Once the training phase is completed and you settle into a new routine, maintaining your toilet-trained cat will be simplicity itself, so long as you give him the same access to the bathroom as you did his litter box and periodic praise for a job well done.
For households with more than one bathroom, it’s wise to keep all bathroom doors ajar and toilet seats ready just in case your cat feels the urge. Even when trained using one bathroom, most cats eventually realize that all toilets are more or less the same. Given time, most cats will eventually claim every bathroom in the house. This even extends to using other people’s toilets!
Yet not even the most desperate cat can pass through a closed bathroom door or lift a toilet cover that someone has left down. So to ensure complete access, it might be wise to post a sign in every bathroom as a reminder to family—and especially guests (babysitters, neighbors, housekeepers, and others) who might want to use the facilities—that they are sharing the house with a toilet-trained cat. Remember, the most common reason for a cat’s failing to use the toilet once he has been trained is because someone failed to leave the door open.
If you should leave the door open but accidentally leave the toilet cover down, don’t be surprised if your cat jumps up on the next available porcelain-covered object—such as your bathtub or basin. Certainly, the cat’s using the basin is preferable to his using the floor. But allowing him to do so more than occasionally is dangerous! Not only does it leave a telltale scent that might cause the cat to return to that spot, it diminishes the “chaining” behavior that you worked so hard to achieve.
Even the cleanest and best-trained cat will occasionally break training under certain circumstances. If this happens, try to track down the cause and correct the circumstance before it changes the cat’s new behavior. Always look for the obvious first.
Physical reasons. Assuming that the cat has complete access to the toilet, the most frequent cause of changing behavior is physical. Obviously, no animal will perform as expected if he’s physically ill. Most owners assume that if their cat is sick, they will detect it before the problem becomes serious. But this is not always the case.
Some of the most common conditions are called feline lower urinary tract diseases (FLUTD), which can include bladder inflammations, bladder stones, or urinary blockage. The latter, urinary blockage, is difficult to spot in its early stages but is a painful condition that starts with a simple infection and escalates with remarkable (and deadly) speed. Unable to urinate, the cat’s kidneys shut down within hours, causing poisonous wastes to build up in the cat’s bloodstream. Unless it is swiftly removed by a veterinarian, a urinary blockage (termed “plugged penis syndrome” since it is more prevalent in males) can result in severe internal damage and even death.
If caught in time, however, blockage shouldn’t be fatal. Your cat will need expert medical care, as well as a possible change in diet—consult with your veterinarian. Once he has recovered, he will more than likely return to the toilet as though nothing had happened, with little or no retraining.
Psychological reasons. If your cat fails to use the john once in a while and isn’t physically ill, there’s no reason to panic. Possibly he’s just a little under the weather. More likely, the cat is upset or preoccupied about something and has lost his concentration—or is retaliating against something that is not to his liking. Aside from refusing to eat, the most common sign of emotional distress in a cat is stopping his normal housebroken behavior.
It’s quite common for a cat to express his displeasure or distress by leaving a deposit in significant places: next to the new baby’s crib, perhaps, or in the foyer of your new home. He may also deliberately defecate or urinate shortly after he has been disciplined as a way of showing his displeasure or defiance. If this happens, it’s important to remain calm. When dealing with a cat, it’s never wise to react without considering your options. Quite often, an intentional slipup is nothing more than a momentary reaction, a sign of aggression that passes like a dark cloud. If so, your cat will quickly return to using the toilet, not only because he knows how to do it, but because he prefers it.
Remember that cats are very sensitive to their environment. The long absence (or death) of someone in the family, the birth of a baby, the acquisition or removal of another pet, or even the presence of someone new in the household can add a layer of stress that causes some cats to go haywire for a day or two. Any sudden change in the household (such as a large, noisy party) or sudden trauma can cause a cat to stop using the toilet temporarily.
Yet by giving you this reaction, your cat might be asking for extra attention, privacy, or consolation. Should you suspect a psychological cause for a slipup, try to provide your cat with all the kind words and physical assurances that you can muster. While many cats become the center of attention when they first enter a household, sometimes the bloom leaves the rose after a year or two. If this should happen, your cat might be desperate for attention and unable to express it. This, plus emotional or territorial stress you’re not even aware of, may cause him to seek attention in the only way he knows.
If misbehavior persists, remember these tips for preventing future accidents:
1. Check with a vet to rule out bladder infections and any other physical ailments. Once detected, never wait for a physical problem to “pass in the night.” Your cat may pass away instead.
2. Consider changing or improving your cat’s environment. Get some new toys, a new scratching post, or, better still, clear some space that the cat can call his own. A moderately high bookshelf, four or five feet from the floor, for example, can be a comfortable place to rest while a cat watches his “territory.” Any way that you can expand your cat’s territory will help alleviate stress.
3. If the behavior persists, take the cat to the bathroom immediately after he eats and place a few drops of unscented ammonia (which smells like urine) in the toilet.
4. Remove urine from the carpet or floor by using a commercial product (such as Nature’s Miracle) or plain white vinegar followed by club soda or seltzer to neutralize the odor. If he persists, place his food dish directly over the spot.
Even though cats undergo many of the same physical, chemical, and behavioral changes people do, many owners fail to notice that their cats are aging until they are truly “old.” This is usually because old age does not affect a cat’s behavior as radically as it does a human’s. Unlike us, cats enjoy a prolonged middle age, eating as greedily at fifteen as they did when they were three. If your cat is properly exercised and fed, his decline might be so gradual that you won’t even notice until it is quite advanced.
Though it’s impossible to estimate the life span of the “average” domestic cat, a general rule of thumb suggests that a healthy cat should live between fifteen and eighteen years and begin to suffer from genuine “old age” only after twelve or thirteen years. A rough comparison of equivalent ages would look something like this:
By the time he is fifteen, you will probably notice your cat spending longer periods asleep and perhaps taking less care of his grooming. But don’t look for your aging cat to go gray in the way that most humans and dogs do. On the contrary, many cats do the opposite. For example, Siamese and Himalayan cats, whose dark markings (around the ears, nose, paws, and tail) depend on these parts of the body being at a lower temperature than the rest, frequently turn dark all over as poorer circulation lowers skin temperature as a whole.
The fact that older cats tend to feel the cold more than those in the prime of life is generally linked to reduced agility and increased indolence—all of which are part of the natural aging process.
But just because your cat is advancing to his brittle years doesn’t mean he can’t continue to practice his skills at the toilet. In fact, toilet-trained cats tend to stay younger and keep their jumping and balancing skills far longer than ordinary box-trained felines for the same reason that joggers enter old age with more spark in their step than sedentary adults.
Indeed, many toilet-trained cats have been known to use the toilet without interruption well into their fifteenth or sixteenth year. Some become so set in their ways that they resent any change, which is ideal as far as toilet training is concerned. Eventually, however, even the most determined feline may need a little help. Usually, jumping is the first skill to diminish. Therefore, you might make the jump a little easier by arranging some steps next to the john.
Even if your cat can make the leap, he might prefer not to do so merely to answer the call of nature. He may also need to use the bathroom more frequently. Should this become a real problem, it might be a kindness to reintroduce a litter box somewhere else in the home.
Living with an Older Toilet-Trained Cat
Being aware of the changes that come with age can make a cat’s final years both happier and healthier with just a little extra care. Remember, nothing ages a cat faster than stress. One of the principle benefits of toilet training is to remove the largest element of stress in a cat’s life—his litter box—not to mention the various chemicals in commercial litter and parasites and diseases associated with the cat’s own wastes, all of which affect the immune system, leaving him vulnerable to various opportunistic infections. But as the aging process takes its toll, physical and emotional stress can become the real problem, and, in extreme cases, can even deliver a death blow.
Situations that upset the older cat, such as long separations, should also be avoided if possible. Moving from one home to another, especially to a temporary home recently occupied by another cat, can be extremely traumatic for an older cat. To a twenty-year-old cat, all alone in a strange place with the smell of another cat that he can neither see nor hear, such a shock can be debilitating.
Once the cat passes the age of ten or twelve, high-quality, nourishing food becomes extremely important—as long as you don’t overfeed him. Because they are more sedentary, older cats have a much lower metabolic rate than younger ones.
In old age, most mammals appear to “shrink”—naturally losing up to a third of their lean body tissue. Many cat owners see this shrinkage as a sign of hunger and feed their older cats more when they should be feeding them less. As a result, lean tissue is replaced by fat, producing another—more subtle but equally fatal—form of stress.
On the other hand, an aging cat may refuse food. As they age, many cats lose their sense of smell. This is dangerous, because cats will generally not eat when they cannot smell. Thus, it is wise to occasionally stimulate the cat’s nose by seasoning his food with a bit of strong fish, increased vitamin and mineral supplements, and a teaspoon of butter to maintain a healthy coat (check with your veterinarian first to see if these options work for your cat).
With each passing year, it becomes more difficult for a cat to groom himself for the half hour it takes to reach every spot on his body. Why not lighten his burden with a daily grooming? A simple brushing takes only minutes. Not only will it stimulate his coat, it will make him much more responsive. Nail clipping, as usual, should be done by your veterinarian.
Thus, with proper diet, love, and a little extra care, your cat’s older years can (and should) be the best years of his life.