Downtime

My Cat Tries to Escape Whenever I Open the Door

How can I make her stay put?

Cat looking at closed door.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ramonespelt/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com.

Dear Beast Mode,

We have a 3-year-old indoor cat in the middle of Manhattan. We adopted her in China and brought her home, and she’s always been the only cat in our household.

Recently, she started lurking by the door to our apartment and trying to sneak out when we come in from work. However, she’s never been much of an outdoor girl. We walked her on a leash in our Chinese courtyard and she was terrified, slinking around on her belly, and she didn’t do much better when we brought her to our parents’ quieter yards ahead of moving to New York. So I’m not sure what she wants to do in the hallway apart from experience a change of scenery! But I don’t want her to get away from us and end up sneaking out of the building.

Is she bored? She has a cat tree, we leave the windows open for her to look out of while we’re out, and we play with her all night. Does she need a cat companion? She’s never been socialized and hisses at other cats she’s seen or met, but is it possible that she’s lonely?

The repeated escape attempts are driving us crazy. How can I make her happy to stay at home?

—Ca(t)bin Fever

Dear Ca(t)bin Fever,

Cats generally treat doorways like humans treat boarding areas at airports. They’re going to try to rush past the threshold, even if they’re in Group D and the gate agent only called for families traveling with small children. And, like those impatient travelers swarming the Jetway, it’s going to take more than a mild rebuke to get her to back off.

Cats don’t care about nabbing overhead bin space, and they sure as hell don’t cling to their Platinum Select status. They just see a portal their humans walk in and out of every day, and that is in and of itself worthy of fascination. “Cats are very curious,” certified animal behaviorist Mikel Delgado tells me.

You are clearly a good cat owner, but your kitty may have contemplated editing her five-star human review after your little courtyard adventure. The cat tree gives her vertical space to explore, and your play schedule is well-attuned to her needs. I wouldn’t mistake her doorway anxiety for a larger issue; she’s just pressing your buttons.

“If a cat has gotten a taste or had the opportunity to escape, then it becomes a game,” Delgado says. “She’s learning that when she runs out the door, the owner drops everything and runs out and gets her. It can have an element of play to it. It’s fun for the cat.” She doesn’t want to explore Manhattan. She’d probably hate the borough. All she wants is some attention, and there are things you can do to redirect her behavior to a lower-traffic area.

Delgado recommends training your cat to meet you at a place away from the door when you come home. (You can do this as you leave, as well.) If the cat tree is at the other side of the apartment, try that out for size. “This is what we would call the greeting and parting zone,” Delgado says. “It’s a location that, before you leave and immediately after you come home, you go there and give your cat treats.”

Keep a bag of goodies in your purse or backpack and immediately go to the greeting zone once you come home from work. Keep this up, and your cat will soon feel like an astronaut getting a ticker tape parade after her safe return to Earth (even though you were the one who braved the scary outside world).

If you’re worried about your cat staying occupied while you’re gone, put a food puzzle down so she has to work for those goodbye treats. “We’re both distracting the cat and training them so that when you’re getting ready to leave, they should go somewhere else,” Delgado says. “Good things will happen there.”

It’s pretty simple! Given the amount of play and exercise you give your cat, loneliness shouldn’t be an issue. I’ve written about getting a companion for an adult cat before, and it’s not always the answer (especially for female cats). Stick with this plan, and you should start seeing results around your boarding gate—erm, I mean your front door.