Lessons I Learned from Potty-Training My Cat

Life lessons I learned while potty training a cat.
Yes, you read that correctly.

My husband and I potty-trained our cat. Well, she just turned 9 months old, so I guess Piper’s technically still a kitten.

Why would we do such a thing?

Well, both of us love Piper immensely…but we hate litter boxes. If listing the things we have the most disdain for, litter boxes are pretty close to the top.

Plus, did you know that pregnant women are discouraged from touching used litter, because it can carry bacteria that causes birth defects??

My husband and I would love to have a large family one day, and the thought of that kind of bacteria living in our house makes my skin crawl.

So our solution was to go full-on Meet the Parents and potty-train Piper.

As you can imagine, it was quite the adventure, and after reflecting on the journey into absurdity, I’ve come out the other side with a greater perspective.

These life lessons are 100% cat-poop inspired.

  1. Patience with others’ learning curves
  2. Certain things just don’t come easily for others. Yes, in this case, we’re talking about our feline, but the notion still holds water.

    Pottying in an actual toilet isn’t an innate skill that cats have. (Side note: can someone please explain why litter boxes are second nature to them, though?? I still don’t understand.)

    So why the heck would I expect her to just ‘get it’? If her brain operates similarly to a human’s, she has to literally rewire her brain before making a habit out of toilet-going. And that’s obviously going to take some time.

    As the oldest child and a perfectionist, I’m not typically known for my patience — I like things prioritized, done well, and completed quickly — but watching Piper transition from a normal litter-box cat to one that squats on the toilet with only a few misses along the way, I’ve gained great respect and patience for others who are actively trying to accomplish their goals, however long that’s taking.

    Even if there’s a learning curve, the deliberate, concentrated effort meant she was pushing up that mental mountain (at our request, obviously), and to that end, I’ve never felt more pet-proud.

  3. Direct communication is always best
  4. Ok — this one I’ve held true for the bulk of my life. But it was reinforced through this experience.

    Granted, a cat’s first language is not English, so communicating that something is ‘wrong’ through a noise and water squirt bottle was her dialect of direct communication.

    Nonetheless, honesty is the best policy when you want to get things done or take steps forward.

    Piper wasn’t going to learn that missing the toilet wasn’t what we wanted unless we communicated that effectively to her.

    So we praised her when she made it into the bowl, and audibly “tsch”-ed (à la Cesar Millan) then re-positioned her when she missed.

    And this way all three of us got to our goal in the most efficient and effective manner, sans any hurt feelings or dirty-litter hands!

  5. Anything is possible with effort and love
  6. Learning can be hard (see Lesson 1 😉). But Piper didn’t give up.

    I mean…she did have to 💩 and the toilet was her humans’ preferred option.

    But she could have easily run the other way and stopped trying.

    It did take effort — hours of us watching her relieve herself to make sure she made the toilet, being ready with squirt bottle in one hand and treat in the other.

    Everything I’ve read about humans’ motivation by if-this-then-that conditions supports that the stick-and-carrot way of rewarding behavior doesn’t work.

    But she’s a cat. And lucky for us, cats are motivated by treats. So she kept putting in the effort, we kept feeding her the treats, and everybody won.

    She has seemingly rewired her brain to know that the toilet is her go-to spot, and Cat-Mom and -Dad don’t have litter to clean out.

    Cats can poop in toilets, and you can accomplish your dreams. Anything really is possible.

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