I first wrote this forTechnocopia.com back in 1999.
If you’re in a flap about how your cat makes its entrance, here’s a few ideas.
My neighborhood is typical of combined renters and owners. We’re a cat neighborhood, with a few dogs. My neighbors to the left have one cat, to the right have two cats, above me have four, and I have one. As people move in and out of the rental places and the co-op housing there’s always a new cat or two plus the regulars on the block.
There are tabbies and black cats, tiger-stripped gingers and grays. There’s old cats, spry young ones, cats that are fixed and those that are toms. In the cat realm there are cat politics, alliances and wars. Figment, my outdoorsy cat, has some friends and a few territory scuffles.
He used to drive me crazy, squeaking dirty, wet paws across my bedroom window, late at night, before I had an acrylic door put into my house door for him. It’s a bit of a trick at first getting a cat to go through something so strange. It leaves them in a vulnerable position, half outside, half inside and anything could attack right then. I started by taping the see-through flap open to get him used to moving through the hole this creates. Cats tend to like this right away because there’s no waiting for that lazy human to come and open the door at her whim.
The next steps progress at what you think your cat can handle, and work best if you have juicy tidbits to entice him through the opening. You begin by taping the door open but with less and less open space. The cat may shy from this at first. Figment did, but you stand on one side saying encouraging things and hold up a delectable little snack. For Figment it was smoked salmon (a true yuppie cat). He’d hesitantly put a paw up to the door then push through with his head.
Continue lowering the flap more and more until it is completely closed. Then you still have to stand on one side and waft appealing aromas through the flap and tell your cat to come on in. You may have to encourage him the first few times. This process takes from one to two weeks. The flaps close as the cat exits or enters without slamming on their tails. One tail slam and the cats would abandon the entrance and the manufacturers would be out of business. And because there are no big motors, the noise doesn’t upset the sensitivity that cats show around vacuum cleaners and other motorized monsters. Once the cat is used to the door, he’ll come and go at will. No more noisy 3 a.m. yowls at the door or window.
Figment liked to lay on the carpet and watch the world go by his cat door. When an enemy walked by he’d barrel through to make his stance. Which comes to one of the weak spots in cat doors. The simple plastic hinges can break if hit hard enough. But Figment was fifteen pounds of pure cat muscle. They stand up to normal usage just fine and have an insulating nylon pile to help seal out drafts when the door is closed. Most doors can be left unlocked for in and out access, as well as locked in one direction or the other, and can be locked completely for times when the cat needs to stay home.
The one real problem with a cat door is the free access. Most cats won’t know how to use them. One of our neighborhood toms did. Fortunately Figment liked him but I still had a moocher and once in a while, that unpleasant smell of unneutered cat urine. I didn’t want to lock the cat door and keep Figment out so I looked into an electromagnetic cat door. The only difference between a manual cat door and the electromagnetic door is the magnet key that is hung from the cat’s collar.
The door has the electromagnetic switch, which is run by batteries, or as Mark at Mark’s Pet Stop told me, with an electrical cord (about $30 higher in cost). All the doors have locking switches. Mark told me people generally find they work well and have no problems except for one woman who wanted to keep her neighbor’s cat out of her house. She purchased the electromagnetic door and loved it so much she told her neighbor, who decided to get one for his cat. Same brand, same magnets, same switches. The neighbor’s cat had free reign of two houses once again.
The tom moved on and I never bought the door. I had reservations too because I’ve never managed to keep a collar on Figment for long, due to his territorial wrestling. All I’d need is an $80 door that my cat couldn’t get into because he lost his collar.
The only problem I had was that one of Figment’s little friends would come sit at the door. She didn’t know how to go through it but she would sit outside and bat the door so it swung back and forth.
The regular, manual cat door runs about $20-$30, with the electromagnetic ones starting at $80-$90. The English Pet Mate (Cat Mate in Canada) runs on the magnet key for the collar. The Staywell has a nonmagnetic collar key. The super deluxe Solo Motorized Door works by sensor on the collar and the door moves out of the way by the time your pet reaches it. It closes by gravity. These ritzy models begin at $360 and go up to the dog-sized door price of $800. Spare keys can be bought for all the electronic/electromagnetic door which do lock once the pet is through them.
Installation does involve having to cut a hole in your door (or in some cases, your wall), but a template of the correct size is supplied with Pet Mate. The frame is easily mounted with a screwdriver. Some of the electronic doors can be wired into the walls. All come with a warranty.
Addendum: Eventually I had problems with raccoons coming into the house, through the cat door. I did buy the electromagnetic door. I had to lock it to keep Figment in for a vet’s appointment. But Figment, always desperate to be outside, clawed at the door until he knocked the plate off where the wiring was. He shredded the copper wiring and lost the spring that actually opened and closed the door. And true to form, he lost his collar in a fight.
I wrote the company with my sad tale and it gave them a laugh. They sent the new piece but I never installed it. Figment just wasn’t good with collars. I locked the door so that nothing could come in but Figment could go out. This worked out well enough though I still had to let him in at nights.
Then Venus came along. I purposefully didn’t teach her how to use the door because she was very mean to Figment and at least he got the range of the outdoors without her bugging him. Figment passed on from cancer a year and a half ago. Venus has full range and although I never taught her how to use the door, she figured it out. This doesn’t stop her from meowing for me to go and open the door for her.
And Jasper, the big fluffy gray cat that used to be Figment’s buddy, waits outside the cat door peering in. It used to drive Figgy crazy because he wouldn’t go out with Jasper standing there. Venus just hisses.