It’s the time of year when the new kitten is SURE she’s missing out–and so makes a mad door dashing escape to find out about the great outdoors. In my neck of the woods, that’s a recipe for disaster (and the coyotes). There are ways to keep outside cats safe in this post.
This topic always gets lots of attention. Note: This information and more is available in the ComPETablity: Cats book, too. And should the unthinkable happen, refer to this post about how to find lost pets.
My Cat Wants Outside
There is a saying, that a cat is “always on the wrong side of a door.” My cat Seren(dipity) faithfully adhered to this principle, although with age, her dash-for-the-door became more like a stroll. Karma-Kat these days waits for the dog’s potty time, and makes a bee-line for the door. When you live with a cat, chances are you’ll have a door dashing cat escape now and then.
Dealing with door dashing cats is particularly frustrating for owners. Even when Kitty understands that a particular location (the doorway) is forbidden, she may avoid the place when you’re looking but making a zooming escape as soon as visitors arrive and the door cracks a whisker-width open. Kitties easily get scared with unusual circumstances–storms or fireworks, or howling neighbor dogs. And with a flick of the tail, your cat slinks out the door and disappears.
What can you do? Recognize you will NOT stop a cat’s urge to see on the other side of the door. You cannot change instinct, but you can modify some of these irksome behaviors.
How to Stop Door Dashing Cats
Encourage her to stay away from danger zones with training techniques. Any time you see the cat lounging near the doorway, use an interruption such as a loud “SSST!” or clapped hands to shoo her away. The idea is to make the doorway area unappealing, so that kitty keeps away—and offer her a more rewarding pastime.
Some cats are dissuaded with the help of a long-distance squirt gun aimed at their backside. However, some cats like my Seren enjoy being sprayed. Other cats become too frightened, or even switch to aggression with such techniques. Also, you must always be there for this to work. Cats typically see you pick up the spray bottle, and behavior only when you’re within sight, and look for other times and ways to door dash. Frankly, the spray isn’t all that effective and can do damage to your relationship. There are better ways.
Tips to Keep Cats Away from Doorways
Make the entry way unfriendly. Many cats dislike the feeling of walking on aluminum foil, so place a couple of sheets over the walkway. Or use Sticky Paws (double-sided tape) to make the surface uncomfortable. Put the Sticky Paws on placemats positioned on the forbidden area, so it’s easily removed. You can also use clear plastic floor mats placed spike-side up so the cat will avoid the area.
The SSSCAT is a cat-repellent device that sprays a hiss of air to startle the pet that triggers the built-in motion detector—you don’t have to be present for it to work. You may also use smell deterrents to keep the cat away from forbidden doorway zones. Cats dislike citrus smells, so orange or lemon scents sprayed at the bottom of the door may help.
Offer Kitty Legal Alternatives to the Doorway Dash
Many cats adore doorway areas to watch the comings and goings, and they often perch on furniture or windows nearby. While you can make these spots unappealing, consider it’s not fair and also nearly impossible to forbid a much loved activity. Offer her legal outlets that are more attractive than the forbidden zones, and she’ll naturally choose to lounge there and abandon the doorway dash.
Position a cat tree or kitty bed on a table top right in front of a window some distance away from the forbidden door. Make this the most wonderful cat lounge spot ever—hide catnip or food treats in the bed, for example. Before you go out the door, make a point of giving your cat the best-treat-in-the-world, but only if she’s on this cat tree/bed (a safe distance from the door). While she munches, you can make a safe exist. Enlist help from friends to knock at the door or ring the doorbell to practice, so arrivals also make kitty think, “Hey, it’s TREAT time!”
Choose your battles and perhaps allow her to lounge on the television as long as she leaves the doorway alone. Karma enjoys his multilevel cat tree by a window on the same wall as the front door. He can watch all comings and goings from the window—and gets paid with a treat for planting his furry tail and staying put.
Karma also loves sitting on the stained glass kitchen table, to watch through the windows and chatter at the birds and squirrels. But when Shadow-Pup takes his potty break from the back door in the kitchen, though, Karma stays out of the kitchen. We close our pet gates to keep him out, and Karma safe.
Do your cats beg to go outside? Perhaps you have a terrific safe outside kitty playground–how did you create it? What are safety tips or training advice that have worked with your cat? The Ask Amy video below has some suggestions, too.
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!
Amy, this is a huge problem for us! Our one cat, Star, is just like a shooting star when he hears the door open. He even has learned how to unlatch and push open the screen door to shoot out – so we put new latches at the top to prevent this from happening. He also opens all the other latch doors in our old farmhouse to get in our rooms and night to wake us up! WE do have lounge areas for him to perch on and that helps. Great advice, Amy!
Child proof locks on cabinets help with some things…my cat also opens cupboard doors and can leap up e. and hang on the lever door handles on bedroom doors in our house. Tough to keep her confined!
Luckily our main door is in a hallway, which has two doors (to the basement apartment and the main floor). While the cats who live with our sons downstairs do come into the hall, and upstairs sometimes, it is easy to see them. There aren’t any hiding places close to the door.
Same with the upstairs cats.
And of course, when I’m taking the dogs out, the cats tend to get out of the way. Rose and Kleo are just a bit too rambunctious when going outside.
But when the come back in, everybody gets together for a snooze on the bed, so that works out.
The hardest part wasn’t training the cats, it was training the kids. The boys just couldn’t get it through their heads that it really isn’t all that safe for kitties up here. We get bears in town on garbage days too often, foxes walking the streets, and the local shelter ends up with too many frost bite cases in the winter time, and you haven’t seen anything as pitiful as a cat who had his ears and toes removed because they found the poor thing stuck in a snow bank dying of cold in minus forty weather. Hey, it didn’t get above minus forty for the entire month of January 2013…
The dogs are marginally better off. They know how to handle the cold a bit better, but we are really careful to make sure that they don’t get loose in winter time, or spend too much time outside. Beagles don’t do cold all that well.
How funny, Wayne. I’ve heard this over and over, that it’s far easier to train the cats (or dogs) than the humans. Very sad about the cold injuries to pets. Forty below is deadly. Temps that don’t reach those extremes can still cause damage.
I recently won one of the runner-up awards for my video about Mewdy Blue’s exploits and my way of stopping them! Basically I leash-trained him (though it didn’t take much actual training, he was a natural) and took him for walks every day. That seemed to take care of it although I didn’t mention in my video one of my rules: he wasn’t allowed to walk out the door. He could only go out if I carried him out. He still made a few attempts every spring (did so again this year) but isn’t as bad as before his walks.
Mewdy Blue’s not doing so well this weekend. I’m afraid his liver is acting up again. Please keep him in your thoughts.
That’s a great idea! For some cats, taking them out on leash turns them into a monster-better! But doing it right can have great benefits as you’ve shown.
Great article with lots of good ideas!
We compromised with our kitties–a little over a year ago we put together a “catio” (a secure outside room), and it seems to have taken away some of the fascination of the doorways (knock on wood!). They do spend a lot of time out there; they can go out and come in at will. Other than that, we rely on the “Ssst” or a verbal reminder.
I’ve thought about and actually purchased a harness and leash, but something tells me it might be opening Pandora’s box–that they’d like it too much and want to go out all the time. So we’ll stick with our compromise for now!
You’re right–often a taste of the great outdoors almost immediately becomes “addictive” and turns kitties into monsters begging for another taste. So you need to be prepared to provide a routine of outdoor excursions.
I love the “catio” idea! We’ve plans to develop something similar in our rose garden behind the house–but that would be in the future with other kitties, since Seren is quite satisfied with the status quo. *s*
I don’t have a kitty but we are thinking about getting a dog (I would love a little Yorkie) 🙂 I will be checking your website for advices on small doggies!
What fun! I love Yorkie’s! They are such opinionated and beautiful little guys (talk about big-dog attitude in small packages!). Keep me posted.
Thankfully neither of our kitties do the door dash. Simba used to live outdoors as a barn cat so I was afraid when she first moved inside that I’d have trouble with her, but apparently she decided this world of pillows and constant temperatures was nice, and runs AWAY from the door when it opens. LOL Didn’t have my own cat carrier yet that first week, CO alarm went off and I tried to carry her out and over to my grandparents’ place next door… she clawed her way down and ran back inside. Had to go borrow their carrier to get her. I think maybe she thought she’d tricked me into bringing her in, and was afraid maybe if she went toward the outside I’d remember she’s not allowed in the house and would boot her out. 😉
Anubis… well… he’s terrified of grass. LOL James has taken him out in his arms a few times years ago before they moved in here (he always just sort of clings when in strange territory), went to set him down once to let him chill out while supervised… Anubis turned into the amazing levitating cat, all four paws reaching as far away from the grass as possible.
Works out well for us.
That’s fortunate indeed. Behaviors change, too with kitty age. I find that the youngsters are much more daring and curious. The older ones are all “been there, done that, got the Tee shirt” and maybe not as intent on exploration.
Amy, you have the fastest fingers in the west! I love hearing about your tips. I’m a big believer in cat training/coaching basics: come, sit, stay commands. I wrote about my non-clicker techniques for the “come command” this week at my blog and will be writing about sit and stay next. With Halloween around the corner, it’s vital to keep our kitties safe.
Hi Layla, yes I read your excellent article. It is so important to take safety steps for our fur-kids. Thanks for the comment!
Amy…what a great article. Our cat is so cheeky, I recently had to go get him out of my neighbor’s backyard at an ungodly hour because he loves to watch her chooks. He can jump across but not back into our backyard. I personally prefer to ban him from going outdoors but my husband does not mind supervising his outings instead. I find the loud noises around the exit points very helpful in detering lewi from seeking the hidden post to exit the house :-).
Isn’t “being cheeky” in the the cat rule book? LOL! Lovely that your husband takes on the supervision duty. My dog would LIKE to get that job–but would end up getting distracted by sniffs and let Seren out of his sight.
By the way–what are chooks? (feeling dumb…) I don’t want my cat begging me for them. *s*
Chooks are chicken:) Aussie slang!
Kewl! I learned a new word!
THANKS FOR YOUR TIPS!!!!!!!! Somehow that important sentence was left out.
*s* You’re very welcome Brenda! And FIP is a @#$%^&U!%$!#@^%!!! disease for which there’s no cure, prevention, sure-fire treatment, test…but keeping kitties inside can sure reduce some of the risk for that and other kitty killers. Thanks for that important mention.
We had a dropoff kitten that died of FIP. Was a nasty breath-holding period after we found out what she had, because we still had all the other cats that she was hanging around up until then… thankfully nobody else got it. We were terrified for a while.
Our kitty varies but is sometimes that “cat on a mission” that was so vividly described. A cat show I listen to sometimes mentions an air horn that isn’t as loud as the standard ones but we don’t want to scare any visiting kitties that are walking through at the time so we have not tried that. Though we usually dissuade him, your tips sound interesting. (Our cat was an outdoor feral dear and sometimes wants to see his late sister’s progeny though lately he just wants to hiss at them and tell them to leave HIS property.)
Sonia, so terribly sorry to hear about the kitty that was lost due to being outside, think it is an important point to have shared that may save others. I’ve been reading about FIP lately and how it is transmitted at the Winn Feline Foundation web site, it should also help dissuade anyone from letting their cat cajole & coax them into that.
Such a great article. We lost our 11 year old cat because we started letting himself outside. He seemed to just want to hang out in the yard but then he started venturing further and didn’t come home one day. It was awful. We keep our new kittens inside but they do try to dash for the door. Our girl kitten especially likes to sneak out. She’s even hidden in our neighbor’s son’s stroller before. I’ve thought of taking them out on leashes. We’re going to try that. Maybe that will help. And we’ll just ignore any begging between outings. I like the spikey mat thing though. That might help the sneaking out the front door business.
Oh no, Sonia! So very sorry about your old kitty. A common problem with “go missing” cats is they get scared, hide, and are afraid to come out even if they see/hear you calling them.
Here’s a how-to on leash training cats that may help with your current kitten:
Love this post! I had two kittes for decades. One was an insane door-chaser and the other couldn’t have cared less. The best of both worlds. My door-chaser, Enigma, was fierce about it and not much stopped him. You’d jam him with your leg, you’d grab him and toss him a foot away, you’d hiss – nothing dissuaded him – he was a cat on a mission! He’d try over and over again running, tweaking, squeezing and more often than not, he was successful. Lucky for us, he never went far. Down the steps, the lawn, to munch on grass. You’d walk right over and pick him up – he wouldn’t even run! LOL!
He kept things interesting, that’s for sure…I miss him every single day! :-(((
“Cat on a mission…” I LOVE THAT! I am SO gonna steal that line. *s* Seren did the same thing in her younger days. Finally I got so I’d take her out on leash and she’d sniff and sprint up a tree (only 4 feet or so) and then beg for me to rescue her.
We always miss ’em, don’t we? But wouldn’t trade even the short time they’re with us.
Our new kitten is the reincarnation of Marco Polo and constantly trying to head out and explore new lands and/or visit Kublai Squirrel beyond the hedge wall. Love the “safe perch” idea and will be trying it out. Thanks!
LOL Gene! You have to watch out for the Evil Squirrel Empire–they will tempt innocent kittens into dire danger!