Litter boxes and young children are generally not a great mix. A cat litter box can contain parasites, bacteria, worms, and lead to infections. Therefore, it is not a safe place for a child to hang around or discover unattended.
Like cats, children are curious. If a young kid sees their kitty using a robotic-looking machine, it wouldn’t be unusual if they tried to follow in their footsteps (or in this case paw prints). So, if your household includes kids and cats, you may be wondering if an automatic litter box is a safe product to have with a little one running around.
As parents to both human and fur babies, we understand that you want the whole household to be happy and free from harm. So, let’s learn just how safe self-cleaning litter trays are and explore the safety features these units have in place to keep them out of harm’s way.
How Safe Are Automatic Litter Boxes To Begin With?
In short, self-cleaning litter boxes are generally safe for young children to be around. Furthermore, because these units self-scoop regularly, they pose less risk to your child’s health than standard litter boxes that need scooping manually and may have waste left in the litter bed at any given time.
Automatic litter boxes are designed in a way to keep our cats unharmed, which in the same way keeps our kids free from injury too. Nonetheless, not all automatic litter boxes are equal in that respect, and some models are certainly safer than others. Here’s what to look for when choosing your high-tech litter box.
A Slow & Gentle Cleaning Cycle
There are various cleaning systems that an automatic litter box can use. The traditional style is a rotating mechanism. This consists of a globe on an axis that rotates around to sift the litter and remove the clumps. While it gives a pretty effective clean, it’s not the safest method as the motion is faster than other systems.
In fact, nowadays, many self-cleaning litter box makers opt for a different approach because of the safety concerns that have come up with the rotating mechanism over the last few years.
These safety concerns led to the revamp of the horizontal raking method, which is used in various models today, such as the AutoEgg or ScoopFree by PetSafe. With this system, a rake moves in slow motion through a zig-zag litter tray to capture and remove cat waste. Overall, this method is much gentler and safer but just as effective.
The cleaning system is an important safety consideration. Just like your cat can enter the box while a cleaning cycle is taking place, your child could put their hand inside mid-clean too (this sounds like a recipe for disaster). A mechanism that cleans the litter slowly and gently won’t cause harm to your kitty or your child in the event of a mid-clean entry.
Unfortunately, some of the first automatic litter boxes on the market did create valid safety concerns without a proper sensory system to detect movement during cleanings.
There were even reports of cat injuries caused by the units, specifically cats getting trapped in the litter box. This happened when the cat would enter during a cleaning cycle, and there was no safety feature to stop the motion of the cycle and a tail or a paw gets caught up in the mechanism.
Thankfully, in 2023, self-cleaning litter boxes’ safety has improved drastically. Pretty much every automatic litter box nowadays has a cat-stuck prevention sensor. This means that if your cat enters the box mid-clean, the sensor will detect your kitty’s presence and pause the cycle. Then, it will only recommence when it senses your cat has left the box.
In theory, this sensor should also detect your child sticking their hand into the box or trying to crawl inside. While this does give parents peace of mind, it’s essential to know the accuracy of your litter box sensors, because again, not all models are the same.
Shorter Cleaning Cycles
Another way to reduce the risk of harm or illness to your child is to opt for an automatic litter box with a short cleaning cycle. Some alternative machines, such as flushable systems, can take up to 30 minutes to clean. In contrast, horizontal raking systems typically take just five to ten minutes. The shorter the cleaning cycle, the less time your child has to get to the feces.
Most automatic litter boxes have a hood to keep the litter tray covered. This limits your child’s access to the box and can reduce their interest in it. The enclosed style also stops litter from escaping, preventing your child from picking up dirty, bacteria-ridden litter particles, or worse, ingesting them!
Some units also have a tracking step at the entryway to catch litter from your kitty’s paws and reduce litter tracking further.
Keeping Your Child Away From Cat Poop
The biggest concern with children and cat litter is the possibility of them picking up the feces. If your child touches cat feces, this can be very harmful to their health. Cat poop is full of contagious toxic bacteria that can cause nasty infections in humans, especially young kids with weaker immune systems.
Automatic litter boxes remove waste very promptly, generally 5 minutes after use. Because of this, they are certainly safer for households with children than traditional litter boxes where cat poop may sit for hours. However, even though there is much less chance of your child reaching into the box and touching cat poop, it is still possible.
If you notice your child follows the cat to the litter box and hangs around when they are using it, you should take preventive measures to ensure your kid doesn’t get the waste before the cleaning cycle begins.
In this case, we recommend keeping it in a space where your child cannot access it. While you can put the box in a closed room with a cat flap, we find the most convenient and practical solution is to use a baby gate. These are easy to set up, and most cats can slither through the gaps or jump over without an issue.
The advanced technology of current automatic litter boxes makes them a safe product to use around children. Moreover, the higher hygiene levels of self-cleaning versions are generally an ideal litter box choice for homes with kitties and kids.
Even so, this does not mean every automatic litter box will be totally reliable. You should always take ample care and consideration using any electronic product around small children.