Cat flaps: They’re doors for your cat to use. That’s the basic principle, and that’s why people buy them. However the actual percentage of cat owners who have a cat flap is very low. There are obvious reasons for that; for example if you live in apartments or a shared community area, you don’t really want your cat getting out of the front door and wandering the corridors. Some people feel cutting a hole into their front or back door is something of a security risk. Others are fine with the idea of their cat being able to come and go as they please, but less thrilled about the idea of another cat enjoying the same rights. Cat flaps are a real “love or hate” idea, and if you hate them, we’re not here to convince you otherwise. If you’re considering the idea, though, and need some more information, you’ve come to the right place.
There are obvious positives to having cat flaps fitted. One of them is the health of your knees! How many of us really enjoy the constant process of getting up and down to open the door and let the cat back in or out? How many of us have tried to ignore our cat’s third request to go out in an hour, but eventually get meowed into it? And then there’s the night time issue. You go to sleep for several hours every night. Your cat doesn’t. During night hours your cat probably wants to get in and out of the house as often as it does during the day, but you’re not there to help it. We’ve all been stood by the door at 11pm, with our cats screeching for one more night time stroll, and you’re there trying to explain they can’t go out now because it’s bed time. Cat flaps mean your cat can come and go during night time hours and be back to wake you up in the morning without you even knowing they’ve been gone!
It’s not just the getting up and down either, there are other benefits. We all love our cats. None of us love cleaning out a cat litter tray. Most cats don’t really like them all that much either. If your cat can get in and out to go to the toilet whenever it pleases, that hard work is a thing of the past! No more bad smells filtering through the house. No more chunks of litter kicked across the floor when your pet gets a little too enthusiastic with the digging and burying. Bliss! (By the way, if you’re against cat flaps, we can help you with those issues anyway. Check out our comprehensive cat litter tray guide here).
Ultimately, your cat wants to indulge its curiosity. It doesn’t want to have to rely on you for its freedom to roam, and it doesn’t understand why you’re the guardian of the outside world anyway. Cat flaps are a great way of giving your cat true independence. So how do you decide on a solution? How do you keep other cats out? Can you get cat flaps with locks? How about an electronic security system? What’s the difference between a two way cat flap and a four way cat flap? How do you persuade a cat to use a cat flap in the first place? Read on, find out more, and make up your own mind!
Types of Cat Flaps
1. Simple locking cat flaps
Description: Exactly what it sounds like. This is a hole cut into your door, that swings both ways and allows a cat in our out of your house. On the inside, there is a manual lock, which you can open and close as you please. You have full control over when the cat flap is used.
Pros: You have a cat flap. When the cat flap is unlocked, your cat is free to roam. You don’t have to go back and forth to the door to let it in and out.
Cons: Cat flaps like this offer no security. When the cat flap is open, anything small enough to fit through it can enter or leave your house. You may accidentally find yourself feeding other neighborhood cats. Even some adventurous birds might find their way in! It also doesn’t solve the night time problem. When you lock the cat flap, that’s you and your cat in for the night. If your cat wants to use the toilet at night, you’re going to have a litter tray to clean in the morning.
Typical price: As low as $10 for basic cat flaps. You might have to pay for the work to be done to adapt your door, though, unless you think you can handle it yourself.
2. Electro-magnetic cat flaps
Description: This is a lockable cat flap that doesn’t need any help from you. It looks pretty much the same as the more basic option, with a tiny difference. A tiny, magnetic, difference.
Pros: Your cat’s collar has a special magnet fitted to it. A magnetic sensor on the cat flap reacts to the one on your cat’s collar when it comes close. As if by magic, the lock releases, and your cat has its freedom! No more getting up and down to open the door for you.
Cons: First off, if your cat doesn’t wear a collar, this one’s out of the window. Even if it does, how many times has your adventurous furry friend come home without it? We all tend to keep three or four spare collars in the house for that exact reason. If your cat loses its collar, it may not be able to get back in. That’s no good for you or your cat. Especially if it goes out at night, and has to wait until morning for you to open the door and save it! Also, if there’s another user of magnetic cat flaps in the neighborhood, it will be able to get in. The magnets aren’t unique to your cat.
Typical price: Somewhere in the $40-$50 range.
3. Infra-red cat flaps
Description: These are really a variation on the magnetic cat flap option. The principle is exactly the same, but the locking mechanism is an infra-red key instead of a magnet.
Pros: All the same benefits that electro-magnetic cat flaps give you. They’re also a little more secure – the infra-red key is programmable. This means the flap should only open for your cat, instead of any cat wearing a similar collar.
Cons: Many of the same cons as the electro-magnetic cat flaps, too! If your cat loses its collar, it can’t get in. There’s also a battery issue, which it shares with microchip cat flaps, only the risk is doubled. Both the cat flaps and the infra-red keys are battery powered. If the battery goes on one or the other, you have a trapped cat.
Price: This is almost an identical solution to the electro-magnetic option, and comes in at an almost identical price. $40-50 will do the job.
4. Microchip cat flaps
Description: Another variation on the standard lockable cat flap, but this time there’s a microchip detector instead of a magnet. You can still lock these cat flaps manually if you wish – but there’s no need to.
Pros: No need for a special collar this time. The microchip reader on the cat flap reads your cat’s existing chip and allows access based on that. That means your cat, and your cat only, can get in and out. This is as secure as lockable cat flaps get. These cat flaps are fully programmable – just enter your cats existing chip information, and you’re away.
Cons: The obvious one: It requires your cat to be chipped, so that’s minor surgery for your kitty. If your cat is already chipped there’s no problem. If it’s not, you’re adding the cost of that process to the installation of the cat flap. Also, because this is an electronic system, it runs on batteries. The batteries will need replacing every now and then. And you probably won’t know they need replacing until the flap stops opening!
Price: You’re paying for technology here. Basic micro-chip cat flaps cost somewhere in the region of $60-70. Some models with extra features are more expensive, but we’ll get to those later.
Two Way Or Four Way?
If you’ve had a look online for cat flaps already, you’ve probably seen “two way locks” and “four way locks” being discussed. You may not have known what they mean. That’s fine, not all the websites explain themselves clearly! You can buy any of the above types of cat flap as a two way model, or as a four way model. Let’s explain the differences:-
Two Way Cat Flaps
These are exactly what the name suggests them to be. This is your every day basic cat flap. It’s called ‘two way’ because there are only two ways it can be used. Your cat is either going in, or coming out! You can lock it any time you like, so if your cat is in for the night, or you’re sending it out for a while, you have the option. There isn’t a great deal more to say about these cat flaps; they’re simple, and they work. They’re also a little cheaper than the four way alternatives.
Four Way Cat Flaps
Now, you’re probably sat there wondering what modes cat flaps can have that aren’t either “cat comes in” or “cat goes out”. Maybe you’re thinking of a Schrodinger’s cat style solution where your cat is neither in nor out. Sadly it’s nothing that exciting, although we don’t think that would be a desirable function for a cat flap anyway. A four way cat flap basically gives you the option to make your cat flap a one way portal. As well as the standard exit and entry modes, you can also set the door to ‘entry only’. This is useful if your cat is out and you need to leave the house or go to bed, and don’t want the cat out the whole time you aren’t there. Your cat can come back in whenever it feels like it, and then it has to stay in until you change the mode. There is also the option to set these cat flaps to ‘exit only’. Your cat can leave, but can’t get back in again. We’ve thought about this long and hard, and can’t think of a single instance where you’d want this to be the case. It seems a little cruel! But the option is there anyway, nevertheless.
It should be noted that four way cat flaps can be a little confusing to a cat who’s new to the whole ‘cat flaps’ concept. Training a cat to use a flap at all can be difficult – and we’ll go into that a little later on. When you’re teaching a cat to use a cat flap, your cat is learning that it’s a doorway to the outside and back in again. It pushes its head forward, and it can enter or leave the house. If you deactivate one of these modes, i.e. you cat comes in and wants to go out again but can’t, your cat is confused. The lesson it has learned doesn’t work anymore. We don’t think cats have a concept of changeable functionality. We therefore only recommend four way cat flaps for the experienced and intelligent cat!
We’ve covered the basics already, but depending on your budget, cat flaps can do a whole lot more than the basics. At their core, all cat flaps fit into one of the four types listed above, but you can add to them in a number of different ways. 21st Century technology means you can have a cat flap fit for the space age! Let’s look at some of those additional features.
Programmable Cat Flaps
If you opt for a cat flap that has electronic features – i.e. the infra-red or microchip products, this may be something to bear in mind. This gives you the best of both worlds in terms of access. The cat can come and go as it pleases without any input from you, but you can also impose limits. A programmable cat flap lets you input opening and closing times. It’s just like setting an alarm clock! You can choose the earliest time your cat can come in, and the latest time it can go out. This saves you the bother of having to go back and forth to manually lock it yourself. It also helps your cat stay in a routine. The obvious downside is that your cat may not always know what time it is, and could be stuck outside trying to get back in after you’ve decided it’s closing time!
We’ve seen microchip based models with this option retailing for around the $150 mark.
Cat Flaps With Access Logging
Here’s another option for those of you who really want to keep track of what your cat’s been up to! These models – which again are only available for electronic options – have an LCD screen which gives you information on usage. Every time your cat comes in or goes out, it will create a log entry, which you can check whenever you feel the need to. This will give you an idea of your cat’s usual habits. If taken in conjunction with the above programmable options, it will help you decide when a good ‘closing time’ for your cat flap should be. It will also let you know if any cat other than your own has been getting in – if there’s an entry in the log at a time when you know your cat was definitely sat on your knee, then you’ve had an unwanted visitor!
These models also retail somewhere around the $150 mark. You can often get programmable and logging features on the same model.
Remote Access Cat Flaps
Now we’re really moving into the area of high technology. Imagine a cat flap with both of the above features – programmable, with access logs – that you can control and monitor from your phone? Remote access cat flaps are the perfect tool to keep track of your cat whilst you’re out at work, or even on holiday. With live access 24 hours a day, you can set a remote access cat flap up to give you notification whenever your cat goes in and out. If it’s late at night, and you know your cat is safely in the house, you can lock the cat flap with the touch of a button and not worry about where your cat is!
These kinds of cat flaps would definitely be considered a ‘deluxe’ variant. Be prepared to part with something in the region of $250 if you want to buy one.
Cat Flaps With Cameras
We’ve taken a couple of steps into the future here, so bear with us. As if all of the above features weren’t enough, there are now products coming to the market that allow you to see and identify your pet before it comes into the house. Known as “Paw Door”, the cat flaps have internal and external cameras, along with a two way speaker system. Every time your cat comes in or out, the smart cat flap will take a picture, and send it to your phone. That way, you always know it’s definitely your cat coming in and out! They’re fully programmable, have log facilities, and because there’s a speaker, you can “call” your cat into the house from the cat flap, even if you’re a hundred miles away. This sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but working models have been built and demonstrated.
Because this product is not yet on the market, we can’t give an accurate price for it. We do, however, expect it will be on the expensive side of things. If you want to know more about the project, check out this page.
Fitting Cat Flaps
Now you know more about the options that are available to you, you might be considering the practicalities. How do you go about fitting a cat flap – do you just cut a hole in your door? How far off the ground do they need to be? Is there a difference between fitting cat flaps for wooden doors and plastic doors? Can you fit cat flaps to glass doors? All of these are good questions, so let’s break down the installation process into steps.
How Do You Fit A Cat Flap?
- Consider where you want the cat flap to be. You don’t actually have to put it in the door, although most people do. Cat flaps can also be installed in walls and windows. Some people even install cat flaps in their garden sheds so the cat can get in and out of there if they wish! The best place for a cat flap to be is a place that opens out into a sheltered area. Cats, as you already know, are very security conscious – they like to feel at ease when they’re coming or going from their home. A cat flap that opens out onto a wide, unprotected space might be a tough sell to a nervous kitty. If your house just doesn’t have a secluded space around it that could be used for entry and exit, create one by putting plant pots or other decorations around the flap. That gives your cat something to hide behind after it’s come through the flap, so it can brace itself before making its brave steps out into the world!
- Measure your cat. Your cat flap is for your cat, and your cat only. Therefore, the answer to ‘how high off the ground should my cat flap be?’ is the same as the answer to ‘how tall is your cat?’ You’ll need to get a tape measure, catch your cat in a good mood, and measure the distance from the bottom of its belly to the floor. That measurement is where the bottom of the cat flap should be in your chosen location. Your cat will be more comfortable with a cat flap that it can open at head height, rather than having to climb up or crouch down. If something prevents you from doing it – i.e. it’s physically impossible to make a hole at that height – consider fitting little steps to help your cat up and down. If it doesn’t like the look of the cat flap, it just isn’t going to use it.
- Get it in the right place. You’re going to be so annoyed with yourself if you get the cat flap fitted, look at it from a distance, and realise it’s off-centre. Keep that tape measure out, measure the exact width of the door or the area you’re looking to install the cat flap in, and make a clear mark so you know where to start cutting. This only applies if you’re concerned about things being symmetrical. If you’re not, feel free to put it wherever you like!
- Follow the instructions. Modern cat flaps are designed to be quite easy to install. They come with instructions, and they generally have adjustable thickness so they can fit snugly to the dimensions of your door. Even if you’re looking at fitting a cat flap to a thick wooden door, or a wall, you can buy cat flaps with tunnels, which solve this problem. You shouldn’t need anything specialist to do the job – just a drill or a jigsaw.When following the above advice, always be aware of your own limitations. There is no shame in admitting you’re just not very good at DIY! Fitting cat flaps to doors is a fairly easy job even for a novice, but it is admittedly more tricky to fit them to a wall. If you’re thinking of fitting a cat flap to a window, that’s delicate work, and it isn’t recommended that you dive in and give it a go if you’ve never cut glass before. It’s not a big job for a qualified professional though, and a glazier or a good handyman will be happy to assist you. Basically, if you think it’s beyond you, call in an expert!
How Do You Persuade Cats To Use Cat Flaps?
Well, you don’t so much persuade cats as negotiate with them, but that’s another matter. As with anything new or unusual, it’s unlikely that your cat is going to ‘get it’ just by looking at it. The cat was probably happy with the door or the wall the way it was, and isn’t best pleased that its environment has been changed. You’re going to need to encourage it to see the benefits. Once you do, it’ll be delighted! Like we did with the fitting, let’s break this process down into steps.
- Let your cat see the cat flap before you fit it. Cats don’t like the unknown. It will help your cat to adapt if its at least seen the cat flap before it goes into the door, and had chance to smell it and realise it isn’t dangerous. Get it out of its packaging and leave it in an area that the cat often uses for a couple of days. If you’re very lucky, it might give it a poke with its paw or its head and realise how it works without any more input from you! If you’ve opted for a microchip cat flap, this gives you chance to program it before you put it in the door.
- Bribe your cat. If you’ve read our guide on encouraging cats to get into cat carriers, you know all about this step already. Cats are very easily corrupted. If you bribe them with treats, they’ll generally do whatever you want. Make sure you have plenty in the house at the time you install your cat flap. Place some of your cats favorite treats on the other side of the cat flap, and see if you can entice them to come through and get them. If it works, get back into the house, and bribe them back through the other way. In the early stages, it may help if you put your hand through the cat flap, so they can see that it opens and closes, and then pull your hand away when they get close. Make them follow your lead to get your reward.
- Make it smell familiar. Cats use and trust their sense of smell just as much as they trust their eyes. Even if you did follow step 1, the cat flap is going to smell new and unfamiliar. Your cat will be more inclined to trust it if it smells of something they know – and that includes themselves! The best way to do this is to wipe your cat’s face (gently) with a cloth, and then wipe that cloth around the edges of the cat flap. This should at least get them curious enough to go and give it a proper inspection.
- Prop it open. It’s generally a good idea to wait for warmer months before installing cat flaps, and this is why. If your cat is particularly shy of using the flap, try taping the flap back and open, so your cat doesn’t have to push it with their head to get through. Physically shoving something open with their head instead of a paw is an alien process to cats. Less adventurous ones won’t take to it easily. Once they get used to coming and going through the cat flap while it’s open, take the tape off and see if they’re willing to use it normally. You may not want to leave it open overnight, as any cat or animal can enter your property. It’s also not exactly great for keeping your house warm, or your heating bill.
- Be firm and patient. Depending on the intelligence and curiosity of your cat, this might take a while. Some may get it straight away, most will take a few days, and timid cats might need a week or two. Make sure you keep repeating the steps, and offering treats, and they will eventually get the hang of it.
What Not To Do
The above is a list of all the things that are fine to try as methods of cat flap training. Here are three things you shouldn’t do in any circumstances.
- Don’t give up and open the door for your cat. This might seem like the easiest thing to do for a quiet life, but it’s counter productive. If your cat knows you’ll just open the door for them eventually anyway, there’s no incentive for them to learn how to use the cat flap.
- Don’t let the flap fall down on them! If you tape the flap up, make sure it’s taped up securely and can’t be knocked down by an inquisitive paw. If you’re holding it up to let them walk in and out easier, don’t let it shut behind them too quickly. A cat that gets a bang on the head or the bottom from the flap swinging down before they’re used to it is likely to run away from it and never give it another chance.
- Don’t force them. Do not, under any circumstances, just pick your cat up and to force it head first through the cat flap. This will traumatise the cat. It’s also likely to get you scratched. Cats do not learn anything through force other than to shy away from it, and not repeat any behaviours that made them feel afraid.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what’s out there for you and your cat. You also should know more about where you can put a cat flap, and what you have to take into account when fitting one. Now it’s up to you. Cat flaps are a great labour saver in terms of you going back and forth to the door, and give your cat its freedom. They’re not for everyone, and they’re not for every property, but you can find one to fit almost any purpose. Before making any decisions to buy, think about the basics. What kind of personality is your cat? Are they constantly asking to go outdoors, or are they quite happy staying in with you anyway? Are they adventurous? Do they have a good track record of trying new things? What kind of area do you live in? Would your landlord allow you to cut holes in their doors?
You know yourself, your circumstances, and your cat, better than anyone else. Take some time to soak the information in, and make the decision that’s right for you. We hope we’ve been able to help!