Last week, a friend experienced every cat guardian’s nightmare: a family member was careless about leaving the door open, and her two young kittens got out.

My friend had left to run some errands. She had asked that the kittens be closely watched while she was gone. When she returned home, she called the kittens. They didn’t respond. She went from room to room searching. No sight of the kittens. She went outside and walked all around her large property, shaking a treat bag, and calling for them. Becoming increasinly hysterical, she got into her car and started slowly driving down the road, all the while calling their names. She found them about a quarter of a mile down the highway, huddled together on the front stoop of an auto repair shop.

My friend’s story had a happy ending. The kittens returned from their adventure safe and unharmed. My friend’s nerves may take a little longer to recover. But not all stories of indoor cats running out the door end this well.

The following tips and safety precautions can help keep your indoor cat safe inside, where she belongs.

Create an enriched, stimulating environment for your indoor cat

By providing a catified home for your cat, you’ll prevent boredom, and they won’t even want to go outside.

Consider leash training

Some cat experts recommend leash training indoor cats so they can safely go outdoors. I do not always agree with this recommendation. It depends on your cat’s temperament, but for some cats, giving them a taste of the great outdoors, even if from the safety of a leash and harness, simply makes outdoors more enticing for cats – and that’s exactly the opposite of what you want.

Train your cats to come when you call them

This is not all that hard to do. Call their name, and reward them with a treat each time they come to you. For many cats, simply hearing the sound of the treat bag coming out of the cabinet will do the trick, and that’s fine, too. You need a reliable signal that tells your cat she needs to come to you. This will not only help in the event that your cat does get out, it will also be useful in emergency situations.

Use caution when opening doors

Cat sitters are well aware that many cats are door darters, and they act accordingly. My cat sitter always puts her bag into the opening of the door before she even enters – that way, she can gently push any curious kitties back into the house before she comes in.

If you have a cat who consistently darts for the door when it’s being opened, distract him. Throw some treats into the hallway behind you before you leave, or ahead of you when you enter. Use a laser pointer to distract cats who respond to it. Don’t use squirt bottles to deter your cat. Squirt bottles do not stop undesired behavior. All they do is ruin the bond between you and your cat.

Another option is to not use your front door at all. I have friends who never let visitors enter through the front door. The enter through the garage and the adjacent laundry room. This way, the garage door can be closed before the laundry room door to the house is even opened. I like this “double entry” system so much that I started using it in my own home. Even though Allegra and Ruby are not door darters, this way of entering my home is safer when I have my hands full of bags, or when delivery people show up.

Make sure that all family members know that letting the cat out is never okay.

Close your cats into a room when you have service or repair persons at your home

Service persons may need to frequently enter and exit your home during the time they work inside your house. It’s safer to keep kitty away from the activity until the repairs are completed.

Make sure your cats are micrcochipped

In the even that your cat gets lost, a microchip may be the only way she’ll find her way back home. Collars are important, too, but they can come off. If your cat wears a collar, make sure that it has updated contact information. A friend has all his cat’s collar tags inscribed with the words “I’m lost if outside.”

I cannot even imagine what my friend went through while she was searching for her kittens. The closest I’ve come to feeling what she was feeling was when Allegra hid inside my kitchen cabinets while I was out running errands. When I returned, I couldn’t find her anywhere. That episode took a good twenty years off my life!

Do you have any tips for keeping your cats from getting out the door? Please share them in a comment.

Photo by Jerome Decq, Flickr Creative Commons

48 Comments on How to Prevent your Indoor Cat from Running Out the Door

  1. Are you aware of those plastic carpet protectors? The ones used under office chairs, so they glide over carpet better?
    On the underside, they are spiked. 3/32″ inch or so of plastic so they stay in place.
    Simply cut to size, for in front of your door and place it so the spikes side is up.
    Your cat will never tread on that again, and your door darting daredevil will be safe.

  2. So, I do not agree with not using the spray bottle filled with water. I’ve had two cats and trained them both. Your hand is their friend that’s why we should never hit an animal. They know the spray bottle is a no-no. I only had to use a few times and I would leave it by the door. Now they are older they just could careless about going outside. They are just excited I’m home.

  3. Because I have new foster kitties coming in, I use SCATMAT’s. It is like touching a door knob when you have static electricity. I do not have to worry like before because it teaches them to stay away from the door and allows you to quickly step in or out. I have never seen a cat touch it more than once. It is not cruel. Cruel is your cat getting outside and run over, or mauled by another animal. Not 100% because they can jump over it but it does allow you to get in and get out the door easier.

  4. I know this post page is a few years old, but I found it through a Google search for tricks I can incorporate into what I started already. With my new ESA Tybalt, the tuxedo cat, I started gently reaching in the door to pet him as he was trying to come out. He is a very affectionate cat, and when I started doing this, he just freezes and leans into the petting, then follows me when I stop petting him. The one time he darted out the door, be kind of freaked and immediately ran back in, so I punished him by scolding him, and putting him on the couch and not petting him when he cried at me. So far the petting has worked, but I haven’t had my arms super full or tried bringing in lots of groceries yet. Another way to disinterest him in the door has been to make him a spot in the window to sit. I was afraid, at first, this would cause him to be more enticed by the outside world, but he really only spends about five to ten minutes in the window. I guess I’m really lucky. I wanted his brother, but when I went to get him, his brother wanted nothing to do with me, and Tybalt glued himself to me. I guess instead of choosing a cat, he chose me! He follows me everywhere and always wants to be by my side. He’s really my best friend.

    • Holy cow! Rewarding is working spectacularly! I started setting him on the back of the couch (and sometimes asking him to sit there) and telling him to stay while petting him, and he will sit there and wait for me to come back in when I reward him with pets. I’ve been doing this every time I take out the trash, throw away his used litter, or check the mail, and when I came back from a grocery trip, he sat on the back of the couch when I brought in the groceries waiting to be pet. I started to put him in my bedroom for a second trip, but my mother and daughter both carried a load in, making it one big trip. I was still worried he’d dart out between us, but he simply didn’t. I’ve tried rewarding him with treats, but he just isn’t interested in them, perfering pets instead. Either way, rewards are totally working; I just have to stay consistent and always watch him. He’s also the kind of cat that actually loves collars and harnesses, and I started harness and leash training him for vet trips, so he knows he can’t go out without it. Today he’s going to the vet for his neutering and vaccinations. Wish him well! I’m more scared than him!

    • I have a beautiful, vivacious, awesome furry friend named Chewy. She is extremely attracted to anything outdoors, especially things that move. All 6 of my cats are strictly indoors.
      It wasn’t until Chewy started showing the tell tale signs of a female in heat, that her urge to escape and explore escalated extremely! I was frustrated, for sure. But the more I would pay attention to her while outside, the more she saw it as a game of and mouse, literally.
      So first, I purchased a TrackR Pixel that I attached right to her collar. It’s super light weight and the size of a quarter, plus it’s blue tooth.
      I like the TrackR device, but I still thought I could do something else, just in case the battery died or she wiggled out of her collar.
      So I decided to ignore her for the 1st 10-20 minutes after she got out. I stopped chasing her through out the yard, and just waited. Sometimes I would even go back inside, or bring out her favorite toy (flying feathers on a rope,)
      BUT…… Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to scold her or put her in a room by herself, but I didn’t.
      Instead, I rewarded her for coming back. I would wait til she came to the door or I would bring the treats outside and shake them.
      Then, once inside and only inside, did she receive the treats.
      She went from staying outside for 3-4 hours to 10-20 minutes.
      —–I realized that POSITIVE REACTIONS will have a greater result—–
      By punishing them, is only going to hurt you and your relationship with your furry friend. Hope this helps somebody facing a similar situation.

  5. My “door darter” is food motivated and responds best to positive reinforcement. Our problem was more with the garage door than the front door, so we trained her to sit for treats at the entrance to the laundry room when we came in from the garage. The rest of our cats picked up on it, and now we sometimes have quite a gauntlet to get through when we come home, but we don’t have to chase the cat around the garage.

      • I have a Great Dane, golden retriever and a tiny tuxedo cat. My cat Holly always hangs with the dogs and wants to go out all the time. I have hawks and owls that circulate constantly and it terrifies me that she will be taken if she goes out. The whole back of my house is sliding glass doors and I have 3 kids and a very busy household with friends. She keeps sneaking out. I hate the idea of an electric collar but I fear it might be my only option. If she keeps getting out she will eventually be prey I’m sick about this…any suggestions?

  6. Hey Ingrid! Rajah is definitely a door darter. He’s gotten a lot better over the last two years though. Now even if he goes out the door, all I have to do is call his name and shake the can of greenies and he’ll come back. He’s starting to calm down a little more now that he’s almost four. He still loves to play, but he doesnt’ run for the door as often as he used to.

  7. Eleven years ago, when looking for a new house, I had 3 requirements: double front door entry, a good place for the litter boxes and a bathroom my husband could turn around in. I must have looked a 100 houses until I found the right one. It has a 4′ x 5′ entryway that we call the “Cat Airlock”. We can open the outside door, move all grocery bags in, close that door and open the interior door. Although my kitties don’t show much interest in going in the entryway, I make scary noises if they approach it. It is a huge piece of mind!

    • I love that airlock idea, Deb! I use a similar system in that I never use my front door – I go in through the garage, which connects to the laundry room and then into the house, which provides a double fail safe system.

  8. I put some pennies in an empty soda can & kept it by the door for a while when I moved to a new house. When the cats (we have 6) would come near the door as I was going in or out, I’d pick up and shake the can. They didn’t like the noise and ran quickly away; just did that a few times; years later, they now run away from the door every time it opens. They associate the open door with the awful sound of pennies in the can even though we haven’t done it in years.

  9. I have an entry way from my living room to my hallway that leads to the front door. I went to home depot, got a screen door(the cheapest one) and attached it to the entryway. I attached a lift and lock piece that just screwed into the door and the wall, so when I leave I can lock that screen door and not have to worry about my cats running out. I also have a screen door on my front door just in case 🙂
    I have 4 cats and severe anxiety about my cats and their safety. Especially during storms. I even have a blanket to cover my oldest cat up when the storms are loud. He used to be an outside cat before I found him and took him in so I make sure he is taken care of to the point some call, spoiled.

  10. My cat was escaping out the doggie door flap. We replaced that one with an electric door that requires our dog to were a sensor on his collar. Now the cat has figured out how to “piggy back” out the door when the dog goes out. Kudos to the cat for being so smart, but it’s driving me nuts! He is smart enough to come when he is called, so that helps. We do have a fenced in backyard and I’ve kind of “given in” to letting him go in the back yard wearing a leash and harness. I’m hoping that satisfying his need to be outside that way will kind of quell his escape artist tendencies. I’ve tried commercial cat deterrents – he’s pretty much ignored all of them. The only thing I haven’t tried is a trick I heard about putting Vicks VapoRub around the opening to the doggie door. Cats supposedly don’t like the smell. I’m just afraid the dog won’t like it either and won’t use the door! Any other suggestions anyone might have would really be welcome!

  11. Thanks for sharing us these helpful tips. I’m so happy that your friend’s story had a happy ending.
    Kittens should be kept inside so that they will not be lost. I know that those kittens were so scared. Fortunately, they were returned safe and unharmed.
    I have a sign that I put in my front door to always close the door when going in and out. Good thing it is very effective.

  12. I found two 5 week old sisters under a bridge. Both spayed now and utterly spoiled rotten. Way, way too many cat toys and things. Anyway, both sisters.. Lucy and Reechard Parker have me trained.
    Lucy is extremely happy frolicking like mini elephants thru the house. But Reechard has developed more tricks to dart outside. Literally bounces off two walls to get the 3 inch crack out door. Once she bolts she looks back laughing at me.
    I had to resort to putting her in the laundry room before even answering the door. But restricting her has only made her want outside more. I live near a really busy road, near a huge rushing river, and surrounded by a pack of coyotes the moment the sun wains. This pack kills feral experienced outdoor cats nightly. Reechards aunts and highly feral mother was resently killed and partcially eaten on my lawn. Needless to say this just tears me up and the idea of losing Reechard makes me physically sick.
    I’ve tried everything mentioned and listed by other people. All just escalates the problem. Keep in mind this cat is trained to sit, give me 5 and 10. Roar like the tiger, point and jump anywhere on a blink of my eye. Wave bye bye. The list just goes on and on. She has also trained me in things not so cool. Like when I’m dead asleep she pounced on my stomach to wake up and feed her.
    Ok anyway, I’m sure most cat people would say their cats have mind control.. Well Reechard really does and when she fails at it, she resorts to dirty tricks.
    Please, please someone help me save her.
    Thanks! Windy

    • I recommend working with a feline behaviorist, Wendy. And until you find someone to work with, you need to stick with the routine of putting your cat in the laundry room before you open the door to keep her safe, even if you feel that makes things worse. Try rewarding her when you put her in that room – give her treats or a favorite toy when you put her in there.

  13. Kitshka is starting to go near the door whenever the humans are leaving or coming back. They are very cautious!
    I think in her case it’s not that she is bored but she is curious and mischievous so an open door is new territory to explore. She is a kitty after all!
    Your friend must have been really scared. I know my human would have been too. Like Allegra, I hid a couple of times in places my human couldn’t find me easily. She was very scared that I would not respond or show up when called.
    My human put us in the bedroom too when there is some repairman, especially since they are less careful if they don’t have kitties.

  14. We have 6 cats sharing our home and I am extremely careful (bordering on paranoid!) about ensuring they are all safe. When we have any repair people in our house or even a large crowd (i.e., parties) we ALWAYS lock all the critters up in our bedroom or spare room. They have everything they need to be comfortable and we can rest assured that they are safe.

  15. This is a wonderful example of the danger of not being proactive. I always remind friends and family members to put cat in a safe place when expecting company or service technicians. They always say that all will be fine. I have had cats sneak out doors and I know that it is not always fine. My first siamese got out the door and took up residence with another family in my apartment building for a week. Safe but I was frazzled.

  16. When I fostered a pair of kittens, my cat aggressive family cat required that I keep them in a crate (with rotated time for them to get out and play until they were tired). The crate training … making the crate a positive, safe place where they were fed and got treats…turned out to be a great thing after the kittens were adopted.

    The kittens’ adoptive Mama kept the crate out in her bedroom, covered under a pretty sheet, with the front and the door open. The kittens frequently used it as a safe space for snuggling and sleeping when Mama was at work, and when workmen or her super needed to come into her apartment to do repairs when she was away, she simply put the cats in their crate, and they’d be fine and SAFE until she came home.

    I now crate-train all of my fosters.

  17. I live in an apartment and I have put up a barrier between the front door and the rest of the apartment. I have a bookcase and a screen that cut off access to the door so my kitty can not get out when I open the door. I bring in groceries and drop them off at the door until I am done and then I open up the screen.

  18. This particular group of cats was never outdoors except their rescued mom, and while she is now a happy housecat she still gets in the mood to make a break for the great outdoors. I presume she will do this every time the door is opened, and that eventually one or all the four others will as well, and prepare accordingly. A group of very quick and agile cats taught me lessons about trusting the fact they loved living indoors! At one point I had to lock them all in the basement or a bedroom just to bring in the groceries.

    In addition to all that’s mentioned above, I would add that you should check the integrity of your screens and the latches on your doors and windows–a small tear you can’t even see can be pulled larger and let a cat out, and a leap against a door after something seen outdoors can unintentionally dislodge a latch that’s loose on a screen door. Trust me, it’s happened.

    • That’s good advice about the screens and latches, Bernadette. I’ve actually gotten into the habit of checking screens each time I open a window – it’s become second nature.

  19. I’m big on teaching basic training: learning their name, come when called, sit and stay commands. Whenever we return home at least two cats are waiting at the door. A firm “Stay!” and we’re good to go.

  20. I have a signt that I printed from the computer and taped on my front door. (It;s my only door). It has pictures of cats and says in bold letters “Pls Do Not Let The Cats Outside”. Pls Be Careful When Coming or Going”.

  21. I read something that made complete sense to me….just had to live through it once (me, not the cats!) My husband set up the air compressor outside the front door and we left the door open a crack…when the cats came to get nosy, husband released the air pressure in the air compressor (which sounds like a GIANT hiss and spit) and they cleared out….we have never had an issue with doors and kitties….and it’s been 3 years. (we’re still really careful though).

  22. when we moved into a house with a garage, my cats didn’t understand why they couldn’t get into this new huge room of ours. So one day i stood in the corner of the garage where they couldn’t see me but I could see them enter, and when they started to peek into the garage I made a really loud noise with a sheet of thin metal. It frightened them and they ran but a few moments later they came back. This went on for 10-15 minutes until they didn’t come back again.

    One reinforcement a few days later and I haven’t had a cat in the garage in the five years and three additional cats into the house hold. (well there was that one time I left the door wide open for half a day, but that was my own fault)

    • Sounds like your approach worked really well, Connie. I like that you made sure that your cats couldn’t see that it was you making that scary noise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.