Toilet Training Your Cat…Flushing Feces May Be Harmful to Wildlife

Thu, Nov 13, 2008

Litter & Hygiene

There are lots of cute products and books out there for teaching you how to toilet train your cat, so I sat down today to write about some of them as part of Litter Week. But as I researched, I found some very troubling information that I have to share with you.

Flushing Cat Feces *may be* Killing Sea Otters

It’s a complicated issue. Here’s how I understand it:

  • Cat feces can* contain a dangerous parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, the same parasite that can cause birth defects in humans, which is why pregnant women are warned not to come in contact with cat feces.
  • This parasite is not destroyed by sewage treatment and eventually makes its way into the ocean.
  • Once in the ocean the parasite sinks to the bottom where it is consumed by creatures like crabs and sea stars, which are in turn eaten by sea otters. Sea otters are particularly susceptible to the parasite which causes brain damage and death.
  • This is of particular concern on the California coast where the sea otter population that was once 15,000 has dwindled to 2,500. Research has shown that “in 17 percent of dead otters examined by the state Department of Fish and Game, the parasite was the primary cause of death” (source: Sacramento Bee, April 2, 2006).
  • Flushing cat feces is not the only contributor to the problem. Feces from outdoor cats and feral cats can also make its way into the sewage system.

Please take this seriously

It is said that sea otters act as excellent sentinels, in the same way that canaries once did in mines, signaling larger problems in the ecosystem. So even if you think that by flushing cat feces you can’t possibly be affecting the sea otters in California, please think again.

What can you do to help?

Don’t flush cat feces. Recent legislation passed in California requiring labeling on all flushable cat litter warning consumers about the dangers of flushing cat feces. Instead, it is recommended that you deposit the feces in the trash. To minimize impact on the landfill, use a biodegradable litter and biodegradable bag, like paper bags when disposing of cat feces.

You can also look into some specific methods of composting that use the proper combination of time and temperature and can actually kill the parasite and create usable compost material. Stay tuned for more information.

*NOTE: This is a complicated issue because not all cats get the parasite and when they do they only shed the parasite for a specific period of time. Indoor only cats are less likely to have the parasite than outdoor cats. It is possible to have your cat’s feces tested if you want to toilet train your cat or flush waste. PLEASE do not think that this is any cause for anyone to get rid of a cat! The situation can be dealt with!

Toxoplasmosis Fact Sheet from the CDC
Sea Otters and Cat Feces – Cats
Cat Crap Showcase –
Cat Poop & Sea Otters – Truffula Tuft
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Friends of the Sea Otter

* * *

Please see the follow-up to this post for more information on this topic.

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26 Responses to “Toilet Training Your Cat…Flushing Feces May Be Harmful to Wildlife”

  1. 1

    toxoplasma gondii can be transmitted to humans from cats, but it is a much speculated form of transmission.
    most cats do not show any symptoms with infection, and only shed oocysts (which are infective to us) for 10 days in their whole lives, usually when they are young.
    so please dont dump your cat if you are pregnant/trying to conceive, another way around it is to get someone else to clear the litter tray in the meantime, and wash your hands thoroughly.
    one is much more likely to get infected from eating undercooked meat.

  2. 2

    Interesting – I’d never heard that. Of course, the likelihood of getting my 7-year-old cats trained is small.
    LOVING litter week and ordered the litter ball. Thanks!

  3. 3

    yesterday’s email gave us “the smart cat box”. their website gives direction to flush the cat feces… i think they may need to do some rethinking to truly be eco-friendly.

  4. 4

    Most indoor only cats do not carry this parasite – it is mostly found in cats who roam around outside at least some of the time. Also, if your cat was a shelter cat then it may have a higher risk of carrying the parasite.

    If you have an indoor/outdoor cat or a shelter cat, the best thing to do if you DO want to toilet train your cat (or flush your litter) is to have its feces tested by a vet to see if it contains the parasite.

    This is not a black or white issue.

  5. 5

    It is important to understand that not all cats are positive for toxoplasmosis. Cats get this parasite from coming in contact with infected rodents.

    Like Alexis said, get your cat tested and you’ll know for sure if you are placing yourself/other creatures at risk.

  6. 6
    Franny Syufy

    There is also another very good reason not to toilet-train your cat: it inhibits the monitoring of his urinary and bowel health, while evidence left in a litter box such as discolored, hard, or bloody stools are easier to spot.

  7. 7
    Driver B

    Toilet training is actually not very good for your kitty either! It interferes with their natural instincts and can be a problem when they get older. I asked a behaviorist at my local spca about this a few years ago, when I moved to a very small apt and didn’t know what to do with the litter box. I actually found the message still in my Cats folder:

    Toilet-training kitties has gotten more popular in the recent years, with the “invention” of litterbox kits that go over the toilet for the training period, and the like. Our experience has been that it is a) difficult to successfully train a cat to do this very unnatural thing (cats are by nature desert animals who have thousands of years of conditioning to use sand-like material as a litter substrate) and also b) that even those cats who do get used to toileting this way will down the line experience more “accidents” and lastly c) that as they age, it becomes more difficult for them to physically perform this, as arthritis and weight gain etc can be a major problem. One bad experience, such as slipping into the toilet, and a cat can have major litterbox problems afterwards,

    Our recommendation is to avoid even starting this process. It can cause stress for many kitties, and it is MUCH harder to fix a litterbox-avoidance problem than to prevent it.

  8. 8

    my cat is toilet trained. he does not have toxoplasma and is indoor only so he will not be contracting it in the future so i feel ok about flushing the poop even though i was concerned about the sea otters too when i was first researching toilet training. as for it being unnatural – it absolutely is a very unnatural behavior, but if your cat can learn it and doesn’t mind it, then i don’t see the harm in it. there are lots of unnatural behaviors our pets learn and adapt to simply because they live in a very unnatural environment (cats that are indoor only for instance, that’s very unnatural, the fact that my greyhounds exist peacefully with my cat, that’s also very unnatural, the fact that none of them hunt for their own food, etc.). i plan on going back to the litterbox as my cat gets older and becomes unable to squat on the rim of the toilet but until then, i think it’s great if your cat can learn it. my cat was 1.5 years old when we started, but i know older cats who have learned it. i think more than age, it’s personality that matters, i have a cat who loves new things and loves change and just took right to it. no accidents, no reluctance, etc. i was extremely lucky in that however, most cats are reluctant whereas my cat, the first time i put down the toilet training kit on top of the toilet, he hopped up and went in it and it was so easy to wean him off the kit and now he just goes in the regular toilet, no attachment or kit needed. it took about 3 weeks (and it was during the holidays so he was being shuttled around when i was staying with my parents, back to my apartment, and he was learning on all sorts of different toilets and he was fine) and i imagine if i were to put down a litterbox, he would likely choose the litterbox over the toilet but he also seems perfectly happy with the toilet in the absence of a litterbox – and by perfectly happy i mean he never tries to look for an alternate place to go, etc. i have a friend whose cats always try and poop elsewhere even though they are toilet trained, they only pee in the toilet. that’s reluctance whereas my cat doesn’t display any of that so i don’t think it’s bad for them to do this unnatural thing.

    it’s not right for all cats, but if you have the right cat, it can be a great thing – espeically if you only have one bathroom, live in a smaller space, or have no ventilation in your bathroom (poop sitting in a litterbox is far stinkier than poop sitting in the water in the toilet, the water covers up the smell and there is no smell whatsoever even though it sits there all day until i come home to flush it). research a LOT about this before you embark on it but it’s very rewarding if you succeed at it. it basically took the only negative out of owning a cat out of my life.

  9. 9

    I’d read this and it is why I don’t flush the cat’s waste. I did see a way to create a home made, safe composting system for dog and cat waste on the Shelterric blog a while back.

    There are similar commercial products for sale as well.

  10. 10

    I use bio-bags which I purchase at Whole Foods to dispose of my cat litter in the trash. They are meant for composting so you have to be careful not to get them wet or they will start melting right away. Much better than using those plastic grocery bags that never break down in landfills. Many grocery stores will give you a few cents back if you use your own cloth bags at their store so don’t collect grocery bags just for cat litter! I found both of my cats in the street so I guess they are probably likely to have the parasite.

  11. 11
    Yvette Pina

    I did toilet train my cat – then I got a dog and couldn’t keep the toilet seat up anymore… my cat has an affinity for porcelain and he uses the tub, sink, bathroom floor…..I created the problem.
    No, I can’t block use a baby gate to keep my dog out of the bathroom, he just jumps it. So now I just deal with my cats litter box (not) problems, and clean up after him – hoping I beat my dog to it – gross, I know.

    I had no idea about the sea otter aspect. Thanks for this informative post.

  12. 12

    Doesn’t other species’ waste (such as human and especially, dog) contain this parasite as well?

    I’m glad the poster pointed out that the danger is far greater from handling undercooked meat than from cleaning litterboxes.

    Thousands of years of people living with cats and only now are people overreacting. Very, very sad and disturbing.

  13. 13

    To those looking for biodegradeable cat liners that don’t disintegrate:
    I used these liners before I toilet trained my cat and they worked great – probably since they’re created for cat pee/poop/litter use. it didn’t make sense to me to use plastic liners if i was using natural litter, the plastic just trapped the biodegradable litter inside so i looked into these. sells them in bulk, I used to buy my kitchen garbage bags, cat liner bags, and doggie poop bags in one giant order so i could get free shipping and then just had a year’s supply. Just a suggestion in case anyone’s interested.

    To Yvette Pina above and anyone else who might want to toilet train their cat but have a feces/toilet interested go (of course, test your cat to make sure they don’t have toxoplasma first and keep them indoors so they don’t contract it before toilet training where you’re flushing the waste) – even if your dogs jump the gate (i have dogs too-big ones), if you really want to keep your cat toilet trained, install a cat door in the bathroom door. unless you have tiny dogs in which case a baby gate should work. but for me with large dogs capable of jumping gates, this would be the way to have a toilet trained cat and keep the dogs out of the toilet. if you rent an apartment and your landlord would not like you cutting into your bathroom door for a cat door, buy a cheap door from home depot and use that to install your cat door in, and when you move out, swap the original door back in. you can then move your door that you purchased with the cat door in it from apartment to apartment should you move.

    i’m a big proponent of toilet training – the one as someone mentioned downside is the difficulty in collecting fecal samples and stuff for the vet (my cat is regular in his pottying so i stalk him and stick a newspaper under him when he gets up on the toilet to poop to collect it should my vet need a sample) but other than that, if you make sure your cat is parasite free (fecal samples are just a good idea in cat care in general) and they’re indoor cats who aren’t going to contract toxoplasma, then it’s a great solution to get rid of cat nasties in the house. my cat is also cleaner now – he never accidentally steps in his poop while he’s burying his waste because now he doesn’t bury (most cats bury because of the smell, so when the smell disappears in the water, they don’t feel that need to anymore) and he doesn’t track any litter all over my apartment and into my bed. there are just so many benefits i’ve found to toilet training but if you have an outdoor cat who comes into contact with other cats or rodents, etc. then you probably shouldn’t toilet train due to the sea otter problem, esp. if you’re in a coastal state. but for all indoor cats – i think it’s the way to go!

  14. 14

    I just love your web site, you give such great information.

    Thank you

  15. 15

    Thanks for talking about this subject. Most people don’t know about the possibility of harming otters so I hope those of you who live on the West coast will reconsider flushing kitty litter. I know it’s a pain to bag up litter but it might just save an otter’s life! :)

  16. 16

    I’m sorry but this is misguided. Most of the information on this site is amazing, but this is just — I’m so sad that this article contains such phrases as “how can you help — don’t flush feces” !!! You say it’s complicated but you give us simplistic solutions.

    The whole problem with cat feces and sea otters needs to be understood in light of the fact that the toxin in the feces doesn’t even become dangerous until it’s been sitting around for a while. So it’s a problem when people use litter and *then* flush, but it’s NOT a problem when cats poop right into the water so there’s no open air exposure and the toxin can’t even develop. By warning people against toilet training cats, you’re doing exactly the wrong thing. If you want to save otters, the way to do it is by ENCOURAGING toilet training instead of litter-flushing.

    After all, if the feces goes to the garbage dump, it creates all kinds of other problems. Do you think wildlife doesn’t interact with garbage dumps and landfills? The global landfill problem is the probably the worst waste-oriented problem affecting our world right now — it’s highly problematic to tell people to lighten the strain on the sewage treatment system if all they’re doing is transferring that strain to a different aspect of our environmental crisis.

    Please aggressively revise, or remove, this article!

  17. 17

    this is an interesting website. i wanted to toilet train my cat and i called a litter company wondering if the litter was flushable (in case a little fell in the toilet) so it wouldnt harm the pipes, septic/sewer system, etc…
    i live in LA so the operator told me about toxoplasmosis….etc. she ALSO mentioned that there was a fine if you were caught (who monitors this kinda stuff???) and i am wondering if anyone knows how much the fine is???

  18. 18

    Leading cause of Toxo infections in pregnant women were from GARDENERS! You also have probably had it if you’ve had your cat(s) for some time (all my life) so the FIRST TIME infection, which is the biggie here, has usually passed by this time in your cat(s)! I got kicked out of an OB practice during my 3rd pregnancy for arguing this with them. (Hey they are WRONG and do you know how many cats DIE because of this, sheesh) Needless to say I found a different provider anyways!

  19. 19

    Illegal to flush in California.

  20. 20
    Litter Box Train a Dog

    I enjoyed the site. If you have some time, come check out our site on how to litter box train a dog. It has everything we learned from start to finish when we trained Bentley our Yorkshire Terrier.

  21. 21
    Edgardo Petrosky

    Appreciate you sharing, great blog.Really looking forward to read more. Awesome.

  22. 22

    Great article, but surely all that is required is to make sure that your cat is wormed regularly.
    No problem here.I recently got a cat toilet training contraption.It was great, but one week in I realised that I might be able to train the cats, but I would never be able to train my husband.He constantly left the seat up and /or shut the bathroom door. No chance. He also (secretly)thought it was “cruel”.
    Anyone who can successfully toilet train a man and a cat has my sincere admiration, as it`s far more hygienic and nothing goes into landfill.

  23. 23

    Realize you could not be comprehensive and expect people to read it but, river otters are also at risk all over the country and many landfills are very close to rivers. Rats and feral cats run back and forth all the time and can carry toxoplasma gondii parasitic, also barriers often fail after rainstorms. I kayak past them and regulation is a joke. Not much difference there. If you really care compost in a rodent resistant bin. Also allowing your cat to go outside is just as bad if not worse than flushing feces down toilet. Outside cats do lots of other damage to the environment.
    Once cats test negative for Toxo you and they are much healthier using a human toilet. One of my cats prefers h-toilet over litter tray and they smell much better and don’t have all that litter dust in their lungs and stomachs. I also like not having the dust on my pillow, furniture, counter-top etc. Save $200+ yr on litter that stinks up the rivers via faulty landfills…
    Can mount toilet seat to plastic tote or box and never allow litter to go down toilet. Fully trained cat transitions to actual toilet beside tote. Or use sitz bath insert, alum roasting pan etc. There are many ways to toilet train a cat. In the wild some will naturally poop in a tree, some use window sills. Tray on the floor is not necessarily all that natural. Cat gets old you can mount padded toilet seat to a low broad plastic tote/box with shallow bucket/pan/sitz bath inside it. Throw in compost bin or flush and add more water 2x per day etc. Same with Sitz bath in human toilet. Kitty litter is unhealthy for all living critters.


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