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Covered or uncovered: do cats really care?

Humans sometimes prefer covered litter boxes. They minimize undesirable sights and smells so we can feel comfortable entertaining guests in even the smallest apartment.

But what about cats? Do they care if their litter box is covered? Or is covering the box a human-friendly option cats don't even notice?

Let's take a look at the truth about cats and covered litter boxes.


What research says about covered or uncovered litter boxes.

Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM is a leading veterinarian and author of more than 65 veterinary journal articles. As a vet, he's been featured on Animal Planet, CNN, NBC Nightly News, Today, Good Morning America, and Nightline.

In a recent column on Pet Health Network, Dr. Ward took a look at research published by experts at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. Here's what they found.

  • Inappropriate elimination is a major concern for cat parents. It tops the list of reasons people relinquish cats to shelters as well as being the number one behavioral reason cats show up at the vet's office. 
  • Common sense litter box solutions clear up most elimination issues. Clean the box regularly. Use the right litter. Furnish enough litter boxes of the right size in the right locations. Unless the cat has a medical problem, these interventions should eliminate inappropriate peeing.
  • Cleanliness matters. When given a choice, cats tend to select the cleanest litter box, preferring pristine bathroom conditions over the box's style, size, or color.

The researchers at Ross evaluated 28 cats to see if they had a preference for covered or uncovered boxes. Each cat had access to a covered and an uncovered box during a two-week period. Both boxes contained the same litter, and cat parents cleaned both using the same technique. Only 59% of the cats studied had used a covered box before.


Pictured: Modkat Tray and Modkat XL 


The results? 

According to Dr. Ward, "When individual cats were assessed, 70% showed absolutely no preference (i.e. used both boxes equally), 15% used the covered litter box more significantly, while 15% used the uncovered more than the covered. Pretty even results."



Covered vs. uncovered litter boxes: what's the scoop?

Not only does this study suggest that most cats don't care, but anecdotal evidence says the same thing. A few individual cats like to do their business out in the open, and a few insist on privacy. Most seem to wander into whichever litter box suits them at the moment.

Unless your cat is one of the few who exhibits a strong preference for a certain litter box style, you can go with the box that looks best in your home and feels right for your human and animal family.


If a cover doesn't matter much, what's most important to a cat?
  • Cleanliness really is next to godliness for cats in the bathroom. Practice a cleaning regime that includes daily scooping, weekly washing with soap and warm water, and a twice-weekly litter change with added baking soda. 
  • Cats need enough space to turn around. If you've ever had to use a bathroom so small you couldn't do business properly, you know how irritating it is. Cats feel the same way. They like to turn, position themselves, and dig in the litter. Give them the space they need.
  • Make it accessible. Senior cats and those with disabilities may appreciate a box that opens in the front, is easy to find, and gives them extra room to maneuver.
  • Remember the rule of thumb: one litter box per cat plus one extra. Don't make your cat wait while his housemate takes her sweet time in the household's only cat box.
  • The litter box needs to be placed appropriately in the house. Avoid putting it near anything loud or warm. Keep it in a well-lit, social space.


Final thoughts.

Cats love a clean, accessible, and comfortable-to-use litter box filled with fresh litter. As long as you've met these criteria, your cat should love whatever style box you choose. And so should you.