The short answer: You need one litter box for every cat, plus one extra. If you own two cats, you need three litter boxes. That sounds like a lot of maintenance and money, but here is the lowdown on why it’s necessary.
Signs of Litterbox Blues
When cats get tired of a box and leave it, they search for new places to go. If you are not readily prepared for the move of an old box or the purchase of a new one, you are at risk of discovering a mess or two. This can become a hard-to-fix problem very quickly.
At this point, a question arises. Do you get another litter box, or do you improvise to please a cat? Think of it this way: A cat pees and poos about two to four times a day when healthy.
That is a lot of visitations to a litter box from one pet. Now, add a second cat to the same litter box. Your work on one box just doubled!
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Leaving the box behind might be a sign of stress, illness, discomfort of surroundings or placement, change of fondness, and so much more. Maybe the cat is just no longer attached to this box or spot and would like to move on. If any of these are the case, your cat will display certain signs.
Eliminating (urinating or defecating) outside the box, spraying or marking areas elsewhere in the home, or scratching at doors that it does not have access to are signs that the box is out of the question for your cat. This does not mean you have to move the box, though. Especially if your other cat still uses it.
What it does mean is that your cat is out of options and needs a new litter box.
Why the Extra Box?
If you have ever experienced the feeling of needing to use the restroom while every bathroom in a house or facility was occupied, you understand the value of having an extra option. That is just how a cat feels when one litter box is in use and the other one is either in need of maintenance or inconveniently placed.
There are many reasons your cats will need an extra litter box, and many times it has nothing to do with running out of space. For example, sometimes cats just don’t like to share. Certain events in a cat’s life, like the following, can also affect how it feels about sharing elimination spots with cohabitants.
The Box Has Been Claimed
Keep Away isn’t just a game to cats. When they want something to themselves, they’ll do what it takes to lay claim. Leaving exposed feces, marking (spraying or urinating) outside the box, and even fighting are just a few examples.
Giving each cat its own litter box avoids the issue of too many cats, not enough litter and other bad potty behaviors. Adding just one more option also makes having roommates that much more tolerable.
Even if the box is not scent-marked, giving the space needed plus dispersing the boxes into various locations offers each cat a chance to feel confident in its environment. That is great for reducing the stressful feeling of overcrowding. Keep in mind that cats that tend to stay to themselves often prefer their own places to eliminate but may not outright claim a box.
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Circumstances Have Changed
Cats may quit their usual spot if they have grown out of it, become more dominant in the hierarchy of the home, become pregnant or sexually mature, or experienced some other type of life change. A larger cat needs a larger box than its smaller housemate. A dominant cat, as mentioned above, needs its own box while others must now find new spots.
A pregnant cat comes with the possibility of health concerns such as UTIs or nesting. These can cause the habit of sleeping in the litter box if she eliminates often or has determined a particular box to be the best place to give birth. Obviously, her solution will need to be solved outside of the box for her and her babies’ safety, but it also becomes an issue for others who need to use the box that she is occupying.
Other Common Reasons a Cat May Want a New Box
One cat’s haven is another cat’s nightmare. On top of the external changes that affect a cat’s litter box choices, there are several individual preferences that factor in. What suits one of your cats just fine may do the opposite for the other.
The cool basement, the shaky laundry room, or the secluded bedroom are all perfectly acceptable choices for a cat’s litter box placement. They are out of sight, smell, and mind for you and any company that comes over! However, your cat might beg to differ.
In some cases, one cat loves the box by the toilet, but the other would rather be in the mudroom. You can’t please everyone, of course, but giving each one its own box where it prefers and an extra box somewhere else could save you from rebellious messes throughout your home.
If you have two cats and two boxes and each has claimed its own, there should be no need for a third box, right? Well, we humans have schedules of our own to maintain that often interfere with tasks at home. The litter boxes end up unintentionally drifting to the backs of our minds from time to time. Luckily, the cats are more than willing to remind you about the mess they have made. Some cats are very hygienic and simply refuse to use the litter box if it is too dirty for their liking. One more box buys you some time during hectic days and offers an alternative area for your pets.
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This predisposition is actually something that has been built into the cat as part of its survival instincts. Cats, being natural hunters, are sensitive to their surroundings which includes the smell and feel of it. That explains why they care so much about the smell of the box, and it leads into our next factor.
Each cat has a certain bias it puts into the quality of the litter box that depends on the litter you buy. That can get costly if you discover that not only do you need three boxes, you also need two different types of litter. This is because cats grow partial to certain feelings on their feet and impartial to others.
The box you choose matters to your cat. It can be too big, too small, too open, or too confining. Your cats have differing opinions on what suits them in a litter box. One may like the cover for security or privacy. The other may not mind the self-cleaning box and all its motorized functions. These quirks are not obvious and they can change, so it is important to observe the way your cat reacts to a litter box as a stand alone item.
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Revisit What You Know
It is pretty astounding to see what a difference changing the placement of a litter box can make! Although you are advised to purchase an extra box, you may be able to skate by with only two if you know what to buy, where to place it, and can keep it tidy for every visit. To recap on what we have learned, here is a summary of when and why you should consider a second and third litter box for two cats.
Smells, ground feel, social issues and other details affect where your cat wants to eliminate. Your own needs affect where the box is placed in some manner. You should place the litter boxes in areas that are convenient to both you and your pets.
This does require some amount of compromise since your idea of a good spot is possible to be the opposite of what at least one cat thinks. Having two cats means taking two different personalities into account. Pay close attention to where each cat likes to spend its time and move its litter box in or around the area accordingly.
Next, note each cat’s personal actions and needs. Older and smaller cats cannot climb into boxes with higher entries as easily as others. Cats with bowel and/or bladder problems need something accessible.
It is also essential to watch the reactions of the cats to things like the litter and the box itself. Granted, you would not stop using a restroom just because the wallpaper was ugly. However, you would likely stop using your friend’s restroom if he never flushed.
Also on this topic, cats that lean more toward uncovered litter boxes probably have security issues of their own. They need to see what is coming at all times and from all directions. Placing the litter box for this type of cat somewhere central or away from corners or obstructions helps with confidence.
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Think about the way your cats have set up their hierarchy (chain of dominance). This offers a way of knowing which cats are suited to share a box and which need their own spaces. More dominant cats need to make a statement by having their own space that is free of other scents.
"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett