If you’ve already read through 101 Essential Tips for Kittens and New Cats: Health & Safety, then you’ll know I’m not a fan of toilet training cats. Don’t confuse this with litter box (a.k.a. potty) training, which is where I am a huge fan. What I'm saying is that training your cat to use an actual toilet is typically not a good idea.
Sure, there are a few toilet training kits for cats out there, and no shortage of cute and/or funny videos of cats using a toilet. So it might be tempting, or seem “natural” to teach your cat how to “go” in the toilet. Especially if you don’t want to clean a litter box, you live in a tiny apartment, or just because the thought of a cat perched above the bowl seems oddly entertaining to you.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to toilet train your cat though, there are quite a few important reasons NOT to toilet train your cat that you really should consider first.
1. Flushing the Evidence
A change in the frequency or volume of urine your cat is producing can be an important sign of a whole host of medical conditions that go far beyond “just” a urinary tract infection. Here’s a partial list of kitty health problems that can be accompanied by a change in frequency and/or volume of urine:
- Kidney dysfunction
- Bladder inflammation (cystitis)
- Urinary (urethral) obstruction (this one can be rapidly fatal!)
As with many things, earlier detection and action on any of these medical problems can mean less pain and suffering for your cat, as well as a better chance of easier management and lower costs for you. So you really don’t want to miss these changes.
If your cat is urinating (or not) in a toilet bowl, you’re not going to see when their frequency or volume of urinations changes. On the other hand, these changes are easy to detect in cats that use litter boxes. Are there more or fewer pee clumps than normal? Are the pee clumps larger or smaller than normal? You’ll get an “update” from your cat’s endocrine and urinary systems each time you scoop the litter boxes. Not so when kitty is peeing in a toilet!
2. Terrible Toxo
Have you heard of Toxoplasma gondii, or the disease it causes “Toxoplasmosis” (a.k.a. “Toxo”)? Toxo is a nasty little parasite that cats can become infected with when they eat a mouse, rat, bird, or other wildlife. (Indoor-only cats are at lower risk, but even they aren’t completely safe from Toxo, as rats and mice are pretty adept at finding their way into homes.)
Though not all infected cats will show signs of the disease, they all will shed infective Toxoplasma oocysts in their poop for a period of time. And, unfortunately, the typical wastewater treatments that flushed water goes through don’t kill these infective oocysts. Meaning that the parasite and the disease it causes can wind up in local lakes, rivers, streams and other bodies of water, where they can infect and kill seals, otters, and other water-dwelling wildlife. And it's not just wildlife that's at risk here, if your cat ever "misses" and drops a bomb on the toilet seat, you and the other people in your home can be at risk from the Toxo oocyst contamination, too!
3. Lid Goes Down or Cat Goes Down
Yes, you can teach a cat to perch on the edge of a toilet bowl to do their “business.” But even cats have their agility limits. If you plan to let the cat “go” in the bathroom, you will need to make sure that the top lid is always open, and the bottom lid is always down to give the cat a place to perch. Not even the incredible Mr. Jinx from Meet The Parents can lift a toilet seat... remember, even he lacked the strength and the opposable thumbs.
If someone leaves the top lid down, your cat won't be able to use their toilet and will find somewhere else, like your carpet, shoes, bed, or potted plants to make their deposits. And if someone leaves the seat up, your cat will likely fall in! Actually, a cat can easily fall into the toilet whether they have a perch or not, and the possibility of dealing with a cat that’s drenched in toilet water should be reason enough to steer clear of toilet training!
4. Access Needed
If you’ve got a toilet-trained cat that’s gotta go (like now!) and you, one of your other family members, or even a houseguest is already on the throne, what do you think your cat is going to do? Or what if there’s nobody currently in the loo, but they left the door closed on their way out. Maybe you ran out of air freshener in your bathroom, or maybe they just forgot about the fact that your cat uses the people potty, too. Either way, what’s your cat going to do?
Unfortunately the answer, in many cases, is going to be that they’re (1) going to get stressed and then (2) find somewhere else to go… like your carpets, bed, laundry, or somewhere else that’s readily available. It’s not spite, it’s just that, well, you know… when you gotta go, you gotta go!
5. When Jumping Hurts
Unless you’re setting up a ramp or staircase to your toilet, your cat is going to have to jump a pretty decent height to get onto the toilet every time they’ve got to do their business. But what happens when your cat can’t, or isn’t supposed to jump (like after surgery)? Or what about when your cat develops painful arthritis and it hurts them to jump? Did you know that more than 30% of cats over 8 years old have arthritis and that arthritis is also present in more than 90% of cats over 12 years old? Arthritis in cats is far more common than you probably realize! So even if your cat doesn't currently suffer from arthritis, there's a good chance they will later in life. And then you'll have to re-train your cat to stop using the toilet and use a litter box instead, specifically one with lower sides.
If your cat has to jump onto the toilet to go pee or poo and it either hurts them to do so or they’re just incapable of doing so, then they’re going to find someplace else to go.
6. It Goes Against Their Instinct
The reason we lay down litter in the first place is because cats instinctually bury their waste. In the wild, this is a vital way to ward off predators by hiding the smell. But just because your cat isn’t in the wild, it doesn’t mean they lack the instinct to bury. Just listen the next time your cat goes to the litter box, you’ll hear them scratching and burying their waste… even if you’re down the hall.
If you take away their litter and replace it with a toilet, you get rid of their ability to bury, but not their desire or instinct. Even when toilet trained, cats will still paw at the area around them to act out this instinctual behavior, but the inability to bury their waste could cause additional stress, which could lead to potty accidents or other stress-related problems.
7. Kitty Can’t Travel
If there might be times that you’ll want to take your toilet-trained cat on a trip — maybe home for the holidays, or on a nice long visit with friends — you might want to check with your family or friends that it’s OK if your cat shares the toilet. Otherwise that can be an uncomfortable problem when you arrive… for everyone. And even if they’re cool with it, do you think they'll have a dedicated toilet for your cat or always remember to keep the lid open?
And what about when your cat needs to stay at a boarding facility, or gets sick and needs to stay at the vet’s? Unless your toilet-trained cat is also trained and comfortable with using a litter box, expect big problems there, too.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Well, there are my 7 major reasons NOT to toilet train your cat. I do hope you’ll take these into consideration when deciding whether or not toilet training is right for you and your cat. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you’ve got a few minutes, I’d love it if you would help us better help you and other cat owners by taking our short cat feeding and litter box survey.
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