Cat Restroom Rule #1

When your cat starts communicating his
distaste for the litter box by spraying
cat-fiti on the walls, it's time for a plan of action.

The litter box rule that cat owners should not ignore

Providing the right number of litter boxes per cat is one of the key factors in preventing inappropriate elimination or spraying behaviors before they start. Litter box aversion is one of the top reasons cats are surrendered to shelters.

There’s a long line for every situation in life; the line at the grocery check-out, the line at the boarding gate and that inevitably long line in the women’s restroom when intermission is about to end. Don’t you hate that? But there’s a restroom of a different kind in your multi-cat household, the litter box, where waiting in line should never be the norm. It’s a well-known fact that the key to a happy and confident cat is providing ample space for each cat to own, more so when they’re co-existing with fellow feline housemates. And even more so when it comes to their toileting habits. When one of your cats start spraying ‘cat-fiti’ on your walls or doors or gifting you with puddles on your hardwood floor, take that as more than a hint that you need to make some litter box adjustments. Having too few litter boxes for multiple cats is like playing musical chairs; except in this instance, the eliminated cat becomes the eliminator, or rather, the inappropriate eliminator! Yes, that viscous yellow liquid under the chair in the kitchen is not your toddler’s spilled orange juice! (horror of horrors)

There are various factors that may cause a cat to avoid the litter box such as location, size, type (covered vs. uncovered), type of litter substrate, how often it gets scooped and cleaned, stress and the number of boxes. 


Litter box aversion in multi-cat homes

Are your cats protesting your current litter box setup? The signs are clear, look for the writing on the wall.

Simple litter box arithmetic: The 1+1 rule

Experts agree that to avoid house soiling or litter box aversion problems, there should be one litter box per cat, plus one more. For three cats, there should be four litter boxes, and so on. But a good few cat owners have a litter box aversion problem themselves! Yes, the litter box is a dirty word that we’d rather not discuss, something to be kept in the basement, out of site! The perfect setup for humans, but not for kitty.

More litter boxes? No way!

percentage of cat owners with litter box aversion issues30%
This is my wild guess, not a real statistic!

I get it, who wants yet another box to scoop? Or perhaps, you just don’t have enough space for a third or fourth litter box! But when it comes to having to choose between a soiled carpet or an extra box, I’d go with thinking about creative ways to place an extra box. Besides, your cats might be asking you for more litter boxes in the only way they know possible: peeing outside the litter box.

7 Reasons why you need to add more litter boxes:

  1. There’s always that one bully. He’s usually the more assertive cat and has clearly claimed a certain area for himself. He thinks his name is written on the litter box in the corner and the lower ranking timid kitty is not allowed to use it.
  2. The ambusher cat lies in wait. This cat may or may not have bad intentions but he’s there waiting to swipe the unsuspecting cat exiting the litter box. Sometimes he might just think it’s a game but still, it will leave a bad taste in the mouth of the cat being harassed.
  3. Some cats don’t like using the same litter box as their housemates. This could be due to stepping on clumps and waste that has not been cleaned or he simply is following his wild cat instinct – he doesn’t like to share; free roaming cats will not usually eliminate where another cat has gone.
  4. Some cats like separate stalls for defecating and urination. These cats will finish up in one box and look for another to complete number two. 
  5. The family dog or toddler might be disturbing them while in the litter box. 
  6. Multiple cats having to share a few litter boxes will mean more clumps and waste build up in any given box. This leaves very little space to dig a hole, comfortably take care of business and bury. In many cases, the cat will not bury the waste as the box is just too dirty. This leads to a frustrated owner and a cat who is thinking perhaps next time the carpet will do just fine.
  7. Your geriatric cat might find it difficult to negotiate stairs to get to the litter box in time. Provide a litter box on each level of the house and in close proximity to where your golden oldie hangs out. If it’s in the living room then that is where the box should be.

In all of these scenarios, just allocating extra litter boxes at crucial locations will present more choice for each cat. When thinking about the new location for the litter box, do not dedicate just one isolated room such as the basement, for this purpose. The key is to place the litter boxes at various locations/levels throughout the house. When one pathway to a litter box is cordoned off by Mr. Bully cat, another pathway will be available for any other cat to access. Mr. Bully cannot guard two locations at once!

Multi-cat homes are so much fun and bring immense joy and free entertainment, but it comes with the added responsibility of vigilant litter box surveillance. The more cats you share your home with the more attuned you have to be to the very delicate balance of the feline dynamic in your household. Who is the timid cat? Who is the territorial cat guarding a certain litter box? Failure to take notes of the signals your cats are sending you will just compound a litter box problem; the longer it goes on, the harder it is to nip it in the bud. In a previous post, I address other possible reasons for litter box aversion.

There is a difference between spraying and litter box aversion but in both cases, a checkup at the vet is in order to rule out any possible medical causes. A common medical problem in cats is FLUTD, a term used to describe conditions affecting the bladder or urethra and is very painful. It’s also one of the more common medical conditions causing litter box aversion. If your cat is straining in the litter box but nothing comes out, paces in and out of the box, or cries out in pain, rush him to the emergency vet immediately as this is a life-threatening condition. We almost lost our cat, Charlie, to this condition.

A cat does not understand polite society, they have a complex language of their own. Unlike the line in the ladies restroom, cats are not just going to smile politely at each other, muttering sarcastically “So typical! Not enough litter boxes!” Instead, cats will let you know of their disapproval of the bathroom setup in the most cat way possible, by spraying cat-fiti on your wall.

Can you guess how many litter boxes we have at the Chirpy house? How many do you have? Chirp us a line and let’s talk about our favorite thing, litter boxes!




About the author

The Lady Cat

Whiskers make me smile.
Coffee is good for you.
And cats are for life.
Helping cats live enriched lives with their people.
(Yasaar Nakchbendi)


  • Great post ! We are two cats, and we have three litter boxes : two “classic* litter boxes, and the garden. And we use them like this : Zorro does everything in the garden (especially flower beds and vegetable garden), and Pixie uses one box for peeing and the other one for pooping. If the weather is fine, between 23 and 28 C, it can happen that she pees in the grass. And if it’s freezing with the blizzard outside, it can happen that Zorro uses one of the boxes. Purrs
    The Swiss Cats recently posted…Deux chats et un oiseauMy Profile

    • Cats have such quirky habits, don’t they! During the winter we discovered that the cats started using the remote (third partition) of the catio as one giant litter box in the snow. We discovered it when the snow would melt, otherwise all hidden under mounds of snow. MOL.

    • Same here for old man cat, Earl Grey…he’s been so good so far using his litter box. Yes, I have thought about illustrating a book, ideas are swirling around in my head! Thank you 🙂

  • Thanks for reminding the humans about litter box etiquette. Let me guess – you have 12 litter boxes? My open litter box is kept in the bathtub of the guest bathroom. We seldom get guests staying at the house, so the tub rarely got used anyway. I like it ’cause the shower curtain is my modesty screen, so I have some privacy while I’m doing my business. We cats need some privacy. Mom likes the box in the tub, ’cause if I were to miss the box, she could just then wash the liquid down the drain. If any litter gets escapes the box, it is contained at least within the confines of the tub and is easy to sweep out. The tub also has low enough sides that make it easy to access my box. I will sit on the edge of the tub when I think the box needs additional clean litter added to announce to Mom that she needs to clean out the piles if she has yet to that day. No kitty likes a dirty box. Mew Mew & purrs!
    Valentine recently posted…Swag and Donations for Animal Charity: Shelter Animal Resource AllianceMy Profile

    • Valentine, looks like you’re sorted with your restroom setup! And nice that you supervise your mom when it needs a top up! That’s clever to put it in a bathtub, so easy to clean messes, not that I imagine you make any! You look like a scrupulous lad.
      P.S. Forgot to add, you’re right! We have 12 litter boxes!
      Chirpy Cats recently posted…The litter box rule that cat owners should not ignoreMy Profile

  • I have three for my two cats: two are with pine litter, and one with clay, and are in three totally different areas (and we are only in a two bedroom apartment). I especially like my ‘fake planter’ litter box in the living room. No one has ever noticed it as a litter box.
    One cat likes pooping in the pine and peeing in the clay, and the other likes the opposite, but we don’t have any accidents. I change the clay less frequently, and the pine is quick to clean (or scoop out just the poop), so I actually feel like it’s less work in some ways. If there was just one box, it would be gross way more quickly!
    I only wish my older female would cover up her stinky poops!!

    • That’S fantastic! We also have the planter litter box, I think it could be the same one that you have 🙂 Works great because we keep it at the far end of the kitchen/dining room area. There’s always one little rascal that doesn’t cover, sometimes just to show dominance over the others and sometimes because they were not taught proper etiquette by mom.
      Great that your restroom setup works for your duo!

  • Well written post! Many cat owners *need* to know these things re cats and their litter boxes. This post is a breath of fresh air.

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