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LitterMaid Cat Litter Box Review

Yes, this is a review of a kitty litter box.  Normally my weblog mostly discusses software development, but I have two cats, and I hate cleaning litter boxes. I found something that works pretty well for me, and the other talk about it on the Web and Usenet that I've seen has been pretty negative, so I wanted to offer my experiences.
The box I have is a LitterMaid™ Self-Cleaning Litter Box, Model Number: LM 500; that link takes you to their website.  It's not cheap - they sell it for about $99, I think I paid about $140 Canadian at a pet store here.
Here's how it works:
  1. Kitty walks in and does his or her business.
  2. A timer starts when a sensor in the box senses kitty leave.
  3. Your clumping litter solidifies kitty's present into a little rock.
  4. After the 10 minute timer is up, a plastic bar with a motor in it drives across the box, with a comb extended down into the litter.  Normal litter passes through the comb; any clumps are moved forward.
  5. At the end of the bar's trip, it twists up, opening a door over the waste bin, and drops whatever it's sifted out of the box into the bin.
  6. As the bar retracts, the door closes.
If for some reason the bar can't complete it's trip, it will return to it's home position, and try again.  It will do this up to 10 times, and then give up (flashing a red light so you know it needs attention).  This is a pretty nice system - the cat always has a clean box, and the stinky stuff is in a covered bin.
But as you can imagine, it doesn't always work this way.  Here are some of the things that I've seen go wrong:
  • If you put in too much litter (and the amount they tell you to put in is too much), the clumps the bar is trying to push will shovel so much litter in front of it that it will get bogged down at the end of it's trip and abort. 
    Solution:  Use less litter; never fill it to the limit line they have inside the litter pan.
  • My cats at least seem to like to pee right in the corner of the box, and sometimes once the litter hardens, this turns the corner of the box into a little cement block.  You might not be able to see the block because it's buried in clean litter.
    Solution: Use some sort of scraper (I just use a piece of wooden dowel) to occasionally dislodge all the litter that gets caked onto the pan.  This is easy, and doesn't happen that often anyway (to me, about once a week).
It's also a loud when it's running - so when it's stuck and doing the 10 attempts at getting unstuck, it's pretty annoying. 
They tell you to use the best clumping kitty litter you can find but in experience, the brand of litter that they recommend caused me a lot of problems; right now I'm using the grocery store brand generic clumping litter, and it's working great.  Just make sure it's clumping.  You'll also use a LOT less litter with this box than a regular one.
It comes with 4 plastic bins that the litter gets dropped into; I empty the bin every week.  They sell packages of replacement bins, so I'm not sure if they expect you to just toss it and use a new one every week or not, but I find taking the bin out, emptying it and putting it back isn't so bad.
They also sell a slightly bigger model, the LM 950, but it's twice the price.  Having a bigger litter box made sense with a traditional box since there was going to be more stuff in the litter but with this box, the litter is always clean.  The smaller box is adequate for my two cats so I'd say save the bucks and buy the smaller one.  The bigger one also comes with a ramp but my cats can make it to the top of a bookshelf with no ramp, I think they can find their way into a litter box.
You'd think a scary litter box that came to life every now and then would freak the cats out, but they don't seem to mind it at all.  And I know they like having freshly raked litter every time they visit.
Other reviews I've seen have ranged from wildly positive to wildly negative; I guess it depends on which irritates you more:  Dealing with a traditional litter box, or dealing with the quirks of this mechanical one. 
(Here's a link to someone who's looking to “overclock” his LitterMaid.. Cool).

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