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I have a young cat (9 months) who was raised indoors and has never had the chance to observe other cats using the dirt outside as a cat toilet. Until now, she has never shown any concern about her litter box - she has been OK with me filling it with whichever litter brand I bring home, and I only have one (it is a small flat, I don't know where I could place a second one) but she doesn't mind using it multiple times a day before I clean it. Except for a single accident when she was a young kitty the first week in my home, she has never urinated or defecated outside the box.

She has been going out on her own, in stages, for several months now - at first I would walk her out on a leash, then bind her on a long leash on the patio and leave her there for a couple of hours, then open the door for her to roam freely, and for about a month now, she has a cat flap and comes and goes as she pleases. In all that time, she continued using the litter box as usual.

Three days ago, I refilled the litterbox. It was a different brand than last filling, but I cannot say for sure if I have used it before. Since then, I have only scooped out one clump of urine, and no excrements at all. The cat is not urinating or defecating in the flat, I would have noticed the smell even if it was hidden somewhere.

One possible answer is that she, all of a sudden, learned to go to the toilet outdoors. I don't know what would have made her do so, and I don't see signs of digging in my few soft-earthed flowerbeds. Of course, she could be going in the neighbours' gardens :)

The other possibility, which worries me a bit, is that she is ill, or dislikes the new litter so much that she is just holding it all in. She doesn't show outward signs of being ill, eats in mostly typical amounts (her appetite is not yet completely stable, I suspect growing phases), and shows no irritability.

So, are the bad scenarios real and/or likely? Also, how likely is it that a young cat, from one day to the next, learns to go to the toilet outside and starts preferring it to the point she doesn't use the litter box? With the flap, she still sometimes stands in front of the patio door, asking me to let her in, so in some sense, she has her habits :)

  • as long as your cat eat and drink as normal you can be sure she does her toileting outside do not worry about it,she will start to use the litterbox again at some point,cats like to be a little unpredictable in where they do their toileting it is an instinct they have to avoid predators finding them. – trond hansen Apr 9 at 15:47
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My guess is your cat is acting on feline instinct to go to the bathroom outside. Admittedly, my experience with cats is limited to the one I got at age nine months last fall (now 15 months), and I don't know his history, since I got him at the shelter. But I notice him changing and developing new habits as he gets older, just like a human child developing over the months and years.

He always uses the litter box, like you describe, but also used flowerbeds when I first had him outside on a leash. However, I live in an apartment building and was told that letting a cat defecate in the flower beds is not okay. Next time he wanted to do it, I didn't let him but quickly took him inside. Now he knows not to use the flower gardens but to use the litter box.

Did he learn from other cats to use the flower beds? I don't know. Considering how easy it was to wean him from the habit, one would think it was just an instinct he was trying to act on, but when it didn't work out he gave up on it. All of this is just guess work on my part.

However, he figured out how to climb up and down trees. I kept him on the leash and only let him go as far as I could reach until he knew how to get down on his own. He didn't learn from his mother, just from his own instinct. He is teaching himself to hunt as best he can when on a leash; he stalks squirrels, he watches the birds. When I showed him cat videos of birds and squirrels on my computer screen, at first he kept looking behind the monitor to see where they went. But now he knows that it's like watching out a window--he can only see what's in the little square of the monitor.

All of this tells me that young cats act on instinct and learn by experience with their environment what works, what is comfortable, etc. If you can't smell or see anything amiss, my guess is that nothing is amiss. But, as stated, this is all guess work on my part.

how likely is it that a young cat, from one day to the next, learns to go to the toilet outside and starts preferring it to the point she doesn't use the litter box?

What you describe suggests it could have happened over a number of days, even if you didn't notice right away. But you can see from my cat that they do try different things. If you are worried about your cat's health, by all means talk to your vet. Even in lockdown, I have been able to communicate with the vet's office and get routine prescription and other advice.

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