Toilet Training for Cats

Our good friend Jo Singer recently spotted an old idea being given a disturbing new life: toilet training a cat. And sorry, no… this is not a “how to” article, it’s about “why not”!

A 2001 book by Dr. Eric Brotman on the subject is once again the media. Brotman’s doctorate is in clinical psychology, not veterinary medicine; that may explain his is utter ignorance about cats!

As Jo points out in her article, it is vital to be able to monitor a cat’s urine and feces output. In fact, it’s one of the best ways for people to keep track of their cat’s health. For example, when I was in veterinary school, my elderly cat’s urine output went from 2 or 3 clumps a day to 8 or 9, literally overnight. Because it was so obvious, I caught her early kidney disease right away, and helped her live, happy and healthy, for another 5 years. Had she been using a toilet, I wouldn’t have been able to tell how much urine she was producing, and her disease would have been far more advanced (and likely her lifespan much shorter than 20 years!) before other signs were noticeable .

But the primary reason I tell people not to toilet train their cat is a psychological one (odd that a PhD psychologist would completely ignore this important aspect of cat-ness!).

Cats are extremely territorial, and they rely primarily on scent for their sense of home and security. If you remove the litter box–imbued with the cat’s most potent scent markers–she will either find some other way to mark the home so she can feel secure, or she will live a diminished life with significantly reduced territorial confidence. This, of course, can lead to other stress-related behaviors and even physical problems down the road, especially in a multi-pet home.

Even too-thorough cleaning of the box, or getting a new box, can be a bit tricky; putting a little bit of soiled litter in with the new will help the cat accept it.

If you want a cat, then have a cat… but you get the WHOLE cat: claws, fur, pee, and poop! Anything else is simply less than a cat.

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