Q: What’s the easiest way to train a cat to use a litter pan? And can I train my cat to use a toilet?
A: Training cats toileting manners is essential—there are some easy steps you can follow to help ensure that your cat understands the rules.
Adopting a new pet is both a joy and a responsibility. If you’ve recently adopted a kitten or an adult cat that has been a stray or feral animal, they’re probably not quite sure what you expect when it comes to toileting. Let’s look at the options for both litter and potty training your cat.
Litter training your cat
If you’re like most cat owners, you’re probably planning on having your new pet use the bathroom in a litter box. Here are some tips to get you started:
Select an appropriate box. The box should have sides high enough to prevent spillage, yet low enough that your kitten can step in and out easily. We recommend an uncovered pan for first-time learners, as it may be less intimidating than the igloo-style covered options.
Find a permanent place for their box. Cats, like people, are creatures of habit, and they learn patterns quickly. Select a place where your cat can easily access (spare washroom, basement, etc.). Once your pet learns where the litter is, they’re going to associate that place with toileting, so avoid moving the pan if possible.
Select a litter. There are lots of cat litter brands on the market, each offering different features (clumping, odor control, etc.). Select one that suits your needs or ask your vet to recommend a brand. The number of litter pans should equal one more than the number of cats in your home. So, for example, if you have 2 cats, you should have 3 pans.
See also: our favorite sustainable cat litter brands.
Let your cat explore the pan. When your new cat arrives in its forever home, they may be skittish or uneasy at first. Be patient, this is normal. Your cat will likely take a little while to get to know its new surroundings. When your new addition seems relaxed and calm, place them in the box and let them sniff around.
Get to know your cat’s toileting habits. After meals, naps, or playtime, you may notice your cat sniffing or pawing the ground, or assuming a squatting position. Bring your pet to the box at these times, so they will get to associate the litter pan with toileting.
Use positive reinforcement. Most cats are food-motivated, so a small treat or tasty reward can go a long way toward reinforcing desired behaviors. Feel free to reward your pet for using their little box and they will soon understand what they should do.
Don’t punish accidents. During training, toileting accidents are common. Avoid scolding your cat as it may increase their anxiety and reluctance to use the box.
Scoop and clean the pan regularly. Cats are known for their cleanliness and their finicky ways. A soiled or unmaintained pan can result in your cat toileting elsewhere in the house. Pans should be scooped daily, and the litter replaced once or twice weekly.
Toilet training your cat
There are differing opinions on whether it is humane to potty train a cat to use a human toilet instead of a litter box. Here are some key considerations on both sides of this issue:
Eliminates messy litter boxes and constant cleaning for the owner
May appeal to some cats' natural curiosity and preference for water
Can be cleaner for cats who don't always bury their waste in litter
Cuts down on plastic litter waste and expenses for owners
Concerns about ethics:
Going against a cat's innate instincts to use loose substrate
Difficulty transitioning to the toilet for some cats causes stress
Risk of urinary issues if your cat doesn't fully void bladder on toilet
No containment of waste odors like a litter box provides
Lack of privacy and territorial comfort on a human toilet
Falls risk if cat jumps up to toilet seat unsteadily
While some cats may take well to toilet training, it likely goes strongly against most cats' natural tendencies and could cause unnecessary struggles, stress, or health issues.
Requiring a cat to use the toilet instead of a litter box for an owner's convenience rather than considering the cat's needs first is arguably not the most humane choice, and we should always try to keep our pet's best interest in mind.
There are exceptions to training cats for toilets, but in general traditional litter boxes are likely the healthier and more comfortable option for cats long-term.
So while viable in some specific cases, cat toilet training should not be seen as an obligatory or assumed practice out of welfare concerns for the animal. Litter boxes better serve most cats' instincts.
Other considerations for potty training your cat
Most cats take to litter or potty training without too much trouble, but there are always exceptions. If, for example, you adopt an adult cat that has spent their life as a stray, they may be accustomed to using the bathroom in soil and so may be reluctant to use a litter pan. That’s okay!
You can start by filling the pan with a mixture of soil and litter, and gradually increase the proportion of litter over time. Your cat will likely continue to use the pan without noticing the transition.
Reluctance to use a litter pan may also be indicative of a medical condition, such as a blocked urethra, which can be quite serious if left untreated.
Cats also sometimes toilet outside their pans as a way of expressing emotional issues (e.g., reacting to a new pet in the home). If your pet persistently refuses to toilet in the pan or seems to have discomfort when toileting, contact your vet asap.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.