Most people think litter boxes are only for indoor use.
But outdoor, community, and feral cats can benefit from litter boxes, too!
Outdoor litter boxes can help protect gardens by giving cats an alternative bathroom, keep community cats safer with a reliable potty spot, or even be used by your own cats.
While I am a big supporter of keeping your cats indoors, where they typically live happier and healthier lives, I’m in full support of anything that keeps community cats safe, happy, and healthy. And adding an outdoor litter box to your catio or other outdoor space is a great way to make it even more functional for your feline friend.
We’re going to take a closer look at the reasons to add an outdoor litter box, what to look for in the perfect box, and how to set them up for success. We’ll also dive deep into some of the individual options with reviews of each but if you’d like to skip ahead and see which options made the list you can check them out here:
- Best Covered Outdoor Litter Box: Petmate Booda Dome
- Best Uncovered Option: Van Ness Small Litter Pan
- Best Storage Bin for DIY Outdoor Litter Box: SimplyKleen Totes with Lids
- Premium Pick: Pet ecoFLEX Habitat N’ Home Litter Loo
Looking for something specific? Check out the table of contents for this article:
How Can An Outdoor Cat Litter Box Help?
Outdoor litter boxes can help our outdoor feline friends live in greater harmony with the people around them. While I love seeing healthy community cats living a good life outdoors, not everyone is excited about seeing feline friends in their neighborhood.
Keeping Gardens and Landscape Features Clean
For starters, most people aren’t excited to find a surprise cat poop in their garden.
But honestly, how could a cat not want to poop in a garden?
As former desert-dwelling creatures, cats prefer soft, sand-like material for their bathroom breaks and potting soil seems like the perfect option for an outdoor cat. By adding outdoor litter boxes, you can redirect cats to appropriate areas for bathroom breaks that will keep gardens clean and people happier.
Keeping Community Cats Safe
There are several “types” of outdoor cats and while some would be better off inside and part of a happy home, for some cats that just isn’t an option. Many feral or undersocialized cats have more in common with a wild animal than they do with a chubby housecat. Assuming these cats are spayed or neutered (as indicated by a tipped ear) they’re usually better off outside instead of in shelters.
Sadly, some folks may decide to do more than just call animal control and these cats can end up with even worse fates.
An outdoor litter box will not only eliminate those unwanted bathroom breaks but can also encourage cats to spend time in areas away from homes. If all of an outdoor cat’s resources, including the litter box, are in a particular area they’re a lot more likely to hang out there than in someone’s backyard.
Once again, that means safer cats and happier people!
Will Cats Use An Outdoor Litter Box?
Okay, so the benefits make sense but that leaves one big question…will outdoor cats even use an outdoor litter box?
Yes, they will! This was even proved by a study in Japan that evaluated the effectiveness of simple pot planter litter boxes.
While that study also used cat repellents to help direct cats to the new litter boxes, deterrents still aren’t required for outdoor litter boxes to work.
One of the big choices is between buying a ready-to-go litter box or building your own.
Both options can work and there are pros and cons to both.
Just keep in mind that while a DIY option may sound intimidating (at least for folks like me) this can actually be extremely easy to do in a few hours or less. Check out this video for a straightforward and to the point guide to building your own outdoor litter box:
And if you still weren’t convinced that cats will use these litter boxes, then maybe that cute little cat promptly using her new potty convinced you!
Benefits of Building Your Own Outdoor Litter Box
In most cases, the biggest benefit of going the DIY route is going to be the size of the box compared to the cost. In other words, you can build a big outdoor litter box while spending around $20 or less.
If you’re a community cat caretaker or you want to make sure that many cats can comfortably use your box, then larger can be much better. It not only allows for several cats to use it before it becomes “full” but it can also mean that you have to scoop less. Depending on your schedule or the location of the outdoor box, that can be a huge benefit.
Downsides of Building Your Own Box
Building your own outdoor litter box isn’t without its problems. The first issue is time and building your own will always take more time and energy compared to buying a ready-to-go option.
But the bigger limiting factor is often going to be space. Not only do you need a larger area but you also need to do some digging. Annoyed residents aren’t going to want to build a litter box in their own backyard and it’s not always practical to build an outdoor box at all depending on where community cats have decided to call home.
The other big, and hotly contested, issue is toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is an infection that’s caused by a single-celled parasite and while it can be contracted through a variety of means including consuming undercooked meat it’s often connected to outdoor cats.
Cats can shed toxoplasmosis in their stool but the risk of humans contracting the disease is typically quite low. However, there’s always the concern that toxoplasmosis can be spread via an outdoor litter box, and because the do-it-yourself box is typically in the ground you don’t have many options for keeping the poops and litter contained.
You’ll need to assess your specific situation but I’d suggest some self-contained options if you’re considering an outdoor litter box near any kind of water supply.
Benefits of Buying A Ready-To-Go Outdoor Litter Box
The biggest benefit is the fact that it’s ready to go once you add the litter!
Ready-to-go boxes can also allow you to quickly adjust the location which can help you find the perfect spot or just give cats several options. Cats aren’t great at sharing the litter boxes so it’s usually a good idea to spread them out a bit which can be difficult with the DIY option but easy when you’re buying smaller boxes.
Not only will spreading out the boxes help with territorial cats but you can also squeeze boxes into a feline’s favorite spot. If cats are pooping in the mulch surrounding a set of bushes, you can squeeze an outdoor litter box in the back of the bushes so it’s not an eyesore but will still redirect the cat to a more appropriate spot.
Downsides of Buying A Box
The biggest downside will be cost and size. You can build a huge box for next to nothing if you go the DIY route but things can quickly get expensive if you’re trying to buy outdoor litter boxes for dozens of cats.
How To Setup An Outdoor Litter Box for Success!
What’s the best way to set up an outdoor litter box so cats actually use it?
Let’s look at a few of the things you’ll want to consider:
If Possible, Place It Near Their Go-To Spots
There’s a good chance that cats will find the outdoor litter box no matter where you put it but you can increase your chances of success by placing the box close to their usual hangouts or bathroom break areas.
Don’t stress this too much if you’re going the DIY option as it can be hard to be too picky with placement but if you’re buying a few boxes try stashing them in out-of-way areas that are still close to prime potty real estate like gardens and landscape features.
Don’t Mix Food Areas With Litter Box Areas
If you or someone else is already feeding community cats, or your own cat, make sure the litter box isn’t too close to your feeding areas. The same is true for water spots. In general, you’ll want to aim for at least 20 feet away from these areas.
If you’re going for the DIY option, make sure to consider where rainwater will flow from your outdoor box and make sure other important resources aren’t in any runoff paths.
Keep It Hidden
Potty breaks put cats in a vulnerable position and while it’s easy to think of felines as apex predators around the neighborhood that’s far from the case.
That doesn’t mean a cat needs privacy but cats do need somewhere safe to potty and these usually go hand in hand.
Make Sure It’s Clean
This is one of the biggest factors for outdoor litter box success and something we talked a lot about in our guide to potty training a cat without a litter box. Whether it’s an outdoor litter box or a pile of dirt, cats want a clean place to do their business and there have been several studies to support this.
When you’re first introducing an outdoor box, make sure you keep it extra clean so cats quickly pick up the habit of going for the super clean box over the garden.
Use Basic Litter
While clumping litter might be a great option for our indoor feline friends, it doesn’t make any sense in areas where the entire litter box may be exposed to rain or snow. Stick with simple, but still cat-safe products like potting soil or make sure the entire litter box is covered.
Consider Litter Attractants
Litter box attractants are specially formulated herbal mixes that are designed to encourage cats to use the box. While the scientific evidence behind them are a bit mixed, they do appear to work for some cats.
If you’re looking for a way to further ramp up the appeal of your outdoor boxes, it can be worth checking out.
Should You Use Deterrents?
Deterrents can sound like a bit of a bad word but there are plenty of safe, cat-friendly deterrent options available.
Deterrents don’t need to be over the top, they just need to make the inappropriate bathroom a little less appealing. It won’t take much for cats to choose a clean, comfortable and safe outdoor litter box over a garden that smells strange, is difficult to dig in, or has a sprinkler that’s spraying water at them.
Let’s take a quick look at a few deterrents to see which ones make sense.
These can really be hit or miss for cats but the bigger problem comes down to the surface area. While there are plenty of scents that cats don’t like, it takes a lot of work to use any scent deterrent over a large area. Not to mention maintaining it over time as the scents tend to dissipate over time.
For those reasons, I typically don’t recommend scent deterrents.
Physical deterrents are usually a good option and the first thing I usually recommend is placing some plastic pet fencing under the soil in a garden or other landscape feature. It will take a little work to cut it out but it doesn’t have to perfect, just enough to make digging unpleasant for cats. Remember, because we’re giving cats other options in the form of an outdoor litter box, we just need to make our gardens and yards a little less appealing!
Most cats will quickly move on once they realize the garden isn’t so great for digging anymore. There are plenty of budget-friendly options out there and this simple fencing on Amazon works well.
You can also try adding small rocks or sticks to the soil- anything to make the texture a little less appealing and encourage them to go for other options like your outdoor litter box.
Motion-activated sprinklers are also a great humane option that will not only deter outdoor cats but also other wildlife that may want to eat, poop or play in gardens. They aren’t quite as easy on the budget but you can check out this one on Amazon which works well. You may need a few to get the coverage you need but if you’re focused on one specific garden they can be very effective.
What To Look For In An Outdoor Litter Box?
Whether you’re looking to DIY or just buy, let’s break down some of the things to look for in the ideal outdoor litter box!
To Cover or Not Cover
Covered litter boxes are a major source of debate in the cat world. Many folks assume that cats want a private place to potty but in reality, most would be perfectly happy to use a litter box in the middle of the living room!
But when it comes to the great outdoors, covered boxes have several benefits that go well beyond privacy. They can help cats stay more secure by not drawing attention to them during their vulnerable moments. They can also help keep whatever is being used as litter safe from the weather. The downside is that some covered boxes leave only one exit point which can be a risky proposition for outdoor cats.
Consider the type of weather in your area and if it frequently rains or snows then a covered box may make sense, otherwise, there’s no reason why you can’t go the uncovered route.
Drainage and Durability
Any outdoor litter box needs to be ready to handle rain, sleet, and snow without falling apart or filling up. While a cover can help, it isn’t perfect. That means the litter you choose needs to be ready to handle any type of weather and have some kind of drainage.
Size and Scooping Frequency
Picking out an outdoor litter box for your cat’s catio space is a much more straightforward proposition compared to picking out a box for an entire colony of cats. More cats mean more poops and a bigger litter box, or even several, is best.
But your availability for scooping is also going to be a big factor. Even if there are only a few cats that you expect to use the litter box if you can only scoop a few times a month then you’re going to need a bigger box. The opposite is also true, if you plan on scooping every other day then you get away with a smaller box.
If you’re not able to scoop very frequently then a DIY box makes a great option since you can go big.
It’s not always safe for community cats and their litter boxes to be front and center. Some folks may find the litter box to be an outdoor eyesore and other ill-intentioned humans may see it as a target. On the other hand, if the litter box is for your own backyard maybe you’ll want something a little more stylish!
Make sure to consider the environment that the outdoor cats are in and pick an appropriate box.
What Can I Use For Outdoor Cat Litter?
We’ve already mentioned that clumping litter is out. While you could make an argument that it will work for a very covered box, I think there are much better options. Not only because they don’t clump but also because they’re generally a lot easier on the budget than commercial cat litter.
Since the litter box is outside, you don’t need to worry as much about things like odor control or other extras. Instead, simple and natural litter is usually best. Even though I’d put wood pellet cat litter in the natural category, it’s not a great choice for the outdoors either since it’s a bit too good at absorbing water.
So let’s take a quick look at a few of the best options before we review the boxes.
The modern cat’s ancient ancestors would have used sand for bathroom breaks and that instinct is still alive in cats today. Sand is typically quite appealing for any litter box but it’s especially practical for an outdoor box. There are also plenty of sandbox owners who have proven that cats are happy to use the playground as a bathroom.
To play it safe, I’d recommend picking out sand that’s specifically marketed for children’s sandboxes. You aren’t going to find any sand that’s specifically made for cats, so kid-safe options are your next best choice.
You can find sandbox-friendly sand online but in most cases, your local hardware store or tractor supply shop will be a better option for buying in bulk at rock bottom prices. At the time of writing, the Tractor Supply Co is offering 50 pounds of sand for around $5. That’s going to be very tough to beat.
Peat moss is another great option and if outdoor cats are already using the garden for a porta-potty then they may already be familiar with peat moss. Peat moss comes in a variety of forms and for cats, the finer options are typically best since it’s closer to sand. Peat moss does absorb liquid, but not very quickly which makes it a great option for outdoor boxes.
Pure peat moss, also called sphagnum moss, is typically non-toxic assuming you’re avoiding products with added fertilizers or other enhancements.
Like other natural litter alternatives, peat moss is also easy on the budget and you can check your local hardware store or check out today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.
Potting soil is another great option that outdoor cats are probably already familiar with. Similar to peat moss, organic potting soil without any additives are safe and non-toxic for cats. Potting soil has the soft texture that many cats love but make sure you pick out an option that’s relatively fine.
Just be careful because there can a wide variety of potting soil. In most cases, products with the organic label are good options and this is one of my favorites on Amazon.
Best Outdoor Cat Litterboxes
Okay, at this point you know just about everything there is to know about picking up the perfect outdoor litter box and how to set it up for success.
Now let’s look at some great outdoor litter boxes!
Best Covered Outdoor Litter Box: Petmate Booda Dome
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Our best overall pick comes from the folks at Petmate and checks a lot of boxes when it comes to an outdoor litter box.
The cover isn’t perfectly waterproof since there at small ventilation holes at the top but you can easily place a piece of tape over them to make the box much more water and weather resistant. The box itself comes in a variety of neutral colors which will help it blend in with the surrounding environment. The brushed nickel color is likely the best for most urban areas.
When it comes to litter space, the box isn’t huge so if you’re trying to provide for a variety of cats you may need to grab a few. But these are subtle enough that they can be stashed in a few key spots around the neighborhood or just in your backyard.
You can also place a litter liner or plain trash bag into the bottom of the litter box to allow you to completely toss the older litter when it’s time to change it.
Finally, there’s the added benefit of providing some security to feral or community cats. While you do want outdoor cats to poop in this litter box instead of considering it their new home, the spiral entrance can help provide cats with a cozy and hidden cat den. Since it’s in part designed to keep dogs out of the litter box while in the house, it does a decent job keeping bigger critters out.
You can read more reviews and check the latest price on Amazon by clicking here.
What I Love About It: It does a little bit of everything really well. It’s low profile, keeps water out, and isn’t going to break the bank.
What I Wish It Had: I’d love to see some bigger options!
Best Uncovered Option: Van Ness Small Litter Pan
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This Van Ness litter box is all about keeping it simple. There’s nothing fancy here- it’s just a sturdy, well-reviewed litter box that’s also very easy on the budget. That makes it a great option for folks who want to have several outdoor litter boxes.
While it does have colors that are on the brighter side, this box still keeps a low profile with a height of only 3.5 inches. While that could lead to some split litter in the house, it’s perfect for outdoor cats.
You can also dig out a little 3.5-inch area in the ground and place this box inside. That’s a bit of a hybrid between the buy and DIY options but it allows you to have a low-profile box that still contains the litter and stool if you’re concerned about runoff.
But you can also just put these litter boxes throughout the neighborhood and Van Ness actually offers these in packs of 12 along with the standard single. While I prefer the small option and just buying in volume, you can also pick up larger boxes that are still budget-friendly.
You can read more reviews and check out the latest price on Amazon by clicking here.
What I Love About It: It does a little bit of everything really well. It’s low profile, keeps water out, and isn’t going to break the bank.
What I Wish It Had: I’d love to see a little more variety to the color choices.
Best For Storage Bin for DIY: SimplyKleen 4-pack Storage Totes with Lids
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While the DIY options may be appealing to many, not everyone has a space to dig.
For those folks, the DIY storage bin can be a great option not only for a litter box for a general cat house too. Here’s what it can look like when it’s done:
What’s great about making your own is you can get exactly what you want. In this case, the folks at Lucky Ferals have added two entry points which most community cats will appreciate.
Remember, most animals will instinctively be hesitant about entering an area with only one exit and if the community cats are approached by wildlife (or some wild humans) while taking a bathroom break they can easily escape out the other side.
Just about any storage bin will work for this DIY project but I’m recommending these SimplyKleen bins because they’re easy on the budget and come in darker colors that will work better in urban environments. There is even a green option which, despite the red lid, may be a good option for areas with a little more foliage.
When it comes to litter, you can fill the entire bin with the litter of your choice or even squeeze in a smaller box like the Van Ness above. Depending on how you place the entrances, the entire bin will be water-resistant and if you live somewhere with only light rain it could keep everything completely dry.
You can check out all the buying options along with today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.
What I Love About It: Simple and effective, these bins can make great outdoor litter boxes that are still portable.
What I Wish It Had: I’d love to see more neutral color options for the lid on the green bin. It’s still a good option for outdoor areas with plenty of greenery but I’d to see something that’s completely green.
Premium Pick: New Age Pet ecoFLEX Habitat N’ Home Litter Loo
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Our premium pick makes a great option for folks that want to add an outdoor litter box to their own backyard but don’t want to create an eyesore.
This cat house is designed to look like a normal piece of furniture but is durable enough to be used indoors or outdoor. While they include several pictures of the cat house being used indoors, I think it has a distinctly outdoor furniture-type of look and should fit in nicely with the overall look of most backyards.
There are more than 4,500 five-stars on Amazon and many of these are from folks that are using the cat house outdoors. I’m a big fan of the color choices and most of them will help this box keep a low profile or even match your backyard.
While it’s certainly not a requirement, the fact there’s a little storage space can be handy if you need to leave a scooper or other supplies with the box. This can be especially handy if the box is located off the beaten path.
Just to be completely clear, this cat house doesn’t come with a litter pan and isn’t intentionally designed to be used as a stand-alone outdoor litter box. However, there no reason you couldn’t fill the inside with your choice of litter but it will work better with a box inside.
There’s is also a jumbo option, which is a bit more unusual see in these types of products, but that allows you to match the perfect litter box to the cat house.
What I Love About It: I like the overall look and feel that they’ve done a good job balancing style and function.
What I Wish It Had: I’d love to see it raised off the ground just a bit more to give it some additional weather resistance in snowy or wet areas.
Outdoor litter boxes for cats can solve a lot of problems and while I love seeing healthy, ear-tipped community cats I know that not everyone does. Especially if they have a garden with an occasional surprise cat stool.
Outdoor litter boxes can not only help manage problems with gardens and other landscape features but in some cases, they can help direct community cats to safer, more appropriate areas. An outdoor litter can also make a great option if you’ve got a catio or other enclosure and don’t want to completely drop the box.
What do you think? Are you going to buy a box or go the DIY option?