How to train your cat to use a cat flap
90% of cats in the UK have access to the outdoors. When a safe outdoor environment is available it can be enormously enriching to a cat's life. It provides sensory stimulation and increased opportunity for exercise so it is both mentally and physically beneficial.
However, leaving a window or door open is not ideal from a security perspective and can be a nuisance in certain weather, so cat flaps are very popular. Bold and adventurous cats take to them easily, but timid characters can struggle to get the hang of them.
If you are considering getting one, we've got you covered with our top tips for training your cat to use a cat flap.
1. Safety first
For their own safety, cats should not be allowed outside until they have been microchipped, fully vaccinated and sterilised.
Microchipping is becoming a legal requirement for all owned cats in the UK. A microchip will help you to find your cat if it gets lost and taken to a vet or shelter. Take a look at our guide to microchipping your cat.
Vaccinations help to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, and you can find out more in our blog on why cat vaccinations are important.
Sterilisation prevents unwanted pregnancies as well as the excessive roaming that happens when cats look for mates. Sterilisation also decreases the risk of your cat being involved in a fight. In our blog on spaying and neutering your cat, you can find out more about what to consider.
Usually all of this should have been done by around six months of age. Initially, it's advisable to only allow your cat outside for short periods while they get their bearings and become used to the sounds and smells. It's important to train your cat to come when called: try using a specific call only at feeding time or for treats so that it can be relied upon for recall.
2. Choose the type of cat flap that works for your household
There are many brands and types of cat flaps on the market. The simplest is a manual flap that can be pushed open. More complex types will only open when activated by your cat's microchip or a magnet on your cat's collar. These prevent other cats in the neighbourhood from intruding – which is very useful to keep random cats from eating all your KatKin!
If you are away from home a lot then the microchip-activated flap is preferable, as collars can get lost and then your cat could get stuck outside.
3. Let your cat get to know the cat flap
If possible, allow your cat to engage with the flap before it's installed. This makes a big difference with nervous cats because they can get comfortable with the flap before having to venture outside. It also make it easier for cats to see the flap as a portal, before it is installed into a door or wall which they understood as a fixed boundary.
4. Make sure the cat flap is comfortable and feels secure to your cat
The cat flap must be positioned at the appropriate height for your cat. This is with the bottom of the flap at the level of their belly from the ground.
A common mistake is to install the flap so that it enters or exits into a space that is very exposed. This can be intimidating for cats because they feel vulnerable when using the flap. Positioning furniture or plants near or around the flap provides shelter and helps cats feel protected.
5. Be persuasive
Some cats need more convincing than others. Keeping the flap open initially is very encouraging and helps cats to gain confidence by going through without restriction. Treats (specifically Nibbles!) also work a special kind of magic, so be sure to offer rewards for using the flap.
If you have an especially nervous cat who won't go near it, then you can try marking it with their scent, by rubbing a cloth over their face and then onto the flap. You can also use artificial pheromones such as Feliway spray to make it seem more familiar.
Cat flaps are a really handy way of allowing your cat to move freely without compromising security – or putting extra strain on your central heating. Our tips should give you everything you need to train your cat into a black belt flapper (yes, we’ve just coined that term) but if you have any more questions, you're welcome to pop us a question on firstname.lastname@example.org – our team of vets and cat-loving experts are always happy to help.
If you'd like advice on which type of cat flap to buy, you can also get in touch with the KatKin community to share their thoughts on our Facebook Club House. It's a supportive space where we share experience and talk about all things cat!