Cat Litter Box History


Litter boxes are one of the smellier and less glamorous aspects to pet ownership, but they offer a safe and clean alternative to allowing your cat to roam free and do their business in someone else's backyard.

They have become an accepted part of owning a pet cat, as much so as flea treatments and toys.

 It seems hard to remember a time when this equipment wasn't a part of our everyday life, but litter boxes only become popular in 1947, when cat owners began to think of cats less as house-guests and more as beloved family members who needed to be kept safe inside. Nowadays, many cat owners are even turning to electric cat litter boxes for their felines! Litter boxes have come a long way.

With this small change in attitude, cat litter boxes as we now know them were born.

full litter box

The Earliest Litter Boxes

The early prototype of litter boxes were simple, box-shaped structures—purely functional, and filled with sand to absorb the waste and allow it to be removed more easily. Until after the Second World War, it was standard for cats to live the majority of their lives outside, and this included doing their business in flower beds and backyard, much to the chagrin of non-feline lovers.

 In a natural environment, cats choose a loose patch of earth in which to relieve themselves and cover this over with soil and dirt to help conceal the smell. This is to stop them from being hunted but also appeals to the solitary nature of kitty cats. They tend to like privacy when conducting their business. All of these were considerations taken into account when designing a litter tray which would appeal to cats of all shapes and sizes.

the development of cat litter

While most cats were kept outside, there were some instances where it was necessary to keep them indoors, such as very young kittens, elderly, sick or injured cats, or personal preference by the owner.

In these cases, sand, ashes, or dirt were often placed in a container such as a box, or even roasting dishes and baking pans, to serve as a toilet area for cats, as these allowed the waste to be contained an absorbed. Though technically these did the job, there were many downsides which made them a less popular option than simply allowing your pet to roam freely.

 The material used to absorb the waste would be tracked throughout the house, along with dirty paw prints and other mess—this was not a world of easy clumping and odor absorbency! For these reasons, it was still fairly common practice to keep your cat outside, allowing them the freedom to roam and take care of their own business. In 1947, however, this all changed.

On a cold January day in Cassopolis, Michigan, a cat-owner named Mrs. Draper needed something to fill her cat box. She was tired of the mess and headache often caused by ashes, and the frozen winter ground meant that dirt was not an option. With no alternatives readily available, she turned to her neighbor, Edward Lowe, and asked him if he had any sand available.

 The clumping nature of sand made it popular for use in litter boxes. With no sand available, Mr. Lowe instead provided her with a clay known as Fullers Earth, a set of clay minerals capable of absorbing their weight in water, making them a perfect choice to clean up cat waste.

 He had previously tried to sell the clay to a local chicken farmer for use as nesting material but had not enjoyed success. Once it was discovered it could be used as cat litter, the substance filled the missing gap. With this seemingly simple action, three things happened; cat litter as we now know it was created, cat litter boxes suddenly became practical and popular, and Mr. Edward Lowe became a wealthy man.

Litter Goes Mainstream

Following his success with Mrs. Draper, Lowe decided to sell the clay in five-pound bags, and titled the product ‘Kitty Litter.’ At first, people were reluctant to switch, preferring the cheaper and more affordable sand. Mr. Lowe even told a local pet store to give away the bags for free until people realized the value and were happy to pay the prices he had set. As curious shoppers picked up the product and gave it a try, news of its success slowly spread across the states, and cat litter boxes really took off.

In previous years, the resistance had been the lack of available and practical materials. Sand and dirt, though cheap, would freeze in the winter, making it unusable and impractical in the coldest states. Ashes would create mess throughout the house, adding an extra chore to the daily lives and routines of women. ‘Kitty Litter,’ however, changed all of this.

 It was super absorbent, making it a far cheaper option and meaning that pet owners could get more for their money. This absorbency also increased its practicality. Owners could simply remove the areas which had been soiled, leaving the remainder of the clay intact. This aspect helped make it a cleaner option and increased the popularity of the resource. Now, it was a realistic option to keep your cats indoors, and safe from illness, predators or harm.

litter boxes evolved

As time passed, the materials used to create and develop the litter boxes themselves also improved and became increasingly sophisticated, developing from re-using old roasting tins to boxes and trays which were designed especially for the purpose, with the needs of cats in mind.

Nowadays, the market is full of different styles and designs, depending on the needs of your pet. There are small, shallow boxes which are a perfect fit for kittens, those with higher backs for messy cats, and hooded or covered options if you have a particularly shy feline. In addition, litter has undergone a journey to offer an array of options, included scented specialties to make it a slightly less unpleasant job, anti-allergy and low dust litters, and antibacterial pieces to help make cleaning out the cat box as easy and hygienic as possible.