Should You Toilet-Train Your Cat?

Email this article to a friendProbably not. The main reason is that your cat will lose the health benefits of your once-per-day litter box inspections.

In the last few years, many cat owners have become curious about teaching their cat to urinate and defecate in the toilet — the humansí toilet, or commode. This article talks about why you and your cat are almost always better off using the tried and true litter box.

The Litter Box as a Daily Health Gauge

Scooping the litter box each day has a highly beneficial side effect: it allows you to frequently monitor key aspects of your catís health. While the litter box contents certainly donít present a complete picture of your catís health, they nonetheless are quite revealing and in some cases function as an "early warning system" for serious illnesses or stress-related problems.

When you perform your daily litter box chores, start off by taking a look at whatís in the box. If the urine clumps are half-dollar-sized or smaller, or if the number of clumps is markedly higher than usual, your cat may be urinating with increasing frequency, which could be a sign of a bladder infection or an early symptom of diabetes, kidney failure, or several other conditions. If you see any blood mixed in with the clumps, contact your veterinarian or after-hours clinic right away — your cat may have a dangerous blockage.

Note the consistency and color of the stools. They should be firm but not exceedingly hard and brittle. Stools that are too hard may indicate that your cat is constipated; stools that are too soft are usually a sign that your cat has diarrhea. Both of these conditions can occur in healthy cats on an occasional basis, but persistent cases merit a consultation with your veterinarian.

They stools should be dark brown in color. A departure from this that goes on for more than a day could mean anything from poor diet to liver disease. If there is any blood in the stool, your cat may have bleeding in the lower digestive tract.

Once you incorporate monitoring the litter box contents into your daily routine, you will become quite proficient at recognizing whatís normal for your cat, and at noticing anything out of the ordinary.

If you live with many cats, itís more challenging to interpret litter box contents, but doing so is still valuable. Even knowing that one cat is off-kilter with respect to his or her litter box usage can be a great advantage.

The value of being able to examine your catís litter box output should not be underestimated. You lose this daily health check when your cat uses the toilet instead of the litter box.

Cats Naturally Use the Litter Box

In the wild, the vast majority of cats cover or bury their waste, to mask the odor and remain stealthy. Cats learn to use the litter box from their mother (or, if orphaned, from a surrogate "mother" at the animal shelter) when theyíre a young kitten, building on their innate predisposition to scratch and conceal their excrement. Some particularly "alpha" cats will leave their urine and feces exposed, as a way to assert dominance, but this situation is rare among spayed or neutered cats living in a house where food is plentiful and territory is secure. (If your cat does exhibit this behavior, toilet training is unlikely to stop it and may complicate matters.)

So "dig and cover" is a catís natural tendency. You just donít see cats in the wild positioning themselves over a stream or hole to go to the bathroom. There is always a risk in trying to get a cat to act in a way that is a departure from his normal routine. Why bother when there is no benefit to the cat? Even a gradual transition to using the toilet could increase your catís stress, and that is something you definitely donít want; stress is a leading contributor to urinary difficulties.

Additional Problems with Toilet-Training

  • Visitors and guests may be quite surprised to be sharing the bathroom with a cat, or notice that a cat has recently used the toilet and forgotten to flush.
  • Family members and guests have to remember to keep the bathroom door open and the toilet seat up. Sometimes this is less practical than at other times.
  • You donít want to get your cat to get out of the habit of using the litter box. If he ever needs to be boarded or stay at the vetís, he has to use a litter box. Likewise, if heís recovering from an injury or surgery, using the toilet is most likely out of the question.

What if My Cat Uses the Toilet on His Own?

Cats are nothing if not individuals. A few cats actually use the toilet (or attempt to) without any coaxing or training from a human. Be aware that in some of these instances there may be underlying, and preventable, reasons for the catís preferences that should be investigated. If your cat decides independently to use the toilet, he may be somewhat less prone to suffer stress from engaging in this unusual mode of going to the bathroom, but itís still a behavior you should discourage, for the reasons discussed above.

Cleaning the Litter Box is Not That Difficult

From a purely practical standpoint, cats are renowned for being easy to take care of, relative to other pets. The fact that cats can use a litter box is often cited as one of their most attractive "ease of maintenance" features. Whether you prefer a high-tech automatic litter box or the old reliable simple plastic one, whether you use clumping litter or pine litter or clay litter, scooping a litter box takes less than five minutes. Cleaning it and replacing the litter every week or two takes about ten minutes.

In other words, keeping the litter box fresh and clean is not a particularly burdensome or time-consuming task. It facilitates your catís natural motivation to cover his waste, it provides you with an opportunity to track your catís health, and itís pretty easy. Toilet training may be a risky solution in search of a problem.

If it Ainít Broke, Donít Fix it. If it is Broke, Use the Right Tools.

Under normal circumstances, a cat will develop proper litter box habits as a kitten and faithfully use the litter box his whole life. If your cat is in this category, donít mess with success; youíve got a good thing going.

If your cat is avoiding the litter box, you need to determine why, ruling out medical causes and exploring possible stress and/or litter box environment factors, and then take appropriate corrective action. Attempting to toilet-train your cat in the middle of your rehabilitation efforts would be ill-advised.

Article written by Gary Loewenthal