8 Steps To A Toilet Trained Cat
"I didn't want to scoop the litter box every day or clean it every week, and I certainly didn't want to be working next to it," says Elliott. "Ages ago, my sister gave me a book on how to toilet train your cat; I laughed and tossed it on the bookshelf. But when I started working from home, I remembered the book, found it, and began toilet training Sheba."
Toilet train a cat? It's easier than you may think, says Eric Brotman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Sherman Oaks, CA, and the author of "How to Toilet Train Your Cat." Some cats learn in as little as 3 weeks, but most need at least a couple of months. The keys: patience and persistence -- and two bathrooms.
Reshaping a Cat's Instinct
Your cat's personality will determine whether she's a good candidate for toilet training. "If your cat doesn't have a problem using a litter box and is at least 6 months old, there's no reason she can't learn a new behavior such as using the toilet," says Brotman, who successfully trained Mango, his 4-year-old Siamese.
RELATED: How to Deal With a Cat Not Using the Litterbox
Which cats make the best candidates for using the toilet? Confident and dominant ones. They are outgoing, willing to learn, and may be more open to trying a new bathroom method than shy, submissive cats would be. That's because confident cats tend to deliberately leave their urine and feces uncovered in their litter boxes, says Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian who directs the animal behavior clinic at Tufts University School of Medicine. In general, submissive cats prefer to cover their deposits to try to eliminate any sign or scent and don't embrace changes in their household routines, adds Dodman, author of "If Only They Could Speak."
The next big question: Are you a good candidate to be a toilet-training tutor? People eager to save money and who really don't like cleaning the litter box may be more motivated to try to convert their cats from litter-box users to toilet users, says Arnold Plotnick, a veterinarian with a feline-only practice in New York City.
RELATED: More: Common Cat Training Challenges
Adds Dodman, "The chances for success are highest among people who are genuinely interested in their cat, sufficiently motivated, and very patient."
Elliott was one of those. "What I learned is that it was well worth the effort," she says. "Today, my husband and I can come home and just flush the toilet. We've never had to change the litter again. For us, this is a much cleaner, easier option."
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Here are Brotman's eight steps to toilet-training success:
1. Designate one bathroom in the house for the cat. Post a "Cat in Training" sign on the door and a "Keep the Lid Up, Seat Down at All Times" sign above the toilet. Remind family members and guests to leave the door open.
2. Gather the materials you will need: flushable litter, duct tape, a litter box, newspapers, and an aluminum roasting pan (best size: 125/8" x 101/8" x 3").
3. Place the litter box in the bathroom beside the toilet for several days, until your cat's used to that location. Then perch it on a 3-inch-high stack of newspapers for 5 to 7 days. Intermittently reward your cat with a food treat when he uses the litter box.
4. To train the cat to jump up onto the toilet seat, raise the litter box about 3 to 5 inches per day with newspapers until the height of the box is even with the toilet seat. Your cat may start to walk on the seat. Praise him.
5. Place the litter box on top of the closed toilet lid for a couple of days to get your cat accustomed to being on top of the commode.
6. Replace the litter box with the aluminum roasting pan filled with 3 inches of flushable litter. Put the pan inside the toilet, securing it with duct tape on the sides. Close the toilet seat on top of the pan for a week.
7. Use a screwdriver to cut a hole the size of a quarter into the bottom center of the aluminum pan. Every day make the hole bigger, so your cat gets used to less pan beneath him. Each time your cat uses the pan, replace the litter with a smaller amount than before. After 2 weeks, cut out the entire bottom of the pan.
8. Remove the pan and duct tape. Remember to keep the toilet lid up so your cat can balance on the toilet seat.
Expect some, says Brotman. If your cat makes a mistake, never reprimand her. Instead, go back a step for a few days to reinforce the proper behavior. "This is frustrating, but it's really the only way to overcome resistance to learning," he says. If your cat has difficulty balancing on the toilet seat, replace it with a soft, padded type or place no-slip bathtub strips on the seat.
Downsides of Toilet Training
Arnold Plotnick, a veterinarian with a feline-only practice in New York City, lists these potential problems:
Jumping up on a toilet seat may be difficult for an injured, sick, or aging cat.
Guests may forget to keep the lid up. In frustration, a cat may eliminate elsewhere in the house. One solution: Remove the lid permanently.
Owners cannot detect early signs of medical problems in urine or feces diluted by toilet water as easily as they can with deposits in a litter box.
Cats like to drink cold, fresh water; you may need to keep your feline from trying to drink out of the toilet bowl.
Quick tip: Keep a box of alcohol wet wipes handy to clean the toilet seat before you use it.