This homemade sifting cat litter box is very easy to make and works nicely with pine or wood pellets which are both better for the environment and save money.
For more on alternative litters, see Better Cat Litter: Low-Cost and Eco-Friendly Options.
Pine Pellet Cat Litter System
When we adopted our cats, I wanted a more eco-friendly, low-cost cat little system than the standard clay-based litter available at grocery and pet supply stores. I was also not interested in the pricey (but pretty looking) newer systems.
After reviewing a lot of options (see the cat litter options I researched here), I decided to try pine pellets.
Pine pellets are intended for use as bedding in horse stalls. They are simply pine materials dried at high temperatures to form pellets. I pay about $10 per bag here in Canada ($7 US). You can see them here: pine pellets at Tractor Supply (US) —40 lb / 18 kg bag.
While you could just use the pellets in a litter box, a “sifting” cat litter box helps minimize any odor.
How It Works
Pine pellets are dry wood pellets that crumble into soft sawdust when moistened. Despite calling it “sawdust,” there is no dust.
This is why they work nicely for cat litter: any pee is immediately absorbed.
A two-layer “sifting” box simply lets the sawdust—which is finer but heavier than the pellets—fall to the bin below.
How To Test Pine Pellet Litter
Before making or buying a sifting cat box, you could just test pine pellets with your cats to see if they approve.
Buy one bag of pine pellets and use them in your current litter box. I’d suggest a depth of about 2 to 3 inches.
As your cats use the box, remove any solid waste (poops) with a scoop as usual. The pee (urine) will simply break the pellets down into moist sawdust.
If your cats are fine with it, consider making a new sifting box or converting your existing one. I prefer a sifting box simply because it reduces odor by isolating much of pee-soaked sawdust.
No, the sawdust from pine pellets is not dusty because it’s moist from cat pee.
Like any moist, fine materials, traces of sawdust may stick to the cat’s feet. I keep a mat beside the bin which seems to take up any sawdust the cats might have on their paws. I never find sawdust elsewhere in the house.
Make a Sifting Cat Litter Box
The video shows how to make and assemble the litter box. It’s quite simple.
You drill holes in the base of one box, sit it on top of the second box, and add litter. Done.
Choose two long, low-sided plastic storage bins. I have two cats who share a box so I picked a size that suits them. The bins I got are intended for under-bed storage.
Make sure at least one bin has handles along the short ends (my bins are both the same).
You can see in the video that the handles help create a little space between the bins. This is where urine-soaked pellets (now sawdust) accumulates. By catching this stuff in the lower chamber, any odor is minimal.
Solid waste is removed with a scoop.
Related: What to Buy Your New Cat (Beyond the Basics)
To create the holes, I used a 1/4-inch drill bit and spaced the holes about an inch apart.
To avoid cracking the plastic, place a scrap piece of wood underneath the bin and push the bin down against the wood while you drill.
In the comments below, a reader also suggested running the drill in reverse as you press to reduce the chance of cracking the bin. (Thank you, Rhonda.)
Do cats like pine pellet litter?
All cats are different so it’s impossible to guess which ones might approve or not.
Ours switched to pine pellets without any issues.
When we adopted our cats, they were accustomed to using clay-based litter. In our case, the switch to pine pellets was easy. I just replaced the box one day and they adapted immediately. All cats are different though (of course) and some may not adapt as readily.
I’ve had a few people write to say they opted for a gradual transition by combining the old and new type of litters. So, if they don’t go for a quick change, perhaps try a gradual one.
And, as mentioned, you don’t need a sifting box to start. First test the pellets in your current box and decide from there.
We’ve been using this system for a few years now and I would never switch back. The cats approve and the financial savings are substantial.
There are no issues with pine pellets that we have observed. I would not use anything I thought might hurt, harm, or discourage our cats in any way. I have seen no signs of discomfort or reluctance to use the box. It’s business as usual.
For maintenance, when using pine pellets as cat litter, solid waste is removed daily. Most of the the urine-soaked sawdust naturally drops to the lower bin and does not require upkeep.
I usually change the whole thing out every 10 days or so when all of the pellets have turned to sawdust.
I have a mat by the litter box which catches any sawdust from their paws and I vacuum that each week.
The cost to use pine pellets will depend on your supply cost and the volume you use. I have two cats and one 35 lb bag (16 kg) lasts around two months. Each bag is $7 US ($10 CAD) so it’s about $42 US per year (plus tax). The bags at Tractor Supply are bigger.
Avoid buying the same product packaged for this use—I’ve seen it for twice the cost of the ones intended for horse stalls.
I know there are lots of other cat litter systems these days but, with the dual goals of keeping the cats happy while saving money, this is the best option I’ve found.
If you want more details on the pellets versus other options, I’ve written about it here: Better Cat Litter: Low-Cost and Eco-Friendly Options.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
DIY Sifting Cat Litter Box for Wood Pellets
Supplies & Materials
- 1 bag Pine pellets
- 1 piece Scrap wood size of bottom of bin
- Mark drill hole guides on scrap piece of wood spacing them 1-inch apart.
- Drill holes in base of one bin using 1/4-inch drill bit. To avoid cracking bin, press bottom of bin against wood below as you drill or use a step-down drill bit. TIP: Using the drill in reverse as you gently press down can reduce the chance of cracking the bin.
- Stack bin with holes on top of the second bin.
- Add a few inches of pine pellets.
- Remove solid waste with scoop. Push sawdust through holes to bottom bin and clean out as needed.
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