If you’re a kitty pet-parent, you already know how finicky your feline friend is. When you’re planning to adopt a new cat or two to join your brood, the big question pops (or should we say poops) up: Can cats share a litter box?
For animal enthusiasts who live in smaller homes, apartments, or condos, the problem is a practical one that involves space.
You would also have hygiene concerns. Is it really sanitary for any creature, not just cats, to share such a feature, where there’s no flushing or washing away the waste?
Amid our busy schedules, would we have the time and patience to clean out multiple litter boxes?
For answers to all these questions, it’s important to first understand feline psychology and the nature of the species. As a loving pet parent, you’ve already mastered and observed many of these aspects yourself.
But let’s hear it from the experts.
Can Cats Share A Litter Box? Not Really!
The US is the world’s leading country for cat ownership. Figures for 2017 show that nearly 95.6 million cats lived in American households.
That’s a whole lot of litter boxes indeed!
Litter boxes are nasty if practical side of being a kitty mom or dad. Once they’re trained to use the litter or go out to do their business, they’ll use anything. If you’re a parent to a dog, you’d probably think, so what’s the big deal?
But that’s where we go horribly wrong. Studies show us that one of the major reasons cats (and dogs) get sent to shelters by frustrated owners is litter box issues.
Cats are not packed animals like dogs. They are fiercely independent, and even siblings from the same litter, or cats who were reared together as kittens, want their own space.
They are also highly territorial. They prefer to eliminate in private, which includes away from the prying eyes of their own kind. Unless kitty has an infection or psychological issues, they are creatures of habit.
If allowed outside, they dig the soil and cover-up neatly after they’re done. They don’t usually use the same place over and over again.
Also Read: Common Cat Behavior Issue: A Complete Guide For Litter Box Problems
Cat parents would also know how strong cat urine and feces can smell, even to our less sensitive noses. Imagine how overpowering the stink would be to cats’ highly-evolved sense of smell.
They also have their own distinct personalities. Alpha cats can be aggressive and more protective of their territories and deny access to more submissive cats and kittens.
That means the oppressed one has to find weird places to poop in – and that could be your living room couch, expensive carpet, or under the dining table.
Another common problem is the location of the litter box. If the box is being used heavily by one cat, others will avoid it.
Pet parents tend to place them where the odors can be minimized – basements, next to appliances in the utility areas, or in the patio where it’s on a cold stone or cement floor.
While you need to ensure that loose particles from the litter box don’t pop out of it, it’s also important to know if this is the right location for your cat.
Older cats may find it difficult to access the box every time. They need the right combination of privacy and convenience.
Now you’re starting to get the idea!
Why Do Cats Fail To Use Their Litter Boxes Sometimes?
Though we know a lot about cat behavior, there are huge gaps in our knowledge about cats. That is because they are the only asocial (meaning that they don’t live in groups) animal that humans have domesticated.
Some interesting cat facts:
- Early adoption of cats was mainly to control vermin such as mice and rats in agricultural communities.
- This means they were encouraged to forage for their own food and not depend on humans, making them much more self-reliant than dogs.
- The more recent domestication of cats as pets has meant that they still retain many qualities of their ancestors: patrolling their territory and strong hunting instincts.
- Their body language is much more subtle and sophisticated: those barely noticeable twitches of the tail, soft purrs, lazy rubbing against your leg, or kneading their claws into your lap are signals that are easy to miss
- They take better care of themselves in terms of grooming.
- Sociability depends on what the cat experienced as a kitten.
- They are picky about their food, water, and sleeping arrangements, and most of all about their elimination arrangements.
Cats may fail to use the litter box for many reasons. Among the most common are medical problems, infections, old age, aversion to a particular box or location, preference to defecate or urinate in another spot, psychological problems, and more.
Medical problems include UTI, kidney failure, thyroid disease, or diabetes. Digestive tract problems, age-related arthritis, deterioration of cognitive functions may cause problems with defecation.
These issues make urination and defecation painful, and the cat may associate the litter box with it and begin to avoid it.
Other behaviors such as spraying to mark territory could cause litter box aversion.
Observe your cat closely to check whether another animal in the house is bullying it. If you’ve recently changed the litter brand, this could cause aversion.
The size of the litter box plays a big role. Larger and older cats want a big space, while kittens and senior cats want a box with low sides.
You may find hooded litter boxes in the pet store, and from a pet parent’s point of view, they’re a great invention. But your cat may hate it.
So go for the ordinary, no-frills design. Just focus on quality and durability.
Can Cats Share A Litter box? How Many Do You Need?
There is no hard and fast rule about how many litter boxes you need, but it’s wise to observe your cat’s behavior before you firm upon a location for the litter box.
One way is to purchase five or six litter boxes and place them in different locations. These boxes don’t have to be expensive or high quality initially. You can use the disposable types you get in pet stores. You can slowly remove the ones that are least used. Just make sure that all the boxes are kept equally clean. This is a good way to zero in on a preferred location.
If you have more than one cat, follow the “One more” rule. This means you give one box each to every cat and then add one more. This is because you need to ensure the health and mold their behavior to get the desired results.
In the wild, cats choose secret places to defecate because the act leaves them vulnerable to predators, even if it is for a few minutes. They need to be constantly on the alert. They also prefer a familiar place and is imprinted with their own personal smell. This behavior has remained entrenched in them, no matter how many generations away from being wild.
Having separate boxes protects cats against catching and passing on infections from each other. If you don’t have enough time to empty the box every day, it could accumulate bacteria and foul odors. Separate boxes reduce this problem, and having a spare litter box makes them feel comfortable and clean, which they’re super fussy about.
Giving your cats their own space helps to ease the problems of elimination.
If your cats are older and your home is large or on different levels, do them a little favor by putting a couple of extra litter boxes in strategic locations.
Must Read: How to Create a Cat-Friendly Home?
Can Cats Share A Litter Box? No, But Cleanliness Is The Key
Cleanliness is the key to keeping your cats happy, safe and comfortable. Litter boxes must be cleaned out at least once a week, but poop and wet litter must be removed daily. Dispose of the used litter and thoroughly wash the scooper out with antibacterial soap and water, dry it and store it in a covered bag for use the next time. Never use bleach or strong-smelling detergents/chemicals. Cats are super sensitive to offensive smells, and some of them can even be toxic to them.
Bathroom habits are as individual as your cat herself. If you have several cats, you would be worried about your house looking like one big cat toilet. Placing multiple litter boxes close to each other could give your cats the impression that this is one huge litter ground and not separate boxes.
Can Cats Share A Litter Box? Think Outside The Box
Make sure that the litter box matches the size of your cat. It must be big enough for them to turn around comfortably and dig deep without the litter particles spilling outside. However, adjust the height according to the kitty’s age and preferences.
Get the biggest and best you can afford. This makes long-term economic sense, because large and good-quality boxes are more durable, and they give your cat the space they need.
Placement and location have to be planned very carefully. Avoid placing them in high traffic areas, or under staircases that are frequently used. Make sure that the place is well ventilated.
Placing them in busy areas doesn’t give kitty enough privacy, and you also run the risk of falling over them when you’re rushing about.
Don’t place the box close to heat radiating appliances. The heat tends to increase the spread of foul odors, making it nasty for you and the kitty.
When you have several cats, place the litter boxes as far apart as possible, keeping the basic principles of accessibility and convenience in mind.
Many pet parents prefer to place litter boxes in bathrooms or close to them. While this makes cleaning easier, make sure that the box remains dry and well aired.
Give your kitties enough but not too much light in the litter box location.
Litter boxes should be far away from food and water bowls.
If you’re using a glitter liner, your cat may scratch it up while digging, so it’s not very useful when you’re trying to lift the entire stuff out of the box.
Some pet parents have tried placing multiple litter boxes close to each other for convenience. You have to take a call on this, based on how picky your cats are. Some of them are highly sociable and don’t mind a bit of company while they’re about their business, but others will flatly refuse to use the box if there are people or other cats around.
If you have two male cats, you could have a territorial problem on your hands if you expect them to share a litter box.
Check for medical problems, anxiety, or territorial disputes when your cats avoid using the litter box and begin to make a mess elsewhere. Other issues could be that they were recently de-clawed, making digging painful and uncomfortable.
Can Cats Share a Litter Box? Which One To Buy?
There are plenty of options available on the market. Covered boxes look great and seem more private than open ones. But the risk is that you may not notice how dirty and smelly they are. Your cat may find it difficult to get in and out, turn around and dig in a covered box.
You can put a fine layer of baking soda at the bottom of the box before filling the litter. This helps to prevent foul odors and hasten absorption.
Self-cleaning boxes are a new innovation. There is a waste compartment that sifts, flushes, or rakes over the waste, so you don’t need to physically handle the mess yourself.
The auto cleaning ones can detect when the box has been used, and the cleaning takes place immediately, leaving a fresh and clean litter for the kitty.
However, this is an expensive option and could be priced up to six times higher than ordinary ones. You may also have to buy add-ons, special litter, trays, cartridges, etc. They make strange noises that could scare your kitty.
While selecting the litter, make sure that you buy good quality. Most kitties like a softer feel, and if your kitty has been an outside cat, they would like it if you placed a little fresh soil or small rocks in the litter box.
If you want your precious bundle of fur to stay happy, healthy, and comfortable, provide them with the right toilet facilities in the form of good quality separate litter boxes for each. Litter boxes are a part of owning and loving a cat. It’s not a great idea for two or more cats to share one.