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Wondering How to Train a Cat to Use the Toilet? What to Know Before You Ever Start

Plus, learn one of the most surprising sources of cat toilet training knowledge


While it’s hard to choose between cats and dogs, one of the biggest advantages cats have is definitely their ability to go to the bathroom indoors. The fact that cats are capable of using the litter box from kittenhood is pretty amazing, when you think about it, but there are also some annoyances that come with this, among them stinky smells and litter getting tracked from the box to the bathroom floor (or, even worse, other rooms in the house!).

If a cat can use the litter box, you might wonder if they could go one step further and upgrade to doing their business in the toilet. Many people have tried to figure out how to train a cat to use the toilet over the years, with wildly varying degrees of success. Here’s a look at how to toilet train your cat — and why experts say it might not be worth trying.

The surprising origins of cat toilet training

For as long as humans have had cats and toilets, they’ve wondered if there might be some way to get the cat on the toilet. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of cat toilet training, but over half a century ago, there was a surprising advocate for getting cats on the can: The legendary jazz musician Charles Mingus. The bassist first wrote up instructions for how he trained his tuxedo cat (fittingly named Nightlife) to use the toilet in the ’50s and issued an official how-to pamphlet, The Charles Mingus CAT-alog for Toilet Training Your Cat, in 1972.

White cat with dark tail sitting on toilet

Mingus’ cat toilet training technique is built around four complicated steps (available to read here) involving training your cat to go in a modified cardboard box filled with newspaper rather than litter, moving it closer and closer to the toilet, making further modifications to the box, and then putting the box atop the toilet and working up to a point when you can get rid of the box altogether, and your cat will (hypothetically) go to use the toilet on their own.

Related: How to Clean Cat Pee From a Carpet + Why Scrubbing Actually Makes the Odor Worse

In the years since Mingus published his guide, toilet training cats has come up repeatedly. Robert De Niro had a spoiled toilet-trained cat, Jinx, in Meet the Parents, and cats who can use the toilet have frequently gone viral. There are also products meant to help train your cat to use the toilet, and guides can be found all over the internet.

Should I try training my cat to use the toilet?

While you may be tempted to toss the litter box and try toilet training your cat, especially after seeing funny videos of cats who hop on the loo like it’s no big deal, experts advise against it. “I would never train a cat to use my toilet. But I have been called for help by many people who tried to toilet train their cat and now their cat is urinating around their home, which is just one reason I don’t recommend attempting this,” Rover cat behavior expert Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado says emphatically.

So why shouldn’t you toilet train your cat? Dr. Delgado explains that there are four main reasons:

  1. It goes against a cat’s natural impulses. “Cats have very specific behaviors they perform when they urinate and defecate that are instinctive to them — to eliminate in a loose, sandy material, and to dig in that sand before and cover their waste afterwards,” she says. “When we force cats to use a human toilet, we take away their ability to express these natural behaviors.”
  2. Toilets aren’t designed for feline use. “Going on the toilet requires cats to balance unnaturally while they eliminate, which can be uncomfortable.” She says, adding, “For older kitties or cats with joint disease, you are also asking them to hop up onto something small and slippery just to go to the bathroom (and yes, some cats DO fall in! That is not a good experience for them).”
  3. It can hide potential health issues. “Maintaining your cat’s litter box allows you to monitor them for any changes in litter habits that can indicate a medical problem (like diarrhea, or more frequent urination),” and you no longer have this opportunity if your cat uses the toilet, she points out.
  4. Toilets are not always available to cats. “If you are using the toilet when your cat wants to use it, you risk the possibility that your cat will have to go when the bathroom is off limits, increasing the risk that they might look for a better option,” she says. You’ll also have to keep the seat up at all times, which is easy to forget.

Dr. Delgado notes that “occasionally a cat will offer this behavior spontaneously, and if that’s okay with you, then that is fine,” but she’s generally against any toilet training, as are most vets and cat behavior pros. As she puts it, “Do you really want to share your toilet with your cat?”

Cat on toilet

If you still insist on trying out toilet training, make sure to get it okayed by your vet first, and be prepared for many accidents and moments of agitation. Ultimately, the answer to the question of how to train a cat to use the toilet is “don’t do it.” Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and if the litter box ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Read on for more about cats!

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What to Do When Your Cat Won’t Eat — and Why His Whiskers May Be to Blame

Why Cats Chew on Plastic + Expert Explains How To Stop This Pesky Behavior

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