The 5 best dog collars in 2021, according to a professional dog trainer

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The best dog collars are durable, comfortable, and will keep their looks over time.
  • A harness is a safer option for walking a dog, but a collar is important for attaching ID tags.
  • We tested and researched a variety of dog collars, including nylon, leather, and martingale collars.

The primary function of a collar is not to walk your dog but to keep them safe. In an emergency situation, the ID tags on your dog’s collar are the quickest and easiest way for someone to get your dog back to you.

The best dog collars are those that are comfortable enough for everyday wear but durable enough to stand up to your dog’s biggest adventures. For those who prefer not to use a harness for walks, the collar must also have strong hardware and fit well without chafing when attached to a leash. A dog’s physical safety is a crucial consideration as well – at the end of this guide, we discuss the risks of using prong and choke collars, which we do not recommend.

To choose the best dog collars on the market, I’ve combined what I’ve learned over a decade of experience with dozens of collars as a certified professional dog trainer with the advice of Melissa Bain, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist and professor of clinical animal behavior at UC Davis, and Carlo Siracusa, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist and associate professor of clinical behavior medicine at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

These are the best dog collars in 2021

The best dog collar overall

French bulldog wearing the Lupine Eco best dog collar overall

Featuring a lifetime guarantee and eco-friendly materials, the Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar stands out for both its durability and sustainability.

Pros: High-quality hardware, comes in three widths, sizes cover necks from 8 to 28 inches, nine colors, made of recycled materials, lifetime warranty even in the case of chewing, affordable

Cons: Lacks padding and reflective materials

In the collar department, most dogs need nothing more than an attractive, functional collar made with high-quality materials. The Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar has that in spades, and that’s not all: This collar is also made from recycled plastic bottles and comes with a warranty that protects your investment for life.

From its look and feel, you’d never know that the Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar was made out of plastic waste. I like that it is both soft and strong while remaining attractive, with a two-tone woven texture available in nine colors. This collar comes in three widths (1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch) and two sizes, appropriate for necks from 8 to 28 inches in circumference.

The Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar is constructed with premium hardware and the custom-designed buckle made by YKK, the world’s largest zipper manufacturer, remains easy to buckle and unbuckle over time. The welded steel D-ring for holding tags, and clipping a leash if needed, is sewn firmly into the material. The collar comes with a lifetime guarantee, but chances are you won’t need it unless your dog turns it into a chew toy.

LupinePet Eco Dog Collar doesn’t get fancy with extras. It doesn’t have padding, lacks reflective materials, and there’s no way to have your dog’s name and phone number stitched into the strap. But for a basic dog collar that will last you a lifetime, you can’t go wrong with this product.

The best budget dog collar

small dog wearing budget-friendly blueberry pet dog collar

The Blueberry Pet Classic Nylon Dog Collar is an attractive, well-designed collar available in a range of colors and sizes.

Pros: Made from nylon with high-density webbing, buckles made from eco-friendly plastic, available in many colors and styles, metal D-ring is chrome-plated

Cons: May not withstand heavy chewing, the material may fray over time, may hold odors

If all you need is a basic, attractive collar that will hold up to everyday wear, the Blueberry Pet Classic Nylon Dog Collar fits the bill. Blueberry’s Classic Collar is made from durable nylon with high-density webbing, strong buckles made of eco-friendly plastic, and a metal D-ring coated in chrome. 

Though it won’t last forever the way our top pick will, this is a well-constructed collar. The company claims they’ve done over 600 laboratory tests to ensure the quality of their collars, and I haven’t found mine to stretch out over time, though some people have experienced fraying over time. 

The Blueberry Classic Nylon Dog Collar comes in a wide range of colors and patterns, from bright pink to subdued green and flowers to plaids. Matching leashes are also available. The Blueberry Classic can also be embroidered with your pet’s name and phone number for an additional four dollars.

This is a great choice for dog guardians on a budget who want their pup’s gear to look great.

The best leather dog collar

feminine looking person and a corgi wearing Perri's Padded Leather Dog Collar

Perri’s Padded Leather Dog Collar combines style and function for a comfortable, handsome collar.

Pros: Handmade, genuine leather and padded lambskin lining for comfort, durable stainless steel or solid brass hardware, resistant to wear and tear, available in a wide variety of colors and five sizes

Cons: Buckle and D-ring may be too close together on some collars, requires leather care

Leather collars offer a level of durability that nylon can’t provide. A good leather collar just gets softer and more supple with use. As long as your dog doesn’t turn it into a chew toy, a well-made one like Perri’s Padded Leather Dog Collars could last a pretty long time.

Perri’s leather collars are handmade by Amish craftspeople and lined with lambskin padding. I love that they look like luxury items, without the price tag. Even with extra padding, the collar doesn’t feel overly stiff, which is always a concern with leather products.

Perri’s collars are also surprisingly one-of-a-kind. They come in 42 different color combinations, including black or brown on the outside lined with bright, metallic, or patterned padding. The hardware on Perri’s Padded Leather Dog Collars is made of solid brass or stainless steel. Because it’s a handmade product, Perri’s collars occasionally have flaws, namely the buckle and D-ring being placed too close together to easily attach a leash if needed. You can return the collar for a replacement, however. Sizing can also run smaller or larger than advertised. 

Like any leather item, without semi-regular cleaning with a leather-care product, Perri’s collars will show some cracking and wear. But if you take care of this collar, it will take care of your dog, giving them years of comfort.

The best martingale dog collar

german shepherd wearing best martingale collar from If It Barks

Made with heavy-duty materials, the well-made If It Barks Martingale keeps dogs from escaping their collar.

Pros: Nonslip design prevents dogs from escaping, handmade in the US, made with extra durable nylon, the hardware is nickel-plated steel, size can be customized, available in two widths and up to 12 colors, can add a buckle for easy removal

Cons: May not withstand heavy chewing, the width may be too large for very small dogs

The If It Barks Martingale Collar is a well-made martingale constructed with heavy-duty materials. The brand has sewn its collar out of two layers of extra durable nylon webbing and added nickel-plated steel hardware to stand up to daily use. One of my favorite things about If It Barks is that if your pup has a neck too small or too large to fit into their standard sizes (small, medium, and large), they’ll customize a collar for them. 

I’ve found If It Barks Martingales to be much sturdier than the average martingale without feeling too stiff or inflexible. Unlike some collars of this kind, you can opt to add a buckle to this collar so that you don’t need to slip it over the head of a sensitive or hand-shy dog. However, it may not withstand heavy chewing and may also be overpowering for more petite dogs.

A martingale collar, or limited-slip collar, prevents dogs from escaping by tightening enough to keep the head from fitting through the loop of the collar. Unlike a choke collar, a martingale will never tighten more than a couple of inches and should not cause discomfort. On a dog that pulls frequently, a martingale, like any collar, could put dangerous pressure on the trachea and neck, according to Siracusa.

And, if you have a skittish, noise-sensitive, or Houdini dog, there’s always a risk that they will escape their collar. Some dogs, especially those with narrow heads like greyhounds and whippets, or with big, muscular necks, can lose their collars without even trying. “For dogs with relatively little difference between the head and neck diameter, a martingale is a good choice,” Bain added.

The best headcollar

person walking a dog wearing PetSafe Gentle Leader Headcollar

With a padded noseband, the Petsafe Gentle Leader helps to curb pulling without using a body harness or causing pain.

Pros: Padded noseband, sold in five sizes and eight colors

Cons: Dangerous for over-aroused dogs, dog must be desensitized to headcollar before use

A headcollar isn’t so much a collar as it is a harness for a dog’s head. Designed on the same principle as a halter for a horse, headcollars help to alleviate pulling in dogs by putting a walker’s control at the front of their pet instead of at their strongest point at their back.

One of the biggest problems with a headcollar is that chafing on the nose can occur, even in dogs that walk calmly. That’s one of the reasons we selected the Petsafe Gentle Leader Headcollar, which has a noseband padded with a layer of neoprene. It’s also our top pick for the best no-pull headcollar in our guide to the best harnesses for dogs.

Headcollars have their limitations. Bain advises against using a headcollar for a dog who is difficult to control and lunges on walks. For calmer dogs, however, Bain says headcollars “are very effective in helping to control dogs that pull, and can be the foot-in-the-door to help train dogs to walk nicely on leash.”

Bain prefers the affordable Gentle Leader “for its ease in fitting and use.” Indeed, this headcollar has only two straps, one around the nose and one around the ears, the latter of which is adjustable. The noseband attaches to the leash with a slip-loop to naturally size to your dog’s snout.

The Gentle Leader comes in five sizes and eight colors, and your dog will require desensitization before they are comfortable wearing it. But if you’re looking for an alternative to a harness for a dog that pulls on a leash, this headcollar is a good option for dogs that are not easily over-aroused.

What else we considered

a dog wearing the Coastal Pet New Earth Eco Friendly Soy Dog Collar
  • Coastal Pet New Earth Eco-Friendly Soy Dog Collar: This has been one of my personal favorites in the budget category for years for its softness, pliability, and durability. Made from soy fibers, the Coastal Pet New Earth Collar doesn’t retain smells and washes easily in the laundry. It was narrowly nudged out of our top budget spot due to the relative lack of colors, only 12 muted tones compared to the Blueberry Classic Dog Collar’s 22 (plus all the patterned options), and because pricing goes up for some sizes and shades. But if you’re looking for a good option for under $5, this may be the one for you.
  • The Company of Animals Halti Head Collar: The thing I like best about the Halti Head Collar is its additional safety tether, which connects the halter to your dog’s collar and will help you maintain control if a strap breaks or your dog worms out of the device. Like the Gentle Leader, the Halti also has a padded noseband and additional straps on the side of the snout to help balance out the halter and keep it in place.

Safety considerations for dog collars

Collars that add pressure or pain to your dog’s neck on walks, usually to prevent them from pulling away, should be avoided. “I do not recommend owners use prong or pinch collars on their dogs,” said Bain.

Even martingale-style collars can be dangerous for dogs that pull frequently because of the pressure they put on the neck. “It can cause problems to the trachea, it can cause problems to the bone structure of the neck, and then it can cause problems to the circulation that goes and comes from the brain,” Siracusa explained. 

Because of their design, some collars can also be dangerous when left on a dog without supervision. The martingale collar, for example, which has an extra loop of material that can get caught on things, should be removed after the walk is over, according to Whole Dog Journal. The head collar, too, should only be worn for walks. “Flat collars should be worn by dogs to hang their ID tags,” said Bain. She added they are relatively safe to keep on 24/7 as well.

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The 10 best bird feeders in 2021

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Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • There are a variety of bird feeder designs for attracting different species of birds to your yard.
  • We consulted experts from the Audubon Society and Project FeederWatch for this guide.
  • These are the 10 best bird feeders, including hopper, tube, suet, and hummingbird feeders.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Ericka Wade, DVM, a veterinarian at Burke County Animal Hospital, Georgia.
bird feeding from blue tube feeder made by Perky Pet, one of the Best bird feeders in 2021

Setting out wild bird feeders is an easy way to attract a diversity of native and migrating species to your yard. It’s something both you and your feathered friends will benefit from: Studies have shown that providing food for wild birds can help them to maintain good health, live longer, and have more reproductive success.

To better understand the types of birds a feeder can attract, the feeder designs that work best, and the varieties of food they like best, we consulted with three avian experts from the Audubon Society and Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch. We combined their expertise with extensive research to come up with the best products in 10 categories of wild bird feeders.

Here are the best bird feeders in 2021

The best tube feeder

three birds eating from Droll Yankees Onyx 18-in Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder

The sturdy, easy-to-clean Droll Yankees Onyx 18-inch Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder comes backed by a lifetime warranty against squirrel damage.

Tube feeders are a great way to attract a variety of smaller birds, including finches, wrens, and chickadees. Plus, they are easy to fill and can typically be both hung and pole-mounted. “Tube feeders offer a lot of different ports for different individuals to sit on at the same time and they keep seed dry and clean,” said Emma Greig, project leader for Project FeederWatch at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.

Droll Yankees’ Onyx 18-inch Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder has four powder-coated metal feeding ports with perches and a seed tray. Its transparent 18-inch-long tube is made from discoloration-resistant plastic and it has a metal twist-and-release base that is easily removed for cleaning. The Onyx holds up to 2 pounds of feed and, thanks to its spring-loaded flip-top metal cap, it can be filled one-handed. Suspend the feeder from its stainless steel wire or pole-mount it. If squirrels get too curious, the feeder is backed by a lifetime warranty against any damage they cause.

Onyx 18-in Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder (button)
The best budget tube feeder

perky pet wild blue bird tube feeder hanging from a tree

The affordable Perky Pet Tube Wild Bird Feeder is as weather-resistant and easy-to-clean as it is bright and cheerful.

All of the experts we consulted agree that a high-quality wild bird feeder should be made from easy-to-clean plastic, metal, or glass. It should also be easy to take apart for proper cleaning, according to John Rowden, senior director of bird-friendly communities at the National Audubon Society in New York, New York.

The affordable Perky Pet Tube Wild Bird Feeder‘s six plastic feeding ports, perches, and plastic base all come apart so you can remove old seed and scrub out the bacteria left behind. The bright blue 18-inch-long tube is made from durable rust-resistant powder-coated metal and holds up to a pound of bird feed. It hangs from a sturdy, built-in metal hanger.

Tube Wild Bird Feeder (button)
The best nectar feeder

four hummingbirds eating from aspects 367 hummzinger hummingbird feeder

The Aspects Hummzinger Ultra Feeder has a wraparound perch and deters insects with raised feeding ports and an ant moat.

Nectar feeders attract long-beaked, jewel-toned hummingbirds and the occasional woodpecker, warbler, or oriole. “These feeders are great because you can make the sugar-water solution at home by simply combining one part sugar with four parts water,” said Katie Percy, avian biologist with Audubon Louisiana. Although some store-bought nectars are dyed red artificially, adding red dye to your mix may actually be harmful for birds, she told Insider Reviews.

Aspects Hummzinger Ultra Feeder is simply designed in two parts that are exceptionally easy to fill and clean. The red plastic cover, which has a wraparound perch and four rain-diverting, bee-deterring feeding ports, screws into a clear plastic base so you to see when nectar levels are getting low. A built-in moat in the middle of the cover prevents ants from getting into the nectar. The 8.25-inch-diameter, 2-inch-tall Hummzinger is drip- and leak-proof, holds up to 12 ounces of nectar, and hangs from a brass hook. Aspects’ feeder also comes backed by a lifetime guarantee.

Ultra Hummingbird Feeder (button)
The best hopper feeder

cardinal perched on woodlink squirrel resistant bird feeder hanging from a tree

The Woodlink Squirrel Resistant Hopper Feeder has an adjustable perch and a metal shield that drops when heavier critters attempt to feed.

Hopper feeders attract a wide variety of small, medium, and large birds, including jays, sparrows, and finches. “They do a good job of keeping seed dry and [provide] easy access to the birds,” said Greig. As the birds eat, the hopper’s food continuously drops into the feeding ports, keeping them full until the food runs out.

The extra-large capacity Woodlink Squirrel Resistant Hopper Feeder has a three-position perch that can be adjusted to maximize visits by small, medium, or large birds. When the wrong bird or a squirrel lands on the feeder, a shield drops over the seed tray to prevent them from getting a taste. Woodlink’s Hopper is made from durable powder-coated steel and its locking, squirrel-resistant lid lifts off for easy cleaning. It holds up to 15 pounds of seed and a seed-level indicator window lets you see when it’s running low. This feeder comes with both a steel hanging rod and a 5-foot pole and mounting kit.

Squirrel Resistant Hopper Feeder (button)
The best mesh finch feeder

bird perched on More Birds Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder

With a mesh tube, four perches, and a seed tray, the More Birds Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder offers finches a variety of ways to feed.

Finch feeders are similar to tube feeders but have a mesh seed well instead of a plastic or glass one. This mesh design is perfect for attracting finches, which unlike larger birds, are agile enough to cling to the small openings in the metal screen. Because the finches can feed from any position, it also allows more birds to eat at the same time.

The More Birds Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder is a versatile option that allows birds to choose between landing on its screen, at one of four feeding ports with perches, or on the seed tray. Even if larger birds visit the feeder, smaller finches can still find a place to chow down. The Sedona has a twist-off metal cover and base for easy cleaning and drainage holes at the bottom. The screen is made from steel mesh and the ports and seed tray are weather-resistant. This sunny yellow feeder holds up to 2.8 pounds of seed.

Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder (button)
The best suet feeder

one bird feeding at More Birds Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder

The More Birds Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder protects two suet cakes within a durable steel cage frame.

Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and starlings, among others, enjoy eating calorie- and fat-dense suet, a feed made from animal fat and ingredients such as corn meal, nuts, and dried insects. Suet is commonly sold in solid cakes that are then suspended in a cage for easy access. Suet is a good feeding option in cold weather, but it is best avoided in warmer months since the fat in the feed can quickly turn rancid in the heat, Percy said.

The cylindrical More Birds Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder has an interior cage for holding two cakes of suet and an exterior cage to keep squirrels out. Both are made from weather-resistant powder-coated steel. The steel lid lifts off for easy cleaning and filling. Squirrel-X’s Suet Feeder is 10 inches in diameter, 9.4-inches tall and is fitted with an aluminum hanger.

Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder (button)
The best squirrel-resistant feeder

Stokes_Double_Suet_Feeder

Droll Yankees’ Sunflower Domed Cage Feeder has a cage to keep squirrels out and a lifetime warranty against their damage, just in case.

In many areas, squirrels are an ever-present problem when feeding wild birds. “Those things are really clever,” said Greig. “They can jump really far and they’re really acrobatic.” While various measures can be taken to deter squirrels, some feeders are designed with squirrel-resistance in mind. Some seal their feeding ports when a squirrel lands on them and others are suspended within a cage that is too small for a squirrel to squeeze into, according to Rowden. If a feeder doesn’t have built-in squirrel protection, Percy recommends hanging it from a pole that is at least 10 feet away from vegetation or other structures that squirrels can climb and outfitting it with a baffle, a plastic cone that blocks a squirrel’s route.

Droll Yankees’ Sunflower Domed Cage Feeder encloses a clear 15-inch-long plastic tube feeder inside a coated metal cage 10.5 inches in diameter. A plastic roof covers the entire thing to keep the seed inside dry. The interior tube feeder holds up to 1 pound of seed, has four feeding ports, and attaches to the cage with a spring clamp. When it’s time for cleaning, the tube can be easily removed and disassembled. Droll Yankees’ Sunflower Feeder is backed by a lifetime warranty against squirrel damage.

Sunflower Domed Cage Feeder (button)
The best window feeder

three birds perched on the Nature Anywhere Window Bird House Feeder

The Nature Anywhere Window Bird House Feeder gets you up close to wild birds without ever leaving home.

A window feeder gives even those without outdoor space the opportunity to feed winged visitors like finches, jays, and cardinals. It may seem like a bad idea to place a feeder against a window, but both Greig and Percy told Insider Reviews that it’s actually helpful. Placing a feeder within 3 feet of a window reduces the chances that a bird will become confused and fly into it, causing self-injury or even death.

The Nature Anywhere Window Bird House Feeder attaches to any window with four heavy-duty suction cups. The 8-inch-by-8-inch house is made of transparent acrylic and has a large circular window at its center for better viewing. A sliding seed tray holds up to 2 cups of feed and can be removed for cleaning and refilling. Because squirrels can’t climb the sides of buildings, the Window Bird House may be less likely to suffer critter damage than hanging varieties. Nature Anywhere’s feeder comes with a lifetime guarantee just in case.

Window Bird House Feeder (button)
The best domed feeder

two birds eating from Heath Observatory Dome Bird Feeder

The affordable Heath Observatory Dome Bird Feeder can be baited with different foods to attract a variety of birds, including bluebirds.

Like platform feeders, dome feeders have a flat tray that can be filled with almost anything birds will eat, including seed, insects, and fruit. Bluebirds are particularly attracted to this type of feeder when it’s filled with mealworms because the raised dome helps them feel protected from predators. In general, the more variety you add to your feeder, the greater number of species you’ll attract, Percy said. Nutritious options include black-oil sunflower seed, white millet, nyjer seed, orange halves, and suet.

The Heath Observatory Dome Bird Feeder can hold up to a pound of food. It has two separate clear plastic pieces — a flat tray with sides and a dome-shaped cover — that are connected with a steel rod hanger. The distance between tray and cover is adjustable and drainage holes in the bottom of the tray help keep feed clean and dry. The Observatory Dome Feeder is 11.75 inches in diameter and can be hung from its steel hook or mounted on a pole.

Dome Bird Feeder (button)
The best platform feeder

three birds perched on the uncraft Eco-Strong Platform Feeder

The Duncraft Eco-Strong Platform Feeder is made from durable recycled plastic and metal mesh that is easy to fill and clean.

Platform feeders are arguably the simplest, most versatile feeders available. They can be filled with any bird-friendly food and it is easy for most feathered friends to comfortably sit on the tray and eat. Like other feeders, platforms should be made from easy-to-clean materials like plastic or metal. “Although [wooden feeders] can look quite nice, they tend to be porous and harbor additional bacteria,” said Percy.

Duncraft’s Eco-Strong Platform Feeder has a sturdy tray made from recycled plastic and a mesh metal bottom that helps keep feed dry. The 12-inch-by-2-inch feeder is approximately an inch deep and has a hanging chain that clips to rings embedded at each corner to keep it balanced. The whole thing hangs from an S-hook at the top of the chain. The Eco-Strong Platform Feeder holds up to 2 pounds of seed, insects, fruit, nuts, or suet and is easy to detach from the chain for cleaning or filling.

Eco-Strong Platform Feeder (button)
How we selected products

We consulted three avian experts and conducted extensive research to come up with the selection criteria for this guide to the best bird feeders. We then applied that criteria to the bird feeders available at major online retailers, selecting our top choices in 10 different categories of feeders. The essential features we looked for included:

Feeder material: Our experts recommend sticking to feeders made from nonporous, easy-to-clean materials such as plastic, metal, and glass. Percy advised us to stay away from wood feeders in which harmful bacteria is more likely to grow.

Ease of disassembly: Because bird feeders should be frequently emptied, cleaned, and refilled, the easier they are to disassemble, the better. We favored feeders that have a fully removable cover and/or base and removable feeding ports and perches.

Ease of cleaning: Percy recommends cleaning bird feeders at least every two weeks and more often during times of heavy use or wet weather. We looked for feeders that could be easily soaked and scrubbed both inside and out, including in hard-to-reach crevices.

Bird-safe design: Greig recommends avoiding feeders that have tight, narrow corners or additional pieces that could cause a bird to become stuck inside. With that in mind, we looked for feeders with simple, functional designs.

Drainage: When water gets into a bird feeder, it can cause seed and other foods to rot or develop bacteria that may sicken or even kill a bird. In addition to a feeder that’s easy to clean, we looked for designs with built-in drainage when possible.

Price: We compared the cost of the feeders that met our other selection criteria, favoring those that were most affordable.

FAQs

Are feeders good for wild birds?

Feeding wild birds, when done correctly, is appropriate and may even help them when resources are limited,” said Rowden. According to Percy, studies have shown that birds with access to supplemental feeding may have better chances of survival and reproductive success than those that don’t.


What shouldn’t I feed wild birds?

Birds should never be offered processed human foods, including bread. “Bread, fresh or stale, does not provide nutritional value for wild birds and moldy bread can even be harmful,” explained Percy. She also recommends avoiding low-cost commercial bird seed mixes. “Unfortunately, many less expensive bags of mixed seed contain a lot of ‘filler’ seeds that most birds do not prefer and that contain no real nutritional value for them,” she said.


 Where should I hang my bird feeder?

Squirrels and window strikes are two of the most problematic issues when it comes to hanging a bird feeder. To avoid the latter, Greig recommends placing feeders within 3 feet of windows. “If they’re on the bird feeder and they get spooked and fly into a window, they don’t have enough speed built up to really harm themselves,” she said. Hanging a feeder more than 10 feet away from your home can also help keep birds safe. To deter squirrels, try hanging or pole mounting a feeder at least 10 feet from trees and other objects they can climb. Using a squirrel-resistant feeder or baffle, a plastic cone hung beneath the feeder to block a squirrel’s access, can also help to keep them at bay.


When shouldn’t I use wild bird feeders?

Bird feeders are best used in clean, safe, healthy environments, Greig told Insider Reviews. If you use pesticides on your lawn or garden or have outdoor cats, you should not use feeders to attract birds to your yard.


Are there other ways to attract wild birds to my yard?

“You can still create a beautiful space and attract birds to your yard just by creating a bird friendly habitat — letting a patch of your lawn go to seed or leaving a brush pile, for example” said Greig. Rowden agreed. “We encourage people to think about providing food naturally by planting native species that can provide food and shelter and places to nest in, and can potentially provide food throughout the year depending on where people live,” he said. The Audubon Society’s Native Plants Database can help you figure out what to plant around your home to attract birds.

How to maintain a bird feeder

Wild bird feeders must be emptied and cleaned frequently to prevent the feed from becoming contaminated by moisture and bacteria. Percy recommends taking them apart and scrubbing them down at least every two weeks. They should be cleaned more often in wet weather and at times of year that lots of birds are visiting.

To clean a feeder, begin by completely emptying and disassembling it. Check the care instructions to determine whether your feeder is dishwasher friendly or if it must be hand-washed. If it’s the latter, soaking the feeder’s parts in warm water first can dislodge stuck-on debris.

When hand-washing, use a bottle brush and dish soap to thoroughly scrub the feeder’s interior. If it needs disinfecting due to the potential buildup of bacteria, Percy recommends washing it in a solution made from one part bleach and nine parts water. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the feeder after washing.

Before reassembling and filling your feeder, make sure it is completely dry. Moisture that sticks around will contaminate feed more quickly.

Our sources

For this guide to the best bird feeders, we consulted the following experts in the field of avian biology, behavioral ecology, and conservation:

We also consulted the following online sources:

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The 5 best cat litters in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Cat litter is available in many forms, including clay, silica gel, grain, wood, paper, and grass.
  • We tested 28 varieties of cat litter to evaluate their absorption, odor control, clumping, and more.
  • The best cat litter is Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter, which performed well in our tests.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Cleaning the litter box is the most dreaded job of any cat guardian, and without a high-quality cat litter, it’s made all the worse. What makes a person happy, however, can be the exact opposite of what a cat prefers. If the texture is wrong or the litter is perfumed, a cat may even choose to do their business outside of the box.

To help us identify the best litters to please both cat and guardian, we consulted four veterinarians to learn more about the litter preferences of cats and their toileting needs. Guided by their advice, we selected and tested 28 different litters, including clay, paper, silica gel, wood, grass, and corn substrates. Editorial review samples were provided by their manufacturers, with the exception of Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter.

We tested each litter for one to four weeks to evaluate its weight, shape, softness, dust, scent, clumping ability, ease of cleaning, odor control, tracking, and cost. You can read more about our testing process in the next slide. Scroll to the end of this guide to learn more about what to consider when shopping for cat litter, types of litter, and find answers to common questions about cat toileting.

Here is the best cat litter you can buy:

Our methodology

four cat litters in bowls including smart cat clumping litter, tidy cats naturally strong, tidy cats free and clean, and dr. elsey's ultra
Four of the clumping clay litters we tested undergoing our dust test

Testing cat litters for this guide was done in two phases: a pre-cat phase and a cat phase. In the first phase, I compared litters belonging to the same category in heats of four at a time, assessing them for a variety of factors, including clumping ability, dustiness, scent, and texture.

The top two litters in each heat went on to the next phase. The litter was poured into a litter pan for the cats to use for anywhere from one to four weeks to test for odor control and tracking. Litters that were tested for two weeks or less were those that my cats refused to use, or those we tested prior to receiving the bulk of the litters for this guide. For each litter, I assessed the following qualities:

Litter weight, shape, and softness: Because cats typically prefer a soft, grainy substrate that is easy to dig, I evaluated the shape, texture, softness, and density of each litter. I measured 1/4 cup of each on a kitchen scale to compare their weights side by side.

Dust and scent: Cats are sensitive to both dust and scent, so I measured the relative intensity of each. I noted the amount of dust emitted when pouring and scooping the litter, as well as how much peppered the sides of the bowl or litter box. With scent, I went by the advice of Dr. Catherine Tannert, co-medical director of VCA Old Marple Animal Hospital, in Springfield, Pennsylvania, who said, “Cats prefer unscented litter to the cloying smell of kitty litters that are developed for the owner’s perception of cleanliness.” I did a sniff test of each litter in both phases of testing, including the thankless job of lifting clumps of litter to my nose to gauge how much of an ammonia scent they emitted.

Clumping ability and ease of cleaning: In phase one testing, I compared a small amount of each litter in plastic bowls with slick interiors similar to a litter pan. I added 1/4 cup of water to each bowl in two separate trials to gauge how quickly and easily it was absorbed, as well as how solidly it clumped and stuck together upon scooping. At the end of both trials, I emptied each bowl to look for moisture that had escaped the clumps and adhered to the bottom of the bowl.

Odor control and tracking: The top two litters from each category went on to phase two testing in a litter box for one to four weeks. I cleaned the litter pan twice daily and swept up any tracked litter once a day, noting how easy clumps were to remove and how much ended up on the floor. A daily sniff test informed me of the extent to which odors were under control. Because my cats refused to use the paper litters, I was unable to complete a phase two test on them.

Cost: I calculated the cost per pound of each litter and compared them. With lightweight clay litters, I first calculated their weight relative to a standard clay litter and adjusted the price accordingly.

The best cat litter overall

a litter box filled tidy cats naturally strong litter and the bag of litter beside
Tidy Cats Naturally Strong uses activated charcoal to control odors

Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter is a super absorbent clay-based clumping litter that does a superior job containing odors, produces very little dust, and is easy to clean.

Pros: Activated charcoal controls odors; forms tight, easy-to-clean clumps; does not contain fragrances or dyes; lightweight; produces minimal dust; has texture many cats prefer; reasonably priced

Cons: A fair amount of litter tracks outside the box

Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter is a dye and fragrance-free clay-based clumping litter with the grainy, sandy texture that most cats prefer, or at least tolerate well. It produces very little of the little dust that can irritate cats with sensitive respiratory systems and contains bits of activated charcoal that help control odors.

In testing, Naturally Strong absorbed liquid quickly, forming a tight clump that was easy to remove in a single piece. I also found that this litter rarely left moistened clay stuck to the interior of the litter box. Best of all, it was effective at preventing foul odors throughout our three-week testing period.

Naturally Strong is also reasonably priced, typically averaging about 16 cents more per pound than you’d pay for a 20-pound box our budget pick, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter. Unfortunately, like most clay substrates, this litter does track a fair amount around the box — though far less than some of the lighter weight versions we tested like Tidy Cats Free and Clean Lightweight Litter.

Chewy offers the best deal on Tidy Cats Naturally Strong litter: three 13.3-pound bags for $25.99. Petco and Target also offer a 20-pound jug of Tidy Cats for $14.

The best budget cat litter

a box filled with Dr. Elsey's Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter and a bag beside it
Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter provides excellent clumping at a low price

Quick-clumping Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter is a fragrance-free clay litter with good odor control and very little dust and tracking.

Pros: Tight-clumping medium-grain clay litter, unscented, very little dust, low tracking, does a fine job of controlling odors, affordable

Cons: Odors can accumulate over time

Several years ago, I switched my cat to the unscented Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter at the recommendation of a veterinary behaviorist, and I’ve been using it religiously ever since. But with the opportunity to test nine clumping clay litters for this guide, I was anxious to see how it would hold up compared to other brands. Quite well, it turns out.

For a highly affordable litter that is odor-containing and easy to clean, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra is as good as it gets. The unscented medium-grain clay litter also satisfies a cat’s need to scratch, dig, and bury their waste. Because it produces very little dust, it’s also a good choice for cats with respiratory issues.

In testing, it absorbed liquid almost instantly and clumped tightly. With a bit of heft to its grains, less litter was carried out of the box on my cats’ feet than with our top pick, Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter.

Although Dr. Elsey’s Ultra controls odors, it relies on 100% sodium bentonite clay to minimize odors instead of activated charcoal. I have found that if I’m lax on emptying and completely cleaning the box every couple of months, odors can begin to accumulate.

At around $0.50 per pound and sold in bags up to 40 pounds, Dr. Elsey’s is one of the top two most cost-effective brands in this guide, along with Frisco Scoopable Unscented Litter.

The best non-clumping litter

a litter box filled with pretty litter and the bad beside it
Pretty Litter monitors a cat’s urinary health while helping you keep your litter box tidy

Pretty Litter‘s color-changing silica gel formula is an early warning system for detecting feline urinary health problems.

Pros: Changes colors to monitor a cat’s urinary health, made of safe silica gel, absorbs and controls odors, automatic delivery, 30-day money-back guarantee, reasonably priced, lightweight formula

Cons: Ammonia scent toward end of litter’s lifespan (around 12 days for two cats), false health readings toward end of litter’s lifespan (around 14 days for two cats)

Feline urinary tract diseases (FLUTD) such as bladder inflammation, urinary stones, or crystals are common in cats, according to Tannert. Just as common is a cat who tries to hide their pain and discomfort, making it all the more challenging to figure out if there’s a problem.

Pretty Litter takes the guesswork out of monitoring a cat’s urinary health with its color-changing silica gel litter. When a cat’s urine is too acidic, too alkaline, or contains blood, the litter changes color from a healthy yellow-green to an ominous dark yellow, blue, or red.

Both of my cats used Pretty Litter willingly, and despite its light weight, it did not stick to their feet as much as the clay litters. The litter is dust and fragrance-free, but it does have a bit of a chemical scent.

Pretty Litter does not clump. Instead, urine is absorbed into lightweight silica gel flakes made from safe naturally occurring minerals like those frequently used in medications, food, and cosmetics. The flakes have a light, sandy texture that satisfies a cat’s instinct to dig and bury their waste. Solids need to be scooped out daily.

Pretty Litter did a good job of controlling odors. I did find that the closer we got to the end of the litter’s lifespan (about two weeks for two cats), the more I noticed a slight ammonia scent.

Around that same time, the litter can also give false color readings. We had one stressful morning where one of my cat’s urine turned blue. It turned out the only thing that was wrong was that I hadn’t changed the litter fast enough.

For a single cat, a bag lasts a month before requiring changing. Pretty Litter is a subscription service priced at $22 per month for one cat. If either you or your cat isn’t a fan, the company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. 

The best paper cat litter

a litter box filled with Ökocat Non-Clumping Paper Pellet Litter and the box of litter beside it
Ökocat’s Non-Clumping Paper Pellet Litter is a virtually dust-free litter with great absorbency

Ökocat’s Non-Clumping Paper Pellet Litter is the most absorbent of all paper litters we tested and produces virtually no dust.

Pros: Made of sustainably sourced paper pellets, free of dyes and synthetic chemicals, very little dust, biodegradable, pellets are soft and less than 1 inch long, unscented

Cons: Expensive, some cats do not like using a pellet-style litter

Paper litters, most of which come in the form of small, firm pellets, can be a good substrate solution for cats that suffer from respiratory problems. Of the five paper varieties we reviewed, Ökocat’s Paper Pellet Litter performed best in my first round of testing. It absorbed liquid quickly and the paper pellets didn’t immediately fall apart.

Ökocat’s pellets were also the softest and smallest (approximately .5 to 1 inch in length) of the paper litters we tested, making them more conducive to natural scratching, digging, and burying behaviors than brands with heavier, larger pellets.

This litter does not clump. Instead, the paper pellets absorb as much liquid as they can before falling apart and turning into a sort of mulch. Scooping is only necessary for solids.

Unfortunately, because neither of my cats were willing to use the paper substrates, I can’t speak to how well Ökocat controls odors or holds up over time. However, it is clear from the weight and shape of the litter that the pellets are very low tracking compared to smaller-grained clay and natural varieties. We will be testing this litter out with some willing participants for a later update to this guide.

While Ökocat Paper Pellet Litter isn’t dust-free, it is close. The paper pellets are also biodegradable and do not have any scent. But this litter is also 35% to 60% more expensive than the other paper brands we tested. Unlike most paper litters, Ökocat uses sustainably sourced dye and white paper free of synthetic chemicals instead of recycled paper — a less environmentally friendly policy that nonetheless is likely better for sensitive cats.

The best multi-cat litter

a litter box filled with worlds best multiple cat litter and the bag beside it
The eco-friendly World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter absorbs odors and is easy to clean

For a natural litter that is eco-friendly, easy to clean, and odor-absorbing, World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter is an excellent option.

Pros: Made from compressed corn kernels, similar texture to clay litters, controls odors well when cleaned frequently, minimal dust, reasonably priced

Cons: Odors can build up without frequent cleaning and become more noticeable around three weeks of use by two cats

In our tests, World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter came out on top of the 12 natural litters we considered, thanks to its good clumping ability and odor control. Made from compressed corn kernels, this litter’s lightweight granules are slightly harder than the clay litters in our best overall and best budget litter categories, but they are still satisfyingly scratchable.

World’s Best absorbed liquids instantaneously to form tight, solid clumps that maintained their shape and structure on removal. Its natural corn-cereal scent controlled odors well when cleaned twice a day. However, I found if I left clumps in for a 24-hour period, the scent of ammonia became increasingly strong.

Tracking of this litter is relatively minimal — about equivalent to our top clay litter selections. This litter is also free of synthetic additives, chemicals, and fragrances and produces very minimal dust.

According to World’s Best, a 14-pound bag of Multiple Cat Litter is intended to last about a month (33 days) for two cats. However, I found that in the last few days of our three-week testing period, the remaining litter in the pan was somewhat less effective at absorbing odors than it had been in the beginning. Based on this observation, I would expect that by the end of four weeks, ammonia odors are likely to be even more noticeable. 

What else we considered

a litter box filled with Cat's Pride Unscented Natural Care Multi-Cat Clumping Litter and the jug beside it
Cat’s Pride Unscented Natural Care Multi-Cat Clumping was a good litter, but it tracked easily outside the box

Clumping clay litters we liked

  • Cat’s Pride Unscented Natural Care Multi-Cat Clumping Litter: This affordable clay litter absorbed liquids instantaneously and formed clumps that were only a little more likely to break apart during cleaning than our top picks. Cat’s Pride is lighter weight than most clay litters, but that also makes it more likely to be tracked than heavier formulas. For every 15-pound jug purchased, the company donates a pound of litter to an animal shelter.
  • Tidy Cats Free and Clean Lightweight Litter: This Tidy Cats Litter was on par with the brand’s Naturally Strong variety, which we selected as the best litter overall for this guide. The Free and Clean litter absorbed liquids on contact, clumped tightly, controlled odors with activated charcoal, and produced very little dust. It was also significantly lighter, making it easier to carry and pour. That lighter weight, however, resulted in more tracking than the Naturally Strong litter, with granules of litter sometimes riding on my cats’ feet all the way to the living room couch.
  • Frisco Scoopable Unscented Litter: Frisco’s Multi-Cat Litter is a steal. Though it is less instantaneously absorbent, forming thinner and more fragile clumps that spread more widely across the pan, Frisco’s litter controls odors as well as our top budget pick, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter.  Unscented and among the least dusty formulas we tried, this is another great option for anyone looking to save a few bucks.

Clay clumping litters we don’t recommend

  • Arm & Hammer Unscented Multi-Cat Litter: Although it is advertised as unscented, this litter has a light laundry detergent odor. And while it did form solid clumps, it was the dustiest of all of the litters we tested.
  • Pioneer Pet Smart Cat Lightweight Clumping Litter: This lightweight, unscented litter absorbs liquid and clumps well, but the moisture that escaped to mix with clay at the bottom of the pan was surprisingly challenging to remove.
  • Cat’s Pride Scented Bacterial Odor Control Multi-Cat Litter: Cat’s Pride Bacterial Odor Control Litter produced very little dust and clumped reasonably well, but it failed to capture all of the testing liquid, leaving wet clay stuck to the bottom of the pan. This litter has a light soapy scent.
  • Arm & Hammer Cloud Control Litter: Arm & Hammer’s Cloud Control was the least absorbent litter out of the nine clay varieties we tested, although that which it did absorb clumped solidly. A heavy litter perfumed with a light laundry scent, Cloud Control is, at the very least, dust-free.

Non-clumping litter

  • Petsafe Scoop Free Scented Crystal Litter: Lightly scented and with very little dust, this crystal litter absorbs moisture and captures odors. Like Pretty Litter, Petsafe’s non-clumping crystal litter is made from silica gel and a single bag lasts up to 30 days for one cat. Unlike Pretty Litter, Petsafe’s litter does not warn guardians when their pet might be experiencing urinary trouble.

Paper cat litter

Natural Cat Litter

  • Pioneer Pet Smart Cat Clumping Grass Litter: I really liked this grass litter because it acted almost exactly like a good clay clumping litter. The naturally wheat-cereal-scented grass particles absorbed moisture instantly and formed strong, solid clumps. Soft to the touch, essentially dust-free, and odor-trapping, the only thing keeping this litter from the top spot was its cost — almost double the equally effective World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter.
  • World’s Best Original Unscented Cat Litter: Made from corn and with very little dust, World’s Best Original Cat Litter absorbed liquid moderately well and formed relatively solid clumps that were easier to remove than those belonging to Frisco Corn and Wheat.
  • World’s Best Zero Mess Cat Litter: My cats and I both liked the Zero Mess formula from World’s Best, which blends the company’s typical corn kernels with additional plant fibers to absorb liquid and form tight clumps. On sniff tests, this litter also did a great job of minimizing odors. Ultimately, however, I found the Zero Mess formula to work no better than World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter, our pick for best natural litter, despite costing around 25% more.
  • Frisco Corn and Wheat Cat Litter: I was disappointed by this litter’s absorbency. Not only did our tester liquid spread out within the litter, it seeped all the way to the bottom of the pan and left it wet. The clumps that did form were also quick to fall apart, making this litter more challenging to clean.
  • Frisco Clumping Grass Litter: Relative to Smart Cat’s All Natural Clumping Grass Litter, Frisco’s formula did a worse job at absorbing moisture into tight clumps, making them more of a challenge to remove.
  • Ökocat Super Soft Wood Litter: Of the three wood litters we tested, I liked Ökocat’s Super Soft formula best. Like the other wood litters, this version did an excellent job of absorbing liquids and preventing odors. It also had a superior clumping ability as opposed to Feline Pine and Okocat’s Original Litter — though clumping was less solid and more likely to fall apart in cleaning than some of the other natural varieties we tested. As the name suggests, this litter has softer, smaller granules than its competitors, which my cats seemed to prefer. They toileted in it a little more frequently than the others, though still not as often as the grass, walnut, or grain varieties.
  • Ökocat Original Wood Clumping Litter: Ökocat’s original clumping formula is made of the same sustainably sourced wood as the Super Soft Clumping style and it absorbs moisture just as quickly. However, I found this litter’s clumping ability to be somewhat disappointing. It stuck together in some places, while in others, the wood granules quickly degraded. When dry, those same granules are quite sharp and stiff, a texture that sensitive cats may prefer to avoid.
  • Feline Pine Clumping Wood Litter: Made of reclaimed lumber shavings, this was the softest of the wood litters, but it was also the dustiest. In testing, I was unimpressed with Feline Pine’s clumping ability. It absorbed moisture slowly and turned mealy like oatmeal instead of forming a solid clump.
  • Littermaid Natural Premium Walnut Clumping Litter: My cats and I liked this walnut litter, which clumped tightly and controlled odors well. Because this slightly softer substrate is heavier than its competitors, it also tracked less and produced a little less dust. One thing to note about Littermaid is that it sometimes absorbs liquids slowly. The company recommends waiting a full 15 minutes after urination to scoop, but we found that often absorption took less than a minute.
  • Naturally Fresh Quick-Clumping Walnut Litter: This clumping formula was my least favorite of the walnut litters we tested. It absorbed liquid well, but its clumping ability was just okay. In cleaning, many of the clumps fell apart and were more challenging to remove. It was also the dustiest of the three nut-shell varieties we tested.
  • Naturally Fresh Multi-Cat Ultra Odor Control Walnut Litter: Like Naturally Fresh’s Quick-Clumping Litter, Multi-Cat is a harder, rockier substrate than Littermaid’s walnut litter and its clumping ability was fair but not great, with clumps often breaking apart in cleaning. This formula also left the most clumped litter stuck to the interior of the litter pan.

What we’re looking forward to

We’ve lined up the following litters to test for an update to this guide:

 

 

What to consider when shopping for cat litter

Clumping vs. non-clumping litters: Cat litter is sold in both clumping and non-clumping formulas. Clumping formulas, including those made from clay, corn, wood, and grass, form solid masses when they encounter urine, and those must be removed from the litter daily.

Non-clumping litters absorb urine, too, but instead of forming clumps, the granules of silica, wood, or paper become saturated and gradually break down over time. On each cleaning, the substrate must be stirred to distribute the ammonia in the box. There is no difference between how non-clumping and clumping litters interact with solids — feces must still be scooped daily.

Both clumping and non-clumping litters manage bad smells. In the case of clumping formulas, urine is removed through daily scooping. In non-clumping formulas, urine accumulates in the box over time. Clumping litters can be topped off with additional litter as needed, but boxes filled with a non-clumping litter must be completely emptied and refilled after a period of two to seven weeks, depending on the brand and type of litter.

Litter texture: Litter preferences vary from cat to cat, according to Dr. Karen Sueda, veterinary behaviorist at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, but every feline wants a toileting substrate they can easily dig and cover their waste in. Cats with sensitive feet may avoid using litters with sharper granules, such as crystal or pellet formulas.

Dust-free litter: Dusty natural and clay litters can be problematic for both cat and human. Dust may cause sensitive cats, particularly those with allergies or respiratory issues like asthma, to cough, sneeze, or wheeze during or after using their litter. It can produce the same effect in humans when filling or scooping the box. While no litter is completely dust-free, those that produce very little dust are less likely to have unintended respiratory effects.

Scent-free litter: Because cats have an extremely strong sense of smell, the scent of a litter is a significant factor in whether they will use or avoid a litter box, according to Dr. Christine Calder, veterinary behaviorist at Midcoast Humane in Brunswick, Maine. Even a natural scent may deter a cat. Calder, Sueda, and Tannert all recommended sticking to an unscented variety.

Why we didn’t consider the flushability of natural cat litters: One of the purported benefits of some natural cat litter varieties is that they can be flushed in the toilet. But just because you can flush natural cat litter doesn’t mean you should, and not just because low-flush toilets and pipes made for human waste often can’t handle clumps without clogging.

Cat waste can contain Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that causes flu-like symptoms at best and, at worst, fetal development disorders, brain damage, and premature birth in babies. Water waste treatment plants are unable to filter out this harmful parasite and it can end up in treated water that’s released back into the environment, harming fish, killing native plants, and making recreation areas unsafe. Scientific studies have found that T. gondii especially poses a threat to marine mammals like sea otters.

Types of cat litter

paper cat litter

Clay litter

Nearly every one of the more than a dozen veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, and cat specialists I’ve spoken to about cat toileting behavior over the last six months has agreed that most cats prefer, or are at least more tolerant of, nonperfumed clay litters. “Generally speaking, I recommend a fine-grained, clay-based clumping litter that is unscented,” said Sueda.

Most clay cat litters are made from absorbent sodium bentonite clay, a naturally occurring material acquired through strip-mining and broken down into pebble-sized granules. Some clay litters are mixed with activated charcoal for additional odor absorption. They come in both unscented and scented varieties. Traditional clay litters are also quite dusty when poured, scratched at by a cat, or cleaned, though many newer formulas produce very little dust.

Pros: Preferred or tolerated by most cats because they make practicing natural toileting behaviors like digging and covering waste easy; absorb liquids instantly and form tight clumps for easy cleaning; control odors, especially those formulas that contain activated charcoal; cost efficient; some formulas are virtually dust free

Cons: Weigh more than some other varieties of cat litter; are produced in an environmentally unfriendly way; scented formulas can be too strong for a cat’s sensitive nose; can be easily tracked out of the litter boxes, especially lighter weight formulas; some formulas are very dusty

Paper litter

For cats that suffer from respiratory problems like asthma or have recently undergone surgery, Dr. Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer at Bond Vet, in New York City, typically recommends a paper litter, which tends to be less dusty than clay litters and less likely to stick to incision sites. Most paper litters come in pellet form and are made from either recycled materials or sustainably sourced wood. They are also almost always non-clumping with pellets that absorb liquid and slowly break apart over time. Only solids need to be scooped out of a litter box filled with paper litter.

Pros: Good for cats with respiratory problems, only solids need to be scooped from the litter box, pellet formulas are low-tracking, made from recycled or sustainably sourced materials

Cons: Some cats dislike the texture and weight of paper pellets, pellets fall apart over time, odors may increase over time as pellets become saturated with urine

Silica gel litter

Silica gel or crystal litters are made from sodium silicate sand, a naturally occurring material acquired through strip mining. They do not contain crystalline silicate or other carcinogenic materials that may be harmful to cats, but the inhalation of microscopic silica dust over time could lead to respiratory issues.

Silica gel litters are ultra-absorbent odor-eaters, but as the non-clumping granules saturate with urine over time, they may become less effective at preventing ammonia odors. Some silica litters, particularly crystal versions, may be too sharp for sensitive paws.

Pros: Made from safe, natural silica gel; ultra-absorbent and good at preventing odors; non-clumping formula does not require removal of liquids

Cons: Inhalation of silica dust over time may lead to respiratory issues, crystal formulas may be too sharp for sensitive paws, smells can worsen over time as silica gel becomes saturated with liquids, not environmentally friendly

Natural litter

Grain, grass, wood, and walnut shells are all used as alternative materials in natural cat litters. According to Satchu, not only are these biodegradable options more environmentally friendly, some have additional benefits, too. Due to their absorption ability, wood litters are typically low tracking and do a good job minimizing odors while grain litters are a safe bet for cats who like to snack on litter due to behavioral issues.

Ultimately, the superiority of one style of natural litter over another comes down to a cat’s individual preference. “I try to encourage owners to choose one litter and stick with it through kitty’s life because they are ultimately creatures of habit,” said Satchu. “Any litter that will keep kitty going where they’re supposed to be going is a good litter in my book.”

Pros: Many formulas are low dust, natural scent of some varieties controls odors without additives, biodegradable, made from sustainable materials  

Cons: Some cats may dislike the scent and/or the texture of natural litters, lightweight formulas are more easily tracked than heavier clay litters, more expensive on average than clay litters

FAQs about cat toileting

cat using litter box

How many times a day does a cat normally use the litter box?

On average, cats urinate two to four times a day, but according to Sueda, this can vary from cat to cat. Cleaning litter boxes at least once daily can help guardians determine if there’s a change in frequency, which may indicate a health problem.

Typically, cats defecate one to two times a day, but this, too, can vary from cat to cat. Like with urination, sudden changes in frequency may indicate a health problem.


What size and how many litter boxes do I need?

A litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of a cat, large enough for them to comfortably scratch and bury their waste. The standard rule of thumb is to have one litter box per cat plus one extra, and ideally one on each floor of a home. A home with multiple cats, however, may be able to get away with fewer extra-large litter boxes as long as they are cleaned at least twice a day, according to Sueda. See our guide to the best litter boxes for more on this.


What does it mean if a cat stops urinating?

If a cat stops urinating altogether, it is likely they are experiencing a feline urinary tract disease (FLUTD) such as bladder inflammation or urinary stones or crystals. Male cats are particularly susceptible to the latter. “Male cats have a very narrow urethra, so crystals and mucus can form a plug or a single tiny stone may become lodged anywhere along this narrow tube,” said Tannert.

If a cat is unable to urinate, deadly toxins begin building up. Death can occur if the blockage isn’t removed by a veterinarian within 24 to 48 hours. If a veterinarian rules out medical problems like FLUTD, anxiety may be the culprit, a problem a veterinary behaviorist is best equipped to handle.


What does it mean if a cat goes outside the litter box?

According to Calder, cats that eliminate outside the litter box are engaging in one of two behaviors: toileting or marking. In toileting (also called inappropriate elimination), a cat has found a place to do their business outside of the litter box. Sometimes, this behavior occurs when a cat does not like the location or size of their litter pan, the type of litter in the pan, or the cleanliness of the litter.

Other times, going outside the box is related to anxiety (for example, a cat who worries about being ambushed by another pet while using the litter box may stop using it altogether) or to a medical problem such as FLUTD. A cat may also choose to go outside of the litter box if they find a spot that satisfies their need to scratch and bury their waste, such as a pile of dirty laundry or a potted plant.

Whereas toileting typically occurs on horizontal surfaces, marking occurs on vertical surfaces. Instead of squatting, when a cat marks they back up with a raised tail to spray their pheromones. “Marking cats are trying to communicate something, and most have some kind of conflict or anxiety,” said Calder. Cats that mark are typically intact males, but fixed males and females can spray, too.

Our sources

Dr. Christine Calder, veterinary behaviorist at Midcoast Humane in Brunswick, Maine

Dr. Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer, Bond Vet, New York, New York

Dr. Karen Sueda, veterinary behaviorist at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, Los Angeles, California

Dr. Catherine Tannert, veterinarian at VCA Old Marple in Springfield, Pennsylvania

Read the original article on Business Insider

How to get a virtual pet on your MacBook Touch Bar with Touchbar Pets

macbook pro touch bar
Touchbar Pets gives you a cute animal without any of the shedding.

  • Touchbar Pets is an app that lets you raise virtual pets that live in your MacBook’s Touch Bar.
  • Once you download Touchbar Pets and launch it, you can adopt a dog, cat, rabbit, or hamster.
  • You can walk, feed, and play with your virtual pets using the Touch Bar.
  • You need a MacBook with a Touch Bar, an iPad set up with Sidecar, or a Touch Bar emulator to use Touchbar pets.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Tamagotchis, Pokémon, Furbies – if there’s one thing that people can never get enough of, it’s virtual pets.

If you’re looking for a new virtual pet to look after, and you have a MacBook with a Touch Bar, consider the free Touchbar Pets app. With just a few clicks, you can adopt an animal and walk, feed, and play with it all from your Touch Bar.

Here’s how to get Touchbar Pets set up and adopt your first pet.

How to get Touchbar Pets

Firstly, you’ll have to download the app from the developer’s website.

1. Visit the Touchbar Pets homepage and click the blue “Download” button.

touchbar pets 1
Touchbar Pets is free to download.

2. Save the .zip file to your computer, and then double-click it to extract the “Touchbar Pets” app.

3. Open the app and press “Play.”

touchbar pets 2
Click “Play” to get started.

4. You’ll be given two options: “Adopt Pet” and “Existing Pets.” Click adopt to make a new pet – once you’ve adopted a pet and closed the app, you can come back later and click “Existing” to see the pet again.

5. In the “Adopt Pet” menu, you can give your pet a name, pick its species (you can have a dog, cat, rabbit, or hamster), and pick its color (white, cream, black, or brown).

Once you’ve got your pet how you want it, click “Create,” and you’re ready to start.

touchbar pets 3
Design your pet and then create it.

6. You’ll be brought to the main game menu, and a tutorial will appear. Click through it to learn how the game plays, or check out our guide below.

How to play Touchbar Pets

Once you’ve closed the tutorial, your new pet will appear in the Touch Bar, along with four different stats.

  • Health tracks how close your pet is to death. If you go too long without feeding it, this will go down, and eventually hit zero.
  • Hunger tracks if your pet needs food. Letting this drop makes your pet less healthy.
  • Tokens are the currency in Touchbar Pets. Earn them by taking your pet on walks, and spend them on food, toys, and other collectibles.
  • Mode tells you how you can currently interact with your pet. “Design” lets you place props in its habitat, “Eat” lets you feed it, and “Play” lets you give it toys.

The main menu and game modes, explained

In the main menu, you have an inventory with six slots, and five options below it. Each of these has its own function and importance.

touchbar pets 7
The main menu gives you five main options.

Shop

This is where you’ll spend the tokens you earn. You can buy food, props for your animal’s habitat, and toys. Every animal has its own likes and dislikes, so be sure to read each item’s description.

touchbar pets 4
Every item has a description and price.

Just note that food and toys are all single-use – once your pet interacts with them, they’ll disappear, and you’ll have to buy them again.

If your pet dies, you can also spend 150 tokens on a “RevivePotion,” which will bring it back to full health.

Walk

This is probably where you’ll be spending most of your time.

Once you choose a walk duration – you can pick between “Short,” “Average,” and “Long” – you can take your pet on walks by pressing and holding your finger on either side of its habitat. You have to keep your finger on the Touch Bar for the entire walk.

By completing a walk, you’ll earn tokens – $50, $100, and $200 respectively for each duration. But you have to complete the entire walk, since you only get your reward at the very end.

Along the way, you’ll also have the chance to find treasure. Every 250m there’s a chance you’ll find a treasure box, which can be tapped for a prize. There’s also a random chance of finding litter, which might also give you treasure when you tap it.

touchbar pets 8
Walking with a cat and finding litter on the road.

However, be sure to notice if your pet poops on the side of the road. You’ll have to tap their waste to clean it, and if you don’t, you’ll be issued a $20 fine.

Pen

This option puts you in “Design” mode and lets you place props in your pet’s habitat.

While in Design mode, you can click a prop in your inventory and then tap a spot in the habitat to place it. Remember that none of the props are functional – they’re just for making the habitat look cute.

Mode

Unlike the other buttons, “Mode” has two icons that you’ll switch between when you click it.

While you have the bone icon selected, you’re in “Eat” mode. This lets you click a piece of food in your inventory, and then tap a spot in the habitat to place it. Your pet will run over and gobble it up. This, as you might expect, is how you keep its hunger and health stable.

If the tennis ball icon is selected, you’re in “Play” mode. Click a toy in the inventory and tap to place it down, and your pet will come over to check it out and then play with it.

touchbar pets 10
“Insider” the cat playing with a cardboard box.

Again, remember that food and toys are single-use – once you place it, it’ll be used and gone within moments.

Goals

The Goals menu gives you a list of tasks to accomplish, which you can check off with a star once they’re done. If you’ve ever played a game with achievements, this is similar.

Additionally, if you ever want to read the in-game tutorial again, enter this menu and uncheck the first “Tutorial” goal. As soon as you exit the Goals menu, you’ll be given the tutorial again.

touchbar pets 9
You won’t get any points for completing these goals, but they can be a fun challenge.

You can only have one pet in a habitat at a time. But feel free to adopt multiple pets – you can switch between them by restarting the app and clicking “Existing Pets” on the intro screen.

Note that to see your pet, you’ll need to be focused on the “Touchbar Pets” app with whatever monitor has the TouchBar. If you click another app, or move the app window to another monitor, your pet will disappear.

How to edit and customize the MacBook Touch Bar on your laptopHow to get emoji on your MacBook’s Touch Bar, and type with them in nearly any appHow to take a screenshot on a Mac computer in four different waysHow to mirror your iPhone screen to a Mac computer with QuickTime or AirPlay

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23 of the best cat foods in 2021 for kittens, adult cats, and seniors

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • There are so many great cat food brands that finding the right recipe for your feline can be tough.
  • Veterinarians and an animal nutrition expert shared their insights into what makes a nutritious cat food.
  • Here are some of the best cat foods, including dry, wet, organic, LID, and fresh foods.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Best cat food brands in 2021

Finding a nutritious, high-quality cat food that satisfies your cat and fits your budget is an unenviable challenge. To help you choose the best food for your cat, we pored over literature on pet food standards, labels, and ingredients and consulted with animal nutrition experts.

We evaluated the food in this guide according to the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which encompass nutritional adequacy, calorie content, guaranteed analysis, and ingredients. While the experts we spoke with declined to recommend specific foods, they helped us narrow down our selection criteria. The picks in this guide are only some of the excellent options available. If you’re interested in exploring other cat foods, this guide provides the tools needed to evaluate the quality and nutritional value of any food.

A cat can live a long healthy life whether they are fed dry food, wet food, or a combination of both, as long as the food is AAFCO complete and balanced. Just be careful not to overfeed. The average 8- to 10-pound adult cat should consume between 230 and 270 kcals/day to maintain a healthy weight, according to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). An extremely active or sedentary feline may have different needs.

Anyone who is considering a change to their cat’s diet should consult their veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist first.

Here are the best cat foods you can buy in 2021

The best adult dry cat food

Cat Food_Adult dry cat food

Dry food is the most cost-effective way to keep a cat satiated. Like all cat food, a kibble must display an AAFCO complete and balanced statement on its label. This ensures the food has the appropriate balance of protein (at least 26%) and fat (at least 9%) as well as the other essential vitamins and minerals. 

Cats are obligate carnivores and cannot survive on plant-based nutrients alone. Some form of whole meat or meat meal should be listed among the first ingredients, but don’t worry too much about the order in which they appear or what is listed after. 

Many cat foods are prominently marketed as grain-free, but there’s no proven benefit to these diets. “Grains are a source of carbohydrates [and] while cats are obligate carnivores, some carbohydrates in their diets can be helpful if included at moderate levels,” said Kelly Swanson, PhD, professor of animal and nutritional sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Fiber, for example, can help minimize hairballs, maintain healthy body weight, and aid in bowel movements.

It is easy to overfeed your cat with dry food since it is more calorie dense than wet food. Keep a close eye on your cat’s daily kibble intake to ensure they don’t gain weight, which can lead to other health problems. 

Our picks for adult dry cat food:

The best adult wet cat food

Cat Food_Adult wet cat food

Wet cat food tends to be costlier than dry food. In terms of nutrition, wet food stands out from kibble in a few ways. It contains significantly more moisture, typically 75% to 80% versus 10% to 12% found in dry food. Because of that moisture content, wet food is more filling and may be a good choice for cats who love to eat a little too zealously. 

However, Okada and Parker both agreed that feeding a typical adult cat wet food instead of, or in addition to, dry food offers no specific health benefits. It’s a decision that should be based on a cat’s preferences and a guardian’s budget.

Our picks for adult wet cat food:

The best fresh cat food

Cat Food_Fresh cat food

Fresh pet food is a relatively new trend in which whole meats, vegetables, essential vitamins, and minerals are combined, then frozen to maintain freshness. Some fresh pet foods are available via fuss-free subscription and delivery services and others are available in the freezer section of pet stores. 

While fresh cat food is pricier than dry or canned foods, the difference between them is clear. In fresh foods, the whole ingredients are visible with the naked eye and have a consistency that rivals a home-cooked meal. 

There are several fresh cat food companies that meet AAFCO standards, but only two have a full-time veterinary nutritionist on staff: Nom Nom and JustFoodForDogs. According to our experts, this is an essential quality to look for when choosing a food for your pet. 

Our picks for fresh cat food:

The best limited ingredient cat food

Cat Food_LID cat food

Limited ingredient diets (LIDs) may be recommended for cats with gastrointestinal or dermatological issues that are likely caused by an adverse reaction or allergy to ingredients commonly found in cat food. Veterinarians often use LID foods to perform food elimination trials in order to pinpoint the source of a cat’s food sensitivity. 

When it comes to healthy adult cats, Okada told us that there is no advantage to feeding an LID formula. These recipes were historically formulated with uncommon ingredients and novel proteins like wild game, but the inclusion of these ingredients in regular cat food has made it more challenging to identify appropriate foods for a cat in need of an LID. To make it more likely that an LID will work for a cat who develops allergies or food reactions later in life, Okada said that healthy adult cats should stick to regular cat food formulas that are complete and balanced. 

Our picks for LID cat food:

The best organic cat food

Cat Food_organic cat food

In order for a cat food to be certified organic, it must meet USDA guidelines for organic human-grade foods, which includes at least 95% organic ingredients. These organic foods tend to be more expensive than regular pet food because the ingredients are sourced from the competitive human food market.

While the idea of organic cat food may be appealing, Tufts University’s Cummings Veterinary Medical Center says there is no good evidence that an organic diet has more health benefits than one made with conventionally produced ingredients.

It is true that organic cat foods may contain fewer pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and GMOs, but often the difference is negligible. Ultimately, feeding a cat an organic diet is a personal choice, not a nutritional one. 

Our picks for organic cat food:

The best budget adult dry cat food

Cat Food_budget adult dry food

Even if you have the money to spend, don’t write off budget cat foods altogether. There are a number of affordable AAFCO complete and balanced dry foods that are just as nutritious as more expensive kibble.

Not only do the budget dry cat foods we selected contain whole meats and protein-rich meat meals, they have ingredients like kelp and alfalfa that support gut health and antioxidant-rich blueberries and cranberries. The percentages of protein, fat, and fiber they contain are also on par with pricier brands.

Our picks for budget dry food:

The best budget adult wet cat food

Cat Food_Budget adult dry food

Wet cat food doesn’t have to cost a premium to be nutritionally complete and balanced. The budget wet cat foods we recommend are significantly higher in protein than the 26% AAFCO minimum recommendation for healthy adult cats without kidney problems. 

Both the percentage of protein a cat food contains and the sources of that protein are important, said Swanson. Animal-based proteins typically provide the 10 essential amino acids and levels of taurine a cat’s diet requires. Other animal- or plant-based proteins are sometimes added to meet nutritional needs.

Like pricier wet foods, these budget options also contain 78% to 82% moisture which helps to keep a cat feeling full for longer while providing them with an additional source of hydration. Whether your cat prefers to eat only wet food or you feed it as part of a diet mixed with kibble, these recipes are a reliable option.

Our picks for budget adult wet cat food:

The best kitten food

Cat Food_Kitten food

Kittens under a year of age need a somewhat different combination of nutrients to support their revving metabolism and growing bones. An AAFCO complete and balanced kitten food contains a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat, and extra vitamin A, calcium, and phosphorus. These formulas also meet AAFCO’s standards for pregnant and lactating adult cats who require additional calories and nutrients.

Although it doesn’t matter whether a kitten is fed dry food, wet food, or a combination of the two, introducing young kittens to different types of food may prevent them from being picky eaters in adulthood. Regardless of the type of food you select, cats benefit from being fed out of a puzzle feeder instead of a regular bowl. The problem-solving and play required to extract the food provides a kitten important mental stimulation. The more energy they burn on puzzle toys, the less likely they’ll be to become bored and make trouble.

Our picks for kitten food:

The best senior cat food

Cat Food_Senior cat food

Once a cat hits 7 years of age, they are considered senior. Senior cats have the same minimum AAFCO nutritional requirements as younger adult cats, but decreased activity can cause them to pack on the pounds. And the more overweight a cat becomes, the more likely they are to develop conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, and pancreatitis.

You can help your senior cat maintain a healthy body weight by closely controlling their portion sizes or by switching them to a senior diet that is lower in calories than typical adult formulas. Just be sure to check the calorie content because some senior foods actually have more calories and may still require portion control.

Senior formulas also have omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients that aren’t required in regular adult cat foods. These ingredients help reduce inflammation, improve cognitive function, and support the immune system. As long as the senior food is labeled AAFCO complete and balanced, it will contain the vitamins and minerals an older cat requires without the need to provide additional supplements. 

Different cats have different needs as they age, so consult your veterinarian before switching your cat to a senior diet or determining whether additional supplements are required.

Our picks for senior cat food:

Our methodology

To select the cat foods for this guide, we consulted two veterinary nutritionists and a professor of animal and nutritional sciences. None of these experts recommended specific brands or endorsed any of the products in this, but they helped us understand what makes a high-quality cat food and what to avoid. 

We also consulted guidelines and recommendations from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s Global Nutrition Guidelines, among other organizations. 

The cat foods chosen for this guide were selected based on the following criteria:

AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement: The most basic measure of a nutritionally complete cat food is the presence of an AAFCO statement on the label. AAFCO is a nonprofit organization that defines the standard nutritional requirements for pet food and animal feed. A cat food with an AAFCO statement is guaranteed to be complete and balanced for a cat at various life stages. Read more about AAFCO standards in the next slide.

Guaranteed analysis and nutrient profiles: The guaranteed analysis consists of the percentages of protein, fat, and other important nutrients in a food. Food for adult cats who are not pregnant should have a minimum of 26% protein, 9% fat, and the presence of essential nutrients, including amino acids like taurine, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins. There is no minimum fiber or carbohydrate requirement for adult cats who are not pregnant and a complete and balanced food does not require added essential nutrients, said Okada. 

Swanson told us that cats without properly functioning kidneys require diets that are lower in protein. The less protein a cat with kidney problems has, the less likely it will be to build up waste products in the blood that make them sick.

If you’re looking to compare wet food to kibble, you’ll find the guaranteed analysis of wet food doesn’t give you the full picture of how much of these vital nutrients is actually present. Read more about how to decipher the guaranteed analysis for wet food in the section on How to read a cat food label.

Expert formulations: For this guide, we prioritized brands that have a dedicated nutrition expert on staff, which aligns with WSAVA guidelines. Both of the veterinary nutritionists we spoke to agree. 

Always look for pet food manufacturers that employ at least one full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionist or an animal nutrition expert with a master’s or doctorate degree. 

Brands that formulate their products with the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist who is not on staff may be unable to ensure the highest quality standards.

“Pet food production requires a thorough knowledge of pet nutrition, pet food ingredients, processing methods and their effect on nutrients, plus a good understanding of physiology, chemistry, mathematics, microbiology and biochemistry,” said Okada. “My greatest concerns are for very small companies that may have the best of intentions but very limited experience and technical knowledge.”

Ingredients list: The ingredients on a pet food label are listed in order of weight. Proteins in the form of whole meat or meat meal should come first on the ingredients list. Don’t get too hung up on the order of the ingredients that come next. 

Manufacturing standards: When selecting a cat food brand, it’s important to consider a manufacturer’s quality control measures and the types of facilities where they produce food. Parker said this information should be easily accessible on a pet food company’s website. If not, you should be able to call the company and get quick answers.

Some smaller pet food companies produce their food in facilities used by larger, more established manufacturers. According to Okada, this is a reliable way to ensure food quality and safety. When in doubt, select a larger manufacturer with a long history of making pet food. “If a problem arises, it will likely be discovered sooner if the product is widely distributed,” Okada said.

Calorie content: The calorie content of cat food is listed in kilocalories, or k/cals. According to WSAVA, the average cat weighing between 8 and 10 pounds should consume between 230 to 270 kcals/day. A cat food’s calorie content should be clearly listed on its packaging. 

What are AAFCO standards?

Since its establishment in 1906, the nonprofit Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has set nutritional guidelines for pet food in the United States. AAFCO is not a regulatory agency, but the regulatory FDA is an AAFCO member with a non-voting advisory role. AAFCO does not test, approve, or certify pet food brands. Instead, it defines the ingredient, labeling, and testing standards that establish whether a pet food is nutritionally complete for animals at different life stages.

A cat food that meets AAFCO’s minimum standards is considered complete and balanced at one of two life stages: growth and reproduction, which includes kittens and pregnant or lactating females, or adult maintenance, which is intended for cats over a year of age. 

To meet the minimum AAFCO standard, an adult cat food must contain at least 26% protein, 9% fat, and essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Food for kittens up to a year of age and pregnant or lactating adults must have a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat, and higher levels of vitamin A, calcium, and phosphorus than adult maintenance foods. 

Parker said that almost all commercially made cat foods exceed the minimum standards set by the AAFCO. In order to determine whether a product meets the minimum standards, the manufacturer must conduct a third-party laboratory analysis or feeding trials using AAFCO protocols. A cat food without an AAFCO complete and balanced statement for an individual cat’s life stage should never be fed as the cat’s primary food.

How to read a cat food label

Cat Food_Read Pet Food Label

To really understand what is in your cat’s food and to compare one brand to another, you’ll need to navigate its nutritional content.

Guaranteed analysis: The guaranteed analysis on a cat food label is not at all straightforward, especially if you’re attempting to compare the nutrients in a wet food to those in a dry food. Because the two types of food have vastly different moisture contents (around 75% to 78% in wet food and 10% to 12% in dry food), the percentages of fat, protein, and fiber in wet food must be converted to “dry matter basis.” 

To convert the moisture-containing guaranteed analysis to dry matter basis, check out these directions from the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. You can also call the food manufacturer or ask your veterinarian for help. 

AAFCO complete and balanced statement: To ensure that a cat food is nutritionally complete and balanced, it must contain one of three AAFCO statements on its label.

1. The first AAFCO statement confirms that the food’s minimum nutrient profile has been verified via a third-party laboratory analysis. It reads:

[Product] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.

2. Instead of submitting a food for laboratory analysis, a company may test the food through controlled feeding trials. These trials are not perfect — the AAFCO requires eight healthy cats to consume a food for six months. At the end of the trial, at least 75% of the cats in the trial must meet four blood test parameters and must not have lost more than 15% of their original body weight. This statement reads:

Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [product] provides complete and balanced nutrition.

3. A cat food manufacturer whose family of products has already met AAFCO’s feeding trials criteria may carry an AAFCO statement for recipes that were not directly tested. That statement reads:

[Product] provides complete and balanced nutrition and is comparable in nutritional adequacy to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests.

Calorie content statement: The calorie content of cat food is listed in kilocalories, or k/cals. A cat food’s calorie content should be clearly listed on its packaging. 

Other keywords to look for: The AAFCO has rules around how products can be marketed. If a single ingredient makes up 25% to 94% of a food’s dry matter, it must be called a “dinner,” “entree,” “formula,” or “recipe.” If a single ingredient makes up 95% or more of the dry matter, it can be labeled as “Tuna Cat Food,” “Chicken Cat Food,” or another meat-first name.

If the word “flavor” appears on a cat food label, do not assume that it contains the actual ingredient associated with the flavor. A “tuna-flavored cat food,” for example, does not have to contain tuna. The flavor may come from a broth, byproduct, or meal. 

Some cat food labels include the phrase “No artificial flavors,” but don’t be concerned about labels that do not. According to the FDA, artificial flavors are rarely used in cat food.

“Premium” and “gourmet” are purely marketing terms. Foods labeled this way do not necessarily contain higher quality ingredients and they are not required to meet higher nutritional standards.

“Natural” refers to a cat food that does not contain artificial flavors or preservatives unless they come from AAFCO-approved sources.

Our sources

We spoke to the following experts in fall 2020 and winter 2021:

Valerie J. Parker, DVM, DACVIM, DACVN, associate professor, department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Parker is a board certified veterinary nutritionist. She earned her veterinary degree at Tufts University and completed two residencies, one in small animal internal medicine at Iowa State University and the other in clinical nutrition at Tufts University. Her interests include nutrition management of chronic kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease, and endocrine and metabolic disease in pets. We spoke to Parker in a phone interview in September 2020.

Yuki Okada, DVM, CVA. PhD, ACVN Resident, Veterinary Nutrition Specialty Service, San Rafael, California

Okada received a veterinary degree from Michigan State University and has a PhD in veterinary biochemistry from Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in Japan. Okada is completing a residency with the American College of Veterinary Nutrition to become a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. We consulted Okada via email in September 2020.

Kelly Swanson, PhD, professor of animal and nutritional sciences at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

Swanson earned his master’s and doctorate degrees at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Now a professor at the university, he runs an animal sciences laboratory that studies the effects of nutritional intervention on health with an emphasis on gastrointestinal health and obesity. We consulted Swanson via email in March 2021.

The pet nutrition websites below were accessed between January and February 2021:

Association of American Feed Control Officials

AAFCO Methods for Substantiating Nutritional Adequacy of Dog and Cat Foods, Association of American Feed Control Officials

Global Nutrition Guidelines, World Small Animal Veterinary Association 

Calorie Needs for an Average Healthy Adult Cat in Ideal Body Condition, World Small Animal Veterinary Association 

Raw or Undercooked Animal-Source Protein in Cat and Dog Diets, American Veterinary Medical Association

Pet Food Labels, Food and Drug Administration

Get the Facts! Raw Food Diets Can Be Dangerous to You and Your Pet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Salmonella, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Organic Pet Foods: Optimal Health or Overhyped?, Tufts University Cummings Veterinary Medical Center

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The 5 best dog shampoos in 2021, according to a veterinarian

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Bathing your dog helps keep their skin and coat clean, healthy, and moisturized.
  • Dog shampoos are gentle on a dog’s sensitive skin and can be used to manage skin conditions, such as allergies.
  • Our top pick for the best dog shampoo is Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe Pet Shampoo, an organic, all-natural shampoo.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, DVM, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Bathing your dog is a key aspect of responsible dog ownership. A good bath with a high-quality dog shampoo helps keep a dog’s skin and coat clean, healthy, and moisturized. Whether a dog bath is fun or feels like a chore to you, the dog shampoo you use plays a big part in maintaining optimal skin and coat health.

As a veterinarian, I understand that a dog’s skin and coat are windows into a dog’s health. Many factors, such as environmental allergies, can make a dog’s skin itchy, dry, and irritated. Likewise, systemic health conditions like malnutrition can cause a dog’s hair to become dry, brittle, and possibly fall out. Regular bathing, along with a healthy diet and routine preventive care, plays an important factor in a dog’s overall health and well-being.

Dog shampoos are not one-size-fits-all, though. For example, there are whitening shampoos for dogs with white fur. There are also dog shampoos that are formulated to kill fleas and ticks, as well as shampoos that cater specifically to a puppy’s sensitive skin.

With so many types of dog shampoos, it can be challenging to decide which one is best for your dog. To help you narrow down your choices, I researched 14 dog shampoos and evaluated them using multiple criteria, including ingredients, ease of use, and purpose (e.g, flea and tick prevention).

For additional insight on dog shampoos, I interviewed Karen Todd-Jenkins, a relief veterinarian in Trenton, New Jersey, and Cherese Sullivan, a relief veterinarian in Houston, Texas.

Individual dogs can have specific bathing needs, so work with your veterinarian to determine how often you should bathe your dog and what type of shampoo you can use to keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy.

Here are the best dog shampoos in 2021

The best dog shampoo overall

earthbath oatmeal and aloe shampoo bottle

Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe Pet Shampoo is an organic, all-natural, hypoallergenic shampoo that soothes and moisturizes the skin without causing any additional irritation.

Pros: All-natural and organic ingredients, soothes and moisturizes the skin, does not wash away topical flea and tick treatments, lathers well and rinses easily, free of soap and synthetic fragrances, 100% biodegradable, safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age

Cons: Might not be effective if a lot of dirt is present

The ideal dog shampoo will do more than just clean your dog and make them smell good; it will also restore moisture to their skin and leave their fur feeling soft. Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe Pet Shampoo does all of these things, while also being gently formulated and safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age, making it our top overall choice.

The shampoo is especially useful for dogs with sensitive skin. Skin conditions like environmental allergies to dust and pollen can make a dog’s skin itchy and extra-sensitive. Other substances, such as synthetic fragrances, can also irritate a dog’s skin and cause persistent itchiness. Dogs with sensitive skin need a shampoo that is hypoallergenic, meaning it is free of ingredients that could irritate the skin.

The colloidal oatmeal and aloe vera in this shampoo relieve itchiness and restore the skin’s moisture. It is free of ingredients like soap and synthetic fragrances that could cause further skin irritation or allergy flare-ups. Its fragrance is from natural vanilla and almond oils.

The shampoo is 100% biodegradable, cruelty-free, and will not wash off topical flea and tick treatments.

The best flea and tick shampoo for dogs

image of a bottle of sentry flea tick shampoo for dogs

Sentry Flea and Tick Shampoo with Oatmeal for Dogs and Puppies works quickly to kill fleas and ticks for up to 10 days.

Pros: Free of pyrethrin, kills fleas quickly, soothes irritated skin, lathers well, safe for puppies at least 12 weeks of age

Cons: May stop working sooner than expected, scent may fade quickly

Flea and tick prevention comes with the territory of dog ownership. Although flea and tick preventives, such as topical spot-on treatments, are the primary and most effective form of prevention, flea and tick shampoos can provide additional protection from these tiny pests.

Sentry Flea and Tick Shampoo with Oatmeal for Dogs and Puppies earned the top spot for flea and tick shampoos. Importantly, it is free of pyrethrin, a synthetic insecticide that is commonly found in flea and tick shampoos. “Pyrethrin-based flea shampoos should be avoided because pyrethrin can be toxic to puppies and small dogs,” says Sullivan.

Instead of pyrethrin, this shampoo has the synthetic insecticide permethrin, which quickly and effectively kills fleas and ticks, including deer ticks. It also contains piperonyl butoxide, which enhances permethrin’s flea- and tick-killing abilities.

This formula includes oatmeal to soothe skin that’s become red and irritated from the near-constant scratching from flea and tick bites. It is safe for puppies at least 12 weeks of age.

The shampoo should be left on for at least five minutes to work most effectively. It lathers well, so a little goes a long way.

Flea and tick shampoos are medicated shampoos and should be used only when directed by a veterinarian. Skin conditions often have similar symptoms, like irritated skin. So, what looks like a flea problem might be something else, such as a yeast infection. “I normally discourage using a medicated shampoo unless we know what we’re treating,” says Todd-Jenkins.

The best waterless shampoo for dogs

a dog being sprayed with begleys waterless dog shampoo

Begley’s Natural No-Rinse Waterless Pet Shampoo provides a thorough waterless clean with natural ingredients.

Pros: Natural ingredients, distributes quickly across the skin and coat, does not leave a residue, 100% biodegradable, cruelty-free

Cons: Sprayer may break, scent is short-lived

There are times when a full dog bath isn’t convenient or practical. Begley’s Natural No-Rinse Waterless Pet Shampoo is an easy-to-apply, lightly scented shampoo that cleans and deodorizes without drying the skin.

This shampoo for puppies and adult dogs contains a proprietary natural enzyme blend that provides a deep clean by removing the residues of protein, fat, and starch from a dog’s fur and skin. It also contains naturally occurring biosurfactants, which are produced by microbes and give an extra boost to the shampoo’s cleaning power.

It is available in four different natural, essential oil-based fragrances: lavender, citrus, oatmeal mango, and tea tree. The ingredients are biodegradable, making it a safe choice for dogs and the environment.

The shampoo distributes quickly and easily across a dog’s skin and coat and doesn’t leave any product residue after it’s wiped off with a towel. For the face, the manufacturer recommends spraying the shampoo on a damp cloth first and then gently rubbing the face, being careful to avoid a dog’s eyes.

“Waterless shampoos are often helpful in specific situations, such as after surgery when a dog’s incision site has to stay dry,” says Sullivan. Dogs that suffer from incontinence or don’t like being bathed can also benefit from the quick cleans that a waterless shampoo provides. Waterless shampoos are a good solution when there’s a long time between grooming appointments.

Be mindful that waterless shampoos might not provide the same level of cleaning that a bath can provide. Bathing a dog with water and shampoo does a superior job of mechanically removing dirt and debris from the fur, says Todd-Jenkins.

The best shampoo for puppies

earthbath ultra mild puppy shampoo bottle

Earthbath Ultra-Mild Puppy Shampoo is a gentle, tear-free shampoo that contains natural and organic ingredients for cleaning puppies and detangling their coats.

Pros: Tear-free formula, natural and organic ingredients, does not wash away topical flea and tick treatments, free of soap, lathers and rinses well, safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age

Cons: Cherry scent may be off-putting

Unlike other puppy shampoos that we considered that contained synthetic ingredients, Earthbath Ultra-Mild Puppy Shampoo uses natural and organic ingredients to clean, condition, and detangle, making it our top choice for puppy shampoos.

A puppy’s skin is more sensitive than an adult dog’s skin. Because of this, puppy shampoos are formulated to be extra-gentle while still being effective at cleaning and moisturizing the skin and coat. This shampoo contains ingredients such as aloe vera and various vitamins to moisturize and nourish a puppy’s skin and coat.

The shampoo is safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age and does not wash off topical flea and tick treatments. For the first few weeks of life, puppies have trouble regulating their body temperature, so they can get cold easily. Because of this, it is recommended that puppies not be bathed until they are at least 6 to 8 weeks old, after they’re better at regulating their body temperature.

Earthbath Ultra-Mild Puppy Shampoo lathers well and rinses easily, which helps if you have a squirmy puppy that doesn’t like to hold still for a long bath. The gentle, tear-free formula will not sting a puppy’s eyes, but it’s a good idea to take extra care to avoid the eyes, nose, and mouth when bathing a dog.

The best whitening shampoo for dogs

chris christensen white on white dog shampoo bottle

Chris Christensen White on White Shampoo for Pets is gently formulated to whiten and brighten a dog’s coat.

Pros: Free of bleaching ingredients, gentle formula does not irritate the skin, lathers and rinses easily, light scent, can be used on all coat colors, lasts up to 4 weeks

Cons: May leave a purple tint on the fur if not used properly, puppies may not sit still for the 10 minutes that the product must stay on

Dogs with white fur need more than just a regular shampoo. They need a shampoo that also removes discoloring stains (e.g., urine and food stains) that are more obvious on white coats.

Chris Christensen White on White Shampoo for Pets whitens and brightens a dog’s fur for four weeks without relying on harsh chemicals like bleaching agents. It also removes yellow stains and provides a deep clean. As a bonus, the shampoo can be used on dogs with any coat color to increase the fur’s luster.

Whitening shampoos are primarily classified as bluing, enzymatic, or clarifying. Bluing shampoos, also called optical brighteners, contain blue or purple color enhancers that absorb and reflect light to hide stains. Enzymatic shampoos break down proteins that cause discoloration. Clarifying shampoos strip dirt from the hair cuticles.

This shampoo has a purple color that provides the optical brightening effect. It should be left on for up to 10 minutes; if left on for longer, it may leave a slight purple tint on the fur.

Although the shampoo’s formula is gentle, the manufacturer recommends testing the shampoo in a small skin area if a dog has allergies. It is safe for use in puppies at least 16 weeks of age and adult dogs.

How we selected dog shampoos

We consulted with two veterinarians to learn more about dog shampoos. They did not provide specific product recommendations but did lend their clinical expertise regarding how dog shampoos can be used for different purposes, such as soothing itchy skin or whitening the fur.

We also researched how dog shampoos work. For example, we studied the common insecticides — permethrin and pyrethrin — found in flea and tick dog shampoos.

Here are the selection criteria that we used to evaluate shampoos:

  • Ingredients: We analyzed the ingredients list of each shampoo to identify natural and synthetic ingredients. Preference was given to shampoos that contained 100%, or nearly 100%, natural ingredients.
  • Age: Except for puppy shampoos, shampoos were rated higher if they were safe for puppies and adult dogs. They were rated lower if they were for use only in adult dogs or did not specify an age group or life stage on the product label.
  • Ease of use: We read customer reviews to determine how convenient the shampoos were to use. For example, more preference was given to shampoos that lathered and rinsed out well than those that lathered poorly.
  • Scent: Shampoos with light, long-lasting scents were rated more highly than shampoos with an off-putting or short-lived scent.
  • Purpose: Shampoos that delivered on their claims, according to customer reviews, were rated more highly than those that were not as effective as promised.
  • Safety for puppies: Preference was given to shampoos that were safe for use in puppies over those that were either only for adult dogs or did not indicate safety for puppies on the product label.

What else we considered

  • Oster Oatmeal Essentials 4-in-1 Dog Shampoo: Oster Oatmeal Essentials 4-in-1 Dog Shampoo contains natural oatmeal, vitamin B5, and coconut-based cleansers to clean, condition, soothe, and detangle. We liked that this shampoo is multipurpose. However, the product label did not indicate whether it was safe for puppies, earning the shampoo a lower ranking.
  • Natural Chemistry Natural Flea and Tick Shampoo for Dogs: Natural Chemistry’s Flea and Tick Shampoo is free of pyrethrin and contains natural botanical extracts, such as cedar oil, to repel fleas and ticks. It also targets other pests, such as mites and mosquitoes. However, natural flea and tick repellents are less effective than synthetic insecticides. “By the time an owner spends weeks or months trying to use a natural product to control fleas, their house (and all their pets) might be infested,” says Todd-Jenkins.
  • Greenbone Lavender and Chamomile Dog Shampoo: Greenbone Lavender and Chamomile Dog Shampoo uses natural ingredients to repel fleas and ticks. It did not earn our top choice because, like Natural Chemistry Natural Flea and Shampoo for Dogs, its natural repellants are less effective than synthetic insecticides. Also, products that contain essential oils are not safe for use in households with cats, Sullivan told us.
  • Well & Good Hypoallergenic Shampoo: Well & Good Hypoallergenic Shampoo contains natural ingredients: shea butter to moisturize the skin and honey to add luster and shine to the coat. It is unscented, making it a good choice for dogs that are sensitive to fragrance. This shampoo lost out to Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe Pet Shampoo because it is more expensive for the same quantity of product.
  • Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Hypoallergenic Shampoo: This shampoo contains natural ingredients, such as lactic acid, to maintain skin moisture and allantoin to relieve dry, scaly, and irritated skin. It did not earn our top ranking because it is indicated for use in adult dogs only.
  • Burt’s Bees Waterless Shampoo with Apple and Honey for Dogs: Burt’s Bees Waterless Shampoo is a 99.7% natural shampoo that can be used when a bath with water isn’t practical. We liked the natural ingredients in the shampoo, but the shampoo’s scent is off-putting and short-lived.
  • Hartz Groomer’s Best Waterless 3-in-1 Solution Dog Shampoo: Hartz Waterless Shampoo cleans, freshens, and deodorizes without the need for water. Also, a little goes a long way, and the shampoo does not leave residue on a dog’s coat or skin. However, its ingredients are nearly all synthetic, including synthetic fragrance, earning this product a lower rating.
  • Synergy Lab’s Veterinary Formula Solutions Puppy Love Shampoo: Synergy Lab’s Puppy Shampoo is a gentle, tear-free formula that is safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age. It lathers well, but its thick consistency makes it challenging to rinse out. The shampoo’s scent can last for up to a week after a bath, but the light fragrance may not be enough for some pet parents.
  • Wahl White Pear Brightening Shampoo for Pets: Wahl’s White Pear Brightening Shampoo contains plant-derived ingredients and has a pleasant pear scent. Although the shampoo is purple, it does not turn the dog’s coat purple. It has a thick consistency and lathers well but may come out of the bottle too quickly at bath time. And it contains more synthetic ingredients than what we found in Chris Christensen White on White Shampoo for Pets, our top choice of whitening shampoos.
  • Nature’s Miracle Supreme Odor Control Natural Whitening Dog Shampoo: Nature’s Miracle Whitening Shampoo contains natural ingredients, such as awaphui extract, to naturally whiten a dog’s coat. It lathers and rinses out easily and has a pleasant scent that is not overpowering. It did not earn the top ranking because it’s formulated for use only in adult dogs.

FAQs

a person drying a dog off with a towel after a bath

Deciding on a dog shampoo can be challenging, so pet parents like yourself commonly have questions about the shampoos and dog skin conditions.

Can I use human shampoo on a dog?

The short answer is no. The skin has a pH, which indicates how acidic something is: the lower the pH, the more acidic. The pH of human skin is approximately 5, while canine skin pH is slightly higher (5.5 to 7.5), meaning that human skin is more acidic than canine skin.

Shampoo for human skin is too acidic for a dog’s skin and could irritate a dog’s eyes. “In general, I advise pet owners to use pet-specific shampoos whenever possible,” says Todd-Jenkins.

When should I see the vet for my dog’s skin problems?

Dog shampoos can work well at managing various skin conditions in dogs, but they are not a cure-all for skin problems. Skin conditions often need veterinary care to be adequately controlled and treated. Here are some indications for when you should take your dog to your vet for skin issues:

  • Hair loss
  • Bad odor on the skin
  • Skin lesions, such as ulcers
  • Lumps and bumps on the skin
  • Excessive chewing, scratching, and licking
  • Skin problems that appear suddenly and worsen quickly

The earlier that you can take your dog to the veterinarian, the better, notes Sullivan. “Early intervention leads to quicker recovery, comfort, and, often, less expense,” she says.

What is the best type of shampoo for my dog?

That depends on various factors, such as your dog’s skin and coat health. For example, if your dog has dry and itchy skin from environmental allergies, a shampoo for sensitive skin would be a good choice. If you live in an area with abundant fleas and ticks, a flea and tick shampoo could accompany your dog’s flea and tick preventative. Puppies need specific puppy shampoo that is formulated for their extra-sensitive skin.

Your veterinarian can help you determine the type of shampoo that would be best for your dog.

The importance of bathing your dog

Bathing is part of the overall grooming process, which includes regular brushing and nail trims. But why is bathing so important? Bathing has many benefits, which our experts pointed out:

  • Prevents matting of the hair
  • Promotes skin exfoliation
  • Removes loose hair
  • Cleans dirt and debris from the coat

Bathing your dog also allows you to check for external parasites, such as fleas and ticks, explains Todd-Jenkins. Bath time also gets a dog used to being touched, promoting a strong human-animal bond, she adds.

Bathing Do’s and Don’ts

Whether you’re new to dog baths or have been bathing your dog for a while, there are some bathing do’s and don’ts that are good to keep in mind, according to our experts.

Do’s

  • Do bathe your dog regularly to prevent matting. Most dogs do just fine with one bath a month, but check with your veterinarian to determine a good bathing frequency for your dog.
  • Do contact your veterinarian if you notice any skin abnormalities, such as scabs, hot spots, or bald spots, at bath time.
  • Do use age-appropriate shampoos. This is especially important for puppies because shampoo product labels might not indicate a minimum age (e.g., 6 weeks of age). “When in doubt, err on the side of caution,” advises Todd-Jenkins.
  • Do pay attention to your dog’s behavior at bath time. Are they anxious or uncomfortable? Your veterinarian can recommend strategies to reduce your dog’s bathing anxieties.
  • Do go to a groomer if bathing your dog at home is proving to be too difficult for you. If your dog needs a medicated shampoo, take that shampoo to the groomer.

Don’ts

  • Don’t use human shampoos, unless advised by your veterinarian, because the pH is too acidic for a dog’s skin.
  • Don’t use medicated shampoo unless recommended or prescribed by your veterinarian.
  • Don’t assume that all herbal or organic ingredients in dog shampoos are safe. Check with your veterinarian if you are unsure about the safety of a particular shampoo’s ingredients.

Our sources

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The 6 best cat bridges in 2021

  • Wall-mounted cat bridges can be installed in small spaces to give your cat plenty of room to climb.
  • Climbing and perching can relieve stress and entertain a cat.
  • We chose the best cat bridges, including those with added features like scratching posts.

Cats instinctively like to climb and perch. Up high where they have a bird’s eye view of their home, they are both safe from “predators” and less likely to be disturbed in the middle of a nap. In addition to providing stress relief, going vertical is also an outlet for entertainment. Standard cat trees can satisfy these needs, but wall-mounted cat bridges turn unused space into a feline playground and are ideal for small living spaces. Below, read more about our favorite cat bridges, from multilevel jungle gyms to minimalist walkways.

Here are the best cat bridges in 2021

The best cat bridge overall

Best cat bridges - Two cats on the CatastrophiCreations Play Place Hammock
A customizable bridge that supports multiple cats

CatastrophiCreations Play Place‘s ramps, bridges, and platforms can be configured in a variety ways to increase your cat’s interest.

What we like: Customizable design, machine-washable fabric, available in two colors

CatastrophiCreations Play Place is a sturdy modular bridge made from durable bamboo and cotton canvas. Designed with hidden brackets, the floating bridge can be set up as one level or several and includes a platform with an escape hatch and a ramp with wooden steps for stability. The Play Place can support multiple cats — up to 62 pounds on each hammock and up to 85 pounds on each platform. It’s sold in two colors to fit your decor: natural wood and onyx wood. The removable hammocks are machine washable. Mounting instructions and hardware are included.

The best budget cat bridge

Best cat bridges in 2021 - A cat climbing down the Fukumaru Cat Climbing Shelf
An easy-to-install, affordable cat bridge

The affordable Fukumaru Cat Climbing Shelf has four steps for climbing, perching, and playing.

What we like: Made from jute and wood, affordable, easy to install

Fukumaru’s Cat Climbing Shelf is an affordable way to liven up the walls in your home while giving your cat a place to climb and perch. The rubberwood bridge has four steps wrapped in jute fiber. They’re all fixed to a single board that can be anchored to the wall with the included mounting hardware. Each step is 8.7 inches wide and the shelf is 15.7 inches long. It’s sold in two orientations to fit a variety of setups and you can combine shelves to create a more complex playground. 

The best rope bridge

Best cat bridges - The Trixie Wall Mounted Cat Board against the wall, above a dresser
A rope cat bridge with three sturdy platforms

Trixie’s Wall-Mounted Cat Bridge has two hanging wooden bridges and three sturdy platforms from which a cat can observe their kingdom.

What we like: Two bridges, three platforms, can be mounted horizontally or diagonally

The Trixie Wall-Mounted Cat Bridge enhances your home’s vertical space with two hanging bridges mounted between wooden platforms. The three platforms can be arranged horizontally or diagonally. The bridge’s wooden-planks are held together with sisal rope and will give more adventurous cats a bit of a challenge as they steady themselves. Trixie’s bridge is available in espresso or white and comes with metal mounting hardware.

The best wooden cat bridge

Best cat bridges - A cat sitting on the My Zoo Floating Cat Walkway attached to a yellow wall
A cat bridge that can be combined with additional pieces to form an epic vertical playground

The minimalist design of My Zoo’s Floating Cat Walkway will complement any decor.

What we like: Two levels, additional walkways can be combined to form longer bridge, made from durable spruce

The sleek My Zoo Floating Cat Walkway is a chic way to add cat-approved vertical space to your home. The sturdy spruce wood bridge consists of two levels and a ramp spread across 29.5 inches. The bridge extends out about a foot from the wall. The Floating Cat Walkway can be purchased with a raised right-side or left-side orientation and multiple bridges can be put together to form a more extensive jungle gym. Each bridge can support up to 33 pounds and mounting hardware is included.

The best cat bridge-cat tree combo

Best cat bridges - Two cats playing on the CatastrophiCreations Climb Activity Center
A multi-level cat bridge with a scratching post

With multiple levels, an escape hatch, and a floating scratching post, CatastrophiCreations Climb Activity Center has plenty of features to keep your cat entertained.

What we like: Customizable design, includes a wall-mounted scratching post, comes in six color combinations

The ultimate in vertical cat entertainment, CatastrophiCreations Climb Activity Center has multiple levels, bridges, and a scratching post. The center is made from bamboo and cotton canvas and mounted on hidden brackets. In addition to a 4-foot-tall sisal scratching post for claw conditioning and stretching, it includes an escape hatch and a separate floating shelf that can be configured in a variety of ways to suit your cat and your home. The Climb Activity Center can support the weight of multiple cats and its removable canvas sections are machine washable. The wood comes in three different colors — onyx, English chestnut, and natural bamboo — and you can choose from charcoal gray or natural fabric. Mounting instructions and hardware are included.

The best cat condo with bridges

Best cat bridges  - Five cats on the Go Pet Club Cat Tree Condo
An enormous cat condo with a bridge, hammock, scratching posts, and more

Go Pet Club’s Cat Tree Condo is an all-inclusive freestanding playground with bridges, scratchers, and perches.

What we like: Two large cat trees in one, multiple perches and cubbies for snoozing, includes sisal scratching posts 

The king of the cat trees, the Go Pet Club Cat Tree Condo is a massive vertical play space that doesn’t require wall mounting. Measuring 70-inches wide and 18-inches deep, this faux-fur-lined cat condo has two triangular houses, two baskets, four hoops, and a hammock, plus bridges, ladders, and multiple sisal scratching posts. The whole thing is anchored by adjustable poles (from 92 to 106 inches), which can be attached to the ceiling if desired. With an interior made from durable compressed wood, the entire cat condo weighs 68 pounds. Assembly is required and hardware is included.

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The 4 best dog dewormers and parasite prevention medicines in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Intestinal parasites pose serious risks to your dog’s health.
  • The best dog dewormers treat many common intestinal parasites and are easy to administer.
  • We did the research to determine the best topical and oral parasite prevention medicine for dogs.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, DVM, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Intestinal parasites, often called worms, are microscopic organisms that live inside your dog, where they silently cause harm. Common intestinal parasites in dogs include roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms. Some worms, like roundworms and hookworms, can take up residence in humans, too.

If your dog has worms, you need to eradicate them quickly and prevent them from returning. Deworming medications kill the parasites your dog already has, and intestinal parasite preventives, most of which are given monthly, prevent future worm infections. Some products also kill fleas, ticks, and heartworms.

Choosing among the many safe and effective parasite preventives for dogs can be difficult. After speaking to veterinarians, we chose products based on safety, efficacy, number of parasites targeted, and products’ ease of use. Read more about how we selected products at the end of this guide.

Different drugs kill different worms, so you must always visit your veterinarian for a fecal test before giving your dog a dewormer. Your veterinarian can advise you on what product might be best depending on your dog’s temperament and lifestyle and the parasites that are most prevalent in your area. Many of these treatments also require a prescription from your veterinarian.

Here are the best dog dewormers and parasite preventives in 2021

The best broad-spectrum dewormer for dogs

drontal plus dewormer for dogs

No other dog dewormer kills as many different types of worms as Drontal Plus.

Pros: Veterinarian recommended, kills four types of worms, safe and reliable, kills all parasites within seven days, low risk for side effects

Cons: Not for puppies younger than 3 weeks old or those weighing less than 2 pounds

Drontal Plus is a safe and effective broad-spectrum dewormer that eliminates multiple types of parasites with one dose. It kills tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms within seven days. Just offer the Drontal Plus Taste Tab flavored chewable tablet to your dog alone or with a small amount of food.

Drontal Plus features three powerful active ingredients: pyrantel pamoate, praziquantel, and febantel, which together cover four species of tapeworms, two species of hookworms, two species of roundworms, and whipworms.

The dewormer has a very low risk for side effects and is safe for puppies as young as 3 weeks old and weighing at least 2 pounds. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian, and a vet visit is also important because your dog may have other parasites that even a broad-spectrum dewormer can’t eliminate.

When using a broad-spectrum dewormer like Drontal Plus, your dog may require one or more follow-up treatments to make sure all the worms are eliminated. If your dog has fleas, they should also be treated with a flea control product to prevent future tapeworm infections.

The best tapeworm dewormer for dogs

droncit tapeworm medicine for dogs

A single dose of Droncit safely and quickly kills tapeworms within 24 hours.

Pros: Kills four species of tapeworms, works within 24 hours, easy-to-administer tablet, long-trusted brand, affordably priced per pill

Cons: Some dogs may experience salivation, vomiting, or diarrhea after taking; not for puppies less than 4 weeks old

One Droncit tablet works to paralyze and eliminate the four most common species of tapeworms within 24 hours. Its active ingredient, praziquantel, is effective and safe for adult dogs and puppies 4 weeks of age and older. The tablet can be fed whole or crumbled and mixed with food.

The treatment is conveniently and affordably sold per pill, unlike the other tapeworm dewormer we considered, Bayer Tapeworm Dewormer, which contains the same active ingredient praziquantel but is only sold in a five-pack.

Dogs commonly become infected with tapeworms by ingesting fleas. For this reason, it’s important to treat your dog for fleas to prevent future infections.

The best oral parasite preventive for dogs

trifexis oral dewormer

Trifexis treats and controls three common intestinal parasites, kills adult fleas, and prevents heartworm infection with just one monthly chewable pill. 

Pros: Protects against three intestinal parasites, heartworms, and adult fleas; once-monthly treatment; safe for dogs and puppies 8 weeks of age and older weighing at least 5 pounds; tablet is easy to administer

Cons: Does not kill or treat tapeworms, not labeled for use in puppies younger than 8 weeks or weighing less than 5 pounds

Our pick for best oral parasite preventive for dogs is Trifexis, a chewable tablet that treats and controls hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. It also kills adult fleas and prevents heartworm.

Given once every 30 days, Trifexis uses spinosad and milbemycin oxime to prevent, treat, and control parasites. While it does not kill or treat tapeworms, it kills adult fleas, which are responsible for transmitting the parasite. The beef-flavored flavored chewable tablet should be given with food for maximum effectiveness.

Trifexis is safe for puppies as young as 8 weeks old and weighing at least 5 pounds. However, puppies less than 14 weeks of age might experience a higher rate of vomiting than older dogs. This parasite preventive requires a prescription from your veterinarian as well as a current negative heartworm test. It should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures or breeding females.

The best topical parasite preventive for dogs

advantage multi for dogs

With just one simple monthly application, Advantage Multi for Dogs treats, controls, and prevents more parasites than any other topical product.

Pros: Kills and prevents six types of parasites, once-monthly treatment, easy to administer, safe for use in puppies older than 7 weeks and weighing at least 3 pounds

Cons: Does not kill ticks; not labeled for use in puppies younger than 7 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing dogs

No single preventive covers every parasite that could harm your dog, but Advantage Multi comes close. Containing the active ingredients imidacloprid and moxidectin, the topical treatment prevents three common intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. It also prevents flea infestations by killing adult fleas before they can lay eggs and prevents heartworm and mange mites.

Choosing between an oral or topical parasite product can be a tough decision. Sometimes dogs do better with one versus the other. “Some animals can’t tolerate or have a food allergy to an oral product so they must use a topical,” said veterinarian Melissa Smits, a partner at Fort Morgan Veterinary Clinic in Colorado. “Or their skin may be sensitive to a topical so an oral is better.” If there are no tolerance issues, it usually comes down to owner preference.

Advantage Multi is easy to use: Just apply it every 30 days to your dog’s skin at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication is absorbed and dries within hours. Unlike with some of the other topical preventives, you do not need to wear gloves to apply Advantage Multi. If you get the product on your hands, simply wash them with soap and water. For the first 30 minutes after application, keep dogs from licking the application site, either on themselves or other treated dogs in the house. Children should not touch the application site for two hours after application.

You must obtain a prescription from your veterinarian to purchase Advantage Multi. As with all medications that prevent heartworm, your dog needs a heartworm test prior starting Advantage Multi and annually thereafter.

How we selected products

While researching and writing this guide, I drew from my eight years of experience as an assistant in veterinary hospitals and two decades of experience as a writer and editor in the pet and veterinary fields. I conducted research using the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council. This helpful reference, which includes all FDA- and EPA-approved parasite control products for small animals, lists each product’s active ingredients, how the product is used, and which parasites it controls. 

Here are the main attributes I looked for:

  • Safety and efficacy: Only FDA-approved products were considered for this guide.
  • Number of parasites treated: In general, products that covered more parasites received higher ratings. This did not apply to tapeworm dewormers, which are only intended to treat one parasite.
  • Ease of use: Products received lower ratings if they were more complicated to use than a similar product. An example: Lower ratings were given if gloves must be worn to apply the product or if children and pets need to be kept away from the treated animal for a period of time after application.
  • Minimum age/weight: When comparing similar products, higher ratings went to preventives that can be used in younger animals.

What else we considered

  • Bayer Tapeworm Dog Dewormer: This product contains the same active ingredient (praziquantel) as our top choice for tapeworms, Droncit, but it’s only sold in a five-pack unlike Droncit which is affordably priced per pill.
  • Heartgard Plus: Given monthly, Heartgard Plus (ivermectin and pyrantel) treats and controls heartworms, hookworms, and roundworms. Our top pick for best oral preventive, Trifexis, is effective against an additional parasite: adult fleas, which are also responsible for transmitting tapeworm. Heartgard requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a current negative heartworm test.
  • Interceptor Plus: Given monthly, Interceptor Plus (milbemycin oxime and praziquantel) treats and controls roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and whipworms and also prevents heartworms. Trifexis beat out Interceptor Plus because it kills adult fleas in addition to preventing three common intestinal parasites and heartworm. Although Trifexis doesn’t prevent tapeworms, it kills fleas, which transmit tapeworms. Interceptor Plus requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a current negative heartworm test.
  • Iverhart Max Soft Chews: Given monthly, Iverhart Max treats and prevents heartworms, tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms. It does not prevent whipworms or kill fleas like Trifexis. Iverhart Max requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a current negative heartworm test.
  • Sentinel Spectrum: Given monthly, Sentinel Spectrum treats and controls tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, heartworm, flea larvae, and flea eggs — almost as many parasites as our category winner Trifexis. Trifexis doesn’t prevent tapeworms, but we gave it a slight edge because it kills adult fleas, which transmit tapeworms. Sentinel Spectrum requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a current negative heartworm test.
  • Simparica Trio: Simparica Trio treats, controls, and prevents more parasites than any other oral product, including adult fleas, flea larvae, ticks, heartworm, hookworms, roundworms, mange mite, and chewing lice. However, because intestinal parasites are the primary consideration in this guide, Trifexis gets the nod for preventing three intestinal parasites compared to Simparica Trio’s two. Simparica Trio requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a current negative heartworm test.

Types of worms and their signs and symptoms

dog with parasites

Most dogs will contract intestinal parasites at some point in their lives. Some of the most common worms seen in dogs are roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms. In adult dogs, parasite infestations may cause mild to moderate digestive symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and gas. However, heavy infestations, especially in young puppies, can lead to severe issues.

“They can cause intestinal problems, malnutrition, anemia, growth problems in puppies, and even potential autoimmune issues,” Smits said. “Also important is the zoonotic risk — potential spread to human family members.”

  • Roundworms: These parasites are common in dogs, especially puppies, and are 3- to 6-inches long, smooth, and round-bodied. You might not know your dog has roundworms, particularly if they have only a few. In puppies, large numbers of worms may cause a pot-bellied appearance, vomiting, diarrhea, low appetite, dull coat, and restricted growth. You might also see roundworms in your dog’s stool or vomit. Roundworms are zoonotic, which means they can be spread to human family members.
  • Tapeworms: Dogs pick up tapeworms when they ingest an infected adult flea. As the tapeworm grows, segments break off and pass in your dog’s stool. If you see something in your dog’s feces that resembles grains of white rice, or you notice them licking or biting the area under their tail, they could have a tapeworm infestation.
  • Hookworms: Hookworms are blood-sucking parasites that attach to the wall of the intestines. These tiny worms are nearly invisible without the assistance of a microscope. Signs of hookworm infection in dogs include anemia, weight loss, bloody diarrhea, dull coat, and growth restriction. Hookworms are zoonotic so they can be spread to human family members.
  • Whipworms: Whipworms are relatively large intestinal parasites (about a ¼-inch long) that reside in the cecum and large intestine, where they wreak serious havoc. Dogs with heavy whipworms are likely to experience concerning symptoms, such as watery, bloody diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia.

What you should know about parasite prevention for dogs

Best dog dewormers in 2021

Dogs should be on parasite prevention year-round.

Veterinarians recommend a broad-spectrum parasite preventive that treats, prevents, or controls intestinal parasites like roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms; heartworms; fleas; and ticks.

“Many adult dogs may be asymptomatic carriers,” according to Kelley Lay, a relief veterinarian who practices in Nashville, Tennessee. “Parasites are not always able to be seen in feces and so you may not even know the problem is there. This can lead to infections that linger undetected for a long time.”

Veterinarians recommend keeping dogs on a broad-spectrum parasite preventive all year, not only in the spring and summer months. Different parasites are active during different months, and parasite activity varies. Parasites can also become active earlier than expected, including during the winter.

“You cannot fully predict or control the environment your dog is in,” Smits said. “I live in Colorado, which overall has a low incidence of heartworms and [has] freezes with no mosquitos in the winter. Except, I have killed mosquitos in my house in February. My dogs find rodents in the backyard with tapeworms and potentially fleas. We just found tapeworms in February.”

Your veterinarian can help you choose the best product or combination for your dog.

Although different parasite preventives cover many different parasites, no one product covers every single internal and external parasite that could affect your dog. For instance, one product may cover fleas, heartworm, and intestinal parasites, but not ticks. Another may cover fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites, but not heartworm. Talk to your veterinarian to help you decide which product will be best for your dog.

“This is the most important part of having a relationship with a veterinarian in your area,” Smits said. “We are trained to know what parasite problems we have in our area are, what lifestyle risks are important to consider, and overall, what is best for an individual pet and lifestyle.”

You should always take your dog to the vet before giving them a dewormer.

If you suspect your dog has worms, it’s important to take them to the veterinarian for a physical exam and a fecal test to determine what type of worms they have.

“Not all intestinal parasites are created equal and there is not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to deworming medications,” Lay said. “Your veterinarian will perform the appropriate tests to diagnose which type of intestinal parasites are present, and therefore which medication will appropriately target the problem.”

Even though some dewormers do not require a prescription, do not skip the vet visit since different drugs treat different worms. Although a broad-spectrum dewormer kills several different types of worms, certain single-celled microscopic parasites (protozoa), including coccidia and Giardia, cause symptoms similar to those caused by intestinal parasites, but they are not true worms. They require different prescription medications to treat them.

In addition to conducting a fecal test, your vet can also determine if your dog may have other health issues that need to be addressed. Depending on the type of worms found, your dog might need follow-up deworming and a follow-up fecal exam to ensure no parasites remain.

Natural dewormers aren’t necessarily a better option.

Check with your veterinarian before using natural dewormers with your dog. “While ‘natural’ deworming products may have some effect on intestinal parasites, I’ve consulted with numerous clients over the years who have tried them with repeated failure,” Lay said. “Also, there’s unfortunately still many unknowns and variables when it comes to many of the natural products.”

Lay noted that conventional, veterinarian-recommended dewormers are both effective and safe to use. “Like any medication, we can’t assume there will be zero side effects 100% of the time, but the veterinary-approved products have been around a long time, have gone through stringent drug trials and studies, and are proven to carry minimal to no risk,” she said.

Expert sources

We consulted with two licensed veterinarians for advice regarding the treatment and prevention of intestinal parasites like tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms as well as heartworms and ectoparasites like fleas, ticks, and mites. Although this information guided us in our product selection, our experts did not specifically endorse or recommend any of the products in this guide.

  • Melissa Smits, DVM, partner at Fort Morgan Vet Clinic
  • Kelley Lay, DVM, a relief veterinarian and student program director and operational coach at Blue Heron Consulting
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The 6 best cat litter boxes in 2021, based on extensive testing

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • A veterinary behaviorist and a cat behavior consultant told us what to look for in a litter box.
  • We then tested 23 litter boxes, including disposable, hooded, top-entry, and self-cleaning boxes.
  • Our top pick is the affordable Nature’s Miracle Oval Hooded Litter Box, which can be used three ways.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, DVM, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Cats have very specific preferences when it comes to toileting. Not only can placing a litter box in out-of-the-way corners or at high-traffic bottlenecks discourage a cat from using it, they may also refuse to go if their box is too small or too dirty, or if there are several cats all sharing the same one.

The number of litter boxes in a household can also be a major problem from a cat’s perspective. Wailani Sung, DVM, DACVB, veterinary behaviorist at the San Francisco SPCA Veterinary Hospital, typically recommends having the same number of litter boxes as they do cats, plus one extra. Those who are living in small spaces, though, may be able to get away with fewer, frequently cleaned larger boxes, she said.

Over the last year, my two cats and I have tested 23 different litter boxes. We also consulted two cat experts, Sung and cat behavior consultant Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi, for advice on how to select the best litter boxes. Our favorite litter box overall is the versatile, affordable Nature’s Miracle Oval Hooded Litter Box, which can be used in three different ways according to a cat’s preference.

Here are the best litter boxes in 2021

The best litter box overall

natures miracle hooded litter box

The versatile Nature’s Miracle Oval Hooded Litter Box is spacious, affordable, and easy to modify for sensitive cats.

Pros: Can be used uncovered, covered, or partially covered; simple design; spacious pan; no swinging door; snaps and handle on cover make it easy to remove and attach; charcoal filter odor absorber; affordable

Cons: Basic design might not be appealing to some people

Often what a cat desires in a litter box is not the same thing that appeals to our human interests. Over the last several months, I saw this firsthand as my two cats tested the litter boxes for this guide. From observing them and speaking to Quagliozzi and Sung, what I’ve learned above all is that cats need choices in order to feel secure.

I selected Nature’s Miracle Hooded Flip-Top Litter Box precisely because it allows me to give my cats different options to best meet their toileting needs. The first option with this box is to use the base alone without adding the cover. With high, rounded sides, the 25.25-by-18.75-inch pan is spacious and sturdy.

The second option is to add the cover. It snaps into the base in four places and has a handle and a charcoal filter for absorbing odors. Unlike some covered litter boxes, there is no plastic door a cat will need to push through that may also swing disconcertingly once the cat is inside the box. 

The third option is to flip the front of the cover up so it opens up about a third of the box. This makes for easy cleaning and, if left in this position, also creates a hybrid covered-uncovered box that may better meet the requirements of both cat (easy entry and no over-confinement) and guardian (odor control and less visible waste). 

While the Nature’s Miracle Hooded Flip Top isn’t particularly stylish, the large, versatile box will satisfy the whole family — two-legged and four-legged, alike — for a very reasonable price.

The best litter pan

smart cat ultimate litter box

The spacious Smart Cat Ultimate Litter Box helps prevent litter scatter and is easy to clean.

Pros: Spacious size; high, ramped sides help decrease litter tracking; affordable

Cons: Only one color option

Simplicity and spaciousness are the first two factors Quagliozzi and Sung look for in a litter box. “Most of the traditional litter boxes offered are [too] small,” Sung said. A litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of a cat. SmartCat’s Ultimate Litter Box  is among the largest of the litter boxes we tested at 25 inches y 18.5 inches.

At approximately 1.5 times the length of an 17-inch cat, there is plenty of room for them to comfortably stretch out and cover waste. Even better, this pan has relatively high, ramped sides to decrease litter scatter.

SmartCat’s litter box is made from durable plastic resin that is easy to clean and has an oversized rim for convenient lifting. At $20, this litter box is priced right, too, but it’s only available in one color: bright blue.

The best top-entry litter box

modkat litter box

The modern Modkat XL Litter Box has top and front entries and a unique folding lid for easy cleaning.

Pros: Modern design, front- and top-entry, perforated folding lid for capturing loose litter and easy cleaning, reusable rip-free plastic liner, scoop, three color options

Cons: Kittens and older or anxiety-prone cats may have trouble using this box, expensive

Most cats require athletic ability to enter a top-entry box, and, once inside, the cat can only go in a place that allows them to pop their head out of the hole. With a higher lid and entries at the top and front, Modkat’s XL Litter Box fits the needs of a wider variety of cats.

Good-looking and well-designed, the Modkat XL is 21-inches long, 16-inches wide, and 17-inches tall and is sold in three colors (white, gray or black). The lid entrance is a generous 10.25 inches in diameter and the front opening measures 8.5-inches wide by 9.75-inches tall. If you’d rather your cat not use that opening, just close the built-in sliding door.

The lid folds back for easy cleaning and litter tracked onto the roof returns to the pan through perforations. The box comes with two rip-resistant reusable plastic liners, which will last up to three months each, and a scoop. 

While the front-entry makes this litter box more accessible, aging cats and kittens may still struggle to access the door that hovers about 6 inches above the floor. My senior cat had no trouble, though, and used this box frequently. Although he didn’t use the top-entry, he tracked no more litter out of this box than the others we tested. 

The Modkat XL’s biggest flaw is its price tag. Nevertheless, for a well-designed litter box that actually looks somewhat stylish, the Modkat XL is a solid investment.

The best self-cleaning litter box

petsafe self cleaning litter box

Simply designed for cat comfort, the Petsafe Scoop Free Self-Cleaning Litter Box removes solid waste so you don’t have to.

Pros: Easy to set up and use, covered compartment holds solid waste, uses odor-absorbent and dust-free proprietary litter, tracks how often a cat uses the box, disposable trays can be easily thrown out

Cons: Proprietary litter is pricey; litter may be harmful to cat if ingested, waste compartment is small

Self-cleaning litter boxes are controversial among cat experts. Sung does not recommend them because they can frighten cats and guardians may miss the signs of intestinal or urinary problems.

Still, if you’re struggling to clean your cat’s litter box(es) at least once daily, a self-cleaning model can help. Of the four I tested, my cats preferred the one that most resembled a generously sized standard litter box: the Scoop Free Self-Cleaning Litter Box by Petsafe.

This easy-to-setup box is designed with a sensor rim and a built-in rake that sits on top of a 23-by-15.5-inch disposable litter tray. Sensors recognize when a cat enters the box. Twenty minutes after they have exited, the rake automatically pushes solid waste toward a covered compartment at the opposite end. A health counter keeps track of how often your pet does their business. 

The Scoop Free box must be used with Petsafe’s disposable or reusable litter tray and its proprietary blend of crystal cat litter. The litter is absorbent, drying, and 99% dust-free, but must be replaced every two to four weeks at a cost of $16.95 per disposable tray or about $17 per bag. Chemical-based litters may also be harmful to a cat if they accidentally ingest them.

Just because the box is self-cleaning doesn’t mean you’re completely off the hook. The small compartment that collects waste may need to be emptied several times before it’s time to change the litter tray. All things considered, this box works hard to keep the pan constantly clean and fresh, ensuring a pleasant toileting experience every time.

The best budget litter box

sterilite storage box used as litter box

Though not traditionally marketed as a litter box, the Sterilite 41-quart Storage Box offers expert-recommended size and simplicity at an affordable price.

Pros: Large size with plenty of room for natural toileting behaviors, made from durable plastic, snap-on lid for easy moving, low sides for easy entry by most cats, inexpensive

Cons: Shallow sides don’t prevent litter from being kicked or tracked out of box

Because many traditional litter boxes are too small for cat comfort, both Quagliozzi and Sung often recommend that their clients use a wide, flat plastic storage container instead. With their large size and simple design, they make excellent, affordable stand-ins for the real thing.

Sterilite’s 41-quart Storage Box is made from durable, clear plastic and measures approximately 35 inches by 17 inches, providing a cat with tons of room to perform natural toileting behaviors like digging and covering their waste. Because the box is waterproof, it won’t leak any excess urine that goes uncaptured by litter.

While the included white plastic lid will need to be stored away most of the time, it can be pulled out and snapped in place to easily move the box to a different location without spillage. With sides that are approximately 6 inches high, this box is shallow enough for most cats to easily enter and exit.

Guardians with cats who aggressively scratch and kick their litter, however, may need to do more floor cleanup than they would with a litter pan with higher sides. Sterilite’s 41-quart Storage Box performed just as well as our best litter pan pick (minus the built-in pockets for supplies) and just about half the price.

The best disposable litter box

natures miracle disposable litter box

Made from recycled paper and infused with baking soda, Nature’s Miracle Disposable Litter Box holds up against leaks and odors for 30 days.

Pros: Recycled materials, leakproof and tear-proof, infused with baking soda to keep smells at bay, comes in 2-pack, lasts 30 days, ideal for temporary use or travel

Cons: More challenging to scrape stuck-on clumps than in a plastic box, generates a lot of waste when used long-term

Whether you’re looking for a sturdy stand-alone litter box or a liner for a plastic box, Nature’s Miracle disposable boxes are an excellent worry-free option. Even after a full month of use by my two cats, the bottom of the pan was fully intact. Nowhere had urine even started to penetrate the recycled paper material.

Nature’s Miracle currently makes two versions of their disposable litter box: regular and jumbo. Unfortunately, the style we liked best, the 23-by-18-inch triangular corner box, has been discontinued. The next best option for comfortable toileting based on the recommendations of Sung and Quagliozzi is the 21-by-14.5-inch jumbo-size rectangular box, which is sold in packs of two

Nature’s Miracle Disposable Litter Box is made of dense, compacted recycled paper that the company advertises as leakproof and tear-proof. In our monthlong test, I found both claims to be true. The box is also made with baking soda to help keep bad odors in check. Nature’s Miracle disposable boxes can be used with any type of litter  — I chose a clumping clay version — and when it’s at the end of its 30-day life cycle, the landfill-safe pan can be easily thrown out.

Because the disposable litter box is made of paper instead of plastic, its biggest flaw is that clumps that get stuck to the bottom or sides are a little harder to remove than they are in a smooth plastic box. And although this is a great option for travel or temporary care, sending a pan to the landfill every month seems unnecessary when there are so many reusable options available.

Nevertheless, both guardians who are ultra-fastidious with regard to their litter boxes and those who need a reliable temporary box will find a great solution in the Nature’s Miracle Disposable Litter Box.

What else we considered

litter-robot 3 automatic self-cleaning litter box

Self-cleaning litter boxes

  • Litter-Robot 3 Connect: This box is an expensive lesson in how cat preferences and human preferences often don’t align. The technology is very impressive — it even comes with an app to help track your cat’s business — and it appears to work well. I say “appears” because after two months my cats still haven’t dared to enter the Litter-Robot. In my own tests, it had no trouble dealing with the various objects I tasked it with filtering out: pencils, erasers, and water to activate urine-like clumps. Unfortunately, the box’s tight interior prevents a cat from being able to toilet on even ground — a deal-breaker for my cats. Luckily, the machine comes with a 90-day money-back guarantee for cats who refuse to give it a try.
  • Omega Paw Roll’N Clean Cat Litter Box: This self-cleaning box has received plenty of good reviews, but it missed the mark for me. Rolling the box to filter waste often resulted in pouring litter onto the floor and I still had to regularly scrape clumps stuck to the bottom of the pan. At just 10 by 15 inches, the interior of the pan is also extremely small when the filter is in place. 
  • Littermaid 3rd Edition Multi-Cat Self-Cleaning Litter Box: This self-cleaning litter box was riddled with problems. Clumps of urine-soaked litter frequently stuck to its rake or  the door of the waste disposal compartment and plenty of soiled litter was left behind on the base of the pan. The lifting waste compartment lid frequently got stuck and had to be manually lowered.

Litter pans

  • Petmate Giant Litter Pan: Formerly our top pick, this pan is no longer available for purchase. The spacious pan was made with antimicrobial material to fight odors and had built-in pockets for supplies, making it ideal for both cat and guardian.
  • Petmate Jumbo Litter Pan: Petmate’s jumbo-size litter pan is a solid 21.25-inches long, but that’s only 125% the length of my smaller cat and 115% the size of my larger one. Sung recommends litter pans be at least 150% the length of your largest cat.
  • Van Ness High Sides Cat Litter Pan, Giant: While this is a decent standard litter pan with a great price tag, it is significantly smaller, 19.25 inches-long, than the other pans we tested.

Budget litter boxes

Covered litter boxes

  • Catit Jumbo Hooded Pan: This litter box was a close second to our best overall pick. Like the Nature’s Miracle hooded box, it can be used uncovered, covered, or with the front section flipped up. It was only the cost — more than twice that of the Nature’s Miracle pan — that kept this box out of the top spot.
  • Frisco Hooded Cat Litter Box, Extra Large: This is a good all-around box that is spacious and easy to enter. The door flap is lightweight and removable, but the cover has to be completely lifted off of the base for cleaning.
  • Booda Dome Cleanstep Litter Box: While I like the look of this litter box, it devotes too much space to design and not enough to the litter (the pan is only 12 by 21 inches). The inclusion of the stairs also makes this box unnecessarily complicated for more sensitive cats who prefer simple access.

Disposable litter boxes

  • Nature’s Miracle Disposable Cat Box: The regular-size disposable litter pans by Nature’s Miracle are made of the same great stuff as the jumbo version I selected as the best disposable box. This one is significantly smaller with 25% less space.
  • Kitty’s Wonder Box Disposable Litter Box: This disposable litter box is well made, but it’s tiny, just 13.5 by 17 inches. The size makes the Wonder Box a decent option for travel, but it’s not appropriate for long-term daily use. 
  • So Phresh Disposable Cat Litter Box: This box made from sustainable bagasse fiber was on par with the Nature’s Miracle disposable box except that it’s almost 3 inches shorter and has lower sides.
  • Kitty Sift Disposable Sifting Litter Box: I really liked the concept of this box that filters out waste with three layers of perforated recycled cardboard. It remained leak-free throughout our testing period, but I found sifting the litter made a big mess and I had to remove clumps that stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Top-entry litter boxes

  • Modkat Top-Entry Litter Box: We previously named this the best top-entry litter box, thanks to its functional, appealing design. It is, however, much smaller than its cousin, the Modkat XL, and can only be entered from the top. It also comes with a hefty price tag, especially if your cat turns out to dislike entering the litter box from the top.
  • Petmate Top-Entry Litter Pan: The dimensions of this affordable box are similar to those of the Modkat, but style is lacking with this pan and it doesn’t come with a liner. I also found that every time I attempted to clean the Petmate, the lid slipped out of the hinges and pulled completely off of the top.

Our methodology

We identified the best litter boxes available at major retailers based on criteria established by our experts. Each box was put to use for a minimum of one month, undergoing the following tests during that period. Unless a litter box required a specific litter to operate effectively, all litter boxes were filled with our favorite budget litter, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Strength Cat Litter.

Ease of entry test: Because not every cat is agile enough or motivated enough to jump up into a litter box, I considered ease of entry. I measured the sides of each box and the height of any openings and watched to see whether my cats appeared to have difficulty accessing the boxes. I also observed how my cats responded to each box, noting which they preferred to toilet in more frequently.

Tracking test: For each box, I collected the litter tracked onto the floor over a period of three days, then compared the quantity of litter between boxes. Surprisingly, I found that the litter tracked from every box we tested was roughly equivalent.

Cleaning test: I cleaned each litter box twice daily, noting how easy it was to access and remove the waste and how much litter stuck to the bottom and sides of the pan. After a month of use, I thoroughly cleaned each box, disposing of the litter and wiping it out completely. I noted how challenging the boxes were to clean and approximately how long it took to go from full and dirty to empty and clean.

Size test: Sung explained that cats need a space that is at least 1.5 times their length to scratch at the litter and bury their waste. For this test, I began by measuring the length of each of my two cats when standing in a relaxed position. I then measured the length of each of the litter box contenders and compared the numbers. Larger litter boxes were favored over their smaller counterparts.

FAQs about litter boxes and cat toileting

cat using litter box

How frequently does a cat use their litter box?

The typical cat uses the litter box as many as half-a-dozen times a day, urinating two to four times and defecating once or twice. Every cat, however, is an individual and some go more or less frequently on average. Cleaning your litter boxes daily will help you monitor for behavioral changes that may indicate a health problem such as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD).

How many litter boxes do I need and what size should they be?

A good general rule of thumb for litter boxes is to have one per cat plus an extra, Sung told us. Each litter box should have enough space to comfortably dig and bury waste with dimensions that are at least 1.5 times the size of the cat.

How often should I clean the litter box?

To keep fastidious felines toileting happily, our experts recommend cleaning the litter box at least once, if not several times, each day.

Do cats like open or closed litter boxes?

Some cats may be intimidated by hooded or covered litter boxes, especially if they are low enough that the cat must crouch to do their business. An open-topped litter pan is the most universally accepted by cats of all types.

What if my cat stops urinating?

Cats are highly susceptible to FLUTD, a range of conditions that affect the bladder, urinary tract and/or urethra. Male cats, in particular, are commonly afflicted with urinary stones or crystals which block urine from being expelled from the body. And when a cat can’t urinate, the toxins that build up can be deadly. A vet has just 24 to 48 hours to remove a blockage and save their life. If a vet is unable to identify FLUTD or other medical problems, a cat who refuses to urinate is likely doing so out of anxiety. To get to the root of the problem, seek out a behaviorist who can help identify and overcome a cat’s triggers.

Why is my cat peeing outside the litter box?

There are a variety of reasons why a cat may urinate outside of their litter box. Inappropriate elimination can occur when a cat dislikes the size or design of their litter box or the style of litter in the pan and has found another location—a pile of laundry, a potted plant, a fluffy rug—that better satisfies their desire to scratch and dig. Inappropriate elimination can also be a sign that a cat dislikes the location of their litter box. A box placed next to a washing machine or too close to the dog’s bed, for example, may cause anxiety that induces them to look for an alternative place to urinate. Lastly, a cat who suddenly begins to urinate outside of their litter box may be attempting to communicate a health issue such as an oncoming FLUTD.

Why am I finding urine on vertical surfaces?

Urine left on vertical surfaces is called marking. Marking is not urination, per say, but the spraying of pheromones, a behavior which they accomplish by raising the tail and backing up to a wall, bookcase, sofa or other location. Most cats who mark do so out of anxiety or because they are experiencing conflict with another animal. Any cat can mark but it most commonly occurs in intact males.

Who we consulted

Prior to making the selections for this guide, we consulted two experts:

  • Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi, cat behavior consultant and owner of Go Cat Go! in San Francisco, California. For two decades, Quagliozzi has worked with cats at the San Francisco SPCA, San Francisco Animal Care and Control, and through his private practice, Go Cat Go! Quagliozzi’s expertise has been featured on Animal Planet and in a variety of other media outlets. We spoke to Quagliozzi via phone in August 2020.
  • Wailani Sung, director of behavior and welfare programs and board-certified veterinary behaviorist at the San Francisco SPCA Veterinary Hospital in San Francisco, CA. Sung attended the University of Georgia for both a master’s degree and doctorate in psychology with a special interest in animal behavior. She went on to earn a second doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Sung is one of fewer than 100 board-certified veterinary behaviorists in the United States. She currently directs the San Francisco SPCA’s Behavior Specialty Service and writes on animal behavior for Vetstreet, PetMD, and Healthy Pet magazine. We interviewed Sung via email on March 30, 2020.

We also accessed the following website in March 2020:

 

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I tried a BarkBox subscription for my playful, energetic dog and it did not disappoint – the toys kept him entertained and they didn’t fall apart the second he got to them

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Archie Bark Box 1
My dog Archie loved his BarkBox toys, and I was impressed by how well they held up.

  • BarkBox delivers toys and treats to your home monthly with its dog subscription box.
  • Boxes range from $23 to $35 per month and include toys, all-natural treats, and a chew.
  • I tested BarkBox with my dog Archie – he loves the toys and I’m pleased with their durability.

Table of Contents

From groceries and prepared meals to clothing and beauty products, there is a monthly subscription service for everything – including dog toys.

When it comes to monthly pet product subscriptions, there are several options to choose from. There are Petco’s Pup Box, Bullymake, and RescueBox for dogs, and boxes for our feline friends from Cat Lady Box and KitNipBox, to name a few. Add to that fresh dog food services.

And then there is arguably the most popular: BarkBox. Since its inception, it’s delivered boxes to more than 2 million dogs and partnered with stores like Target to bring their most popular toys to nonsubscribers.

I decided to test the service with my dog Archie who loves to play with and chew on almost everything.

How does BarkBox work?

Archie Bark Box 2

To keep it simple, BarkBox sends you a box of toys, treats, and accessories once a month.

Not only does Bark Box offer monthly deliveries of toys and treats, but each box has a unique theme. One month your dog might receive a collection of holiday-themed treats and toys while the next month his BarkBox might send him on a journey through Chewrassic Bark. Each box contains two innovative toys, two bags of all-natural treats, a chew, and a specially curated item from the month’s themed collection.

Every toy is designed by in-house industrial designers, made for the way dogs play and approved by the company’s own test dogs.

To sign up, all you have to do is create an online profile, answering questions about your dog’s size and dietary preferences. You can also choose from the standard BarkBox filled with plush toys or the Super Chewer Box filled with fluff-free tough toys.

From there, you can choose a one-month subscription ($35), six months ($26/box), or 12 months ($23/box). The entire subscription process takes less than five minutes.

Testing the BarkBox

To write my review, Archie and I received two BarkBoxes with assorted toys, treats, and chews from the Bark Slope Street Fair collection. Here’s what we received:

  • Fresh Fair Treats, Lamb Gyro Recipe
  • Fresh Fair Treats, Duck Shish Kabob Recipe
  • Fresh Fair Treats, Chicken & Fish Taco Recipe
  • New York City Central Pork Pizza Treats
  • Plato Pet Treats Thinkers Chew, Salmon Recipe (2)
  • Max’s Maine Lobster Roll (Plush Toy)
  • Gideon the Pigeon (Plush Toy)
  • Bebe the Burrito (Plush Toy)
  • Lickton Iced Tea (Spiky Core Toy)
  • Shuck n’ Chuck Corn Cob (Super Chewer Toy)
  • The All-Powerful Pupsicle (Super Chewer Toy)
  • Buns of Steel Hotdog (Super Chewer Toy)

Archie Bark Box 4
The all-natural treats included in each BarkBox are allergy-friendly.

From the moment I started opening the BarkBox, Archie was intrigued – the noise of the packing paper alone sent him into an excited frenzy. The first thing I grabbed out of the box was Max’s Main Lobster Roll, one of the plush toys. I gave the toy a good squeeze and Archie’s ears perked up and his head tilted to the side.

I waved the toy around a couple of times then offered it to him. He immediately grabbed it out of my hand, ran down the hall into the bedroom, and started chewing.

Archie loves a good plush toy, especially if there’s a squeaker involved. But what he really loved about Max’s Maine Lobster Roll was the crinkle noise it made. Several other toys in the collection made similar noises, and he seemed to prefer them above the hard Super Chewer toys. He gobbled up the treats (which was a little surprising since he’s been picky about treats in the past) and he made quick work of the chews as well.

I’m now writing this several weeks after receiving Archie’s BarkBox.

My bedroom floor is currently covered in tufts of stuffing ripped out of several plush toys I’d received as gifts. Archie’s beloved stuffed lamb and puppy are no more, but his BarkBox plush toys are still around (though he did manage to get the squeaker out of Gideon the Pigeon and chewed that to shreds).

Needless to say, I think he’s a fan of BarkBox and so am I.

What’s the verdict?

Archie will chew on or play with just about anything, so I’m not surprised he loved the BarkBox so much. I am, however, pleased with the quality and durability of the toys. Even the plush toys from the regular BarkBox stood up well, and I’m convinced the Super Chewer toys will last forever.

Archie loves chews, so those are long gone already. I’m not sure that I need two bags of treats every month, though.

One final thing I found interesting is that BarkBox is very allergy-friendly. Every BarkBox is free from corn, wheat, and soy, which greatly reduces the risk for triggering allergies and food sensitivities. There are also options for dogs that are allergic to chicken, beef, and turkey – you simply have to call BarkBox or use their live chat feature, and they’ll send you an allergy-friendly box.

To wrap up, here’s an overview of the pros and cons for BarkBox:

The pros

  • Everything is of the highest quality, including all-natural dog treats and innovative toys.
  • Each box is tailored to fit your dog’s size, and options are available for dogs with allergies.
  • You can reorder certain items or purchase items from other collections online.
  • There is a money-back guarantee if your dog doesn’t like every item in the box.
  • BarkBox donates 5% of their profits go toward supporting organizations that provide free or low-cost vet care through spay and neuter programs.
  • Discounted prices are available for buying multiple months and for multiple dogs.

The cons

  • Subscription automatically renews; you’ll be charged and sent another box if you don’t cancel.
  • Some of the plush toys may not be ideal for heavy chewers and the stuffing could be a choking hazard – there is also access to the squeaker inside if your dog rips open the toy.
  • The rubberized toys that come in the Super Chewer box are heavy and somewhat awkward.

All in all, I was very pleased with my BarkBox experience and I think it’s safe to say that Archie is too.

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