The Cost of Toilet Training Cats
by Laura Mayer
Let me start by saying that up until this week I’d never given too much thought to my cat’s anus. I’ve been busy, what can I say. But this has all changed now. My big beautiful baby, a tabby cat named Hector, now has worms coming out of his anus. This is a bad time for Hector to come down with worms because my co-cat parent, Danny, and I are trying to train our two cats to use the toilet. Our toilet. The one our anuses use.
Google says to “check your cat’s anus” if you suspect worms. We checked it out, and it looks like he’s got roundworms, as his worms are round and long, not flat and rice-shaped like tape worms, or microscopic like hookworms. Roundworms, in petMD parlance, are one of the most common intestinal parasites cats get. They do not hook into the intestine’s walls, as some intestinal parasites do. Instead, they literally “swim” freely within the cat’s intestine. So, if the cats are doing what they should be doing right now — and pooping in the toilet — there are roundworms freely swimming in our toilet bowl.
Danny and I watch this show on ABC called Shark Tank obsessively, often with the cats sitting by our sides. In the show, a panel of five investors, or “sharks,” hear pitches from entrepreneurs in various stages of rookie-ness. If the sharks like the idea, they can choose to invest in the product. If not, the entrepreneurs leave empty-handed, carrying whatever boondoggle they were trying to hawk with them. The first Shark Tank boondoggle we ever saw was a cat toilet-training device called CitiKitty. It is a plastic dish you put into your toilet bowl, out of which you cut progressively larger circles over the course of six weeks, so that the cats are duped into taking dumps directly into the toilet. The branding really works. It’s meant for the city kitty, truly — the sophisticat who doesn’t mess with litter. Or, rather, (as the magic of Shark Tank reveals the complicated lifestyle branding behind purse organizers, at home manicure solutions, or water bottles that revolutionize the water bottle industry) cat owners who see themselves as sophisticated, above the shackles of litter, and actualized beyond having a box of shit sitting in their kitchen. We bought a dream with CitiKitty. The reality is we have two cats shitting in the corner of our bathroom, one of whom has worms shooting out of his ass.
I’ve had about 13 cats in my life. Never more than two at a time, which seems important to mention. There’s a true distinction between a cat-person with fewer than three cats and a cat-person with three or more. In my case, three cats to two humans would tip the scales, causing cats to overwhelm the humans in our household. All the same, I’ve interacted with cats for my entire life. If there’s a glass of standing water out anywhere in the premises of my home, you can bet a cat is either a.) lapping at it or b.) thinking about jumping up to lap at it. I love them. They allow me to pet them. We get a lot from each other.
Fifteen years ago I got ringworm on my back from a rescued shelter cat named Polly. Ringworm is a fungus, which looks like a patch of very dry skin, which gets its name from the circle shape the fungus takes when it spreads on skin — either human, or cat. It’s especially common in shelter cats, and can be communicated from cat to human from skin on skin contact. In this case, Polly’s back gave my back ringworm directly. I was lying on my parents’ bedroom floor, with Polly sleeping on my bare back, watching Sex and the City DVDs, recovering from pneumonia when ringworm came into my life.
Anything with the word “worm” going into the body — save, of course, for gummy worms, which are poorly branded to begin with — conjures a creepy-crawly thing that’s living, and feeding, inside of you. This is, for whatever reason, one of the most terrifying prospects for humans. Ringworms, though, stick to your outsides. It affects only skin, and is actually just a variant of the oh-so-common athlete’s foot fungus. It’s the main reason plastic shower flip-flops sell so well. My mother noticed the half-dollar of dry, dead skin first, while rubbing my back with mentholatum, which was supposed to somehow penetrate through my back and help my watery lungs. In a moment of rare calm for a mother always eagle-eyed for more illnesses befalling her or her children, she didn’t mention it to me. Instead, she went to the internet, discovered it was probably an infection from the cat, and drove me to the doctor. My pediatrician, Doctor Box, gave me a cream and told my mother to get Polly’s vet to do the same for her. “Ringworm” introduced me to a very adult concept for a child: words that sounds so precisely like one thing, but actually mean something totally different.
And now, 15 years later, I’ve got a similar-sounding, but much more internal, worm threat lurking — just on my toilet seat, over there: roundworms. Roundworms are what they sound like: small, roundish worms borne from fleas, feces or an infested rodent that hook into the intestines (exclusively my cat’s intestines, at this particular point), eat things within the intestines, and then come out the other end. It’s a simple life, but the roundworms are just enjoying keeping on.
Before the cat shit in the corner of the bathroom, before the worms shot out of our poor, beautiful tabby cat Hector’s ass, CitiKitty training had been going well. Hector, the afflicted, and Lulu, the beautiful Maine Coon-mix kitten, had been hopping up on the toilet seat no problem. They did their business. They received pets and treats from us.
“Good kitty! Good kitty, using the toilet!”
I screamed that phrase at least five times a day. This was step one of CitiKitty training: A solid dish on our toilet bowl, with litter in it. This was before we introduced The Hole.
We punched out The Hole — the first sign to the cats that they weren’t just hopping onto any litter dish, but rather on a platform suspended above a mysterious bowl of water — on Sunday night. Despite the fluorescence of the bathroom, The Hole is a dark, endless void in the middle of Hector and Lulu’s litter. Cats don’t get voids, so they are wary of The Hole. Which is when they started turning to The Corner to poop in peace.
I returned home on Monday evening, itching with mosquito bites, to find a pile of cat shit underneath the bath mat. After I fed the cats, I put Hector on the toilet seat to encourage him to use the CitiKitty. Once on the dish he started making lurching, squatting motions — a sure sign that something was about to come out of him. I got the treats ready and left the bathroom, to give my city kitty a sense of dignity, privacy. I told Danny the good news that Hector was about to poop. We celebrated, we kissed, he went back to making tacos. A minute later, when I hadn’t heard the tell-tale thwamp of Hector’s body jumping down, followed by the swish of litter on the bathroom floor, I crept back into the bathroom to see Hector still squatting, still straining to get whatever it was that was in him, out.
“Have you ever seen an animal straining to poop?” Danny asked. “Looking eye to eye with another creature trying to poop, seeing them straining, you realize just how animal humans are,” he said, walking to the bathroom.
“There are worms!” Danny yelped. Sure enough, Hector had dropped some poop near The Hole (treat worthy), but squiggly things the size of the clear vermicelli in Rice-A-Roni were emerging out of, and trying to escape from, Hector’s…stool.
That was it for me. I wanted to bring The Box back. I wanted the cats to poop in The Box, so I don’t have to think about The Worms until I took Hector to The Vet at the end of the week.
The next morning, this morning in fact, the cats had once again shat in The Corner. There were worms in Hector’s shit.
“We’re not bringing back the box. In five years, or whatever, when you’re pregnant, I don’t want you breathing in cat shit and giving the kid schizophrenia,” Danny said, early this morning, me, still in bed, he in business casual, having recently Googled “cat + shit + babies + problems.”
“I’ve already gotten ringworm,” I said. “I don’t want to get roundworms from the toilet seat. Let’s put the litter box back out.”
“But it will ruin the training!”
Danny left for work. The cats got to work wrestling and biting each other’s necks.
The box, though, is still in the basement, not in our bathroom where the cats are probably churning out turds on the floor. We’re still pushing through with The Hole and the whole CitiKitty training process. Because we have our eyes on a certain prize — one where our cats will poop in the toilet, like humans, and not give us roundworms because they are apparently hard to give to humans. To an abstract future point where I will be pregnant and The Fetus will not get schizophrenia from the cat shit. And I will not be that terrified that a crawling Thing is feeding off of me. And, if the fetus turns into a child who also loves cats, who gets introduced to cat infections via ringworm like I did, I will remember my Dr. Box, and slather anti-fungal cream on her.
Costs of toilet-training your cat:
• CitiKitty Cat Toilet Training Kit: $30
• Cat’s Pride Flushable litter (3): $30
• Friskie’s “Party Mix” Cat treats: $1.65
• Vet visit: $45
• Stool Lab Tests: $67
The love of two photogenic cats who tolerate you: Priceless