Can Cats Share a Litter Box? · The Wildest

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Can Cats Share a Litter Box?

The better question is should they?

by Elizabeth Laura Nelson
26 January 2024
two cats sharing litter box
CasarsaGuru /iStock

Of course, cats can share a litter box – but experts say it’s crucial to consider their individual preferences and dynamics. While some cats may be comfortable sharing, others may get territorial and prefer separate boxes. Providing multiple litter boxes in different locations around your home can help prevent conflicts and offer each cat their own space.

Despite this conventional wisdom about having more than one litter box in a multi-cat household, it’s just not feasible in every case. As a devoted parent to three cats (yes, three), all of us living in a one-bedroom New York City flat, I’m well aware of that fact. I don’t want my cats to be unhappy, but I’ve only got a certain amount of space to work with, and I don’t want my flat to become a maze with litter boxes around every corner.

Even if you live in a larger space, you may be reluctant to provide more than one litter box for your cats. Having multiple boxes means buying more cat litter, for one thing, and that’s an added cost. It also means checking, scooping and cleaning more than one litter box regularly. Plus, even the best litter box doesn’t smell great, and it’s tempting to cut down on the number of stinky spots in your home.

So, do you need multiple litter boxes for two cats – or more? I asked two cat experts what they think. Here’s what they said, plus their answers to some commonly asked questions about cats and litter box behaviour.

Can multiple cats share a litter box? 

Do cats need multiple litter boxes? Dr Kelly Diehl, who’s been a veterinarian for 35 years and a cat parent for 55, Senior Director Of Science Communication at Morris Animal Foundation, says that while it’s possible for cats to share, it’s not preferable. “They can share, but many veterinarians and cat behaviourists suggest having one more litter box than you have cats. For example, if you have two cats, you should have three litter boxes.” 

Cat behaviourist Stephen Quandt calls this “the N plus one rule, where N is the number of cats,” and agrees that cats shouldn’t have to share.“ If you start skimping on the number of litter boxes, you risk causing one or more of your cats to start eliminating outside the box.” While this has never happened to me personally, that might just be the luck of the draw: my cats don’t have health problems (touches wood), and while they delight in knocking over lamps and head-butting me so hard it sometimes leaves a bruise, they’re pretty good about toilet stuff. They do occasionally fail to cover up their business when they’re finished in the litter box.

But back to the need to provide more than one litter box for your multiple-cat household: in even more rubbish news for cat parents living in cosy quarters, Diehl says the litter boxes shouldn’t be close to each other. “They should be scattered on different levels of the house, or at least away from each other. Don’t have two sitting side by side,” she says.

It’s not all bad news, however. Even if it’s not recommended, sharing a litter box does have some upsides – as well as drawbacks. Keep reading to find out what they are.

What are the pros of sharing a litter box? 

Are there any upsides to cats sharing litter boxes? I asked Dr Diehl and Stephen if they could come up with any – even though their official recommendation is to provide more than one litter box for more than one cat. 

  • It’s easier for cat parents. “The obvious pro is that it’s much easier for people to not have to separate their cats,” Dr Diehl says. This brings up another question that’s always popped into my head when I consider trying to fit more than one litter box in my flat: how do you keep your cats out of each other’s litter boxes? (We’ll address that issue later in the story, but the short answer is you can’t.)

  • You’ll have fewer litter boxes to clean. I’m fortunate enough to own an automatic litter box – basically, a self-cleaning litter box for multiple cats – and I love it. Truly, it’s a sanity-saver for me. Still, I have to empty out the litter drawer of the automatic litter box and change the lining regularly. I also need to scrub the whole thing down once in a while (a process that would be much easier if I had a back garden and a hose). Only having to do this for one litter box is a pro in my book, anyway.

What are the cons of sharing a litter box? 

Dr Diehl points out that monitoring your cats’ health can be trickier when they share a litter box, while Stephen reiterates that sharing can lead to messes no one wants to deal with.

  • You may not be able to tell if one of your cats is having a medical issue. “The cons can be if one cat is having stooling issues or urination issues. It can be hard to sort out the affected cat if they share a box,” Dr Diehl says.

  • Cats can transmit diseases to each other when they share a litter box. Cat faeces may contain parasites and bacteria – and those will also be shared when they share a litter box.

  • Your cats may start going outside the box. “We don’t want competition for resources, as that can lead to conflict,” Quandt says. “Cats have preferences, and choice gives agency. If you give a cat choices for where to go, they will absolutely exercise those choices. Inside the boxes is a much better choice than outside!”

Reasons to have separate litter boxes for your cats

Do you need multiple litter boxes for two cats? In a word, yes. In case it’s not yet clear from the above, the experts strongly recommend having separate litter boxes for multiple cats. Here’s why:

  • It reduces the chances of cats going outside the box.

  • It helps keep cats from fighting.

  • It gives cats choices about where to go.

  • You can keep a better eye on your cats’ health.

  • Multiple cats can transmit worms through a shared litter box.

Should cats share a litter box? 

The answer seems to be pretty clear, but I asked Stephen one more time whether it’s OK for cats to share a litter box (because let’s be real, my cats are going to have to keep sharing their litter box as long as I live in a small apartment, which is likely as long as they live). “The rule of thumb is there should be one box for each cat plus one,” Stephen says. “So no, multiple cats shouldn’t have to share one box.”

If this news is as unwelcome to you as it is to me, check out some options for litter box enclosures that stylishly disguise what’s really going on inside them. Incorporating litter boxes into your decor might even turn into a style upgrade for your space. Plus, your cats will thank you. (Possibly by dragging their cat toys into your bed – my favourite thing that my cats do to say “I love you”.)

Frequently asked questions

Should I prevent my cats from sharing a litter box? 

The real question here is: can you prevent your cats from sharing a litter box? And again, the answer is unequivocal. “No. Cats will use whatever is available to them when they want to use them,” Stephen says. 

And here’s a reminder that whether you have one cat or five, teaching them to use a litter box properly is a good idea. This involves introducing your cat to the litter box, figuring out which type of litter they prefer, and encouraging cats to use the litter box consistently. Here’s how to do it.

How many litter boxes do I need for my multi-cat household? 

Remember that N plus one rule Stephen shared above? All the research I found backs it up. Experts say you need one more litter box than you have cats. (For those keeping score, that means I should have four litter boxes in my one-bedroom apartment with three cats. Four. So, the key phrase I should really be researching is “How to hide multiple cat litter boxes.”) Ready to start shopping? Here’s a good place to start.

Can two cats share an automatic litter box? 

A self-cleaning litter box for multiple cats is a real time saver because you don’t have to scoop multiple boxes. But the rule stands: two cats should not have to share a litter box, whether it is an automatic litter box or an old-school scoop-it-yourself style version. Even the best self-cleaning litter box for multiple cats is a no-go, experts say. 

Writer Elizabeth Nelson with her cat, Freddy

Elizabeth Laura Nelson

Elizabeth Laura Nelson is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York. As a child, Elizabeth was scared of cats (claws and teeth, yikes) but she has since gotten over her fear and now shares her home with three sweet and gentle feline companions who make life better (and cuddlier) every day.

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