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My Stupid Cats Won’t Use This $450 Litter Robot, But Maybe Yours Will

I have two cats and they’re jerks. They hate each other, and in an escalating battle for dominance, they routinely leave their poops uncovered in the various litter boxes in our small apartment. Keeping up with this and eliminating the smell is a nightmare. I decided to try the Litter Robot III to manage my cats’ messes a little easier. The little monsters won’t use it, but the Litter Robot itself is pretty impressive.

Meet Our Cute, Lovely, Disgusting Cats

Before I get to the litter box from the future, I need to provide some very crucial context regarding my cats. First up, we have Tori. She is nearly 15 years old which, in cat years, is “too old for any of your shenanigans.” She’s not mean, but she’s extremely dominant. Then there’s Kitten, who has a real name we never use. She’s also very slightly brain damaged after some trauma when she was younger. She’s tiny, she’s loud, and she has a desperate need to assert herself with no idea how to do that. Fortunately, she’s also an attention-craving cuddlebug, melting your heart as long as Tori’s not nearby. Naturally, Tori and Kitten do not get along.

Fun fact: Sometimes, when cats are trying to assert their dominance or territory, they leave their poop uncovered. These two cats get along so poorly that their attempts to out-feces each other have made cleaning up after them a full-time job. Why am I explaining my cats’ personalities and territorial disputes? Because I want you to know that what follows is not Litter Robot’s fault.

Why I Naively Thought Litter Robot Could Solve My Poo Problem

The Litter Robot is designed to simplify the process of scooping and tossing cat litter, while simultaneously keeping the terrible smells isolated. Every time your cat uses the box–if your cats are willing to use it–the Litter Robot rotates its massive, spherical container, first pouring the litter through a filter leaving just the clumps, then dumping the mess into a tray underneath. Finally, the sphere rotates back the other direction to return the litter to the base of its bin.

Since the litter is automatically scooped within minutes of the cats using it, there’s little time for the smell to filter throughout the house. The spherical shape with a relatively small opening also keeps most of the stench contained. Well, in theory anyway. Even after weeks of getting used to it, my cats refused to use the Litter Robot. I was able to test how the cycling works by… transplanting…some of my cats’ material into the litter box, which I’ll come back to later. Unfortunately, since none of it originated within the containment sphere, I can’t speak to how well the Litter Robot prevents smells from emanating throughout the house.

Nonetheless, the promise of the Litter Robot is a lofty one: never scooping again. You still have to empty the tray, which the company suggests you should do twice a week if you have two average-sized cats like I do. That’s not a ton of ongoing maintenance to deal with, but given the $450 price tag, it’s still quite a bit of time spent face-to-face with a pile of cat feces. Whether it’s worth it to you will depend heavily on just how much you hate having to deal with crap. And whether your cats are willing to step inside this space age sand box.

How My Luddite Cats Managed to Resist the Future

Kitten eating treats out of the Litter Robot before never, ever using it.

If you were hoping to just drop the Litter Robot in your house and never deal with cat poop again, bad news. Most cats aren’t going to adjust to it right away, even if yours aren’t elderly or brain damaged. The company has a handy list of suggestions to make your cats comfortable with their new robot friend.

First, the company recommends leaving the Litter Robot off until your cat uses it for the first time. This makes sense. If a cat uses a litter box and then it springs to noisy life the minute they leave, they might get too scared to ever use it again. Of course, in my case, this meant that the robot stayed off for a couple days. I waited in vain for my cats to use it, at which point I would turn it on.

Instead, Tori crapped on the carpet directly in front of the Litter Robot.

I love this cat, but she’s an asshole.

Another tip the company offers: “Make the old litter box less attractive.” That…that can’t mean what I think it does. Does it? Sure enough, the company elaborates, “Instead, gradually make the old litter box less desirable by letting waste accumulate. Cats prefer a clean place to go, so this should motivate your cat to try the Litter-Robot.”

To be clear, this method does make sense and it’s an effective psychological tool to use on your cat. It’s also gross. But hey, no risk, no reward, right? The company also recommends combining this technique with leaving treats or catnip on (or in) the Litter Robot. So, despite all my instincts, I let the old litter boxes build up a mess. For the first couple days, the Litter Robot was in a different room than the old boxes, but we also tried them out in the same room. The cats never used it once. I did catch Kitten trying to pee in front of it, though.

Finally, the company had two more tricks to try and coax my cats into crapping in this container. The first was clever and fun: Trick the cats with their love of cardboard boxes! Place the box the Litter Robot came in over the new litter box, cut a hole in it, then let them play, only to discover a great new place to poop. One problem. I have to send this back, so I probably shouldn’t destroy the box. That just leaves my final option: pouring old litter and poops into the Litter Robot. Which is what I was going to have to do anyway for this review if my cats weren’t going to use it.

My Cats Refused to Use the Litter Robot, So I Did Instead

That Cycle button became my best friend every time I “used” the Litter Robot.

Wait. Hang on. It’s not what you think. I wanted to give the Litter Robot a fair shot at doing its job, so after waiting in vain for my cats to use it, I started scooping our regular litter boxes and transplanting the material into the robot to test it. First, I dumped the load into the litter box and pressed the Cycle button on the side, which manually spins the container.

The whole process takes about two and a half minutes. In the several times I tested it, everything from small coils to larger clumps fell cleanly into the plastic-lined tray below. As the sphere rotates back in the other direction, the litter slides cleanly into the bottom of the bin. I half expected the litter to end up clustered to one side, but impressively there was always a flat, smooth, sandy surface waiting for the next time a cat needs to use it. Not that mine ever would.

Next, I wanted to test the sensors which presented more difficult problem. When I tossed clumps into the Litter Robot myself, it didn’t trigger the cleaning cycle (naturally, because this is not how it’s intended to be used). So, I had to coax Kitten into the poop sphere. She was as happy about this as she is about anything else in the world. Which is to say, not at all.

A few minutes after Kitten ran screaming from the container (as she leaves every room), I heard the Litter Robot begin its cycle. It seems to be programmed not just to wait for the cats to step out of the litter box, but also to let them get far enough away that they won’t be startled by it when it starts. It’s also remarkably quiet. I could barely hear it from just a few feet away over the quiet music I had playing while I worked. I was worried it would be loud and disruptive–since the rest of the Litter Robot’s design is far from subtle–but this was a pleasant surprise.

The Litter Robot Does What It Says, But You Have to Really Want It

Here is another picture of the cat that just won’t poop where she’s supposed to.

Unfortunately, no matter how well a product like this works, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. As I learned, my cats are too temperamental and slow to adapt for the Litter Robot to work for me. If you have some chill cats who can still learn new habits, it might work for you. However, it’s not a cure-all for your litter box problems.

You also have to want this enough to shell out $450 for it. I’ve used cheaper automatic litter robots that don’t work quite as well and often end up being more trouble than they’re worth, so a premium automatic litter box at least makes sense. However, non-robotic systems like the Litter Genie ($20) do a decent job of containing pet odors for a fraction of the price. So, the question is, do you hate scooping litter enough to spend almost $500 on a solution that only does 90% of the work for you? That’s a question only you and your cats can answer.

If you’re not sure if your cats will take to the Litter Robot, the company does offer a 90-day money back guarantee. You can buy the gadget and try it out for a while and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, just send it back for a refund—the folks behind the Litter Robot are well aware that their product is a new (and expensive) experience for most cats and are more than a bit understanding if your cat is particular, terrified, or all of the above.

Eric Ravenscraft Eric Ravenscraft
Eric Ravenscraft has nearly a decade of writing experience in the technology industry. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, PCMag, The Daily Beast, Geek and Sundry, and The Inventory. Read Full Bio »