This dangerous behaviour can have an unhappy ending if kitty dashes out the door into the path of a car. Or alternatively the cat may slip out, lose her bearings, and get hopelessly lost. Both options are a cat guardian’s worst nightmare, and that’s without the increased risk of the cat getting into a fight and picking up an infectious disease such as FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus.) And pregnancy . . . did we mention pregnancy in the unspayed female?
To avoid the heart-break of a door darting cat getting into terrible trouble outdoors, let’s take a look at why cats door dart and then what to do about it.
Why Do Cats Door Dart?
There are two types of door darting cats:
1. The blatant darter — This is the cat that reads the signals you are about to leave and rushes to the door. You know as soon as the door cracks open a jar that the cat will nose out and be gone.
2. The covert escape artist — This cat feigns disinterest and lurks languidly on the other side of the room. Somehow . . . and you’re never sure how . . . she slips past you (usually on a dark night) and is gone.
Add into the mix a gaggle of kids who forget to close the door, an armful of groceries, or the postman calling unexpectedly and the recipe for loss or injury is complete.
So why do some cats feel the need to escape?
There are a multitude of reasons which include:
- Boredom — the world outside looks like one big enticing amusement park
- Territorial — the cat wishes to check who has been on her territory
- Scent marking — the cat wants to advertise that this is her house
- Mating — the intact cat is compelled to go dating
- Habit — it’s what the cat has always done and she feels obliged to keep up the routine.
Decrease the Attraction of Door Darting
If your home is a perfect pet paradise, why would she want to roam? But before we start on how to create a cat-friendly home, if your cat is entire then get her spayed (or him neutered) to calm the hormones that urge the cat to roam.
Make your home more attractive by making it a stimulating and satisfying place for the cat. In other words, look at things from a cat’s point of view.
It’s no coincidence that cats get stuck up trees. This is because they love to climb, and indeed cats like to live in vertical space (going up) as well as horizontal (on the ground). Provide a couple of tall cat towers and place one next to a window so she can survey the neighbourhood from up high. Put the other on the opposite side of the room to the door, to provide a platform for treats (more on this later.)
Enrich your cat’s world by providing scratch posts so that she can do those yoga stretching exercises whilst sharpening her claws and scent marking. Pay her plenty of attention and actively play with her twice a day so she is worn out by the time you leave home. Also, stimulate her mind by using puzzle feeders for her meals, so she thinks more about getting her meals and less about escape.
Teaching Your Cat to Not to Door Dart
Since when did your cat do what she was told? It’s a waste of breath (and can damage your relationship) to scold the cat for door dashing. A much better idea is to retrain her so that she’d rather stay put. There are a number of strategies you can try. One may work or you may need to use a combination.
- Ignore by the Door — Cease all forms of interaction near the door. Remove the potent attraction of attention and retrain her to expect a greeting elsewhere. This should make the cat stop hovering by the door in the expectation of attention.
- Greetings Spot — Designate a place a distance from the door as where you say “Hello” and “Goodbye.” This could be a platform on the cat tower or a low stool. Lure the cat there with a treat and praise so she associates this spot with rewards rather than the door itself.
- Change your Routine — If you know your cat is a door dasher, instead of the usual pantomime when it’s time to leave, prepare a puzzle feeder. Calmly place this a few feet from the door so the cat is distracted and you can make an quick exit.
- Door Distractions — If you have children then keep a box of cat toys beside the door. Teach the kids to throw a toy for the cat to chase whilst they come in, so the cat is too busy chasing toys to think about slipping out.
- Clicker Train — Train your cat with a clicker and a reward. Teach her that not to door dash is a good thing, by clicking and reward, when she sits by the door rather than running out. Start with the door closed, and as she learns she has to sit to get a treat, open the door incrementally.
- The “Angry” Door — If your problem is more when you return home, keep a spray bottle of water on the outside of the door. Open the door a fraction and spritz in the cat’s general direction. This works best if the cat doesn’t see you but associates the unpleasant mist with the door opening. In most circumstances there are better training methods than punishing the cat, but in this case where safety is at stake, the water spray method is acceptable.
What are your experiences of door darting cats? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below.