If you walk into my house at night, you'll see a strange object emitting a blue glow in the corner of the dining room. Off-white in colour and egg-shaped, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's some kind of cryopod ripped from a futuristic ship capable of intergalactic travel. You'd be wrong. Its actual use is really much more mundane: it's my cats' litter box.
Dubbed the Litter Robot, it's an automatic self-cleaning litter box. In other words, basically any cat owner's dream. Look, I love my feline friends to bits and I wouldn't be without them, but scooping their shit out of a box every day has been the bane of my life for the last six years. I've tried countless brands of litter to try and find the perfect one that wouldn't stick and wouldn't smell, but to no avail. A couple of years ago I moved from a regular litter box to this Catit Smartsift — which supposedly eradicates the need to scoop — but I've still found myself frustratedly scraping litter from the bottom of it every day, congealed into a clay-like mess regardless of how expensive the litter I used was. Oh, owning a cat is glamorous.
Well, for the past week and a half, my cats have been using the Litter Robot — and my litter box-related stresses have been basically eradicated instantly. The Litter Robot works on a similar principle to the Smartsift: both litter boxes are designed to be used with a clumping cat litter, and both have a waste tray underneath that collects the clumps, filtering it out from the good litter. With the Smartsift, this is done by pulling a lever — clean litter falls through a filter while the waste empties into the tray in the bottom. The Litter Robot has a sensor and an automatic timer — so seven minutes after the cat has used the box, it'll begin its cycle and filter out the waste.
Now, pulling a lever to make that happen doesn't sound like much of an arduous task — especially when you consider the £400 price difference between the two litter boxes (the Smartsift is £60 on Amazon, while the Litter Robot retails for £460). But unless you're there to pull the lever almost instantly every time your cat uses it, you'll find that clumps will cling to the bottom of the tray, requiring you to scrape it off manually and therefore totally nullifying the point of having a tray that sifts itself in the first place. I've always assumed this must be a problem with the type of litter I'm using, but I've tried many different brands of varying expensiveness and it's remained to be an issue.
Not so with the Litter Robot, though. Being fully autonomous, it manages everything itself — all I need to do is empty the waste tray when it tells me to, and keep an eye on the litter level to make sure its topped up. In a week, I emptied the tray and slightly topped up the litter twice. I've two cats — one of whom seems to have a very active bladder — so if you have just one cat, you'll probably find you only need to top up and empty it maybe once a week. The level of the waste tray is monitored via an LED on the front of the Litter Robot — it flashes to let you know when it's full, so you don't even have to keep opening it to check. (A newer version of the Litter Robot that won't be available in the UK until next year comes with app connectivity - so it'll notify your phone when it needs emptying. Far out.)
So, using the same brand of cat litter I'd most recently used in the Smartsift (this one, if you must know), the Litter Robot has remained pretty much completely clean. Clumps fall away as they should with each cycle, leaving nothing but clean litter in the basin when its finished. The cycle itself takes a couple of minutes to complete — the dome-like body of the Litter Robot rotates half-way to collect the clean litter through a filter and drops the waste through a hole into the tray underneath. It then rotates back a little further than it needs to in order to settle the litter back flat, before settling in its usable position. It's fairly noisy when cycling, and the first time my cats witnessed it they were alarmed to say the least, but they've quickly got used to it. Having a clean place to crap every time has to be worth the small price to pay.
The most noticeable improvement that the Litter Robot brings about, though, has to be how well it filters smells. Look, there's no way to beat around the bush here — if you have a cat, you know how much their shit can stink. Almost daily I could be anywhere in the house — even upstairs, as far away from the cat litter tray as I possibly could be — and my nostrils would be greeted with the undeniable stench of brown. It travels through the house like no other odour. But since using the Litter Robot, not once have my nasal cavities been victim to that pungent aroma. The fact that the automatic sensor deals with waste within a matter of minutes means it's never festering - and the waste tray comes with a built-in filter that does its job like a true poo trooper.
It's got some other nifty features, too, like an automatic night light. As soon as the Litter Robot senses it's going dark, there's a blue LED inside the tray to illuminate it. No longer will your precious feline have to pee in the dark! It's clever how reactive it is too - flicking the room light on and off will trigger the light in a matter of seconds. The auto cat sensor ensures the cycle never starts while your cat's in there, too. An LED indicates when a cycle has been initiated, and if a cat enters again before the countdown has finished, it'll restart. Just watching it revolve was terrifying enough for mine — not sure they could cope with being revolved while trying to push one out.
But of course, the elephant in the room is the price of the Litter Robot. £460 is a hell of a lot of money — especially for something that your cats are going to piss and shit in. Let's face it, most of us wouldn't even pay that to replace our own human toilets, never mind one for the cats. But it has made my life a hell of a lot easier. Scooping a cat tray isn't the biggest stressor in the world, but it can certainly add to it, and having that worry completely taken care of is completely liberating. It also makes for an interesting talking point when people come over, and all your cat-owning friends will instantly be jealous. Yes, it's expensive, and most of us have way more important things we can spend the best part of £500 on, but I really don't think I could go back to a more traditional litter tray now. If you have cats and happen to have the money to spare, I daresay you won't regret it.