Potty Training Pets

cat on a potty tray

Getting a new puppy, kitten, or older cat or dog is an exciting experience, but having pets comes with certain responsibilities, including potty training. It may be a time-consuming process to potty train your pet, but Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said it is necessary to develop a long-lasting, positive relationship with your pet.

“Inappropriate eliminations are one of the biggest reasons pets are surrendered,” Stickney said. “Developing good bathroom habits early is key to having a pet you will enjoy for a long time.”

Potty training should begin as soon as you bring your pet home. If you’re training an adult dog or a puppy, be sure to give them plenty of time to use the bathroom and stay with them until they go. Then, reward the animal with a treat or positive praise so they understand that eliminating outside is good behavior.

If you’re training a kitten or cat, Stickney said finding a litter box that your pet is comfortable getting in and out of is key. Additionally, if your kitten was using a litter box before it came to live with you, it could be helpful to start potty training your pet with that specific litter.

“Cats can be texture-and odor-specific with their litter,” Stickney said. “So if you start with that litter you can gradually transition them to another litter later, if you prefer.”

Because using a litter box is instinctive for cats, the potty-training process could be quicker than with dogs. However, if your pup is having a hard time learning where it is appropriate to eliminate, don’t give up. There are other strategies pet owners can use to potty train their canine, such as crate training.

“Crate training takes advantage of a dog’s natural inclination to rest in a den,” Stickney explained. “Dogs will not urinate and defecate in their den (crate) because they prefer to eliminate outside.”

If you’re going to crate train your dog or puppy, Stickney said the crate should be large enough for the animal to stand up, stretch out, and turn around, but not any larger.

Additionally, maintain a consistent schedule for allowing your pet to go outside.

“A good rule of thumb is the puppy needs to go outside every hour per month of age,” Stickney said. “So a three-month-old puppy needs to go outside to eliminate every three hours. A puppy that begins to whine and become anxious should be taken outside immediately.”

Though crate training can be effective, Stickney said it’s important to remember that puppies and even adult dogs still will have accidents occasionally. In this case, Stickney said instead of punishing your pup, ignore that the accident even happened.

“Once an accident happens in the house, the puppy has already forgotten what it did,” Stickney said. “Clean up the mess and remove the smell so the puppy does not revisit that spot.”

In addition, Stickney said if your adult dog or cat is already potty trained and suddenly starts having reoccurring accidents, this could be a sign of health problem. In this case, your pet should see a veterinarian for a check-up.

No one should pass up an opportunity for pet companionship to keep their home clean and fresh-smelling. If you’re consistent in your potty training plan, both you and your new pet will be happy.

But remember, if you’re planning on getting a furry friend, patience and positive reinforcement are key throughout the process of potty training.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .

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