By David F. Kramer
When it comes to strange pet behaviors, drinking out of the toilet may very well be at the top of the list.
Oddly enough, some of the reasons for a pet drinking out of the toilet are rather sensible—at least on the surface. First off, the water in the toilet is frequently replenished, albeit into a potentially dirty container, and given the frequency with which many owners clean their pet’s water bowls, there’s a pretty good chance that the water in your toilet is both fresher and colder than the water currently available there.
Nature Calls: Why Pets Are Attracted to Toilet Water
The fact that your toilet is running (complete with sounds of flowing water) may very well speak to the primal nature of your pet to seek out running water in the wild—which is generally a safer bet than drinking from a still or stagnant pond. This instinctive behavior is many thousands of years of evolution at work.
Ask anyone who has a cat that hangs out on the kitchen counter. They know that turning on the faucet can be an irresistible temptation for the cat to saunter over and have a sip. Similarly, many dogs love to drink water running from the hose when you’re washing your car or watering the lawn. Even knowing this, pet owners still scratch their heads when, after they go to the trouble of providing fresh water—perhaps even water of a trendy and imported nature—their fur kids still line up for a crack at the toilet when they’re feeling parched.
Some animal behaviorists postulate that it all might come down to a matter of privacy. For many animals, there are few times that they are more vulnerable to danger than when they’re eating or taking a drink. In the wild, many animals will only stop to drink when things are quiet and there’s an element of safety. In many human homes, a pet’s food and water bowls are kept in the kitchen or hallway, which might be a locus of constant activity. Even in a familiar place, having to eat and drink in an area with a lot of activity can cause some stress. Perhaps it’s no wonder that a cat or dog might seek out the solace of the bathroom to have a quiet, undisturbed drink.
Let’s face it, we as humans know that a toilet isn’t an island oasis or drinking fountain, but our discomfort has far more to do with the basin itself and the potentially nasty substances that end up there. So, are the dangers of drinking out of the toilet real, or are we worrying ourselves over something that is harmless for our pets?
Is Toilet Water Dirty?
“I think [the dangers] are real,” says Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a holistic vet who practices in Los Angeles, CA. “I’m not a fan of letting your pet drink out of the toilet.”
Dr. Mahaney went on to explain that “if you were to swab your average toilet there would be an issue. If you don’t clean your toilet very often, you are going to put your dog or cat at risk for coming down with coliform bacterial contamination, such as E. coli—because our feces can contain that—as well as other bacteria.” These risks of infection increase manifold when we ourselves are sick with any number of digestive or health issues.
According to Dr. Mahaney, humans can pass other diseases like iardia to their animals, and the consumption of toilet water can put your pet on the short list to infection. And intestinal bacteria and parasites aren’t the only risks. Humans who are undergoing medical treatments such as chemotherapy can also shed toxic chemical substances in their stool. While the chances of such exposures may be rare for pets, there remains a potential for it to happen.
Toxic Toilet Cleaning Products
Perhaps the most serious dangers that come from consuming toilet water are from the litany of chemicals that we use for cleaning our toilets—with chlorine bleach products being one of the main offenders. The components of such cleaners are typically sodium hypochlorite, hypochlorite salts, sodium peroxide, sodium perborate, and other detergents that can be downright lethal when directly consumed. Watering them down, even heavily as a toilet might do, doesn’t negate their potential dangers to your pet.
While detergents and cleaning products would most likely be highly diluted by the time you are done cleaning, restricting your pet’s access to the bathroom for a few hours after you’ve cleaned is a good rule of thumb. Of course, it is also a good rule to be vigilant for symptoms of any sort of poisoning.
Depending upon the saturation of cleaner in the toilet bowl, the tainted water can cause chemical burns in the mouth and throat while going down, as well as other serious complications once fully ingested. Symptoms of bleach poisoning in pets include vomiting, drooling, abdominal pain, and a sore throat.
“Any toxin is not good for a pet to ingest,” says Dr. Katie Grzyb of One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. “Bleach is the highest concern for pets to ingest, but usually causes mild to moderate gastrointestinal signs and/or respiratory signs if inhaled. Most household cleaners which color the toilet water contain a diluted amount of bleach, so most healthy animals will have no reaction if the water is ingested.”
How to Stop Your Pet Drinking from the Toilet
“I think the best way to curb drinking from the toilet is to keep the lid down and the door closed. Also, offering several bowls of clean, cool, fresh water around the house can help to deter toilet-water drinking,” says Grzyb.
Dr. Mahaney also advises owners to keep the lid closed, but realizes that is not possible for everyone. “If you can’t [keep the toilet closed] because you have children, then just try to keep the toilet as clean as possible,” he says.
Provide the Fresh Running Water Your Pet Craves
For pet owners who want to offer all of the excitement of drinking from the toilet without the risk, a pet water fountain can provide that experience. Pet fountains run the gamut in features like size, level of filtering, style, and price. Pet fountains can range from under $20 to over $100 for the Cadillac of fountains. For the do-it-yourselfer, there are videos on YouTube that will show you how to build your own pet water fountain.
Of course, you’ll need to keep your pet’s fountain filled with fresh water, as well as thoroughly clean the interior once a week and periodically change the filters. Depending upon the model, some types of pet fountains are easy to keep clean and have reservoirs that are dishwasher safe; others can be noisy or prone to clogging, so it’s smart to read product reviews from other pet owners before buying. Also, as any pet owner knows, buying a drinking fountain doesn’t guarantee that your pet will use it—although they’ll probably enjoy playing with the box it came in.