and it keeps the waste inside a litter box hidden until it’s time to scoop. Here are some unique places for litter boxes in small spaces.



When To Avoid A Top Entry Litter Box

Top entry litter boxes aren’t ideal for every situation and/or cat and there is some controversy around them.


It’s important to remember, cats used to be wild animals that would choose a new, clean, open-air spot to eliminate each time. They weren’t confined to doing their business in the same 2’ x 2’ area or forced to use scented, clumping materials that are preferred by humans.


In turning cats into housepets, we’re asking them to go to the same small location multiple times per day.


Top entry litter boxes take away one more element of eliminating in the wild and make their space even more confined than a traditional litter box. Not only is jumping inside a small, dark box unnatural for a cat, it can also create issues for them.


Consider the following points before purchasing a top entry litter box:


1. Allergies

Cats can have allergies and many common clay litters can actually cause respiratory issues in cats due to the dust they create.


Because a top entry litter box is more enclosed than a traditional litter box, it traps more of the dust a cat kicks up. This may be ideal to keep a home cleaner but is uncomfortable for a cat.


If your cat deals with allergies or respiratory issues, any type of enclosed litter box should be avoided.


You may also consider switching to a more natural and safe litter, such as Sustainably Yours. There are many litter options outside of the typical clay or silica materials that are healthier for you and your cat and are more environmentally friendly.


>> Here’s how to choose the best litter for you and your cat



2. Maintenance

If you or your family members aren’t great at staying on top of the litter box cleaning schedule, a top entry litter box may not be the best option.


Litter box messes tend to be out of sight and out of mind with a covered litter box, so your cat may end up suffering with a dirty litter box longer than they should.


Regardless of how big a litter box is or how good of a job it does at containing odors, litter boxes should always be scooped at least once per day (here’s why).


It’s actually more important to scoop regularly with a top entry litter box due to the way cats move in and out of it.


They must step in a particular spot to jump out of the top entry hole. And if there happens to be feces or urine in that spot, they’ll have a hard time not stepping in it.


Many cat owners that have reviewed top entry litter boxes have mentioned the incidents of their cat stepping in their waste increased with the top entry design.



3. Mobility

If you have an older cat dealing with arthritis, sore joints, or your cat has mobility issues, a top entry litter box isn’t a good option. Although cats don’t have to jump high to get in and out of this type of litter box, it may make it more difficult or painful for them to use their bathroom several times per day.



4. Size

Litter boxes should be about 1.5x the length of a cat and deep enough that your cat has headroom when standing and with 2 – 4 inches of litter in the container. The average height of a top entry litter box is 14 – 15 inches, so if your cat is taller than 10 inches, a top entry litter box may be a bit snug.


They can position their heads out the top of the litter box, however, they still need to get in there, dig around, and turn around. If the litter box is too small for them to comfortably use, they may decide to stop using it.




Will My Cat Know How To Use A Top Entry Litter Box?

Most cats know how to use a top entry litter box without any training, coaxing, or accidents outside the box. Cats have a natural desire to bury their waste, so they look for the appropriate material that lets them do that.


If that sand-like material happens to be inside a box they have to jump up and into, they’ll typically do what it takes to get to it.


Litter box issues are one of the most common issues cat owners deal with, so there are steps you should follow when switching litter boxes. Simply swapping a new litter box in or moving the location of your cat’s litter box can cause them more stress than you might think.


That stress can lead to them not using their litter box. And once they get in the habit of eliminating outside the litter box, it can be hard to break them of it.


Place the new litter box next to their old litter box and be sure they’ve used the top entry litter box before removing the old one.


>> Here are the proper steps to take when introducing a new litter box to your cat


It may also help to start with the lid off the top entry litter box to help get your cat comfortable with it. You can place something next to the litter box that gives your cat a surface to jump onto and get a view into the litter box before jumping into it.




Do Top Entry Litter Boxes Reduce Smells?

Top entry litter boxes will reduce litter box smells by trapping more odors inside. This does not mean you can go longer between scooping and changing the litter.


It’s important to be mindful of your cat and the fact that they don’t want to use a dirty, smelly bathroom any more than you do.


It’s also instinctual for your cat to desire a clean-smelling spot to go. Cats bury their waste to hide their scent from predators. If their litter box is smelly, it may make them cautious about using it (even if there aren’t predators in your home…it’s instinctual).


The best way to reduce litter box smells in your home is to scoop at least once a day and change the litter frequently (which varies depending on the type of litter you use).




Do Top Entry Litter Boxes Stop Litter Tracking?

Top entry litter boxes will reduce litter from tracking, but they won’t stop it. Litter is tracked through a home when it sticks to a cat’s paws or gets between their toe pads and comes loose as they walk through the house.


A top entry litter box will reduce how much litter your cat kicks outside of the litter box, but it won’t reduce how much gets stuck to their paws.


Your cat is taking an extra step to leave the litter box by jumping up onto the lid and then down onto the ground. This can help more of the litter fall off their paws before they leave the area.


However, there is the potential that litter gets lodged a little deeper between your cat’s toes when they use a top entry litter box. They’re putting more pressure on the litter when they jump out of the box rather than simply walking on top of the litter and stepping in and out of the box.


A litter mat is still helpful to place beneath and in front of the litter box to catch more litter and help more of it to fall off your cat’s paws.


>> Here are the best litter mats to help reduce tracking




Top Entry Litter Box DIY

It’s easy to make a top entry litter box and may even be cheaper than buying one (depending on the materials you have on hand, or have access to). Here are 5 steps to make your own top entry litter box.


Step 1 – Find a Plastic Storage Container

It’s important to choose the right size of container, as you don’t want anything too small. The general rule when it comes to sizing for a litter box is that it should be 1.5x the length of your cat and double their width.


With a top entry litter box, height also comes into play. It should be at least the height of your cat plus 3 – 5 inches to account for litter depth and an inch or two for headroom.


The container also needs a tight-fitting lid. You don’t want anything too flimsy, or it won’t support your cat when they jump on the lid. You want the lid to fit tightly onto the container so your cat doesn’t bump it off when jumping out of the litter box.


Either of these events will startle your cat, which may make them afraid to go back and use the litter box again.



Step 2 – Plan the Entry

It may be tempting to make the entry hole small, to keep more of the smell and dust inside the box. But keep in mind, cats want to feel safe when they go to the washroom. Making them feel like they’re going into a dark hole to use the litter box may cause litter box aversion.


An entry that’s 9 – 10 inches in diameter is a good average size. Mark a circle on the lid to give you a guide when cutting.


The entry should go on one end of the lid, and not the center, so your cat has a bigger surface to jump onto.



Step 3 – Cut the entry

How thick and hard the lid of your container is will determine what type of tool you use to cut the entry. If it’s fairly thin plastic, you may be able to use a box cutter. If it’s thicker plastic, you may need to drill a hole then use a jigsaw with an appropriate blade for plastic to cut the entry.


Once you’ve cut out the circle, use sandpaper to smooth the edge of the entry so it’s not sharp.



Step 4 – Fill with Litter

This DIY litter box will be much deeper than a regular litter box, but that doesn’t mean you need to fill it with more litter. Keep litter 2 – 4 inches deep. Too much litter is wasteful to throw out each month. Too little litter and they won’t have enough to dig and bury their waste.



Step 5 – Keep Clean

It’s important to scoop, change, and clean this litter box just as frequently as you would a regular litter box. Just because it’s out of sight, does not mean it should be out of mind.


Not only does your cat deserve to have a clean litter box to use every day, it’s also more sanitary for you and your cat.





Top Entry Litter Box Cover

There isn’t a top entry litter box cover on the market that you can simply add to an existing litter box. The box and the cover are sold as one unit. However, you can make a cover to fit with the litter box you currently own.


If you’re dealing with a high-peeing cat, it’s best to follow the DIY above and make the litter box one unit.


If you simply want a cover to help keep more odors in or stop your cat from kicking litter across the room when they dig, you can make a simple cover to fit over your existing litter box.


Plastic is ideal since it won’t absorb urine or odors as cardboard does. However, in a pinch, a sturdy cardboard box can work. You can simply line the inside of the cardboard box by taping plastic to it.


Creating a cover requires a sturdy box but does not require a lid.


Find a box or bin that is larger than your existing litter box and will fit around it. You want the bin to sit on the ground, not on top of your existing litter box. It also must be taller than your cat, as suggested in Step 1 above (the height of your cat plus 3 – 5 inches).


Flip the box/bin over and cut a hole in the bottom of the box/bin (follow steps 2 & 3 in the DIY above).


Place the box/bin over your existing litter box and simply remove it when it’s time to scoop, change, or clean the litter box.




I hope this article has helped explain when you might choose a top entry litter box and when to avoid it 🙂



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When To Avoid Using a Top Entry Litter Box