Litter box preference in domestic cats: covered versus uncovered

J Feline Med Surg. 2013 Apr;15(4):280-4. doi: 10.1177/1098612X12465606. Epub 2012 Oct 26.


Feline inappropriate elimination (periuria and/or perichezia) remains a very common behavioral complaint of cat owners. Treatment recommendations often include improving the attractiveness of the litter boxes available to the cat. One frequent recommendation is to avoid covered litter boxes, although this has not previously been tested experimentally. The goal of this study was to assess whether, all else being equal, cats preferentially used uncovered litter boxes over covered litter boxes. Twenty-eight cats were enrolled in the study and offered the choice of a covered or uncovered box. Waste was scooped daily from each box, and the weight of waste in the different box styles was compared and evaluated using paired t-tests and χ(2) analyses. Overall, there was no significant difference between use of the two box styles. Eight individual cats did exhibit a preference (four for covered, four for uncovered), but individual preference results are not evenly distributed, with more cats than expected showing no preference between litter box types. We postulate that, if boxes are kept sufficiently clean (ie, once daily minimum cleaning), most cats will not show a preference for either box type. The observation that a minority of cats in the study exhibited a preference supports the recommendation of providing individual cats with a 'cafeteria' of litter box styles, including a covered box, to determine whether such a preference exists. These findings add to existing literature on the topic of feline inappropriate elimination and provide additional information for clinicians recommending treatment options for cats exhibiting this behavior.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats / physiology*
  • Cats / psychology*
  • Eliminative Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Male
  • Odorants
  • Tool Use Behavior / physiology