Don’t cats have a compulsion to dig elsewhere when the litter box is removed?
This varies from one cat to the next. While some owners notice their cats pawing around the houseplants more than usual, others see no such reaction. According to researchers, the feline compulsion to dig loose dirt is an autonomic response associated with the smell of urine and feces. The reaction is literally hardwired into their brains. Indeed, the same response is triggered by the smell of certain foods. Remove the smell and you also remove the desire to dig.
How do I know my cat is the right age to be toilet trained?
Any cat between the ages of six months and ten or eleven years can be toilet trained. Generally, the younger they are, the more quickly they learn. So don’t make the mistake of putting off training until the cat is more “mature.” At six months of age, your cat is equipped with all of the brainpower he’s ever likely to have. But if your cat is past his prime, don’t despair. Old habits may die hard, but they do pass eventually. With a little extra time and practice, even the most stubborn old cat will come around.
Doesn’t the sound of rushing water make a cat uneasy?
Hardly. Compared to their ancestors, who lived for millions of years in North Africa and the Middle East, where oases are few and far between, modern cats love the sight and sound of water. Stories about the cat’s love of water abound. For example, the author Carl Van Vechten had a celebrated Persian named Ariel who enjoyed jumping into the bathtub, headfirst, every time someone took a bath. Certain breeds, such as the Turkish Van—known for its fluffy white coat, large paws, and bushy amber tail—not only swim, but actually fish for their dinner using their paws and teeth.
Can a cat learn to flush the toilet when he’s finished?
Don’t count on it. Unlike using the toilet, flushing does not involve any of the cat’s standard paw or body movements. Besides, the average toilet requires more pressure on the lever than the average cat can muster. However, if your cat is picky about going to the bathroom in a used toilet, you’ll find touchless auto-flush kits available online, starting at around $50. Otherwise, plan on flushing the john yourself.
How does pregnancy affect a toilet-trained cat?
It is common for a pregnant female to stop using the toilet from the time she begins to “show” (approximately midway into her pregnancy) until the time her kittens are fully weaned and on their own. Not only is it easier for her to use the box when she’s pregnant, she will need the box to teach her kittens the ancient skills of digging and burying that all kittens need to learn. Therefore, it is essential that you make a litter box available as soon as you realize that your cat is pregnant, giving her ample time to decide when she should begin using it again.
Just as in humans, pregnancy in cats sets off a chain reaction that changes the mother’s “normal” behavior patterns. Though the details of this process are not fully understood, pregnancy seems to unlock an ancient memory within the mother’s brain, causing her to behave in ways that resemble mothers in the wild. From the moment she delivers her kittens, many of her actions—such as nursing, cleaning her kittens, moving the nest, and dragging “prey” to them, even when it comes from a can—are consistent with the ancient patterns that all cats follow, both in human homes and in the wild.
Can I retrain a mother with her kittens?
As long as the mother was toilet trained prior to her pregnancy, training her kittens with her will be easier than training the kittens on their own. Deciding how soon to introduce toilet training will depend on how many kittens you decide to keep. Rather than train kittens that you plan to give away, wait until all “extra” kittens are gone before reintroducing the 21-Day Program.
During the fifth or sixth month, you can begin to raise the box slowly, making sure that the kittens follow their mother’s lead. (Since training is nothing new to the mother, she should take to the program immediately.) By watching their mother, the kittens will follow her every action—assuming they are large enough to jump the full fourteen or so inches to reach the toilet seat. Should you sense any resistance as you eliminate the litter in the final phase, proceed slowly.
Can a cat that goes outdoors also be toilet trained?
Both wild cats and free-ranging domestics define their territory using their scent glands and wastes as markers. Thus, every time your cat ventures outdoors, he explores and marks new areas by face rubbing, clawing, and, later, by urinating and defecating. In this way, the cat’s territory gradually expands until it encompasses not only your own backyard, but your neighbors’ as well (assuming they do not have any cats or dogs). Once this territory is established, the cat maintains it by leaving his wastes in a variety of places, forming a pattern not unlike the scent barrier that feral cats use to protect and orient themselves in the wild.
Cats that venture out on a regular schedule tend to use their litter boxes less (often much less) than they would if they were confined indoors. Therefore, unless you live in a climate that keeps your cat indoors for long periods of time (such as the Pacific Northwest, where it can rain for days or weeks at a time, or Minnesota, where winter lasts up to eight months a year), he will probably prefer to go outdoors rather than stay inside and use a litter box.
Generally speaking, a cat that does not use a litter box regularly will not take to toilet training. Yet there are exceptions (see here). Therefore, cats that move from the country to the city will accept toilet training only after they have been thoroughly litter trained.
What are the chances of “catching something” from my toilet-trained cat?
Whether toilet-trained or not, any cat that goes outdoors or spends time with infected cats or dogs (or humans) can catch fleas, parasites, or ringworm. In general, however, these ailments are much more easily transmitted via bedclothes, furniture, and carpeting. The likelihood of “catching something” from your toilet seat is extremely low.
How Do I Talk to My Cat?
“Most people do not realize the effect they have on their pet every time they open their mouths,” says Brian Kilcommons, a pet trainer and the author of Good Owners, Great Cats. Of course, cats do not understand English (or any language except their own). Nonetheless, each time you speak, your pet quickly registers the tone of your voice and responds accordingly. “For this reason,” adds Kilcommons, “it’s important to use your voice properly when toilet training your cat.”
To this end, Kilcommons suggests that owners try to master three different ways of speaking, each with its own intonation and function:
Your upper register should be reserved for praise, delivered with enthusiasm, the kinder and more heartfelt the better. Whenever your cat does something well, give him a verbal pat on the back (“Good kitten!”) by raising the tone of your voice, without lapsing into baby talk. “The higher your intonation, the more your cat will respond,” says Kilcommons, “assuming that you don’t go overboard.” Try to make eye contact when praising your cat. This way, when he hears your voice, your cat will look up.
Your normal or middle register should be reserved for commands. Try to limit the number of commands to a handful of words—such as “come,” “down,” and “stop”—making each command as short and distinct as possible. Be emphatic. “When giving a command,” says Kilcommons, “you’re not negotiating or pleading with the cat, you’re telling him what you want in a direct, nonthreatening manner.” This way, you eventually teach the cat to respond to the sound of your voice. “If you give a command and the cat does not respond, be prepared to enforce your instruction gently.” He adds, “Then praise him warmly using your higher intonation, offering a gentle stroke to help reinforce the new behavior. That way, you give the cat incentive to respond the next time.”
Your lower register should be reserved only for extreme displeasure. Remember, there’s no need to yell to get your message across. Simply lower your voice, say “stop it,” then praise him when he responds.
Delivered with the proper conviction, followed by immediate corrective action (but no hitting, ever), the words “stop it” have a magical effect on most cats. “The sound is both sharp and distinct,” says Kilcommons. “This makes it easy to recognize amid the blizzard of talk that most cats prefer to ignore.” Yet it’s important not to overuse “stop it,” particularly when toilet training. After all, when a cat in training does something that is almost (but not quite) correct, saying “stop it” may cause him to stop training altogether.
Another tip: “Don’t repeat a command over and over, hoping for a response,” says Kilcommons. “Instead, use clear, one-word commands with your middle tone, enforce the command firmly but gently if needed, then praise with your higher tone, followed by a gentle stroke.” In general, you should praise a cat more than you correct.