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summary: ~10-year-old female has been venturing outside for several months, after (per unverified claim) having been an indoor-only cat. She will come inside to excrete (urinate, defecate), then go back outside. How to train her to excrete outside?

details:

I have lots cat experience, but have never hosted a cat who was able to go outside but would not also "go" outside.

In April 2018, my mother got a cat from the local pound. (I do most of the catcare as part of eldercare.) The pound folk said the cat was 9 years old, had been indoor-only, and been declawed (front only) by her previous owners (as well as spayed). She was also definitely box-trained (very quickly taking over the local box), but has some non-standard excretion behaviors:

  1. She will occasionally urinate (though not, fortunately, defecate) in the bathtub. This doesn't bother me--in fact, I prefer it, since it just goes down the drain without using up cat litter. (FWIW, she will not urinate in the adjacent shower stall, though she will go in there and look/sniff around.)
  2. She will not excrete outside: in fact, she will go out (unfortunately requiring someone to hold the catdoor (or another door) open--but that's a topic for another question), then come back in (which she usually does herself--i.e., she readily opens the catdoor from the outside but not the inside), excrete in litterbox or bathtub, then go back outside.

How to convince her to excrete outside?

Some additional data which may be relevant (or not):

  • She's the only cat in the house, and possibly the only cat in the neighborhood, though I occasionally see/hear evidence of ferals.
  • Fear does not seem to be a factor, as she readily goes out and sniffs around, or sometimes just sits outside and watches. (She's not much of a hunter--having caught only 1 of the abundant local pocket mice, of which one of her predecessors caught at least 1 a day--but when one of the local rabbits ambles by, she and the rabbit will sit and stare at each other for amazingly extended periods.)
  • I currently let her go outside only during (or just before/after) daylight due to her inability to climb. She very much likes to go out at daybreak and nightfall, and would probably go out later at night if allowed.
  • She has never, in my experience, gone farther than ~20 m from the house. This is not due to frailty--she's quite fast, and an excellent jumper, for a cat of her age and (rather small) size--but she's just not an exploring cat at present.
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You probably already know, cats are careful to properly cover whatever they excrete - unlike dogs, which only make a show pretending to cover :)

So if your cat does not have the ability to do that outside, and she knows that she can do it inside, she uses the path of least resistance.

Easy solutions try:

  • install an additional litter box outside;
  • create a sandy area where she can do her things;

Note that he sandy area is practically a litter box, with all the pro's and con's (including cleaning, washing, de-odorizing...). So long term it is easier to just install a plain litter box with the right filling.

Even cheaper short-term solution: when the cat goes outside, move the liter-box outside, and show the cat where the box is. If the behavior changes, then you can safely make the investment to buy an additional box - you will be guaranteed that it will be used.

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An indoor-only cat has no more association that "dirt = toilet" than they have that "rug = toilet," "couch = toilet," or "dining room table = toilet." These are all surfaces they can stand on, sure, but they aren't the sandy surface of a litter box that's easy to dig in to bury waste, and they certainly aren't what the cat is accustomed to. An indoor cat would have no reason to assume that she can use the outdoors to relieve herself--it's clearly not a litterbox, regardless of the opinion of the humans in her presence.

Additionally, even if she does start to find sandier areas that might more resemble a litterbox, digging in them may be painful due to her being front declawed. Declawed cats frequently suffer from litterbox issues (and other issues) due to lingering pain from the amputations making the sharp pieces of litter particularly painful (this is likely why she urinates in the bathtub--the smooth surface doesn't cause her any pain).

At her age, and with her being partially declawed, she will likely continue to be much more comfortable using a litterbox indoors, so unless you have a reason to force her to go outside (which is inadvisable with a declawed cat, as they lack the ability to either defend themselves or climb to escape a threat), your better option is to just allow her to continue using her litterbox, and possibly consult with your vet on options for "softer" litters for a declawed cat to encourage her to use it over other options.

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