You Can Teach Your Cat to Use the Toilet, But Should You?
Cats are very smart animals and they can be trained to do many things. For example, you can teach your cat to do a high five. Or jump through a hoop. Or play the piano.
You can also teach your cat to use a toilet instead of a litter box. The thought of your feline squatting on the porcelain throne may sound silly, but cat toilet training advocates point to less litter and less mess. But just because cats can use a toilet doesn't mean they should. Here's what experts recommend.
Why People Toilet Train Cats
The idea behind teaching a cat to use the toilet instead of a litter box is simple: If your cat did her business on the toilet (and flushed!), you could avoid litter box cleaning—which is nobody's favorite chore. In fact, you wouldn't need to dedicate a spot in your home to set up a litter box. You'd even save on the cost of buying litter in the first place.
The trend gained popularity in 2011, when a cat toilet training kit was featured on Shark Tank, prompting thousands of cat parents to test out the product with their own felines. More recently, videos on TikTok documenting cats potty training have gained millions of views.
Of course, all pet owners want to hit the easy button when it comes to care (in fact, we all want to hit the easy button for our own care). But being a responsible pet owner comes with some sacrifices, and cleaning the litter box is a habit you should probably keep practicing.
Why You Shouldn't Train Your Cat To Use the Toilet
While teaching your cat to pee and poo in the toilet may seem like an attractive solution, it's not necessarily the best thing for your cat's health and happiness. There are strong arguments against doing it. Maria Delgado, PhD, CAAB, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and Zazie Todd, PhD, owner of Companion Animal Psychology, disagree with toilet training cats for several reasons. Here's what they say about why teaching your cat to use the toilet can be harmful to your pet.
- Your cat can't scratch and cover. "I see no benefits to being toilet trained for a cat," Delgado says. "Cats naturally want to dig and scratch before and after they eliminate. Toilet training deprives them of these natural behaviors," she says.
- Your cat has to assume weird body positions. Delgado also points out that a cat has to be a bit of a contortionist to use a toilet. "Toilet training forces cats to eliminate in uncomfortable, unnatural postures," she says.
- Your cat may be stressed (and decide to pee in other places). "I regularly get requests for help from people who have 'toilet trained' their cat, and their cat is now urinating on their bed," Delgado says.
- Your cat can fall into the toilet. Todd points out the obvious: "There is a risk of your cat falling in." Of course. Toilet edges are slippery. Cats hate getting wet. So toilet training your cat is a disaster waiting to happen.
- You could miss the symptoms of a medical problem. If a cat uses a toilet, you never see how much she is peeing or the condition of her poo. "If you monitor your cat's litter box (and its output)," Todd says, "you may see something like extra urine, which may be the sign of diabetes."
- Some cats just can't do it. Toilet training might work for a young, agile cat, but as the cat ages and/or gains weight, balancing on the edge of a stool may become something they can't pull off. "An older cat will face challenges in climbing up on a toilet," she says. Which can lead her to do her business in places you don't want her to.
Alternatives to Cat Toilet Training
Toilet training is a no-go, but there are still ways to avoid the mess and chores that come with a traditional litter box. First, consider an automatic litter box to reduce the frequency of scooping and cleaning. However, some cats are scared of automatic boxes—and they can cost a good chunk of change—so testing out dust-free litters or litters with odor control is a good first step. Or, if you don't mind the cleaning but find the litter box to be an eye sore, consider a covered box or an enclosure disguised as furniture. Just keep the porcelain throne to yourself.