Covered vs Open Litter Boxes: What Do Cats Like Best?

We may earn through links from our affiliates including Chewy, Amazon, and Pet Circle.


A 2012 randomized trial showed cats don’t have a preference for covered vs open litter boxes. A minority of cats prefer either covered or uncovered boxes.

To find out what cats like best, test for yourself. Let your cat decide by comparison.

After more?

The rest of this article will answer frequently asked questions on covered vs uncovered litter boxes.

This will help help you decide what’s best for your needs.

I recommend seeking the advice of a vet for any further questions. The advice in this article is not intended as medical advice.

Covered vs Open Litter Boxes: What is Best?


A 2012 study compared preference in 27 cats over 14 days. They placed identical litter trays with the same litter, with one covered.

There wasn’t a significant difference in usage. This suggests cats don’t mind, although a minority of cats had preference.

Quick notes:

  • 2012 randomized trial
  • Tested covered vs uncovered in 27 cats over 14 days
  • No preference

Are Covered Litter Boxes Less Smelly?

It depends.

A covered litter box may help contain odors and prevent peeing outside the box. On the other hand, cats may avoid using a covered litter tray due to contained odor.

Expert guidelines recommend neither covered or uncovered for smell. The best way to contain smell is with daily cleaning and odor controlling cat litter.

Quick notes:

  • Neither is better
  • Clean daily to reduce smell
  • Use low odor cat litter

Read more:

Why Do Cats Not Like Closed Litter Boxes?

It depends.

Cat prefer clean litter trays, above all else. Obstruction makes it hard for cats to carry out normal toileting behavior (i.e. poo/pee and cover).

If too small, a closed litter box might be too cramped to accommodate cats. Large litter trays (covered or uncovered) are best for cats.

Quick notes:

  • Unclean litter box = less usage
  • Too small = uncomfortable
  • Clean litter daily

Read more:

Is It Better to Have a Covered or Uncovered Litter Box?

Uncovered seems best.

Experts suggest uncovered litter trays allow owners to easily see new waste and clean it out. Keeping the litter tray clean encourages cats to use it.

Many factors determine a cats litter box preference:

  • Location
  • Size
  • Unclean litter trays
  • Type of cat litter

Eliminating outside the litter tray is a sign of urinary tract disease in up to 50% of cats doing it.

Marking (usually on a vertical surface) is another cause of peeing outside the litter tray. It’s more common in unneutered males.

If your cat isn’t using your litter tray, it’s best to investigate possible causes.

Quick notes:

  • Uncovered boxes are easier to clean
  • Clean litter = more cat friendly
  • Consider other factors (e.g. location and size)
A cat using a litter tray
Consider location, size, litter type and cleanliness when using cat litter trays


Cats don’t seem to prefer either covered or uncovered litter trays. Use whatever you like best.

Clean cat litter daily to keep smell at bay and help your cat use their tray. Consider size, location, and litter type to find what’s best.

Read more:

Photo of author


I'm qualified dietitian that's turned their attention to cat nutrition. My goal is to help tease out the science on how best to feed your cat.