Cats love to be outdoors - in fact, some people consider that letting them have access to it is essential to their welfare.
Yet, at night, cats are more likely to get run over by cars who don’t see them in the dark. They’re also more likely to be injured in fights with neighbourhood cats - as you probably won’t be able to intervene in the middle of the night!
To keep your cat safe, it’s best to call them back home at night. But how can you do that when cats only do what they want? Don’t worry - we’ve got all the best tips and tricks for you here.
How to get your cat to come home at night
Cats usually only listen to themselves, but if you follow the tips below, you may still be able to convince them to come home at night!
1. Play with them throughout the day to tire them out
Cats are diurnal creatures who are most active at dawn and dusk. If you want them to feel tired in the evening, your best bet is to keep them active during the day! Engage in a few games with them to keep them moving, that way in the evening, they’ll seek a comfortable place to rest.
2. Create a cat-friendly garden to encourage them to stay near
Outdoor cats usually don’t wander further than a 150-metre radius from their home, so chances are your cat won’t go very far anyway. However, you can make sure they spend as much time as possible in your garden, so they’re easier to find in the evening when you call them back home. Create a cat-friendly garden filled with plants that cats like (e.g. valerian or sunflowers), a small shelter, and maybe even some catnip!
3. Always associate home with positive emotions
Home should be a place your cat wants to come back to. Make sure it always has food, water, and a comfortable place to sleep. Make sure it’s a calming environment for your cat - not one where they are likely to experience stress or anxiety. In addition, reward your cat with a treat and a cuddle (if they like those), everytime they come home.
4. Practice recall
Yes, cats can be trained too! It just takes a little more patience and determination than it would with a dog. As you would with a dog, practice calling your cat and reward them with a treat every time they respond by looking at you and/or coming to you. Over time, they will learn that coming to you when called = treats and attention! This will come in handy when you want them to come home at night.
5. Leave the cat-flap on “enter-only” mode after a certain time
Modern cat flaps come with incredible settings. If your cat hasn’t come to you when called, then it might be time to simply be patient. Most cats do come home (if they’re not lost), so don’t worry. Just leave the cat flap open and set it to “enter-only” mode. That way, after your cat comes in, the cat flap will lock behind them and they won’t be able to go back out until you open it for them the next morning.
6. Schedule feeding times at dusk
It’s a good idea to schedule your cat’s feeding times. If you give them a meal in the morning and a meal in the evening, they’ll be hungry come dusk and might head home of their own volition - you wouldn’t even have to call them!
7. Shake the box of treats
This good old technique works most of the time. Simply grab your cat’s box of treats, stand outside, and shake it around. The sound of their food will have your cat running home in a jiffy.
8. Appeal to their sense of smell
Cats have an incredible sense of smell, and you can take advantage of this when you’re trying to convince them to come home. If they haven’t responded to your calling or treat-shaking, try putting one of your sweaters outside. You can also open a can of tuna and pour some of the juice around your home. These strong and appealing smells may lure your cat back home more rapidly than your voice will.
9. Call them calmly, not loudly
Cats can be quite skittish and are usually afraid of loud noises and quick movements. They have a very good sense of hearing, so there’s no reason to shout their name in a panicked tone. Your cat will hear you, even if you call them in the calm voice you usually call them in - in fact, they’re more likely to respond to that. So be gentle when you call them!
What do you do if your cat doesn't come home at night?
Some cats will simply be stubborn and won’t come home, no matter how much you plead them with treats and promises of cuddles. If you have such a cat, just make sure they’re as safe as can be while they’re outside. Ensure they are neutered, fully vaccinated, and that their microchip details are up to date. If they wear a collar, make sure it’s a break-away collar that will snap open if they get caught in anything. In addition, set up a small shelter outside. This could be a wooden box that you can fill with comfortable blankets that smell of you. This way your cat will have a safe place to hide in case it starts to rain or feel cold.
Should I worry if my cat doesn't come home at night?
As mentioned before, cats are diurnal creatures, so it’s not unusual for them to be more active at night. Chances are they’re on the hunt or simply exploring their territory, and they’ll come home when they’re bored, tired, or hungry. Most cats who spend nights outside are not very far, therefore not lost, and will come home in the morning. You must simply try to be patient and not to panic! However, if your cat hasn’t come home for two nights in a row, it may be time to start actively looking for them.
All in all, remember that if you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor space for your cat, you should make the most of it! Trust your cat and don’t worry too much if they don’t come home every night. Most likely, they’ll be fine!