How do I potty train my cat?

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 toilet in a litter pan. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Select an appropriate pan. The pan 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 your pan. 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.
  • Let your cat explore the pan. When your new cat arrives in its forever home, it 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 animal seems relaxed and calm, place it in the pan and let it 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 pan at these times, so it 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. Fee free to reward your pet for using the pan, and it will soon get the idea.
  • Don’t punish accidents. During training, toileting accidents are common. But unlike dogs, cats don’t readily associate your stress with their behavior, and scolding your animal may increase its anxiety and reluctance to use the pan.
  • 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

Training cats to use a human toilet has been the subject of some controversy—but all agree it does require patience. Here are a few steps to make the process easier:

  • Move your cat’s litter pan next to the toilet. This will help your pet associate the bathroom (and later the toilet itself) with urinating and defecating.
  • Gradually raise the litter pan to toilet height. Each time you elevate the pan, remove a bit of the litter. The goal is to have a nearly litter-free pan at toilet level.
  • Gradually move the pan closer to the toilet. By the end of the process the pan should sit atop the toilet seat.
  • Replace your pet’s litter pan with a training box. Check online or ask your vet to recommend a training box brand. The box should be stable and sturdy enough to hold your cat’s weight easily.
    Add flushable litter to the pan. As your cat adapts to the pan, it’s also adapting to the toilet. Each time your cat goes, simply flush the contents of the pan away. From here, your cat should be able to make the transition to toilet use only.
  • Flush the toilet. After each use of the toilet by your cat, flush.

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 its life as a stray, it may be accustomed to toileting in soil and so may be reluctant to use a 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 tine. 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.

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