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Is Toilet-Training Your Cat the Right Thing?

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Cleaning litterboxes ranks at the top of chores cat owners dislike. Whether you opt for flushable or clumping litter, the task never gains in popularity. Some owners go through elaborate charades to disguise the presence of litterboxes in their homes. We know cats can undergo clicker-training for various tasks, so you might find yourself wondering: is toilet-training your cat possible?

Sorting Fact from Fiction

When it comes to litterboxes, the biggest complaint tends to be smell. No one likes dealing with the lingering odor of cat poop. Considering cats are obligate carnivores, thriving on protein-rich diets, that comes as no surprise. Surely toilet-training your cat means eliminating that smelly problem.

Enter the biggest misconception. While toilet-training your cat IS possible, teaching them to flush the toilet afterward is beyond rationality. That means unless you spend your day stalking your cat in the bathroom, you still have to cope with the smell wafting through the house. In reality, so long as you scoop a litterbox twice a day, top off the box with fresh litter as needed, and scrub the box every month, those unwanted smells don’t get a chance to build up.

Clean litterboxes keep your cat happy. After all, don’t you avoid unflushed toilets? Cats aren’t any different. They want clean, fresh bathrooms, the same as us. If you provide them with sanitary facilities, you’ll both stay happy.

Understanding Cat Toilet-Training

There are various kits available to help with toilet-training your cat. Such kits make the process seem simple and uncomplicated. However, there’s a lot more you need to understand before you chuck the litterbox out the door.

Bathroom Safety

Cats dig and bury their waste. This is a natural process, and toilet-training your cat interferes with a cat’s biology. Taking away the behavior can lead to your cat developing anxiety. If your cat already has a shy or skittish personality, they can end up feeling more vulnerable. Burying waste is a way to protect themselves, and you just eliminated that protection.

Have you ever stood and balanced on a toilet seat? (Please don’t try – our insurance doesn’t cover you) Toilet seats are slippery things; they’re designed for SITTING. Toilet-training your cat involves asking them to straddle an opening larger than them. Kittens, seniors, or cats with any health problem can end up falling into the toilet. Then they need rescuing, a potential bath with cat shampoo, and therapy for the traumatic experience. And what happens if you aren’t home? If you had a near-drowning incident in a toilet, would YOU go near it again?

Health and Well-Being

No one LIKES scooping litterboxes. However, those boxes provide a lot of information. Toilet-training your cat means sacrificing the possible data. Instead of picking up on important health cues early, your cat could end up suffering health problems for weeks or even months without your knowledge.

  • Increased urination
  • Decreased urination
  • Changes in stool form

You can’t judge such things from a toilet bowl. That means overlooking risks such as diabetes, kidney disease, intestinal parasites, or gastrointestinal disease. Is that worth toilet-training your cat just to avoid a litterbox in the house?

Zoonotic Concern

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite cats pick up from mice and rats. Even indoor cats are susceptible (since mice and rats like to come inside for warmth and food). The eggs get shed in cat feces, and pregnant women are at EXTREME risk of infection. What happens if a smear of feces ends up on the toilet seat, and no one notices? Even worse, if your cat is infected, those eggs get flushed into the water system and end up in lakes, rivers, and streams. Suddenly otters, seals, and beavers die of toxoplasmosis.

Practicality

How many cats share your household? Do they each get a toilet? With litterboxes, the standard rule is to supply one box for every cat PLUS ONE. The same should apply when toilet-training your cat. Cats are territorial, and they won’t want to share.

If your cat needs to be hospitalized, boarded, or baby-sat, what’s going to happen? Veterinary hospitals and boarding facilities can’t accommodate your cat with a trip to the bathroom. Instead, they provide litterboxes. Litterboxes are more sanitary and easier to limit infection in such facilities. Are your friends or family okay with forfeiting their bathroom while you’re on vacation? Will your cat even accept a toilet that isn’t THEIRS?

Toilet-training your cat sounds fantastic, but there are a lot of considerations. When it comes down to it, veterinarians and the Humane Society (HSUS) oppose it. Dr. Rachel Barrack, a veterinarian at Animal Acupuncture, states, “Although teaching a cat to use the toilet may sound like a convenient idea, in actuality it is not the best for your cat.”

“We do not recommend people attempt to train their cats to use the toilet bowl due to the overwhelming number of cons.”

~Humane Society of the United States

Toilet-Training Your Cat

However, if you have a healthy, out-going cat with no health problems (that you’re aware of), and you want to undertake toilet-training your cat, the process is available.

Please consider everything before starting the process. Also, bear in mind the fact that the training will NOT happen overnight. You need A LOT of patience. And don’t throw out that litterbox because, odds are, you’ll need to keep it on-hand for setbacks (which often happen).

Toilet-Training Your Cat in Five Steps

  1. Move your cat’s litterbox to the bathroom. The bathroom needs to be one your cat has ready access to. Put the litterbox beside the toilet.
  2. Slowly raise the litterbox to the level of the toilet seat. The key word here is “slowly.” Your cat isn’t used to the height of the toilet for their bathroom needs. If you rush, your cat will avoid the litterbox and find somewhere else to “go.” You can use cardboard, magazines, or newspapers to lift their litterbox to toilet height gradually.
  3. Move the litterbox to the toilet seat. Hopefully, this isn’t the only toilet in the house. Especially because you need to secure the litterbox so it won’t slide off when your cat jumps into it (duct tape works best). You need a solid week of success at this step before you move on.
  4. Replace the litterbox with a toilet-training kit. The kits feature holes of increasing size that fit over the toilet bowl. You’ll need to use flushable litter (and hope your cat tolerates the change). Follow your kit’s instructions.
  5. Remove the kit tray. In theory, your cat will now use the toilet without litter.

If, at any point, your cat has a setback, return to the previous step.

Realistically, you should always keep a litterbox on-hand as a precaution. Cats that get upset will find another location for a bathroom, and you may not appreciate their choice. The litterbox provides a safe alternative.

Make the Best Decision

Toilet-training your cat isn’t in the best interest of your cat. Yes, it saves you from having to scoop a litterbox every day. However, the cons in this situation outweigh the pros. While it might make for a weird party trick or start an interesting conversation, it interrupts your cat’s natural behaviors and puts their health at risk.

If you stay on top of proper litterbox maintenance, you won’t have to put up with unwanted smells, you’ll notice potential health problems before they become serious, and your cat will remain happier.

When it comes to toilet-training your cat, err on the side of your cat. Make sure you do what’s best for them.

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy worked as a Licensed Veterinary Technician for 10 years, focusing on Emergency/ICU and later Cardiology, as well as volunteering at both the Philadelphia Zoo and Virginia Living Museum for over six years. She's now a freelance writer, but she gravitates toward writing projects with a focus on animals (once an animal-lover, always an animal-lover). She lives in Virginia with her fiance', three cats (one "works" as her personal assistant), and a Greyhound who thinks she's a big cat — all of them rescues.

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