I tried to train my cats to use the toilet so you don't have to

Oct 14, 2015 at 12:26 p.m. ET

Training your cat to use a human toilet rather than a litter box may sound like a trick worthy of Houdini. However, according to several websites and cat-training accessory brands, with just a little time and effort, it can be a reality.

As a cat mother who's never been ecstatic about cleaning out the litter box, I was somewhat curious when I heard there were "surefire" methods to toilet training your cat. To be honest, they sounded far too good to be true, but since I live in a smallish apartment that doesn't get terribly good ventilation, I decided it couldn't hurt to attempt one. So in the name of science and smelly litter boxes everywhere, I decided to embark on a toilet training experiment with my somewhat dubious-looking cats.

Image: Ally Hirschlag

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The experiment

Day 1:

There are a few different methods you can implement when attempting to toilet train your cat. One involves a not-so-inexpensive plastic training set you can buy online or in certain pet stores. It's essentially a plastic toilet seat made up of multicolored rings that you fill with litter and subsequently take away one by one as your cat becomes more comfortable with there being a hole in a human toilet.

I opted for the DIY version of this — using a piece of cardboard as the base and a plastic takeout container lid for the litter holder.

Image: Ally Hirschlag

Essentially you're creating a somewhat sturdy base for your cat to stand on while he does his business. According to wikiHow, if your cat is toilet shy, you can start by putting their actual litter box next to the toilet, then gradually raise it up until it's level with the toilet, all the while gradually reducing the litter. Since my cats are always trying to get on the toilet, I opted for the shortcut method — I made the litter box part of the toilet immediately and gave them a step stool to make it easier/more enticing to get up there.

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Day 3: 

There has been a lot of investigation but no actual use of the litter box toilet as of yet. I did keep their second litter box normal because A) we have only one toilet, and B) I didn't want them to rebel completely and start peeing all over the floor. Let me just say right off the bat that I do not recommend doing this experiment if you have only one toilet in the house. It's been only two days, and my fiancé and I are already annoyed at having to take off the training apparatus every time we have to go to the bathroom.

Image: Ally Hirschlag

Day 5:

Success! We've had at least one cat use the training box for both pee and poop! I guess this is akin to what a proud mama feels like after her human baby goes potty for the first time. That said, there were more than one accident over the past couple of days. Our male cat has a tendency to pee in the corner of the bathroom when we change up the furniture, so that's definitely been happening more frequently. However, he loves a clean litter box, and I think that's what made him finally use the trainer, because we keep it immaculate.

Image: Ally Hirschlag

Day 7:

Per the instructions, I have cut out a small hole in the center of the cardboard so the cats get used to the toilet water being under them. I've reduced the litter considerably so there's just about 1/4 inch on the cardboard. This, I'm sorry to stay, has stalled my cats' progress. They are now more fascinated with pushing litter into the hole than using the toilet trainer as a bathroom. However, someone did poop on the toilet lid, which leads me to believe there's still hope for this experiment.

Day 9: 

Little to no progress has been made. As a result, I've left the hole the same size, but the cats now seem to have gotten bored with their newfangled toilet and are predominantly using their other litter box. I've also noticed they're meowing a lot more now, perhaps out of confusion or frustration with the situation.


I can see the potential for this experiment to be a success, but only after a much more prolonged trial period. I would also suggest taking the gradual steps wikiHow describes (start by moving the litter box near the toilet, and gradually up) rather than jumping steps like I did. I suppose I had more faith in my cats' curiosity than I should have.

It's difficult to imagine an animal as small and fussy as a cat being comfortable enough to squat over the relatively large opening in a human toilet. I have a feeling if I trained mine for long (and gradually) enough, they might do it, but the sound of things dropping in the toilet would probably end up either freaking them out or fascinating them too much.

So in conclusion, if you really can't stand cleaning the litter box, by all means give this a try, but to me, the process is much more annoying than scooping, and so far it hasn't paid off enough.

More: 6 Tips for cat ladies who hate kitty litter

Would you train your cats to use the toilet?