What size litter box does your cat need?

When answering what litterbox size is perfect for your cat’s needs, most sources use statements like, “it depends on your cat’s preferences”, “it depends on your cat’s size”, or “the larger the better if you want to avoid problems”, and so on. In general, these statements are correct. The optimal litter box dimensions do depend on many things yet there is also a straightforward approach to determine the correct size.

In this article you will learn if litterbox size matter, average sizes, the largest commonly available, how tall the sides should be, kitten litter boxes, how many boxes you need, and tips for use.

btw- we’ve found different people spell it litterbox and others spell it as 2 words, litter box. We’ll use both here to keep everyone happy.

Grey kitten laying in a small light blue litter box with a removable litter box tray.
Does this litter box make my tail look fat?

Does litter box size matter?

Yes. Size is important to your cat. This is key to know if you want them to use their litter box regularly. The following guidelines work for an open design, covered ones, and even self cleaning types. In most cases, the ideal dimensions depend on your cat’s length excluding their tail. The easiest way to get this number is to use a measuring tape. Once you have that measurement, here’s a rule of thumb to use: Your cat’s litter box should be at least 1.5 times longer than they are. The width must be at least as long as they are. 

This size provides ample space for your feline fur baby to comfortably move around. It lets your cat dig into the kitty litter comfortably in several spots, not just in the center of the litter pan. Most importantly, it allows your them to turn around inside the box.

Does this surprise you? Imagine a large breed like a Maine Coon cat. These rules of thumb mean the best commercial litter box for this big of a cat must be 36 inches (0.9 meters) or 3 feet long. WOW, that’s big. Large kitty, large litter box. A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications and Research found that cats, if given the option, will favor a larger litter box over a smaller one. For another perspective, here is a more realistic picture.

Average Litter Box Dimensions

We got a tape measure and measured one of our cats (the one that was the closest at the moment).  From nose to the base of her tail was 20 inches (0.51 m) long. It means that the box should be 30 inches long (1.5 x 20 inches) and 20 inches wide (76 x 51 cm). But, are there any litter boxes in pet stores that large? Well, we checked and they aren’t sold that big.

White and black cat laying on a white couch with a red tape measure wrapped around her after being measured
Measure your cat to figure out how big of a litterbox they need.

Most litter boxes we found were close to 20 inches in length which falls too short. And even one box that had a sticker with the word “mega” on it was just 24 inches long, which is slightly less than recommended.

So what’s the solution? In general, you are back to “the bigger, the better” recommendation because even if you buy the largest litter box in the pet store, you may fall short.

What is the largest size litter box?

We found that the largest boxes were a bit smaller than our cats like.  So what to do? We loved how Pam Johnson-Bennett, a certified pet behavior consultant and an award winning cat book author, recommends getting a large plastic storage container and making a litter box out of it by cutting one of the edges lower for an entrance.

There are two benefits to this. First, the box will be large and comfortable for your cat. Second, the litter pieces will stay inside the box because of the higher sides. Many cats dig enthusiastically before doing their business. When they do that, the litter gets thrown all across the floor. One way to prevent your cat from kicking litter out of the box is to get a large litterboxes with tall sides.

So if you can’t find a big enough litter box that your cat will use in your local pet store. Go to the hardware store to get a large storage container to use.

How tall should the sides be

The sides of a litter box should be equal to or higher than the height of your cat plus the litter that’s inside. So when you measured your cat’s length, measure how high they stand (to the top of their back). Then measure how much litter you usually put in.  Most people use about 2 inches of kitty litter. For example, our cat that we measured above was 20 inches long and 10 inches tall. With 2 inches of kitty litter, we’d ideally want a box with 12 inch tall sides or higher.  In our case, we went taller as this particular four legged fur ball of ours loves to kick litter out.  A litter mat makes it easier to clean up the litter scatter and helps contain litter tracking.  Litter tracking is where it sticks to their paws and they leave it all over your nice clean floors. To fix litter scatter problems, top-entry boxes will contain everything.  But some cats (we have at least 2) that don’t care for them. Our 2 cats will only use a traditional litter box.  Note that the favorite litter boxes of one of our cats with mobility issues has high sides, but an opening for them to enter. 

How big should a litter box be?

cat in a litter box with too small dimensions
This is a litter box for kittens and is too small for this adult.

As a loving cat owner, you may already be staring at your screen in disbelief. Why would pet stores sell litter boxes that are too small?

Well, we aren’t litter box manufacturers so we can only guess that it’s due to the cost of making a box large enough that people would buy. Many a cat owner that comes into our veterinary clinic complaining that their cat doesn’t use their litter box can’t imagine having that big of one in their homes. It’s understandable. Imagine if we humans needed a toilet that big. Something one and a half times our height. While it’s understandable that the cat owner and our feline patient have to live in the same house and, most commercially available litter boxes are too small for most cats.

Yes, we hear this statement when we discuss this topic, “ But most cats still use them!”. Yes this is true. But if your only alternative was a small toilet in a cramped closet, would you still use it? We know we would. It probably would take a lot more discomfort before you’d choose to urinate on your fancy carpet in the living room. While this may be a bit of an exaggerated comparison, it makes sense.

Cats can tolerate smaller litter boxes, inappropriate litter box locations, unfavorable kitty litter, infrequent cleaning, way too small of a box, and other inconveniences. Most would still use them because they are trained to do so. But when several inadequacies add up, problems such as eliminating outside of the litter box may occur. Even more so, in such a case it becomes hard to identify the cause since there’s more than one.

Kitten litter box size

A good litter box size for a kitten is one that is at least 1.5 times as long as they are from nose to base of their tail.  It should be wide enough to give them plenty of space to turn around in.  As mentioned above, higher sides will help keep litter scattering from going everywhere. The good news is that it can be bigger than this so your kitten can “grow” into it. So we’ve even trained our youngest ones to use an adult size box.  When should you start litter training a kitten? As soon as you bring them home. Ideally, you should get the litter box from the breeder that they started training with but that many not be possible. At least you should use the same litter as your breeder used during training. Training your kitten to use their litter box is usually easier with standard litter boxes.  Avoid introducing fancy ones such as top-entry litter boxes until they consistently use a regular one.

How many litter boxes you should have

The number of litter boxes you should have is equal to the number of cats you have plus 1. Make sure you space them away from each other if you have the floor space.  Also avoid placing them near things that may bother your cats.  For example, we have several where our clothes washer and dryer are. We found that only one of our cats will go in there if the machines are running. 

Tips for litter box use

The bottom line is that if you can’t find a large enough box, or your house doesn’t have the space for one, go for the largest you can find that will fit in your home. Size is just one thing about a litter box that will make your cat comfortable. While it does matter, it isn’t the the only thing that can cause your cat to not use it. When you look at all the things that make a litter box desirable in your cat’s eyes, make sure to get right what you can because it will make the difference in whether your cat does or doesn’t use their litter box. A study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that cats will continue to use a litter box even when they are frustrated by it. However, the study went on to cite that:

“Providing a suitable litter box environment promotes optimal wellbeing and potentially urinary tract health in cats.”

Applied Animal Behaviour Science

What this tells us is that even when frustrated by it, your cat may still choose to use their less desirable litter box. More importantly, by providing an optimal environment for their elimination, your cat can be healthier. What can you do to make an optimal environment for your kitty’s “business”? One key is the type of clean litter that you pour onto the litter tray. One of our cats loves clumping litter. Our older cat however is less enthusiastic about it.  So try different types and watch your cat’s reaction. Also, make sure to remove the soiled litter as often as possible. We have one picky princess that will only use her box if it has fresh clean litter, every time. You may also find your cat doesn’t like the covered litter box or self-cleaning one you just got them. While they do have their advantages, some prefer an open, large one.


You’ve learned the details that litterbox sizes matter, average sizes, the largest commonly available, how tall the sides should be, about kitten litter boxes, how many boxes you need, and tips for use. This will go a long way towards a long and happy life with your pet cat. And keeping your Pet Happy is what we all want.

This article is a part of series about cat litter boxes.

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