I enjoy writing about animal-related topics and have cared for my own pet hamster.
For millions of years, whenever an animal had to poo or pee, they just did it and walked away. When you try to house-train a pet, keep in mind that you are going against their natural programming. Be patient and have a sense of humor. Besides, if you're more worried about your furniture than the comfort and well-being of your pet, perhaps you shouldn't have a pet in the first place.
So before you go and commit to a new pet, read about the most common, house-trainable pets . . . as well as some that are absolutely hopeless.
Cats and Rabbits and Ferrets, Oh My!
All three of these animals are popular house pets that can be easily house-trained to use a litter pan, as they instinctively bury their waste. When you get a new rabbit, ferret, or cat, they are bound to be nervous and confused, so be easy on them if they have accidents. If you do observe them having an accident, gently pick them up and plop them in the litter pan. They'll eventually get the idea. If your cat, ferret, or rabbit continues to have accidents after being trained, this might be a sign of a health problem. Take them to the vet.
Long Coats and "Accidents"
Some cats and house rabbits have luxuriously long, fluffy coats. Unfortunately, that same coat can get in the way while they use the litter pan. Check to see that your accident-prone, long-haired pet is not just getting stuff caught in their fur. Carefully trim out any mats and try to keep the fur around their rear end short.
Learned Behavior Can Be Hard to Unlearn
Some ferrets get used to using a favorite corner of the house rather than the litter pan. The same can be said about other animals that leave "markings." Consider moving the litter pan there and this will save you a lot of stress.
Dogs can be successfully house-trained. They just learn at their own pace. There are many tips for house-training your dog on the web and in books, but the best tip I can give might get you arrested in some places. My seven-week-old puppy got the idea of where to go when I showed her what to do (use your imagination).
Miniature horses were originally bred for royalty to live with their owners in palaces. It can be tempting to get a horse that's the size of a Labrador and keep him or her in the house. But miniature horses are still horses. They have the same attitude and habits of a full-sized horse. Horses are a prey animals and are therefore easily spooked. Whenever they think they might have to make a run for it, they dump any "extra weight." Horses just can't seem to understand the point of house-training. Even miniature horses seem much happier outside or in a barn.
"Pocket Pets" is an umbrella term used to describe little rodents and guinea pigs (whose rodent status is currently under debate).
Gerbils, mice, rats, hamsters, chinchillas, guinea pigs, and any other small furry creature in a pet shop are prey animals. For millions of years, they've been on the move—pooing and peeing in order to be ready to run for their lives at any given time. Some people have reported that they are able to successfully house-train guinea pigs by placing a dish with some poo and cage bedding in a corner whenever the piggy has some out-of-cage time. However, this writer has never been able to house-train a guinea pig.
Cues and Accident Prevention
Some animals, like hamsters, really should not be allowed to roam about the house because of potential accidents. But pocket pets don't make all that much of a mess, to begin with. If they like to be handled, they will usually learn by themselves not to poo or pee on you.
They will suddenly get very restless, which is your cue to put them back in their cage to relieve themselves. You could also drape your lap with an old towel or cloth in preparation for potential accidents.
Believe it or not, you can house train a pet bird. The larger, the more trainable. Observe the normal behavior of your pet bird. They can go at predictable times or make some moves that you will learn to recognize as their "gotta potty" signal. You can then act accordingly to either move the bird to a more appropriate toilet or quickly place newspaper under the bird.
Learned Potty Habits
After a while, if you keep moving the bird to the same area when they have to go, they will get the idea to go over there on their own. This takes patience. Each bird is different and learns at a different pace, so don't let poo come between you and your pet bird.
Pets You CAN'T Housetrain
I have been asked about whether or not these pets can be house-trained many times, so I figured I'd add them to the list to clarify.
Forget it. Won't happen unless there is a major evolutionary leap in lizards, snakes, and turtles. They are the pets most bound to their instincts. However, don't despair. They don't eliminate very often. They also tend to have to go at predictable times. Just with patience and keen observation of your pet reptile's normal behavior, you will be able to predict when they have to go.
Believe it or not, I have been seriously asked many times if a fish can be house-trained. I always tell them how fortunate they are to have a fish who knows how to leap out of the tank, poo on the floor, and then flip back into the tank. They then frown and say that they meant if a fish could be trained to poo in a special part of the tank.
I'll make it crystal clear: NO.
Training Your New Pet
It is important to start house-training your pet before they become accustomed to doing their business wherever and whenever they please (the younger the better). Do remember to be patient and forgiving, it's not in an animal's nature to be domesticated this way. Most importantly, have a sense of humor and make it a bonding experience between you and your new friend!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Christopher on March 29, 2008:
Good one.Thanks for sharing.