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How to prevent your cat from escaping your home

white and brown cat with head sticking out the door

Don't let your cat escape your home with these tips

© Shutterstock

How do you stop your cat from running for the door every time there is a chance of escape? Here’s how to keep them safe and happy too.

By Karen Wild, CCAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:30

You may wonder if you are doing something wrong if your indoor cat is so keen to leave the house. Is it healthy for a cat to be kept in the house for long periods of time? The answers may depend on their needs, so let’s take a closer look.

How to keep a cat from running away?

The reasons you adopted a cat will be varied. You might have wanted a cuddle companion, or to look after and care for an animal, which can be very rewarding, or in times of trouble, enjoy its soothing feline friendship.

An indoor cat, however, may not share your goals.

Why does my cat keep escaping?

What you probably did not bank on until now was the fierceness of the competition between you - and the great outdoors - for your cat’s affection. Indoor cats are only there because we made that choice for them, and would most likely be happiest in the local trees and gardens of your neighbours, stalking mice in the fields and not being made to wear a harness and leash. However, some cats are at risk from being run over by cars, or attacked by other cats (or local predators in some countries). Explaining this to your cat is impossible, so it’s important to work out how to keep your cat from even wanting to go outside. Indoors can be much nicer if we make it so.

How to stop my cat from running out the door?

Most cats (and all kittens) will, from time to time, want to explore the outdoors. That is just in their nature. The problem is some cats are keener than others to spend time outside. If you own an escape artist cat that enjoys spending more time out than in, things can get a bit fraught, especially if you spend half your time chasing them. In order to stop a cat from escaping, you may – to begin with – want to consider taking some of these simple measures:

One door for the cat, one for the human

Cats have lightning-fast reactions. If your cat is also one that enjoys the outdoors you will have discovered by now that opening a door is an open invitation to the cat to disappear. Try designating one door of the house for the cat’s coming and going. Provide extra screens, porches or gates around doors where your cat may dash out easily.

Train your cat to be obedient

Despite what many people think cats can be trained to do certain tasks. Teach your cat to sit and stay in order to prevent her from leaving the house when you do not want her to. You may even try a recall in times of unwanted escapes. Take a box of treats with you around the house, rattle it and call your cat! Give them a treat every time they arrive.

Install a cat flap

Clearly a cat flap (or cat door) is the ultimate prevention of an unwanted escape. Most cat flaps can be locked shut, putting an end to your cat’s wanderlust (at least for the time being). This can prevent cats getting out at night when it’s perhaps less safe, and allowing them to roam in the day when they can then come back for dinner.

Read on to find out how to teach your cat to use a cat flap

The positive effects of feline neutering

One of the primary attractions for any cat not neutered is another cat also unneutered. Always spay or neuter your cat.
When they are in season, animals are attracted to each other, and the desire to mate is extremely powerful, and lasts for a long time with the cat crying to get out.

Should you ever let your cat venture out alone?

There are some owners who will not let their cat outside. But by doing so, some argue, they are curbing the cat’s natural instincts.

Unlike dogs, cats do not have the same need for social contact, and are more content to travel their own path. They do form attachments, but they can be more based on the resources we hold. If our resources don’t match those the cat can find elsewhere… then the cat may decide it’s better leaving! Cats are curious explorers at heart and enjoy roaming the outside, so take a view on the safety of outdoors and perhaps consider allowing them to leave at times where you know you can be around to entice them back in for a treat.

Knowing your cat’s individuality

If you are in two minds about letting your cat wander by itself outside consider this: cats enjoy adventure, and tend to let their owners know when they are not happy, or when they want to go out. However, if you own a cat that does not seem overly bothered about leaving the house then relax: you have a proper house cat!

The options are thus: you either let your cat out to roam and provide all of its needs when it returns to you, or you do not let your cat out but you provide the necessary entertainment (and all of its other needs) to ensure that it is mentally stimulated and happy while indoors.

A study of the personality of cats carried out by Australian scientists in 2017 concluded that, “Cats with high scores for Extraversion (smart, curious, inventive) may need additional stimulation and more complex environmental enrichment to avoid boredom.”

The benefits of letting your cat wander outdoors

To help you to make a decision here are just some of the benefits accrued by the wandering cat (and its owner).

Importantly, you must have your cat microchipped. Do this even if you decide ultimately not to let her roam outside.

  • More physical activity: an outdoor cat is less likely to put on weight
  • The cat’s instinctive needs are met: antisocial behaviours indoors lessen
  • A wider range of experiences: promotes mental health
  • A litter free home: great all round

What are the risks of letting your cat outside?

In terms of the downsides of letting your cat out by itself there is, unfortunately, more to discuss than of the upside. To let a cat out of your sight can be daunting for various reasons, especially due to our sense of a lack of control.

Here are just some reasons NOT to let your cat wander:

  • A danger of death or injury by crossing a road or hiding under a car
  • A similar danger by drinking spilt antifreeze or other chemicals
  • A danger of becoming lost
  • A danger from other animals (including dogs and other cats)
  • A danger of contracting viruses and parasites from stray cats

Keep the indoor kitty happy at all times

Cats may be resilient creatures and fast learners, but the hazards that surround them when they are outside and alone are sizeable. If you choose after all not to let your cat wander you should strive to make her home life especially stimulating and positive.

Here are four ways to keep your cat happy indoors:

  • Play with your cat regularly and provide entertaining toys that it can play with when you are not present. Puzzle feeders are an excellent way to keep a cat entertained
  • Make sure your cat has some kind of outlet for her energy. She will have a need to jump and run and if the need is not met she is likely to become obese
  • Construct a perch somewhere in the house from where your cat can watch the world pass by
  • Provide plenty of aerial routes around the house, such as cat trees, shelves they can traverse, and hiding places up high and tucked away too.

A happy cat is one that will not be so eager to leave the house in a flash. However, some cats are only happy when they are outside. Importantly, assess your cat’s personality and behaviour. You will be able to tell whether she is an indoor or an outdoor feline pretty quickly. If you must let her out of your sight then ensure she is chipped, inoculated, and ready to face the world. If you have decided to keep your cat indoors ensure she is well entertained with plenty of climbing, exploring and hiding spaces too.