I think it’s safe to say that a large percentage of geeks and nerds have cats. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with both my cat and my dog. On one hand they give you unconditional love. But on the other hand they can be extremely annoying, noisy, chew your stuff, puke on things (or on you), and then there’s the whole issue of where they do their business.
When I first got my cat, my wife explained scooping the litter box in the best possible light. Â She described the task as being like a prospector sifting for gold. Sounds almost fun when you put it like that. But over the years I’ve come to HATE the chore. I’ve alsoÂ acquiredÂ an allergy to the cat box – the dust and the urine. I am veryÂ sensitiveÂ to smells and certain scents will throw me right into a migraine. For the past few years I’ve been thinking that the modern house should have a bathroom receptacle for pets. Why can’t there be some sort of toilet for cats that flushes away the waste? Â And for a while I’ve been fantasizing about designing and building such a device. Hey, these are the things I think about people! I’m a nerd, what can I say…A few weeks ago I saw an infomercial for a device called the CatGenie. Now, normally I would assume that anything being sold on an infomercial is some cheap device that won’t work as expected. But this made me stop in my tracks and watch the commercial, because it claimed to do exactly what I’ve been looking for.
What it does…
The idea behind the CatGenie is that it is a self cleaning toilet for cats. It hooks up to electricity, a water source, and drains into either a nearby toilet or aÂ washingÂ machine drain pipe. As you can see in the photo it has a large circular basin which houses their proprietary washable litter. The device scoops through the litter, grinds up the solids and flushes them down the drain. Then the litter is washed with water and a special cleaning solution, and air dried. This entire process is automatic and, if all works as advertised, provides a completely clean litter box all the time. But does it work?
I’ve had automatic cat boxes in the past. They run a scoop over your litter to collect the solids and the clumps into a special collection box. Then you just throw away the box once a week or so. The problem with these other devices is that sometimes the poo just gets stuck in the scoop and then you have a huge mess to clean up. Plus they don’t resolve any odor issues because the waste is still in your house. Â What made me hopeful about the CatGenie is that it uses water and hooks to a drain and the waste is flushed . But I had no idea just how well it would work. The rocket scientist who designed this thing thought of everything.
Installation and a tour of the hardware
The CatGenie comes with the necessary hardware to hook it to either a toilet or a washing machine. We installed it in a laundry room, attached it to an unused faucet and ran the drain hose down theÂ washingÂ machine drain. The actual installation only took about 15 minutes. We did experience a slight water leak at the source, but some teflon tape took care of that.
On the bottom is a basin which rotates. Rather than the scoop moving around the litter, the basin moves the litter under and through the scoop. Â Above is the basin without any ‘litter’ in it. Â During the wash cycle, water and cleaning solution fills the basin and is drained out of those holes.Â
On the top left is the brains of the operation. Two electronic eyes watch for the cat and won’t start a cleaning cycle if a cat is in the box. On the right side is the scoop which moves down into the basin to do it’s thing.
In order for the device to work, your cat has to decide to use it. Anyone who has a cat knows that they are fickle. The acclimation process is critical. This will vary per cat, but my cat made the switch in only one day. I completely removed the old litter box (YAY!) and put this one in it’s place. My cat started using it within that first day, and my house has smelled better ever since.
The CatGenie does not use regular litter, but rather aÂ patented, “dust free, non-toxic combination of natural and synthetic biodegradable materials” thatÂ they call Washable Granules. This is a critical component of the CatGenie. It does not clump like clay litter. It also doesn’t get scooped out. Instead it is washed each day. So it lasts much longer than regular litter. A few granules do go down the drain each cycle, but they decompose within 9 months.
You can read about the environment impact of normal cat litter on their website. I had never thought about how much cat litter is mined and how much we use each year. Â 8 Billion pounds of litter end up in landfills every year – and it’s notÂ biodegradable. If you’re ‘green’ the CatGenie is a better solution for the planet.
The cleaning cycle
I decided against filming the whole cycle because it is a lengthy process. Also, who wants to look at poo being ground up. Well..? Anyway… The cleaning cycle has 3 phases which total about 30 minutes. I would describe it as being similar to aÂ washingÂ machine cycle or a dish washer cycle – and is about as noisy. The simple explanation is that the machine does it’s thing and 30 minutes later you have a fresh, dry, clean smelling cat box. Â The detailedÂ explanationÂ follows…
In the first phase, the bowl rotates and the scoop drops down, raking through the litter, picking up the poo and dropping it into a hopper. It does this a couple of times. One of the amazing things about this is the way the machine thumps the scoop to separate poo from litter, and to make sure nothing sticks to the scoop.
In the second phase the bowl rotates back and forth while water and cleaning solution fills the basin. The scoop drops down and the granules are forced through the gaps in the scoop, which rubs them against each other cleaning them. While this is happening, the hopper (where the poo was placed) fills with water and spins like a garbage disposal, grinding up the solids (and hairballs) and flushing them out the drain.
After a couple of washings, the third phase dries the granules using warm air from a blow drier. The drying phase takes about 15 minutes.
You can get started in a CatGenie for around $300. They often run specials, so keep a look out for that. They also have a referral program, so if you’re in the mood to get one use the referral code “TLAND” (all upper case) and get $30 off. Disclaimer: it also gives me $30 towards supplies.
Depending on usage, operating costs are about the same as purchasing litter – about $120 a year. The washable granules have to beÂ replenished every 4 to 6 months. Each canister of cleaning solution lasts 60 cycles – which is about a month if you clean the box twice a day. A 3-pack of solution costs $40. You can do the math on that. Operating costs are probably about the same as what you’re spending now, so it really comes down to is the device worth $300? Â Does it do what it says it does and how well?
The good, the bad, and the smelly…
First off, I have to say that this thing is absolutely amazing. I’m sometimes a bit hard on devices in my reviews, but I can’t say enough good things about this gadget. If the tivo was the best invention of the last decade, I think the CatGenie might be high on my list for the current one. My house and my cat smell better, I think myÂ allergiesÂ are clearing up, and best of all – no more scooping litter and ‘handling’ poop. I hate to sound like an infomercial, but it’s true. It really works. If you have a cat you shouldÂ absolutelyÂ buy one.
I’ve had the CatGenie for two weeks. After the first day I knew my cat was using it so I set it to automatically clean twice a day. Since then I’ve not really had to think much about it. I go in to check on it every couple of days. It’s actually a bit fun to watch it do it’s thing.
So what’s the bad and what’s the smelly? Well it’s not much and is extremely outweighed by theÂ awesomeness: The dry cycle uses warm air to dry the granules. In my house this causes a wave of smell to pass over the whole house. Â If the genie does it’s job correctly, the smell is mostly that of the cleaning solution. However, if any poo parts are smaller than the gaps in the scoop they will slip through, stay in the basin and not get lifted into the hopper. During my two weeks there’s only been one lingering dingle-berry small enough to fit though. Un-checked this nugget will end up going through the wash cycle and then through the dry cycle. So every now and then you might get an unpleasant smell going through the house. But honestly, thisÂ occasionalÂ downside isn’t as bad as the old way of having the smell of your cat’s urine present 24-7.
To remedy the problem all you have to do it manually scoop the doo-doo into the hopper, where it will get taken care of during the next cleaning.
My only other complaint was that I wish they had anÂ unscentedÂ version of the cleaning solution. Well I just re-checked their website and they do now have unscented cartidges. So I’ll be ordering a years worth of those. Â As I mentioned, I’m very sensitive to scents, particularly flowery orÂ perfumyÂ scents. While their scented solution only has a subtile smell, it’s a little too much for my super sniffer.
The only other caveat is that the CatGenie only works with their branded Washable Granules and SaniSolutionÂ Cartridges. If you’re not proactive enough to keep a stock of supplies on hand, you’re CatGenie will eventually stop working and you’ll be back to scooping. Personally I don’t have a problem with paying them for supplies as opposed to the grocery store. It just means that you have to plan ahead and order refills early.
I believe that the house of the future should have a room dedicated to be a pet bathroom – and such a room needs a Cat Genie and something like it for dogs. Historically, changes and advancements in technology are reflected in the architecture of the day. For example, houses in the 70’s had living rooms that focused on sitting around a fireplace. In the late 90’s there was a trend in new houses to have built in cubbies for TV’s, whereÂ architectsÂ now have to consider flat panel TV’s and larger TV sizes. I urge architects everywhere to startÂ designingÂ houses with pet bathrooms. Â It doesn’t have to be a large room, but it needs water, power, drain, storage, a fan to suck the smell out, and a special door orÂ entranceÂ for the pet.
If you have a cat order a Cat Genie. Life’s too short to spend your time cleaning up animal excrement. That’s a job for a robot!