Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Anne Marie Chaker described the trials and tribulations of potty training her cats. For the uninitiated, this usually involves buying a kit that acclimates your cat to climbing onto the toilet seat to take care of business. Results are not guaranteed. Some cats “get it” fairly quickly and can be trained in a matter of weeks. This was the case with the first of Chaker’s cats. However, her second cat — Mr Tibbs — hasn’t been so quick to catch on. She’s been training him for a year. (Give this woman a “Patience of Job” award!)

My mom had a Siamese who potty trained himself. Yep, out of the blue, he started using the toilet. She eventually had to dissuade him from the practice because while his intentions were good, his aim was not. She’d make lights-out trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night and sit down, only to realize that the seat was wet. Or worse.

Why spend a year or more toilet training your cat? Well, it’s always nice when visitors to your home step over the threshold and don’t realize at first whiff that you have cats. Even more compelling, it’s a money saver: the average annual cost of litter per cat is around $100. It’s also an environmentally friendly practice, keeping cat waste out of landfills, and, in the case of clay-based clumping litters, reducing strip mining*.

Chaker points out that there are potential downsides:

Litter used in the training process can sometimes clog the drain. A contraption that fits in the toilet will likely mean giving up one of your bathrooms while kitty is being trained. (Expect initial misses and messes.) And be prepared to devote some time to the project: I have spent hours in the bathroom, just me and my cat. Perhaps more important, however, feline toilet training raises concerns among some animal behaviorists about whether it is really the best thing for the animal.

Some animal-behavior experts find the toilet-training trend baffling, if not somewhat disturbing, arguing it is unnatural and potentially harmful to the cat. Already, a litter box is a step away from the feline’s natural proclivity to eliminate in nature. “Cats are so sensitive to any changes in their litter-box routine” and can easily be turned off from the box, says Katherine Miller, a certified applied animal behaviorist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That can lead to house soiling, which is a bear to correctand the top behavioral reason that cats are left at shelters, Dr. Miller says.

Dan Estep, who runs an animal-behavior consulting practice with his wife in Littleton, Colo., says he has had a number of clients over the years who trained their cats to use the toilet, but the animals eventually “started eliminating inappropriately.” At that point, he says, “it can be really difficult to get them back in the litter box.”

Others disagree. “You’ll wear out before he will,” Ellen Whitely, a retired veterinarian in Guadalupita, N.M., told me when I explained to her the travails of training Mr. Tibbs, who has already passed the one-year mark of his training and still has a way to go. She compared Mr. Tibbs’s behavior to how children are with their parents, when they test them to get what they want. The message: Don’t give in. “Certainly, it’s doable,” she said.

In Mr Tibb’s case, “doable” is probably at least a few months (or years) off, as you can see in the videos that accompany the article. Mr Tibbs is no potty-training valedictorian, though he has figured out how to get bonita flakes out of the deal. (You go, Mr Tibbs!)

Potty training is most easily accomplished in a household with only one or two cats, and ideally, more than one bathroom. The younger the cat, the easier it will be to train her. Obese cats and senior cats are generally not good candidates, due to the dexterity required.

If you think your cats might be potty-trainable, the following products facilitate the training process:

The CitiKitty Cat Toilet Training Kit includes the CitiKitty Specially Designed Training Seat, CitiKitty Training Insert, Training Guide, Insider Tips and CitiNip Premium Grade Catnip. CitiKitty offers the world’s most gradual transition process of any cat toilet training device on the market. The newly featured Training Insert enables you to move forward and backward in the transition process or train your cat in new home.

The Litter Kwitter Toilet Training System claims to train your cat to use a human toilet in 8 weeks or less through its award-winning 3-Step Training System. The Litter Kwitter(R) and the training protocol were developed with animal behaviorists, vets and cat breeders to make sure they work with the cat’s natural instincts.

The Toilet Trained Cat will guide you, step-by-step, through the toilet training process. You’ll find out:

  • The psychology of cat potty behavior: what compels them to go where they go
  • What you need to do to train yourself before you get started, and the all-important 4 P’s of toilet training
  • Which direction your cat should face when she’s on the toilet, and how you can teach her this… chances are, you’ll be surprised at what you discover here!
  • How to effectively communicate with your cat so that he/she understands what you want
  • How the type of toilet seat in your bathroom will make a difference in your cat’s training this is key to getting your cat to use the toilet on a consistent basis!
  • and much more!

To find out more, check out Chakar’s excellent article, What’s New, Pussycat? Using the Toilet.

Please share your success (or not) stories in the comments!

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* There are pros and cons to depositing cat waste in landfills vs. waterways. For more info, read 10 Ways to Reduce Fluffys Carbon Pawprint .

[LINK: online.wsj.com]