Thursday 14 December 2017

Petsafe Scoop Free Ultra - Review

This weekend I took delivery of a Petsafe Scoop Free Ultra I had purchased from Amazon UK.

The ultra model varies from the standard in that it has the privacy hood,  the ability to alter the rake delay time and it counts the number of visits your cat makes to the box which is very useful if you need to monitor output from a health point of view. 

The system uses the same silica litter I already use and promises to make waste management in terms of dealing with cat pee and poo scooping duties a doddle.

I got a good price, which honestly was a lot of the reason I bought it when I did.  I also paid half the price again in order to have (shipped from America) a reusable litter tray. It is a plastic tray and a plastic bar attachment that has been fitted with a couple of inexpensive magnets. It comes with a 2kg bag of Scoop Free Litter and this costs almost £50. I see no reason why it should cost as much as this and normally I would not even have entertained  buying such an overpriced item, however without it I would not have even considered using this scoop free system at all because (a) the disposable trays sold to be used with this unit are (to me) very expensive to buy and (b) because of the amount of environmental waste they create.

The Petsafe Reusable Tray £46.00 on Amazon UK Dec. 2017.

The idea behind the system is to make litter tray management easier and less of a yucky job.  And the cartridge system promises to do just that. To be honest, cleaning the cat poo isn't a real problem for me, I'm not one of those who is squeamish but I am immune suppressed due to medication I take so anything I can do to safeguard my health in terms of less handling of pet waste even though I am very careful with gloves and handwashing is going to be beneficial.

The scoop free litter box system is basically an outer unit with a motorised rake. With the unit held up at one end, a disposable litter box prefilled with its litter crystals and its lid removed is slid in underneath and then the machine is lowered back down. Essentially, for the next 14 - 30 days (dependant on several factors, more on this later..) you have no more to do.

The litter crystals trap urine, its odour and bacteria held hygienically within them. while the water content of the urine is able to evaporate away. The crystals also draw moisture from the poo drying it out completely and thus pushed into its waste compartment there is no odour or worry about germs. 

The system sensors pick up movement as your cat enters the box and a countdown timer begins after they leave. Dependant on the model you have this time is a set  20 minutes or a customisable 5, 10 or 20. 

Having dried out the poo slightly (or absorbed the urine) during the 20 minute time lapse the rake now slowly sweeps across the litter, pushing the poo along. As the rake approaches the opposite end the lid of the waste container lifts up and the poo is pushed inside. Now the rake returns, lowering the lid of the waste container immediately keeping the waste out of site and as it goes it evens out the crystals ready for the cat's next visit.

As the litter crystals are saturated and become used, they change colour becoming yellow from the concentrated uring held inside them. Now it is time to change the cartridge by lifting the machine at the end again, sliding out the box and replacing it with a fresh one. You then pop the lid onto the used box and put it into the bin - all without touching the litter or the cats waste.

I mentioned earlier that there were several factors that might affect the length of time between cartridge changes. The most obvious would be the number of cats who would be using the box. The recommendation in the manual is that one box is ample for 2 cats. 

The second factor would be the diet the cat is being fed with. A cat being given a raw food diet does not produce the same number of poo's and as an added factor to that, they are also smaller, less smelly and much drier.  The raw fed cat also does not drink as much as a cat who has dry kibble in their diet and so the urine output is also reduced thus the crystals will not become saturated as quickly. Cats fed on commercial dry and canned food have more frequent need to poo, the stools are larger, softer and more malodourous.

Another factor that would affect urine output and shorten litter cartridge lifespan would be if the cat were older and/or suffered from health complaints affecting the kidney or urinary tract which cause the cat to urinate more frequently.

One way to make sure the crystals are being used most efficiently whether using the box cartridge system or a reusable tray as I do is to stir the crystals which can be done using a poop scoop each day. Yes, it is true this system is meant to do away with you having to work at the litter box with a pooper scooper but this will take 30 seconds at most each day and is well worth it.

Silica cat litter works by absorbing urine while allowing the water content of it to harmlessly evaporate. Stirring it will allow air flow and so aid in evaporation making it more efficient. True, the rake moves the litter but the rake goes up and down in one direction and cannot stir.

Stirring is essential to use all of the litter as cats often have a preference to wee in just one spot. Without stirring the crystals in your cats' chosen corner will saturate until they cannot soak anymore causing a pool of urine to form and sit underneath them while the rest of the crystals in the tray remain clean and dry.  

Stirring saves you money because it makes your silica litter more effective extending its lifespan and able to do the job it was designed to do.

While it is a system that is by using the replacement cartridge box designed to be hands-off,  the lidded boxes make the system very wasteful. Not just in terms of the actual materials, but also in their production and then in their disposal.  Made from a cardboard with a plastic lining type element incorporated it to them and which is intended to reduce any chance of urine leakage should the crystals not absorb all of the urine while it is in use the box and its lid are bulky items to dispose of creating more costs on the environment.
Disposable Box Cartridge - £16 or £46 for a pack of 3 (Dec. 2017)

To try to reduce my impact while still enjoying most of the benefits of the system I purchased at the same time the astronomically priced plastic tray accessory also made by Petsafe which is impregnated during manufacture with an antibacterial agent. Admittedly it too uses resources to make it, but overall, since it will be reused many, many times over,  and used with a biodegradable silica crystal it is I feel, a more environmentally sound option. The downside is that rather than simply popping on a lid and throwing away a box filled with litter, I will need to bag up the contents of the tray and also clean it before refilling it again. It means then that there is still going to be some need for me to deal with the cat waste. I feel I can live with that job every 2 - 4 weeks for the sake of the planet and of my purse as I will still benefit from not having to poop scoop.

I have found about 3 different versions of the reusable plastic tray available for sale and all very similarly priced at around £45-50. All of them look similar and all work in the same way and I struggle to see why there is such a huge price tag. The only reason I went for this is the responsibility to planet and purse. When choosing it is worth bearing in mind that Petsafe will not honour the warranty on the scoop free litter box system if you use any other reusable plastic tray than their own. I'm not entirely sure why since the tray does not interfere with the workings of the motor or rake in any way and is simply a receptacle of the right size supplied with a separate magnetized system to work the opening and closing of the waste compartment lid as the rake does its sweep. I would hazard a that it must be more to do with the litter that its put into them.... or perhaps more likely is that this exclusion is intended as a way to make sure system users stick to using their expensive box cartridge refills or buy their own reusable tray.

As well as feeling discomfort at the amount of waste produced by using the box cartridge refills their cost is also rather significant and prohibitive. For a pack of 3 lidded boxes with litter for each  (at the time of writing) the price is upward of £45.  For an individual one, the price is £16. Factor in a delivery charge too if you are buying online. If you need to change your box every 14 days, a 3 pack is going to last you only 6 weeks making it a very expensive system indeed! Perhaps you hate the job of pooper scooping for your cat so gross that you feel this is a cost worth paying in order to do away with the need to poop scoop?

Using a reusable tray at £45-50 for a tray at first seems extravagant. However, it can be used over and over again.  Environmentally it is a winner but financially the benefit is that it can be used with a cheaper brand of silica litter so the plastic tray ends up paying for itself. The downside of this though is of course that it reintroduces the need to empty and clean a tray periodically. 

The next consideration after having purchased a reusable tray is in choosing the silica litter. There is much to consider still. It must be of decent quality even if it is cheaper to buy. It needs to function to absorb and hold the urine and to dry out the poop, otherwise, it will need to be changed too often and simply end up costing more and cause more work!

It must be of a suitable crystal size to work well in the unit.  Too large and the crystals won't go through the rake as it sweeps along the unit. By being too large, the rake will be building a wall of crystals which will be pushed along putting strain the motor that it was never intended to cope with. Additionally, those large crystals are pushed into your waste box filling it with clean and dry crystals and leave no room for the poo. Thus filled the lid won't be able to close over it. 

If the crystal size is too small they might possibly get into the rails the rake travels along particularly possible if your cat is one who really likes to dig and kick its litter around.  This could cause the mechanism to become jammed or strain the motor if it blocks it.

I have looked extensively online at reviews and descriptions for various silica litters sold in the UK hoping to find other users comments on using it with their Scoop Free systems. So far the only silica litters I have found that actually state they are made for or are suitable for use with the Scoop Free Litter Box are Pet Safe's own Scoop Free (which is not easy to get in the UK and definitely not favourably priced) and one by Fresh Step that is also available only in the US. 

I think since nothing of my research has been fruitful that there is going to be some trial and error on my part in order to find the best one for use with it. I am hoping very much that the brand I have been using in normal litter tray will work with my scoop free system because it does its job brilliantly well and would save me a lot of effort in finding the perfect one.

I will update here as I carry out trials and tests using the system in the coming weeks.

If you already use one of these systems and have found a litter that is perfect for use with it, I'd love to hear from you so please get in touch - nakedsphynxcathants@icloud.com