Chic damask litter box hacks and a bonus homemade scratching post

March 31 | Guest post by Lenna

Kitty litter boxes are a difficult thing to hide when you have a small apartment.

When my partner and I decided to move, of course our cats came too. But our old apartment was a palace to them. Two floors, 1400 square feet, giant windows with giant windowsills, and an awesome wrought-iron spiral staircase that they ran up and down, doing laps around the apartment.

When it was time to move, they did almost everything to make sure we knew they didn't want to go. (Homoton sat in the boxes we were trying to pack with this look of, "oh, you wants me to movez?" and went a little nuts when we tried to get him in his very spacious carrying case.) But, the move happened, and eight months and a couple of DIY projects later, they are spoiled and happy in their new 950 square foot home just outside of Toronto.

And these are their new poop boxes. No, really! Those pretty damask benches that are right in our front entryway are the bathroom for our little furry ones.

Stealth Mode Litter Boxes

While in our old apartment, our kitchen was big enough to keep regular plastic litter boxes in a tiled corner behind our counter, but our new apartment has no such space.

Inspired by some of the beautiful litter box DIY hacks that I saw on the Modern Cat blog, I headed out to the local thrift stores in search of something I could use.

I found two nearly matching bench boxes, one at the Salvation Army thrift store, and the other at a Goodwill. Both were about $10. I set up a workshop in my parents' garage. My dad cut square holes on one end of each bench, sanded the edges and lined them with super-tacky electrical tape. My mom and I worked at covering them with wallpaper, and painting the edges black with toxic-free, kid-safe paint.

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I measured the inside dimensions and found two plastic buckets that were 12" wide and 4" high — high enough to have a decent amount of litter inside and short enough that they could step into the box when the lid of the bench was down. Originally, I had litter track mats lining the bottom, but they were ripping them to shreds with their claws. As an easy-to-clean alternative for catching litter before it ended up on my hardwood floors, I found 12" x 18" black bar mats on Amazon, which have done the trick perfectly! The rubber is too heavy for cats to demolish with their claws, and the mat catches small litter pebbles in its grooves, which are easy to clean out with the vaccuum or a quick rinse.

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Functional AND practical! The benches are great for putting on our shoes, or resting bags and other things as we come in the front door.

Scratching Posts

In pricing out a new, ready-made scratch post and tower, I decided it would be way more economical to make one ourselves.

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My dad was excited to help. He found great blocks of wood in our garage and built this super sturdy structure. I wrapped the wood in sisal rope using non-toxic wood glue.

The scratch post cost us about $5 to make. We rubbed a little bit of catnip into the sisal so the cats were attracted, and its existence has definitely saved the back of our couch! Emily thinks it belongs only to her, but they're pretty good with sharing.

Even though this place is smaller, the cats seem very pleased with their living arrangements. However, I've noticed that they're not as active with less space. My next project is to install strategically-placed carpet-covered shelves to encourage them to move more. The vet told us Homoton needs to lose three pounds, so it's time to get jumping!

  1. I love your sneaky cat boxes, if only the goodwill finds were as decent up here in the North (they are not:( ) But to needing to help your kitties lose weight, have you considered a cat food ball? Its a little adjustable ball that the cats have to bat at and roll around to get food out of. My cat loves hers and drags it all over the house to strategic cat balling locations to get the most food out of it. It lets to measure the food and gets them moving around some!

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    • I didn't know a cat food ball existed, I don't think I've seen one of those before! I've seen the ones where it's a set-portion dispenser, or stand up ones that have toys attached they have to play with to get the food out, but we haven't tried them because we don't think they'd go for that. A ball they bat around though…that might work! Thanks for the idea!

      I feel guilty because they used to have to jump a few feet to get to any of their favourite places before, now they can't even sit in the windowsills (they're only about an inch deep)…they've become couch potatoes, haha! I think the lack of carpet bugs them too.

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    • We have something like this – our cats *love* it.

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    • We did NOT have great luck with the cat food balls, unfortunately. Although part of the problem was that we had four cats. Two of our cats "got it" right away. But they got it so well that they could just tilt the ball a little, and out would come food. They didn't have to chase it around at all. The other two cats couldn't understand how they worked for the LIFE of them (literally – they went without food a couple evenings simply because they couldn't figure it out), and when all four cats ate together, the two clueless ones would just eat out of the other two's, so basically no one got exercise at all. I suppose they ate more slowly, but that's it.

      Just our experience. :)

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  2. I love the litter boxes!

    One reason I've always been determined any cat we have (and I hope we will one day be allowed one) will not be an exclusively indoor cat is I hate litter boxes. There is nothing more off putting than a box of grit and poop in the corner of a room.

    But these seem like a fantastic solution! They not only look good they have an additional practical use as well.

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    • I agree, litter is most unpleasant (and I'm the one that usually cleans it, bleh). I think Emily used to be an outdoor cat, when we brought her home from the shelter she was confused about the whole litter box thing. I'd love to let them out one day when we have a yard…

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      • Both of my kitties go outside, and both insist on coming inside to use the litter box. They think they're people!

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  3. These are awesome and I am totally plagiarizing them at my first opportunity.
    :)

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  4. Those litter boxes are a-muh-zing! Dang! I think this has to be my next DIY for my girls. I'm guessing that having a lid means there is less smell when they do a stinky?

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    • Yes! Definitely less smell, even without the filters that plastic boxes usually come with. With ours, we can't smell it until we open the lid, unless they aren't burying it or the litter needs a complete change out. :)

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      • Glad to hear it! We are about to move and are looking at some major downsizing in space…I talked to him about doing this for our cat but he's concerned about the smell, as is understandable.

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  5. Wow that's brilliant! I dont have a cat but I will certainly be forwarding this post to my cat loving friends!

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  6. These are awesome! With a baby on the way, we've been looking for away to put our cats' litter box into stealth mode. Lenna, how did you train the cats to use the new enclosed boxes? I worry about them transitioning from doing their business in the open air to doing it in an enclosed space.

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    • Have your cats used litter at all before? For ours, they were switching from plastic boxes to these boxes, so to teach them that was where they needed to go wasn't a big deal. We plopped them into the clean litter with the lid open to be like, "Hey! It's your litter!" and after they walked around a little, we shut the lid, then picked them up and pushed them through the door spot. Then they ran away, and when it was time to go, started using them right away!

      We kept a watchful eye, though, the first few days we were all, "Have you seen them go in the box yet?" "No, have you?" "No, I hope they aren't doing in the closet…" But it was all good :)

      When we first adopted Emily, she didn't bury her business, and the vet told us to just pick her up and put her face in it so she smells it, gets horrified, and learns to bury. I think it was because she was an outdoor cat before, but she must have already learned about litter at the shelter.

      That's all the advice I have, I've never fully trained from outdoor to indoor…maybe someone else reading has?

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      • I hear it's different for different cats but for me it's always been easy:

        1. Bring cat inside.
        2. Show cat litter box.
        3. ???
        4. PROFIT

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        • It worked for me.

          My college roommate rescued a motherless kitten from the clutches of a big dog. We just brought her inside, dropped her in a litter box and BLAM. Poop in a box.

          Cats sort of naturally gravitate towards using sand and fine gravel, so a litter box just makes sense to them.

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          • I meant to also say — but was distracted by amusement at my own cleverness — that this set-it-and-forget-it method works as long as:

            1. The litter is regularly cleaned. At least once a week. At LEAST.
            2. Your cat is amenable to the litter's texture and smell.
            3.Your cat is okay with the location.

            Cats are just as picky as people. Some don't care at all, about anything (mine. She would poop in the most public, dirty litter box.) Some are nervous or shy or just very particular. You have to figure out what works for the cat, or they'll poop somewhere they like better.

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  7. I LOVE this post!! I'll be moving at the end of the summer, and I think the new place will have too small of a bathroom and too pretty of a kitchen for a typical litterbox.

    This DIY solution will be strongly considered.

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  8. Love this idea! My boyfriend is moving us into our new and smaller apartment as I type. I know, I'm lucky that all I had to do was pack, but I couldn't take a day off (darn office). I've been scratching my head about where to put kitty's litter box in our new place. This is a great idea. I was also hoping to get her an automatic litter box as well. Hiding it in a decorated trunk is brilliant! Anyone have an automatic litter box? I've heard they're great.

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    • I did! You'll have to be careful about how much litter you actually put in it, otherwise the rake-bit doesn't go all the way from one end of the box to the other. Long story short, it overheated because it was stuck & no one noticed, and now it's a very expensive, very heavy plastic box lol… but when it worked it was awesome!

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  9. This is genius. I am showing this to my fiance tonight when he gets home, and I'm looking on craigslist for a bench immediately!!!

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  10. So, for anyone planning to try this, the only extra advice I would have is to make sure you have a ledge for them to step over at the end, if they're kickers. We don't, and while the track mat catches about 90% of the litter, I think if we had cut the door hole a little higher up, maybe a half inch, it would make all the difference in the world…

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  11. thank you thank you thank you! we adopted 2 brothers about a month ago, and they seem to have, well…extremely smelly poop issues :) they have a covered litter box, but it's in our small bathroom along with the incredibly stinky diaper pail (2 toddlers will do that to ya) and even though everything gets changed, emptied, and put outside every night or 2, taking a shower is horrendous. i just haven't been able to find a good place elsewhere for the box, but a bench or two would be great, and leave somewhere for my kids to sit to put on their shoes, etc. off to craigslist and kijiji for benches now…

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    • Have you tried changing the cats' food? That will often help cut down on the smell.

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  12. Lenna, I could make out with you right now! I just installed a new bathroom vanity, so my cat litter box needs a new home… and there's no place to put it! But those Ikea hacks that you linked to solved the problem for me! I have three Norrebo storage bench's that in the bedroom and now one of them will be the new litter haven. LOVE YOU!

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  13. This is awesome! We have a small 2×1 house with an indoor cat and rabbit. The rabbit's litter tray is in her hutch (though the hutch itself could use some prettying up) but the kitten's litter tray is in the toilet, and I always stress that even when it's clean it's not very nice for guests.

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  14. For cutting down on cat box odor in a small space – try pine pellet litter! It's a better deodorizer (I think) than the regular kind. Plus you can save money by buying pine pellet horse bedding at the feed store instead of the pricey eco kitty litter at the grocery store. I think our picky cats prefer it to regular litter!

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    • We use Arm & Hammer Essentials (one cat is asthmatic and would start wheezing whenever we changed the standard clay litter). It actually kind of…smells good. Not when Harvey poops and doesn't cover (can you fix that with a 2 year old cat??), but you don't walk in and smell litter. It does a good job of covering up smells when either cat uses it properly (i.e doesn't leave a fresh one uncovered).

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    • Just switched to pine litter a few weeks ago…best decision EVER! Thanks for the suggestion!

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      • I was, at first, terrified when the thought of using pine litter was mentioned here. I used to breed rats and the one thing you NEVER did was use pine litter because the oils in the wood, when they come into contact with urine, create fumes that can be potentially fatal to your animals (and really not so good for da peebles, either).

        Then I hit the Hold-On-A-Second-Let's-Not-Act-Like-A-Crazy-Person button and did a little research… Turns out there's a reason that brands like Feline Pine are actually okay for your pets. The pine is processed and the volatile oils removed, so there is not risk for your or your pets anymore. Also, because it's sterilized, it's often recommended by vets for cats that have recently had surgery. So, all in all, not a bad product.

        Personally, though, it still gives me the willies. For my fur baby (cause I'll have another one, one day) I'll be going with corn cob pellets.

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        • Oh, that's interesting about pine, I never knew that.

          I've been using a corn litter now since 2012 (tried the pine for a bit, but the kitties didn't like the smell), and it's great. Barely any dust, lasts really well :)

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  15. the litter box benches are really nice and making cat accessories is much cheaper than buying them in the stores.

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  16. I love the box idea, and my cats prefer covered boxes. I'm going to have to make a few of these.

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  17. This is genius! I especially love the mat idea…our cats shred theirs, and litter winds up everywhere. It looks like you put the litter box on one end of the bench, and the mat on the other, so it's still inside the bench? Do you have a picture of what it looks like with the buckets and litter inside?

    The benches might not directly work in our space- a tiled area by the back door was the best spot we could find, and it's kind of small- but this got the gears going!

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  18. You guys totally need to sell these on etsy! Y'all would be a hit.

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  19. They look great! But surely the smell goes right through your place?

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    • Nope! Barely any smell at all! The old plastic boxes were WAY worse, and they had a filter. Even when I cleaned them everyday, they still stank. These I can get away with leaving 2-3 days at a time, and then it's because it's full, not because it stinks.

      Even on the one rare occasion when we were away for over a week, and no one cleaned their litter, we came home to a not-stinky apartment :) It's wonderful.

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  20. I LOVE this idea. I am more of a doggie person and my husband loves kitty cats. Some friends will be giving us a brother and sister kittens as soon as they are old enough. I am totally going to do this for my new kitties. So far I haven't found anything similar. BUT! My dad is super handy and is going to build one for me… do you recommend a box for each cat? Or will they share? Clearly I'm not an educated cat owner but I'm going to learn. Could you tell me what the dimensions are of your boxes? Heighth, width, depth etc? That would be so great!!

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    • Okay, so one is:
      13" x 33" x 12"tall

      The other is:
      12" x 32" x 14"tall

      Both have an entryway that's 9×9" (which was about the size of the hole in their old plastic boxes).

      Ours share (make sure to buy multi-cat litter!), but having two is good because there are the few times that they both have to go at the same time, and they'd fight otherwise.

      Best thing to do is read up on stuff online or ask your vet. As for dimensions, measure out the sizes of the litter boxes at pet stores for a good idea on dimensions (like for the litter pan inside the box). When I was looking for benches at the thrift stores, I didn't know the dimensions of litter pans…turns out, even the small pan at the pet store wouldn't fit in my box dimensions, so I just bought a random rubbermaid bin that DID fit. I was told the recommended litter depth should be about 3" or so, so my plastic bin is 4.5" deep.

      Good luck!

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  21. I have to say I've been reading Lot of diy's on cat litter boxes and found yours to be the most helpful. I don't usually leave comments but just wanted to thank you.

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  22. OMG you are a GENIUS with that litter-catching mat! We have tried everything from a piece of carpet to the fancy-shmancy $40 mats from fancy pet stores, and seriously nothing worked well. They would be saturated with litter within 2 days, and then it would get everywhere. In addition, he vacuum wouldn't be able to pick up all the litter from the mat. Finally, when the cats inevitably pooped on the mat itself, they were all impossible to clean well, and ended up being thrown out.

    Your bar mat idea is seriously brilliant, because a vacuum will work well, it will actually catch all the litter, and if they go on it I can just take it outside and hose it down. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

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    • You're welcome! Honestly, it works great and is STILL working great! :)

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  23. Lenna,

    I've been staring at these for months and finally plan to make one for my two 6 month old sisters. What I want to ask is where did you get the wallpaper? I've looked at various damask patterns but this one seems to fit me most and would love to find it. Thanks.

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  24. Hi, you said both are 12 and 14 in tall…the one I'm looking to get to use is 13 in tall..is this enough room for my cat to use?

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    • Hey Jacklyn, sorry I missed this comment! It really depends on how big your cat is… I sort of guessed based on how big their old plastic boxes were and the sizes of boxes in the stores. Let me know how it turned out!

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  25. Just found this via Hauspanther. Those are great! Very nice.

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