Cats can share a litter box, but if they do, it’s important to keep the litter box extremely clean and watch for territorial issues or litter box aversion. If you notice any urine of feces outside of the litter box, get a second or third litter box right away, to correct the issue early, and check with your veterinarian to be sure the inappropriate elimination isn’t due to a health issue.
Litter box aversion is a common reason cats are given away or put down. And often, a cat avoids the litter box because they’re unhappy with the litter box. It may be too dirty or too small, in the wrong location, using the wrong litter, etc. (“wrong” by their standards, not ours). Stress caused away from the litter box can also lead to litter box issues, but it’s important to keep the litter box in an ideal state for your cat to keep them using it.
This is why multiple litter boxes are often recommended; to avoid litter box problems. They’re much easier to avoid than they are to correct. It’s easy to let scooping the litter box fall by the wayside, and when you have more than one box, it helps ensure there’s always a (relatively) clean litter box to use and that one cat isn’t guarding or claiming the one and only litter box.
DO CATS SHARE LITTER BOXES?
Cats do share litter boxes, but it may not be their ideal situation. In the wild, a cat would not return to the same 2-foot by 2-foot space each time they needed to eliminate. They prefer a fresh spot each time. So when you think about them having to use the same spot and share that spot with another cat, you can understand why their instincts may kick in and why they may prefer not to share.
Some cats may actually prefer to share litter boxes, even when there’s more than one to choose from. They may be extremely bonded or just in the habit of sharing one box from when they were kittens in a shelter. There may also be a “preferred” litter box. Perhaps they like the size, or material, or location of one litter box better than the other.
If your cats are happy sharing one litter box, and you’re able to keep on top of cleaning it, there’s likely no need to get another one.
You can always test multiple litter boxes to see if your cats prefer it.
Although there may not seem to be any stress/tension around the litter box, it could be an underlying cause of smaller behavioral issues away from the litter box. For example, your cats may fight less when each cat feels they have their own territory for going to the bathroom.
Instead of buying another litter box before you know if they’ll use it, use a cardboard box shaped like a litter box and fill it with their regular litter.
Sometimes plastic liners inside a litter box can bother a cat when their nails get caught in it (here’s why you shouldn’t use litter box liners), but you can put a plastic garbage bag around the outside of the cardboard box. That way, if any urine soaks through the box, it’s caught by the bag.
If your cats don’t bother with the temporary litter box, no need to purchase another plastic one. But if you find they use both, it may be worth adding another litter box to your home.
IS IT OK FOR CATS TO SHARE A LITTER BOX?
It’s okay for cats to share a litter box as long as it’s kept extremely clean and it’s not causing either cat stress.
One cat should have two litter boxes and both boxes should be scooped daily to avoid litter box aversion. So when two cats are using one litter box, the litter box must be scooped multiple times per day. The litter will also need to be changed more frequently, at which point, the box should be thoroughly and properly washed.
WHY CATS SHOULDN’T SHARE A LITTER BOX
Although cats can and will share a litter box, there are few reasons it’s not typically recommended. In general, it’s to avoid issues that can lead to one or more cats not using the litter box. And once your cat starts peeing or pooping outside the litter box, it can be hard to correct.
The following are reasons to consider having multiple litter boxes for multiple cats:
Dirty litter boxes contain a lot of bacteria and can cause urinary tract issues for your cat (issues with the kidney, bladder, urethra). When multiple cats are using the same litter box, it’s going to get dirty much faster and it’s more likely your cats will be using a dirty litter box.
Consider a “dirty litter box” as one with any amount of waste in it. We have to keep in mind, when a cat is outside, they’ll find a new part of the garden or fresh patch of dirt to dig in. They don’t have to navigate around clumps of pee or feces when doing their business in the wild. So it’s ideal to keep the litter box free of any waste when your cat goes to use it.
If you only scoop the litter box once a day (or less), it’s more likely your cats could get sick from their own litter box, or are going to step in feces and urine, and then track it through the house.
Cats also aren’t fond of dirty litter boxes, and when there are too many objects within it to navigate, or the smell is overwhelming, they’ll find someplace else to go. That may be a corner of the basement, a basket of laundry, or worse yet, your bed or couch. This will be much less convenient for you than a second litter box or scooping more frequently. But it’s your cat’s way of telling you they’re unhappy with the litter box situation (or that they have a health issue).
2. ALREADY IN USE
A cat needs access to a litter box 100% of the time. If two or more cats are sharing one litter box and it’s occupied when one needs to use it, they’re more likely to find another spot to relieve themselves.
3. TERRITORIAL ISSUES
Many cats play nice with each other but usually one will be more dominant than the other(s). If one cat is more territorial, they may guard the one and only litter box or mark their territory around it by scratching or spraying (check out Why Does My Cat Scratch the Wall After Using the Litter Box?)
Cats’ behaviors can also change with time. Just because your cats currently get along and share a litter box, doesn’t mean they’ll always be content doing so. If one of your cats feels fearful of using the litter box because they might be attacked by the other cat, it may lead them to find a quiet spot, away from the litter box, where the other cat won’t know they’re eliminating.
MY CATS ARE USING EACH OTHER’S LITTER BOXES
Even when you have multiple cats in a household and multiple litter boxes, it’s unlikely each cat will stick to “their” litter box; they’ll probably all use each litter box in the house at some point.
It’s definitely not a problem for your cats to share one litter box if they’re both happy doing so and you’re able to keep it clean. However, you may find that one cat is territorial over “their” litter box, doesn’t appreciate the other cat using it, and you would like to find a way to stop them from doing so.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. DIFFERENT LOCATIONS
If your cats don’t like sharing the litter box, it will be important to keep each litter box in separate rooms. When two litter boxes are only a few inches or feet apart, it’s harder for your cats to define the area as “their” territory; both their scents will be in that room (check out Cat I Put Two Litter Boxes Next to Each Other?).
2. DIFFERENT LEVEL
If a younger cat is being territorial over their litter box, and the older cat is less mobile, try placing one litter box on a higher level. If the older cat has a harder time jumping up on higher surfaces, they likely won’t bother trying to get to the other litter box and will use what’s easiest.
3. DIFFERENT ENTRANCE
When a smaller cat is being more territorial over their litter box, you may be able to create a smaller entrance to their litter box to keep the “fluffier” cat out. It may be that you place the litter box inside a larger cardboard box, container, or piece of furniture and cut a small entrance the small cat can fit through but the bigger cat can’t. Or, you may place the smaller cat’s litter box in a room and use a doorstop to only allow the door to open wide enough for your small cat to get through, but not your bigger cat. A product like the Door Buddy will help.
4. MORE LITTER BOXES
If you currently only have one litter box for each cat, try adding an additional litter box in another location. When there are more than enough litter boxes to go around, your territorial cat may not feel as territorial over all the boxes and your less-dominant cat has more places to sneak away and use the litter box without the other cat noticing.
5. PHEROMONE SPRAY
You may also try a pheromone spray or diffuser, such as Feliway or Comfort Zone. They mimic natural pheromones that help put a cat at ease in a natural and safe way and can help reduce spraying (a territorial act).
6. CREATE A DESIGNATED SPACE
It may help to teach your cats which litter box space is for which cat. Designate a room and litter box for each cat and communicate who each room/litter box is for by adding their favorite toys and objects. You may even consider moving each cat’s food and/or water dish to their designated litter box room (as long as you can keep them separated by several feet; cats don’t like their litter box next to their food or water).
Also try spending time with each cat in their designated litter box room so they start to identify it as their space, and as a happy space. You may play with them there, sit down and give them attention, or even give them treats.
I hope this has helped explain if cats can share a litter box 🙂