How to Manage the Litter Box in Multi-Cat Home

litterboxes in multipet homesAs a certified animal behavior consultant, the #1 complaint I get from cat owners involves litter box woes. We expect our cats to come programmed to use their feline potty at the right time and the right place, but a cat's idea about the perfect litter box may not agree with the human's.

By understanding cat elimination dynamics, many of these problems can be solved. When you have more than one pet, as in multiple cats or adding dogs to the mix, the chances for potty lapses increase. Refer to these basic litter-ary FAQs to create and maintain litter box allegiance, whether you have one cat or a kitty clowder along with dogs.

Number of Litter Boxes

Conventional wisdom recommends the 1+1 litter box rule. That means 1 litter box per cat plus 1. In other words, if you have 2 cats, 3 litter boxes are recommended. The multiple boxes are recommended for 3 reasons.

  1. how many litterboxes do i needSome cats won't share. These kitties require their own facilities and won't "go" after another cat.
  2. Some cats "guard" the litter box. Therefore, if you have only 1 box, a single cat can keep the others from using the box. It's more difficult for a cat to guard multiple boxes.
  3. Some cats want 1 litter box for urine and the other for feces. Multiple boxes reduce the risk of a cat deciding to "go" somewhere else.

When you have a very large number of cats or a small home, though, the 1+1 rule can be unmanageable. For multiple cat households, observe where your cats sleep and provide a litter box for each "group" of cats. When cats sleep together, they're more willing to also share facilities. Therefore, if you have 15 cats that usually sleep in 4 groups, providing 4 to 5 boxes may be enough.

The Ideal Litter Box

covered litterboxesThe ideal litter box is big enough for a full grown adult cat to stand inside, easily turn around, pose, and still have room to dig and cover the deposit. When cats must share facilities, a much larger box is required. Always think "bigger is better" with cat potty facilities.

Problems arise when the box is too small, and most commercial litter boxes aren't big enough for jumbo-size cats. When a box is too small, the cat may hang over the edge of the box and leave a mess outside the box. Other times the cat can't maneuver enough to cover waste and spends much time outside the litter box pawing the sides or floor area around with frustration.

Covered litter boxes contain odor and thrown litter, so people like them more than cats do. Concentrated odor can be off-putting to a cat's sensitive nose though. Even worse, a covered box interferes with cats being able to see enemies, like other cats waiting to pounce as they exit.

I recommend very large, uncovered, translucent litter boxes that give cats room to move, and a view so they don't feel trapped. At my house, I use clear storage boxes for my cats' litter. One has very short sides to accommodate my arthritic 17-year-old cat, since she has trouble climbing in and out. Another box has very high sides and is twice the size of a standard litter box.

Best Box Locations

laundry room litterboxFor a cat, the litter box is prime kitty real estate. Location is vital for the cat to not only feel safe while she's in such a vulnerable position but also to have easy and quick access.

Locate litter boxes one on each end of the house, and on each floor when your home is multi-level. For young kittens and old fogie cats, this lets them reach the potty more quickly without dashing up or down stairs. Do NOT put all your boxes in the same room, or one of your cats or the dog will be able to control access to all just by standing in the doorway.

The ideal location is in the middle of a room with 2 exits, like the dining room, but that's not convenient for people. We want to stick the toilet out of the way in a back room, in the basement laundry, or under a counter in the bathroom.

While cats appreciate privacy, feline potties need easy escape routes, especially in multi-cat households. Otherwise the box under your counter or inside the closet means another cat or dog can guard the entrance or prevent the cat from escaping. When the litter box is in the wrong location, your cat will find a better spot like the middle of the dining room.

Find a happy medium. Place the litter box against a wall, for instance, rather than in a corner or beneath a counter. Use a decorative screen to hide the box that allow cats two exits/entrances. When dogs pester cats, try placing the litter box on a counter-top to keep it out of range or use a pet gate to prevent canine access.

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