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Do you have a door darting cat that makes a dash for the open door at every opportunity?
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.
Jenna Hughson says
This is great! My cats don’t door dash, but my moms kitties do, so when we cat-sit them, it can be tough to keep them away from the door.
Carol Bryant says
Guess what? About a year and a half ago our Dexter the dog “found” a lost cat in the neighborhood who darted out the door. I always wondered how to prevent that. I am loving that you shared how to prevent it and gave folks options according to their cat. Great tips here!
Beth (@dailydogtag) says
Our cat is pretty old, so he ambles. If he makes it to the door, he is easy to pick back up, but these are good tips to keep a quick cat safe!
These are great tips and oh so timely, because one of my cats has recently started this behavior. Thank you!
Tenacious Little Terrier says
We were warned that a foster dog had door darting tendencies but he never showed any inclination towards it. Probably because the door was the opposite direction from the kitchen.
When Manna was younger, she was a bit of a door darter. It seems to me that her motivation for doing so was novelty and attention-getting. She would dart out the door as soon as it was open, run a couple of yards, and start rolling around. If we didn’t chase her, she would get annoyed, stand up, start meowing and come back to the door. When we would open the door for her to come in or try to grab her, she would run again and repeat the exercise. This behavior was overcome by 1) growing out of it and 2) snow. In Michigan, it is not unusual for there to consistently be a foot or so of snow on the ground from the end of November through about April. As Manna found out, snow is cold, wet, and rather inconvenient to kitties. Once in a great while she will still try darting out the door, but she doesn’t go far before frantically running back inside.
Thank goodness Gracie and Zoe are not door darters. After so many years at the shelter, it may be that they know they’ve got it good here in the house. In fact, none of our cats (all shelter kitties) have been door darters. How lucky! 🙂
Dash Kitten says
Ours are all indoor/outdoor cats so I had never realised there was an issue. I have had friends lost cats to traffic and door darting though so I know it happens and it can destroy lives. In Europe and places like New Zealand cats are allowed more freedom I think.
christycaplan (@christycaplan) says
Door darting is so scary! While we don’t live with cats – we do live with three dogs and while two don’t care enough to dart out, I have one that would escape if he had the opportunity. I had to put in baby gates which helped manage that a ton! Great tips. The water bottle is a good one.
Cats are funny beasts.
Chaos used to do this a lot until I changed his relationship with the door.
Every time the door opened, I would throw a great away from the door so he started to understand that door opening means treats appear by the sofa.
After a few days practice, every time the door opened, he would run and sit on the sofa
Cathy Armato says
All excellent suggestions for avoiding cats slipping out the door. That behavior can certainly get a feline severely injured or worse! Your tip about making home more enjoyable is great. I would add to that the concept of a Catio – a patio for cats! If you have safe outdoor space, that is. Jackson Galaxy of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell has great examples of a CatioCatio.
Sarcastic Dog says
Growing up, I had a cat who would constantly try make a break for it out the front door. He would slip behind a large potted plant we had in the front hall and then make a run for the door the minute you reached for the handle. What was interesting is that if he ever made a successful escape, he would get a few feet down the front walkway, stop, look around, and immediately run back into the house. We had a wonderful back yard with a high fence that he would lounge in and never tried to climb the fence or leave the back yard but, for some reason the front was always enticing until he got a few steps from the door.
I have dogs now and I use a baby gate to block the front hall not only so they can’t make a door dash but also so that I can answer the door without the three of them under foot 😉
What a great post guys, as most of us go out on a regular basis we don’t have this issue and the P.A. always tells us to ‘back-away from the door’ when she is leaving us inside, so we sit there and watch her go! MOL
The Daily Pip says
Neither of our current cats are door darters, thankfully. My cat, Toonces, was a covert escape artist when she was a kitten, but grew out of it when she was older. We lived in an apartment building so she couldn’t go very far, but I spent many a time chasing her up and down the hallway. I think it was a game to her and gosh, was she fast!
The Swiss Cats says
Those are very good tips for cat owners. We are not very lucky door darters, because our entry has two doors : the main house door opens on a tiny hall, and then another door opens on our indoor. Claire and Momo apply the rule “one door at time” very strictly, and tell every one (workers, family, …) to do the same. Purrs
Jasmine | About Pet Rats says
I love your thorough analysis on why cats would want to dart out the door as well as your many excellent tips on prevention. Also, the photos you chose are gorgeous. What a wonderful post!
Cheryl Mallon-Bond says
Thanks for the tips. I have many cats & most don’t “door dash”, but one in particular, who used to be an indoor/outdoor cat (before I adopted him, because his prior person, a friend of mine, had suddenly died) he dashes out like the speed of lightening! Most recently, he dashed out w/out my knowledge. It was dark out & my outside porch light bulb was out. I heard a loud bang outside & opened the door very briefly, & he, unbeknownst to me, was out. I didn’t know he was gone for quite some time, because we do have a lot of cat’s.
Anyway, we did get him back the next day, but it was extremely stressful while he was gone! We live on a busy road and were petrified of him darting into the road & getting hit! We searched the neighborhood for hours & finally after “scenting” around the property, he came home! I think I kissed & hugged him so much that night & barley let him go!
I would like to mention one bit of constructive criticism in regards to one of your tips. I think that if cat toys are left by the front door, the cat(s) will associate the front door w/ the positive reinforcement of the toy(s) & could possibly make the cat stay by the door anyway. Unless the toys are not noticeable by the cat, say a drawer or cabinet that is easily accessible in the foyer, or just kept in a zip-lock baggy in your purse or coat pocket.
Another possible tip would be an automatic toy that lights up, or moves in some way that would entice the cat(s) & distract her/him, but that could automatically shut off after a period of time, as to not drain the batteries.
I would like to suggest a follow-up article about what to do if your cat(s) get out & you are desperately trying to get them to return home. Here are some suggestions that have helped me get not only my own cat back, but, (as a cat rescuer) has helped me get other people’s cats back as well)
(1)-Besides physically going out all over the neighborhood looking for & verbally calling for your cat(s), bring their favorite canned cat food & open the top when your outside, not indoors, so the burst of scent entices your cat if they are possibly near-by. Bring a spoon & mix up the food in the can as you are traveling the neighborhood to keep the scent of the food potent & enticing to your cat.
(2)-Call &/or visit your surrounding neighbors: (be sure to bring a carrier(s) w/ you because even a docile cat if nervous & disoriented could EASILY freak out & jump out of your arms if you find her & attempt to bring her home. Tell all your neighbors about your cat being missing & show them a picture of your cat. Ask them to let you look all over their property, especially in car-ports, shed’s, under gaps in shed’s, porches, bushes, garages, up-in-tree’s etc. Then, as soon as you have canvassed the immediate neighborhood or while your still canvassing, have another family member make up a flyer w/ a GOOD QUALITY pic of your cat) making sure it’s NOT blurry & that any specific markings or characteristics are clearly visible. Give flyers to as many neighbors as possible, especially for people who were not home when you went around the neighborhood looking for your cat.
Put inside plastic page protectors to help protect from rain/snow & bring a heavy duty staple gun & put at eye level on telephone poles (as many as possible, especially concentrating by stop signs where people might have more of an opportunity to see the flyer as they come to a full stop)
(4)-Buy/own a have-a-heart trap:
Even if you are not planning on trapping any other cats, it is a really good idea for every cat parent to own at least 1 trap incase of emergency. The old saying..”better to have it & not need it, then need it, & not have it applies here! When you have an emergency like this you don’t want to waste time having to go to stores, wasting valuable time when time is of the essence! If you have the trap on hand, already put together, you can bait the trap & put by your front area of your home, preferably secluded, under or besides a tree or bush. It is a good idea to partially cover the trap, so if you are out looking for your cat(s) & she gets trapped she won’t freak out & thrash about the trap if it is partially covered. Take a sheet or large towel (if warmer Temps, or use a heavy blanket if cold temps. If cold temps, it’s a good idea to put something under the trap to keep it off the cold ground. Just be sure that the trap is level & NOT shakey or wobbly or the cat will NOT go in trap, or worse, cause the trap door to spring shut scaring the cat off & potentially spooking her/him away further.
(5)-How to bait the trap:
Use your cats favorite irresistible food as bait. The stinkier the better, sardines (packed in water), mackerel, tuna work well, but if your cat loves say fresh cooked chicken better than fish, then picking up, quick, up an already cooked rotisserie chicken at the super-market will be good too.
Line the trap w/ some news paper or something similar, but if it is particularly windy then you might be beet to not line it at AL, because if the wind causes the newspaper to flap all over the place, that in-and-of-itself, will possibly freak-out your cat & she will avoid the trap like the plaque.
Put a SMALL amount of the chosen bait at the front of the trap, another small amount just before the trip plate, then a good size portion ALL THE WAY IN BACK of the trap in one side of the corner of the back of the trap. Set the trap door, again making sure that the trap is on flat land & NOT wobbly in any way whatsoever. Another helpful method to attract your cat into the trap, besides the food bait, is to get a small clean rag & rub it vigorously all over areas where your cat spends a lot of her/his time, such as cat-beds, blankets, cat scratching posts, a cat brush etc. Rub the rag on all of these potential surfaces to intensity your cats scent. Take rag & rub it all over the inside of the trap to help lure your cat.
(6)-Other way’s to “scent mark”:
Take the rag you “scented” w/ your cats scent & “scent mark” at the height of your cat starting from your front steps leading to your door & make a “cat scented path” all around your property remembering to do this only at your cats height level, where normal sniffing from your cat can occur. Areas to scent include, mailbox post, tree’s on your property, on your house, garage, shed. Be sure to scent ENTIRE property from front to back. It is also a good idea to scent in your immediate neighborhood lamp poles, as a way to lure your cat in a scent trail back to your property. This is extremely important because your cat could be disorientated, especially if she/he hasn’t ever been outside & their scent has never been marked on your property.
(7)–Search online for lost/found sites:
This is best to do ahead of time & have on hand so that in the event of an emergency you are not wasting valuable time getting your cat back. Post on these sites, again having a good quality picture, showing special markings or features that can help identify your cat.
Contact your local municipal shelter, local Rescue group’s & especially trying to find out about any local feral colony caretakers in your area as your cat might have found its way to a local colony for a food source. Many local neighbors might also be feeding feral cats, so be sure to ask your neighbors about if they are doing so, to keep an eye out for a new-commer’s.
I’m sure that some of this could be out of order, or could be condensed etc. I hope any of this could he helpful to be included in a follow-up article on finding a lost cat.
I’ve trained my dogs to not run out the door, but to be honest never did that with my cats. Instead I would yell at my husband if he stood with the door open! I guess these tips are a better plan. Great post.
I sure could have used this back in the day when I had a major door darting cat! He was always escaping.
Golden Daily Scoop says
Our kitty luckily isn’t a door darter but the Goldens on the other hand is a different story. lol
We have had a few door darters in our time. Once one of our females got out and waited in the shrubs til we came to rescue her, to this day we are still not sure how she slithered out.
Great info and tips! Yes, this is one of my worst nightmares! Luckily, I haven’t really had to worry about this much though. But I am always very aware when I come and go — and I always stress to cat sitters to watch the door, too.
Excellent post. I am lucky that the only door darter is Joanie and she only darts into the kitchen from the living room.
We aren’t door darters, much to my human’s relief, but we certainly wouldn’t hesitate to wander outside if we had the opportunity, even if that meant pawing open a door that was just the slightest bit ajar. So my human is very careful about making sure we are not near any doors when humans are coming in or out.