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Become an expert: cat toilet training

black and white kitten in the litter box advice © Shutterstock

What goes in must come out. Even if cats seem elegant and discreet in other matters, a cat without toilet training is a recipe for stinky-house.

By G. John Cole

A cat needs to know all about its litter tray if it is to use it. But did you know it’s also possible to teach a cat to use a human toilet? Not that it’s particularly recommended. But it does form an entertaining alternative to the classic litter tray arrangement.

How to toilet train a cat

A brand new cat should have the instinct to poo outside, but nobody wants a garden full of cat poo. Plus, you might need to keep moggy in for long periods at a time, in which case you don’t want the beast unloading in your linen basket. And older cats can find it difficult to get outside when nature calls. So it’s best if you train your cat to use a litter tray or toilet before it's too late.

The trick to training is to know when your cat is likely to poop, and pre-empt it by putting the creature in the litter box before that delivery arrives. Do it straight after the cat eats or wakes up, or if you spot it scratching, sniffing, or crouching on the floor. With a kitten that’s less than one month old, you can stimulate their toilet instinct by dabbing its behind with warm, damp kitchen roll. Nobody said this was going to be glamorous!

Cats like to bury their poo, hence the litter. But you might need to point out to kitty that this is what the litter is for. So dig it a little bit while the creature is watching (and before it gets dirty).

You can show the cat affection after a successful toilet session, so it knows it did good. But don’t talk to it while it’s pooping, even to encourage it. Nobody likes that.

And here’s a good tip: play with your cat near the litter tray, since physical exercise will stimulate it to poop and you’ll be right there on site to make it happen in the right place.

About that litter tray

It is possible to buy purpose-built litter trays, but try not to. There are plenty of unused plant trays, oven dishes, and other devices around that we can recycle instead of using up more of the earth’s resources on a creature that really doesn’t need a gilded toilet. The tray you find should have low sides so it’s easy for moggy to step in. But you might want to swap it for a deeper one as the cat grows. 

Cats can be more picky about the litter you use. Soft, fine litter may suit an indoor cat with dainty paws. Others like a good solid bit of rubble to bury their dirt beneath. If you have multiple cats, you’ll need multiple litter trays. One per cat plus one extra one.
Make sure to keep the litter tray clean and changed regularly. Cats like to defecate in a clean place, so if their litter tray starts to stink then they’ll just use your bed instead. 
You can just use hot water and washing-up liquid to do the deed. Take special care not to touch the dirt if you’re pregnant since you and your unborn kid can get toxoplasmosis from it. Don’t let children touch it either, as they can get seriously sick. This one’s on you.

If your cat doesn’t seem to want to use the tray, and cleaning it doesn’t solve the problem, try a bigger tray or a different brand of kitty litter. You can also try moving the tray to a quieter or more private part of the house. 
Cats don’t like to be stressed when pooping. They judge everybody by their own standards: they think they are vulnerable to attack when using the toilet, because they wouldn’t think twice about leaping on a smaller creature using the lav.
But just to make sure your cat doesn’t make alternative arrangements, cover the soil in your indoor plant pots, too.

What if my cat thinks it’s a person

If you want your cat to use a human toilet, it is much the same principle as the litter tray lessons, except you need to place a litter-filled insert in the toilet bowl to start with. You can reduce this bit-by-bit until the cat’s just splashing away into the bowl like you or I. But don’t forget to leave the toilet seat up.
And remember, your cat won’t flush after itself. Not because it doesn’t have opposable thumbs, but because it doesn’t care about you or anybody else. Still, have fun with the toilet training!