Should you toilet train your cat?
It’s the stuff of dreams, isn’t it? Having a cat, but never having to see, smell, or clean another litter box for the rest of your life?
It’s also a big business. According to CNBC.com, CitiKitty, a potty-training kit for cats that was a big hit on Shark Tank, had sold $8 million worth of kits as of 2018. Today, there are multiple CitiKitty competitors, each with their own little twist on the toilet-training theme.
People are interested in toilet training their cats for some appealing reasons, which we’ll discuss in this post. But the reasons NOT to toilet train your cat far, far outweigh them. Spoiler alert: I’m not in favor of toilet training your cat.
But let’s dig in.
How are cats potty trained?
The process of toilet training a cat is virtually the same, regardless of which system you purchase: you start by turning the toilet into a litter box.
The kits each contain a plastic, shallow bowl of sorts that fits over your toilet. You fill the bowl with litter, hoping that the cat will view this weird contraption as an ordinary litter box.
Once the cat is using the toilet-bowl litter box, you replace the first plastic bowl with a second bowl that has a small hole in the center.
Over time, you replace the bowl with the small hole with bowls with succeedingly larger holes, until your toilet-bowl litter box is just a thin plastic ring filled with litter.
And then you start reducing the litter in the ring until there is none.
Eventually, if the training is successful, your cat is so used to leaping to your toilet seat and doing his business, that he won’t even notice he is peeing and pooping into the abyss.
Arguments for toilet training your cat
We know the real argument: litter boxes are gross and they are a lot of work to keep clean.
You’re not the first person to think so. There are roughly a million products (give or take) out there designed to make the litter box less of an annoyance.
There are liners and bags designed to make emptying the litter box easier. There are pads that supposedly “lock in” urine. There are litter boxes with entry holes on the top, and special mats designed to prevent cats from tracking litter around the house. There are umpteen brands and types of litter that each make their own promises, and even a robot that will clean the box for you.
And yet no product beats the allure of a cat who simply uses the toilet like the rest of the family.
There are some other arguments pro-toilet that are worth mentioning:
Dusty litters could be dangerous
Let me reemphasize the “could” in “could be dangerous.”
There is Internet controversy concerning certain cat litters’ impact on health. Some clay litters are too dusty, those who are concerned say, and the dust is dangerous.
The concerns swirl around two potential components of certain clay litters: crystalline silica, and sodium bentonite, a natural clay that swells, allowing litter to clump. Tiny bits of these components can become airborne when the litter is disturbed.
In general, being exposed to fine particles of any kind is not good for the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. This concern is not limited to kitty litter. Burning candles, cooking, wood burning, and driving a vehicle all produce fine particles that could, over time, cause harm.
There is evidence that breathing crystalline silica dust causes a disease called silicosis, in which the lungs become scarred, but it takes 15-20 years of occupational exposure for a human to develop the disease. The kinds of people who develop silicosis are people who, for example, cut stone or grind concrete for a living.
The science on the topic of the dangers of cat-litter exposure is virtually non-existent. I would suspect, since the use of cat litter is so widespread, that veterinarians would be overrun with cats with breathing problems if cat-litter dust was as big of a threat as some alarmist websites make it out to be.
But there are options if you are concerned. Consider switching to virtually dust-free litters made from corn, wheat, walnut, wood, soy, or paper.
Some cat litter isn’t environmentally friendly
Two of the most popular litter products, clay and crystal, are sourced through strip mining. Strip mining involves scraping away earth and rocks to expose the desired natural resource underneath. It’s devastating to the environment. Strip mining permanently scars the landscape, destroys wildlife, and pollutes the air and waterways.
Unfortunately, the manufacture of cat litter is not where this product’s environmental troubles end. Clay is non-biodegradable, meaning that clay cat litter will sit in a landfill, effectively, forever.
Crystal litter (silica gel), in contrast to what you might read on the Internet, is also not biodegradable, unless you’ve got a million years to wait. Pretty Litter, one of the most popular crystal-litter products, does not even include silica-gel litters on its own list of biodegradable cat-litter options.
If you are concerned about the environmental impact of the litter you are currently using, consider switching to another type. Many of the dust-free litters mentioned above are sustainably manufactured and biodegradable, too.
Cat litter is expensive
There is no getting around it: having a cat in your life can be hard on your wallet.
Litter is one of those recurring expenses, like food, that you will face continuously, as long as you have a cat.
Cat litter isn’t cheap. Estimates vary, because every cat has different habits, and because there are so many different types of litter on the market, but you can expect to spend $10-25 per month on litter for a single cat.
Why you should NEVER toilet train your cat
I’m going to list all the reasons why you should never toilet train your cat, but there is one reason that eclipses them all, and overrides any potential conveniences, cost savings, or health benefits that you can convince yourself that toilet training confers.
Toilet training is not good for your cat.
Cats need to engage in cat behavior
Cats are cats. They need to be cats. They need to do the behaviors they were born to do to feel safe, secure, and happy.
Typical cat behavior when urinating, for example, involves a few specific steps:
1) A cat will sniff the area to be peed upon, whether litter, or soil outdoors.
2) A cat will dig at the litter or soil to make a shallow hole.
3) A cat will squat over the hole to urinate.
4) A cat will smell her own urine.
5) A cat will begin to bury the urine with the litter or soil.
6) A cat may, one or more times, interrupt her own burying to sniff again before continuing to bury.
Your cat needs to perform these cat behaviors to be their true cat selves. They need to dig. They need to smell what they’ve eliminated, and they need to cover their handiwork. Whether they are pets or they are feral, they are programmed to perform these behaviors.
When cats can’t do their cat things, they experience emotional distress.
And cats need their own scent
Moreover, cats need to be surrounded by their own scent.
We humans are disgusted by the products of our own elimination. For us, peeing and pooping is just a way to relieve an uncomfortable sensation in our bodies, and we’d like the evidence to be spirited away as quickly as possible, ideally, with no lingering smells.
But cats need to be surrounded by their own scents, including the scent of their own pee and poop.
Read these posts to learn more about the role of scent in your cat’s life:
You might create a bigger mess than you started with
When cats get stressed – and toilet-training, and using a toilet instead of a litter box can be very stressful on a cat – they find ways to resolve their own problems that cat guardians typically find offensive.
Litter boxes are a mutually beneficial agreement between cat and guardian. Outdoors, your cat would probably do his business just about anywhere: here one time, then two feet from that spot the next time, and a quarter-mile away the next time.
But put a litter box down and your cat will agree to just go in just that one spot. Fool around with the agreement and all bets might be off.
By asking your cat to do her business in a toilet, you are asking her to do something unnatural and uncomfortable. She might decide to pee on your bed instead, or poop in corner. Some cats start to scratch at the toilet, or spray. Others put objects into the toilet.
Or he might try to avoid eliminating altogether, becoming constipated in the process, or developing a urinary tract problem from withholding his pee. Any of these side effects of toilet training can be very serious.
Read the toilet-training product reviews
The worst thing is something that was never a problem before, can suddenly become a very intractable behavioral problem that makes everyone miserable.
I encourage you to read deeply into the product-review comments. Even people who were pleased with the results of toilet training often reported the kinds of problems that are unpleasant to live with, and indicative of unhappy cats.
One reviewer, who worked outside the home, said that his cat wouldn’t use the toilet a second time if there was no one home to flush between poops. Many cats, who were willing to pee on the toilet, found the position required on the toilet seat to uncomfortable for pooping, and would poop on the floor, in the sink, or tub instead. Many cat guardians reported cats who held their poop for days, crying in discomfort.
Litter box issues are among the top reasons cats are relinquished to shelters. This is because litter-box problems, once they start, can be very challenging to resolve.
It becomes the cat’s bathroom
If you don’t have a bathroom that is dedicated to the cat, you might have a problem.
Your cat can’t necessarily wait her turn if someone is using “her bathroom.” (And what happens when she doesn’t wait?)
Your cat can’t open the door, if you forget and leave it closed.
Your cat can’t lift the cover, if you’ve left it down, and your cat can’t put the seat down if you’ve left it up.
And not all cats are neat. Remember, they’re not trying to avoid messing on the seat; they “think” they’re going in a litter box and they’re none too concerned about aim.
If you are sharing a toilet with your cats, you may also be sharing any disease that could be spread through cat waste. The best place for disease is where you expect it to be: in the litter box, not on the toilet seat.
You could be missing the early signs of a health problem
One of the advantages of a litter box is that telltale early signs of certain health problems are easy to see.
If your cat is peeing more frequently, you’ll notice additional litter clumps. If the clumps are bigger or smaller than usual, indicating a greater or smaller volume of urine, you’ll notice that too.
You can head off some pretty serious diseases if you’re an avid “reader” of your cat’s litter box, including, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney problems, bladder problems, dehydration, and urinary-tract obstruction.
Early detection can mean less suffering for your cat, and a better chance of successfully managing your cat’s disease. It may also mean a lower cost to treat disease, as well.
Your cat is going to get older one day
Even if your toilet-training venture is a complete success today, what happens when your cat gets older and can’t jump to the toilet?
90% of cats over 10 years old develop arthritis. One day it may be too painful for him to leap up just to do his business.
But before that ever happens, your cat may need to spend a night in the hospital where there is no toilet. And what if she has surgery and is unable to jump up while she recovers?
You may think that your cat can just switch back to a litter box when needed. But most cats do not adapt quickly or well to change. Read about that in this post, “How do cats deal with a change in routine? The answer: not very well.”
Cat poop doesn’t belong in our sewers
Cats may carry a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that causes a disease called toxoplasmosis. While indoor-only cats are less likely to carry the parasite, the risk is not zero.
Toxoplasma gondii oocysts, which are the method this parasite uses to transfer themselves to new hosts, are shed in a cat’s poop.
Wastewater treatments don’t kill the oocysts and they end up in lakes, rivers, and streams. They go on to kill seals, otters, and other wildlife that live around water.
You can be at risk from contamination, too, since your cat is now using your toilet as his toilet.
There’s a reason I use the term “cat guardian” instead of “cat owner” in my posts.
When you bring a cat into your home, you accept responsibility for the life of another. A cat’s life is all too short, and he has very little control over what happens to him. He is counting on you to provide what he needs to feel safe and secure and to fulfill his “cat-ness.”
I get the appeal of a toilet-trained cat. But toilet-training comes at a high cost to your cat.
Remember that you are her guardian: her champion, her defender, and her protector.
And a litter box is very small price to pay for that privilege.
Some related topics that might interest you:
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 Janewells. “How This 39-Year-Old Became a Millionaire with an Invention That Potty-Trains Cats .” CNBC, CNBC, 28 Nov. 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/28/citikitty-brings-in-millions-potty-training-cats.html.
 “Department of Health.” Fine Particles (PM 2.5) Questions and Answers, https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/air/pmq_a.htm#:~:text=Exposure.
 “Department of Labor Logo United States Department of Labor.” Silica, Crystalline - Health Effects | Occupational Safety and Health Administration, https://www.osha.gov/silica-crystalline/health-effects.
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 Dr. Marty Becker DVM | Mon Jun 10 07:30:00 EDT 2013. “5 Reasons Cats Are given up for Adoption and How to Avoid Problems.” Vetstreet, http://www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/5-reasons-cats-are-given-up-for-adoption-and-how-to-avoid-these-problems?page=2.
 “Arthritis in Cats: VCA Animal Hospital.” Vca, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/arthritis-in-cats.