I don’t know how else to say this: My cat taught himself to piss in the toilet. Yes, the people one. Yes, on his own. Without any instruction, my cat has effectively potty-trained himself, squatting over the toilet bowl in an eerie approximation of human bathroom use—and now I don’t know what to believe.
The moment I managed to film this shocking act stands out in the fog of recent days. My wife and I were getting ready for bed when my cat Wiley hopped up on the open toilet. We knew what was about to happen. A few weeks back, we saw him use our toilet for the first time, but dismissed it as a fluke. Turns out, not a fluke! I grabbed my phone just in time to document my cat’s twisted genius.
When I posted the video on Twitter, a number of people (quite reasonably) responded with “WHAT.” What, indeed. How did he learn to do this? Why is he doing this? Is this just the first step before he starts walking on two legs, wearing people clothes, and greeting me each morning with a reedy, feline “hellooo”? If so, what do I say back?
Seeking answers (and more than a little reassurance), I turned to the experts, hoping they could help me unravel the mystery of the toilet-pissing cat.
I was relieved to learn that Wiley’s behavior is, in fact, weird. So weird that even Jackson Galaxy, the impeccably groomed star of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell, couldn’t explain it definitively. “I have certainly seen this behavior before, and it is definitely not ‘normal’ behavior, but there is no one reason why,” Galaxy told me in an email. According to the cat master, the hidden complexities of Wiley’s interior life make it impossible to fully understand his actions. “Trying to figure out a cat’s behavior is like asking why a human does something.”
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Dr. Uri Burstyn, the personable veterinarian who runs the popular Helpful Vancouver Vet channel on YouTube, agreed that the whole toilet thing was odd. He told me in an email that cats “normally don’t” piss in the people toilet, writing, “This is very unusual. Most cats do not like using the toilet even if trained to do so.” Still searching for the truth behind Wiley’s bizarre talent, I ran a few of my own explanations past Galaxy and Burstyn. The first one is kind of a bummer.
Wiley has lymphoma and he’s currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments. (Don’t worry, he’s doing great, and we have pet insurance, so we’re not going bankrupt. Also, look into pet insurance!) The first time we saw him do it was the day after his first round of chemo. Is he pissing in my toilet because he’s sick?
“Unlikely,” said Burstyn. “Cats rarely start using the toilet after being treated for lymphoma.”
Galaxy, however, thought it was a possibility. “A cat’s behavior can definitely change when they are sick, such as your cat with lymphoma,” he said. “When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, she in many ways became a different person, and for the positive. She became a fighter, she became someone who was present in every moment. She discovered new things and embraced them. There’s nothing fun about Cancer, but when you look at each human, or cat, individually, people and animals react differently when they’re faced with their body not working or responding in the way they are used to.”
I offered another theory: Is Wiley a literal copycat emulating me, his human parent? Burstyn found this plausible. “Cats learn from their moms. They learn hunting behavior, predator avoidance, and toileting as well,” he said. “There is an element of instinct to it as well, of course. In this case, I’d say your cat was watching you and learning from you.”
I have to say, I liked this answer the most. Every time I use that particular bathroom, Wiley comes running to join me. If the door is closed, he’ll meow, scratch at the door, and even bodyslam it in an attempt to get in. But Galaxy said he may just be curious or want me to give him head scratches. “Think about how your cat plops on the newspaper while you’re reading it, or how they walk across the keyboard when you’re trying to work. It’s a cry for attention,” he said. “When you’re in the bathroom with the door closed, they want attention so they want in.”
The most likely explanation, however, is that I am a terrible cat dad. Burstyn said that Wiley may simply be grossed out by his litter boxes (we have five for our four cats) because I’m not cleaning them frequently enough, making them, in the good doctor’s words, “less than satisfactory.” Wiley may just be looking for something better. And while we try to keep the boxes as tidy as possible, Wiley is a very particular fellow, and it seems entirely on-brand for him to come up with a solution better than pissing in a communal sandbox.
In case you’re getting ideas, both Galaxy and Burstyn strongly advised against intentionally teaching your cat to piss in the toilet. For one, said Galaxy, the training is “incredibly tedious,” so a lot of people fail, “and that’s simply because it is not natural.” Burstyn put it more bluntly: “Don’t.” (“Of course if a cat chooses to use the toilet without training,” he added, “I’d never stop him.”)
“The only reason for [toilet training your cat] is because you don’t want to scoop the litter box, and that’s just not fair to the cat,” said Galaxy. Plus, getting a good look at your cat’s poop can help you stay on top of their health. “We need to know if they have diarrhea or blood in their stool. We have to be able to recognize if there’s something wrong, and we can’t do that if they are flushing it down the toilet.” For the record, Wiley hasn’t yet taught himself to flush.
Galaxy said that you’re better off training your cat to do “something good,” like walking into their carrier or giving high five (which is obviously rad). “Use training as a bonding exercise, especially during this trying time we are in where we are home with our cats more than usual,” he said.
Ultimately, my quest to understand my weird cat only left me with greater uncertainty. Not only did I learn that Wiley is a walking, pissing enigma impenetrable to analysis, but that this is true of us all. We can discover another person’s likes and dislikes, hopes and regrets, joys and sorrows, but we can never truly know them. Everyone is a stranger, a sound in the distance, a passing wave concealing unfathomable depths.
“We want to classify or compartmentalize certain behaviors, when in reality, all of us, whether it’s cat, human, dog or turtle, can be told to do certain things because of nature, but at the end of the day, we can veto that and do something else that’s completely different from someone else,” Galaxy told me. “It’s a beautiful mystery about life! Andrew, what you are doing is such a great thing. You are observing your cat and wondering about him, and you may not find the ‘why’ answer you’re looking for, but it’s also ok to make up your own story and go with that! All it can serve to do is make the relationship between you and your cat better, deeper and more remarkable.”
So, absent a conclusive answer, here is my story about Wiley pissing in the toilet: The chemo drugs he’s on freakishly altered his internal chemistry, turning his bloodstream into an antenna to a separate dimension. The Andrew in that alternate dimension—automatically tuned to Wiley’s antenna because we are connected through space-time by an impenetrable bond—spontaneously burst into organic dark matter that was then transferred from his dimension into ours, allowing other-me to inhabit Wiley’s body. So really, it’s just me pissing in my own toilet, which is normal. Nothing remarkable about it at all.