As any cat owner will tell you, the bond between cats and humans is as strong as it is enduring. Both affectionate and independent, a cat can be dignified and inscrutable one moment, playful and loving the next. Pressing himself* against your leg, looking up with a fiery gleam in his eye, his intoxicating purr and soft furry warmth working their eternal magic—these are pleasures only a cat lover can know.
* For ease of language, I’ve decided to refer to cats as “him” in this text. You can, of course, toilet train female cats with equal success.
Man’s Best Friend?
What began as a quiet love affair in Egypt more than six thousand years ago has blossomed into something of a mass movement. In 1980 a national cat census found that thirty-five million cats were living in American households, as compared to fifty-two million dogs. Today, however, the cat outnumbers man’s best friend by a considerable margin—an estimated eighty-six million, compared to only seventy-eight million dogs—with popularity showing no signs of slowing. This means that about forty-three million American households own, or are owned by, one or more cats.
What explains this change? An increase in one- and two-person households; the growing number of two-paycheck families; the increasing number of apartment dwellers; and a desire among young couples and older people to take on “low-maintenance” pets.
Phyllis Wright, who was the vice president of the Humane Society of the United States in the 1980s and ’90s, even claimed that “cats are the genetically engineered pet. . . . They are much less demanding than dogs and much more conducive to a busy lifestyle than any other pet.”
Yet this very popularity has fostered the myth that cats, unlike dogs with their many obedience and behavior problems, can essentially do no wrong. With this misconception in mind, the uninitiated will bring home their first kitten in total ignorance, only to grow disenchanted as the adorable kitten matures into a somewhat less cute adult. Slotted into the daily household routine, the cat’s day rapidly shrinks into a dull round of trips to the kitchen for food and water and then to the litter box—over and over, day after day, week after week. Eventually, as the owner’s interest wanes, the daily ritual of cleaning the litter box becomes an every-other-day chore, then every third day, until the box becomes such a headache for cat and owner that the cat begins to “just miss” the litter box, or dig so vigorously that he leaves litter scattered everywhere. In both cases, the cat is trying to say something in the only way he knows how. Yet no one listens until the cat avoids the litter box altogether in favor of a more absorbent material: your grandmother’s Persian rug, the back of your closet, or that quiet spot behind the couch that only a cat can reach.
According to Dr. Dale Olm, formerly chief animal behavior specialist at the New York office of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, soiling problems cause more cats to be abandoned or put to sleep than any other single issue. “The problem is huge,” says Dr. Olm. “Slowly the smell becomes so bad that no one wants to visit you anymore. Finally it becomes so bad that even the cat revolts and owners get rid of the cat because of its ‘abnormal’ behavior.” Yet the truth of the matter, says Dr. Olm, is that “there is no such thing as ‘abnormal’ behavior in cats, only ‘normal’ behavior in an abnormal situation.”
Kittens Must Be Trained
As faithful pets, cats not only rely on us for their food, water, health, and well-being, but they depend on us to provide the conditions they need to become good companions in our homes. Like young children, kittens and cats must be trained to prevent their natural predilections—developed over millions of years of evolution—from developing into unacceptable (by human standards) behavior. Yet they can’t train themselves, so they need our help. “A misbehaving cat is nearly always the fault of the owner,” says Dr. Olm, “not the cat.” But before we can help them, we must first understand them.
Even though mother cats teach their kittens to bury their wastes as soon as they are able to dig loose dirt, it is both unnatural and unhealthy for an adult cat to bury his wastes in the same spot every day. Why? According to Dr. Olm, “Cats are both attracted to and repelled by the smell of their own wastes. On the one hand, pet cats habitually go to the litter box, because it’s where they’ve always gone. Yet one of the cat’s most basic instincts is to equate the smell of its own waste products with danger.” This is because cats in the wild use their highly fragrant urine and feces to ward off potential predators and rivals, as well as to mark the boundaries of their territory. Therefore a wild cat will rarely do his business in the same spot twice, preferring instead to spread his droppings in a large ring that encircles his nest. Near the nest, where the smell of this “scent barrier” is nonexistent, the cat feels perfectly safe. Yet toward the edge of his territory, where the smell of accumulated droppings becomes quite noticeable, the cat must be on his guard at all times.
Not surprisingly, cats using a single litter box often develop a form of territorial-anxiety behavior that results from enormous stress. Initially, the cat will pace as though he were a caged animal, meowing loudly and clawing everything in sight. As the stress builds, reactions can take many forms, until finally the cat begins to leave his droppings everyplace but the litter box.
One way to determine whether your cat has a problem in the making is to place two litter boxes as far apart as possible in your home. If the cat begins to use both boxes right away, particularly if he urinates in one box and defecates in the other, your cat is heeding his natural instincts, and ignoring his human training. You’re well on your way to having a problem—even if your cat has yet to have his first accident. What can you do?
If you’re like most people, you change the cat’s litter, clean the litter box regularly, and pick up any accidents he may have, slowly turning yourself from a loving owner into an obedient servant who jumps every time the cat goes to his box. Ultimately—and upon discovering yet another accident—you can come to look upon him as a furry little loafer who is more trouble than he is worth.
Why allow a cat to turn you into a maid? If you allow the cat to live with you—giving him the run of the house, feeding him, and caring for him with toys, treats, and regular trips to the veterinarian—it’s only fair that your furry companion live on your terms, behaving in ways that make your life, as well as his own, a little easier and a lot more enjoyable.
The 21-Day Toilet Training Program
As you will discover in the following pages, it’s easy to prevent bad habits before they develop by teaching your cat to give up his litter box entirely and use the bathroom toilet—a simple, sanitary, odor-free solution that any normal, healthy cat between six months and ten years of age can master—using a method called the 21-Day Program. If you take the time to toilet train your cat, the temporary inconvenience of training will pay enormous rewards. Not only will your cat be happier and healthier using a toilet instead of a box, he will be a joy to live with for the rest of his days.
But before you can train your cat, you must first train yourself. No matter what kind of cat you own or how old he is, you should take the time to learn what makes your cat tick and how cats develop, as well as how their mothers raise them in the wild. This will go a long way toward understanding your cat’s inner nature and will dispel many misconceptions that owners have about their cats. As you will see in chapter 1, cats are taught to dig and bury their wastes—as well as most other “catlike” behaviors, such as grooming, prowling, stalking, and hunting—as kittens. Kittens and cats are adaptable and able (note that able does not necessarily mean willing) of imitating any behavior that is within their capabilities. In fact, research has shown that they are able to learn virtually anything their “mother” teaches them, whether the teacher is their natural mother, another cat, or even a member of another species—you.
Before you can toilet train your cat, you must first ensure that he has been thoroughly litter trained. Therefore, in chapter 2 you will find a simple, foolproof method for litter training any cat, whether you have a young kitten or an older cat living indoors for the first time. In chapter 3 you will get a cat’s-eye view of the litter box, and a glimpse at exactly what is used to make cat litter, with an analysis of the potential health risks associated with a material that most cats ingest nearly every day of their lives. As you might suspect, there are many reasons why no sensible pet owner should allow their cat to use chemically treated cat litter.
Once the foundation has been set, in chapter 4 you will find a simple, step-by-step procedure for toilet training any litter-trained cat in approximately 21 days, using nothing more exotic than a litter box, a pile of magazines, a roll of plastic wrap, and a little common sense. If you follow the program closely, paying strict attention to the timing sequence, you will ensure your cat’s success. Of course toilet training, like any other skill, takes time to practice.
By following the guidelines offered in this book, you will not only have a well-behaved cat who works for his living, you will have a friend whom you can incorporate into your home and make a real member of your family.
Aside from ridding you of anxiety—that horrible feeling when guests are about to arrive (“Did we clean the litter box today? Did the cat make a mess again?”)—and the problem of recurring illness associated with litter boxes, toilet training spares you the trouble and expense of keeping a litter box always underfoot. It pays off in good old dollars and cents you would otherwise spend in buying litter, litter pans, and cleansers, as well as in potential savings in veterinarian’s bills.
The Results: Spectacular
Toilet training also means that your feline friend can take care of himself in your absence—as long as you keep an adequate supply of food and water in the kitchen and the bathroom door open (with the toilet lid up!). He can even go traveling with you, without you having to worry about having a litter box around. After all, toilets are more or less the same wherever you go. Once the cat learns to use your facilities at home, it will be a simple matter to show him where to go when you’re away (lifting him up, if necessary, to make sure he knows what you have in mind). As peculiar as it sounds, toilet training works anywhere, as long as the cat is properly trained.
Ultimately, a toilet-trained cat is both healthier and happier, with a gleam in his eye and an extra bounce in his step. The territorial stress associated with the smell of his litter box has been lifted like a giant cloud of pollution, eliminating the source of many of his most basic behavioral problems. He’s happier. You’re happier. And instead of being a burden, your cat is a source of pride and enjoyment that reveals itself every day. Isn’t that what it’s all about?