A few years ago, a post went around featuring a product that claimed you could use it to teach your cat how to use a toilet. This was before I got into cat behavior so at the time, my first thought was that it would be really cool to be able to do that. Wow, no need for a litter box! I wonder if you can teach the cat to flush, too…
This product is still out there and every once in a while a picture of a cat using a toilet will make the rounds. Before you rush out to order the cat toilet training kit, is it even possible to train your cat to use the toiler? And perhaps more importantly, should you do it? Let’s look at each of these questions!
Can you toilet train a cat?
First off, will this product even work? I can definitely see the appeal in wanting to try this. Cleaning the litter box is often one of the least favorite parts of being a cat parent and many people don’t clean their litter boxes as often as they should. Litter boxes are often tucked away as they can be quite stinky if not maintained. Heck, I scoop my cat’s box at least twice per day and I’ll still be able to smell the box after he poops.
That said, I’d argue you that if you want to keep odor under control or need help with maintaining the litter box, there are plenty of awesome tools to help you. Keep a Litter Genie nearby and you can just scoop right into it. It’s much less work than toilet training your cat.
How do you toilet train a cat?
The basic premise of the typical toilet training product involves using a dish that sits in the toilet. It’s typically filled with litter and then you gradually remove it once your cat starts using it. Combine this with some positive reinforcement and training? It’s totally reasonable that you’d be able to get your cat to use it.
That said, as with regular litter boxes, there is a huge variation in what each individual cat will use. Some cats may be okay using a litter box that is less than ideal. Others won’t tolerate anything that’s even two inches in the wrong direction and the litter is a quarter inch too deep. Similarly, some cats just won’t ever use a toilet even with training (or it may be a struggle to train them) and others will catch on pretty quickly.
So the answer to the first question is yes, you can potentially train your cat to use the toilet though not every cat will be receptive. That said, it’s not the only consideration.
Is toilet training your cat a good idea?
Many cat parents use litter boxes for their cats, but don’t necessarily know why we use litter boxes. Why do cats use litter boxes instead of going outside to pee/poop like dogs do? And why don’t we need to train cats to use litter boxes?
Where cats like to go to the bathroom
To cats, choosing a location to go to the bathroom is a complex decision. Cats need to be careful where they go to the bathroom as the scent of their urine or feces may signal to a predator that they’re nearby. They also use scent, from urine in particular, to mark territory so other cats know that they’re there or to attract a mate when they’re looking for a bit of kitty lovin’. These two competing desires, at different times, influence why and where a cat will go.
Because of the desire to keep their scent hidden from predators, cats prefer going somewhere they can bury their urine/feces afterward. Yes, they don’t always succeed (looking at you, fellow cat parents whose cats just paw at the edge of the box rather than actually burying their poop) but they still have the instinct to do so.
That’s a large part of the reason why litter boxes are so successful for cats: They create a space for the cat that satisfies the urge to bury their urine/feces afterward. If they’re cleaned as well as they should be, the area remains mostly clean, too!
The above is a bit simplified and there are other factors (such as location) that influence how likely a cat is to use a litter box. However, the most relevant points are that the scent of the litter box allows a cat to feel secure in their territory and cats naturally want to bury their waste.
The problem with toilets
Does using a toilet allow cats to satisfy their natural urges surrounding eliminating? The scent may be there for a bit, but generally once you flush it’s gone. Even though you are flushing it eventually, the cat isn’t going to understand that this will be coming. They don’t have anywhere to actually bury their waste and this can be frustrating and unnatural for the cat.
Some cats may put up with the frustration for a while, but if something changes in their environment that increases their stress they may not be as forgiving with using a box (or in this case, human equivalent of a litter box) that doesn’t appeal to their innate instincts. You may end up having sudden issues with them using a location that is not the toilet and they may or may not resume using the toilet again even with some coaxing and retraining.
Taking everything into account, I can’t recommend trying to toilet train your cat. It goes against the natural instincts of the cats, may create frustration for them, and may not work later in the cat’s life. A good old litter box is genuinely the best way to go! Heck, if you can’t find a decent box, it’s pretty easy to make your own litter box.
Alternatives To Toilet Training Your Cat
I’m sure some of you were hoping this would be an actual guide on how to toilet train your cat. I’d apologize, but hopefully you’re reconsidering giving it a try. It not only benefits your cat, but it prevents you from needing me to help with a litter box problem.
If you still want to train your cat to do something with a toilet (no judgement, but maybe a little bit of judgement), why not do some clicker training and teach them to sit on the (closed) toilet on cue? Alternatively, you could just get a really cool cat shaped toilet brush holder or bathroom rug so there’s something cat shaped near the toilet.
If you’re hoping to impress folks, just train your cat to do something else. Many people still don’t believe cat training is possible or that professional cat trainers like me exist. They have low standards sometimes what what impresses them! Plus, you’ll have fun with your cat and won’t force them to do something completely unnatural.