How Can I Get My Cat to Use the Pet Door?

Cat going through flap

Q. How can I get my cat to use the pet door? He doesn’t seem willing to push through it.

A. The easiest way for your pet to learn to use a pet door is to have another pet who's already using it. If you have another cat (or dog) in the home, it’s just a matter of time before they’re all using the flap. But if that's not an option, you certainly can train your cat to use the door eventually. Every animal learns at his or her own speed, and you may have to have a little patience — or a lot.

Start by taping the flap securely out of the way or removing it completely for the time being. (If you’re dealing with this in the dead of winter, you might want to save this project until the weather’s milder.) If you are going to tape the flap up, be sure you use enough tape to keep it from falling down. If a scaredy cat gets hit by the falling flap, good luck getting him anywhere near the door again.

Then begin training. Though dogs can often be coaxed through the opening with food and then rewarded with treats and praise, that might not work so well with your cat. If you are comfortable with clicker training, it’s pretty easy to build up to the behavior. Otherwise you’ll have to rely on offering yummy treats or just waiting until your cat figures out that the open flap is a great way to go where he wants, when he wants.

After he's going in and out with confidence, secure the flap halfway up so he can still see through the opening. Once that's working, you can put the flap all the way down. If your cat isn’t comfortable with the flap in the down position, you can put a little meat baby food on it to attract interest. When the flap moves as he nudges it, your cat should catch on pretty quickly.

A few things about pet doors to think about if you’re using them to provide access to the outside:

Consider the safety of your pet. If you’re allowing your cat access to the outdoors, you are putting him at risk. Though many people believe that cats need to roam free to be happy, it’s completely possible to keep your cat content inside your house. If you choose to do that, you will almost certainly be giving him a longer life. No longer exposed to the dangers of cars, coyotes, poisons (inadvertent and intentional), traps (ditto) and contagious disease, your indoor cat will likely live years longer than a cat who roams the neighborhood. If you still want an outdoor cat, make sure he's microchipped, so if he gets lost, he's more likely to be returned home.

Consider the safety of your home. Though it’s not as big a problem with a cat-size door, larger pet doors can provide easy access to your home by burglars. You can minimize the risk by making sure the door isn’t visible from the street or alley by anyone looking into your yard. You can also build an L-shaped chute to make it more difficult for a person to get to and through the pet door.

And finally, consider the safety of your energy budget. Make sure you choose a door that’s appropriate for your climate. There are doors that have tight-sealing double-flaps to minimize loss of heat or air-conditioning. And check the flaps every so often. When they no longer fit well, replace them to maintain peak energy efficiency.


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