cat won't push cat flap open
Questions About Cats

Why Won’t My Cat Use the Cat Flap?

Cat flaps are time-saving inventions. Felines have ever-changing whims and desires, and have no qualms about treating owners as their butlers. Unfortunately, cats don’t always like cat flaps.

Nervous cats can be afraid of the cat flap. They may be worried about what lurks on the other side of the door. If it’s narrow enough to scrape the whiskers, then your cat may find the flap painful to use.

There could be other reasons why your cat is reluctant to use their cat flap. This guide will explore possible explanations. You’ll also find some training methods to encourage your pet.

Why Is My Cat Scared of the Cat Flap?

Your cat should welcome the use of their cat flap. Felines are continually changing their minds about whether they want to be in or out.

A cat flap will enable them to come and go as they please. This is infinitely preferable for you than constant meowing, demanding the door is opened.

Of course, just because something makes sense, it doesn’t mean that a cat will embrace it. Felines are complicated creatures, and we can drive ourselves crazy trying to understand their behavior.

If your pet seems reluctant to use their cat flap, possible explanations include:

  • They’re scared, because they don’t know what’s on the other side of the flap.
  • They don’t like the sensation of pushing the flap with their heads. Alternatively, maybe they don’t know how.
  • They had a bad experience, such as getting stuck.
  • Other felines use the cat flap and have left their scent on it.
  • The cat flap is too narrow, and it hurts their whiskers.
  • Your senior pet has cognitive dysfunction, and is confused by the cat flap.

It’s also possible that your cat has just grown used to you being their facilities manager. Some cats enjoy making their owners work for their affection.

If you jump every time they meow, what motivation do cats have to use their flap? You may need to undertake some vigilant training.

1) Your Cat is Afraid of the Cat Flap

If your cat is afraid of the cat flap, you need to determine why. Are they timid and nervous by nature? Or has a bad experience marred their association with the cat flap?

If your cat is faint-hearted as a rule, they’ll likely be nervous about using the cat flap. After all, it involves poking its head into the unknown.

This leaves them very exposed and open to attacks. You will need to encourage your cat using the training methods outlined elsewhere in this guide.

The same also applies to your cat had a bad experience. Cats don’t have the greatest short-term memory, but they’ll always recall something painful or scary.

If your cat got themselves stuck in the flap once, for example, they’d never forget it. Your pet may even remember using the cat flap while they were injured or unwell.

They may mistakenly believe that it was the cat flap that made them feel this way. Again, you’ll need to use training to build up positive associations with the cat flap.

2) Your Cat Finds Using the Cat Flap Painful

Is your cat carrying a few extra pounds? If so, it’s entirely possible that they find the cat flap painful. A large mass cannot comfortably squeeze through a small hole.

You could consider replacing the cat flap with a bigger, wider model. It’s better to encourage your cat to lose some weight through diet and exercise, though.

It’s possible that your cat has just outgrown their cat flap. If you installed it when your pet was a kitten, they will grow substantially. If your cat formerly used their flap but now seems reluctant, this could be the explanation.

There is also the possibility of whisker fatigue. As PetMD explains, this condition involves your cat’s whiskers growing sore from constant stimulation.

If your cat has been outside, their whiskers will pick up on every gust of wind. This leaves a cat’s whiskers feeling overly tender. If the flap is narrow enough to brush against them, your cat may avoid using it.

cat goes out cat flap but not in

3) Other Cats Use the Cat Flap

If stray or neighborhood cats use your cat flap, it may put your pet off. This is especially likely if these other felines bully your cat. Your cat will assume the cat flap belongs to these animals, and want to avoid trouble.

The best way around this is to invest in a microchip cat flap. This will mean that your cat is the only feline with access to the flap. You’ll still need to undertake some training to build your cat’s confidence. It will, eventually, eradicate the intrusion of other cats though.

4) Your Cat is Struggling with Dementia

As cats grow older, they struggle with their mental faculties just as much as humans. Feline cognitive dysfunction is essentially dementia for cats. Confusion around basic functions, such as using a cat flap, could be a warning sign.

Feline cognitive dysfunction impacts over half of all cats aged older than 11. 80% of cats that reach develop the condition, according to the ASPCA. Other symptoms of feline cognitive dysfunction include: 

  • Eliminating outside the litter box
  • Staring in space for prolonged periods
  • No longer recognizing owners and family members
  • Losing interest in grooming
  • Erratic sleep patterns, including verbalizing and meowing at night
  • Losing interest in eating

If you suspect that your cat is struggling with their mental faculties, see a vet. Feline cognitive dementia cannot be cured, or reversed. It can, however, be slowed down through medication if caught early enough.

How to Train an Older Cat to Use a Cat Flap

Even the most stubborn cat can be convinced to use a cat flap. However, the older and more set in their ways a cat is, the more patience you’ll need.

If possible, start your training before you even install the cat flap. Leave it on the floor of the house, and let your pet have a good sniff.

Also, push your hand through the flap, and encourage your pet to walk through it. This will help your pet understand the idea of a cat flap before it’s active.

When it comes to encouraging your cat to use the flap, there are three primary techniques.

  • Prop the door open at first, and reduce the opening gradually. This will make it less intimidating.
  • Hold a treat on your side of the flap, allowing your pet to capture the scent. If this doesn’t encourage them to walk through, swap the treat for a favorite toy.
  • Add some catnip to the flap. Alternatively, rub a cloth on your cat and then on the flap to mirror their scent. Remember how much felines are guided by their sense of smell.

This may not be an overnight training experience. Every cat is different, and some will take longer than others to grow comfortable. Praise your cat profusely when they do walk through the flap.

Never attempt to force them through, though. This will damage your relationship, and potentially leave your cat terrified of their cat flap!

My Cat Won’t Push the Cat Flap Open

If your cat remains reluctant to push open their flap after training, they’re still afraid. You may need to take a different tack, in such scenarios.

Try removing the flap altogether, simply leaving an open hole. This will enable your cat to build their confidence and see through the gap. Of course, there are downsides to this.

You’ll have a draught in your home, and other animals can come and go at will. A less permanent solution is to tape the cat flap open during set training times.

Some cats will never take to cat flaps. If your cat is reluctant to push theirs open, however, it points to a very particular issue. It’s still possible to turn this around, with patience and extended training.

My Cat Goes Out of the Cat Flap, but Not in

This behavior seems very odd at first. Your cat knows how to use the cat flap, as they let themselves out. What is the deal?

Your cat enjoys making you work for them. Felines are many things, and fickle is one of them. It’s possible that your cat let themselves out on their schedule, as it suited them. Maybe your pet eliminates outside, or perhaps they caught an interesting scent.

When it comes to returning, however, cats are often in less of a hurry. Unless it’s raining, your pet may prefer to scratch and meow until you let them in. How you manage, this is up to you.

You can be vigilant and wait it out, ignoring your cat’s cries. Consider how your neighbors may react to this, though. Eventually, your cat will grow bored and let themselves in.

Alternatively, you can do your pet’s bidding and let them in. Just be aware that you are making a rod for your own back in doing this. The more you cave, the more your cat will manipulate you. It may sound like a no-win situation, but such is the life of a cat owner.

It’s possible that another cat has spayed or marked the exterior of the cat flap. This is especially likely if you have an unspayed female cat. A passing tomcat may have claimed the flap – and the cat within – as their territory.

This can make a cat reluctant to use their flap, through fear of reprisals. You can wash the cat flap to remove this scent, but this may necessitate more training. If the cat flap smells neutral, your pet may go back to square one.

Why Does My Cat Hit the Cat Flap?

There are a handful of reasons why cats bang on their cat flap. Observe your pet’s behavior, and try to gain an understanding of which applies to them.

Sometimes, the simplest explanation is the most likely. Your cat will enjoy the physical sensation, and the noise their cat flap makes. They are treating it as a game.

There is also the possibility that your cat is still nervous around their cat flap. This hitting is their way of exploring the device with their paws. Will it swing back and hurt them? How far does it go? Will it fall off? Can they see through the cat flap if they swipe it first? These are all questions that will go through your cat’s mind.

cat scared of cat flap

If your cat is playing, doing no harm or damage, leave them to it. There’s no need to step in unless they keep it up for a prolonged period. Likewise, if your cat is building up their courage, this is a good thing. Let your cat experiment with the cat flap, and couple this with training.

A pet is hitting their cat flap at night, or when you’re otherwise engaged, is seeking attention. Your cat will quickly learn that this gets a reaction! Managing this can be a tricky balancing act.

On the one hand, reacting is exactly what your cat wants. That’s hardly going to encourage them to stop the behavior. Leaving them to it, however, can grow frustrating very quickly.

The best option is getting your cat into a routine, tiring them out during established playtimes. This should state their desire for impromptu attention.

How Do I Stop Other Cats Using My Cat Flap?

The problem with car flaps is that, in theory, other neighborhood cats can use them. Other animals could use them, too.

Nobody wants skunks, raccoons, foxes or snakes getting into their home at night. These are a cat’s predators, and a major safety concern. You can lock a cat flap, but this may confuse your pet.

One way around this is to use a microchipped cat flap. These are electronic devices that respond to a personal microchip located in a cat collar. Until the microchip communicates with the cat flap,  it will remain firmly shut.

On paper, this means that your cat alone will be able to use the flap. It sounds like a great security measure. However, there are four potential issues with these mechanisms:

  1. Microchip cat flaps sometimes take a few seconds to work. Your cat may run headlong into a closed flap if they’re in a hurry.
  2. Microchip cat flaps run on batteries. If these are drained and you don’t realize, your cat could be locked in or out.
  3. Other cats in the neighborhood may have the same microchip flap in their homes. As the chips are not always unique, their collar could activate your flap.
  4. If your cat loses their collar, they can’t activate the cat flap. It could also get water damaged if your cat likes to swim.

You need to decide whether these potential cons outweigh the pros. If your pet is largely happy to use the cat flap, microchips keep your home safe.

If you suspect that your cat will struggle, however, consider a traditional flap. These can be locked at night for safety, keeping your cat in and other animals out.

My Cat Won’t Use a Microchip Cat Flap

It’s possible that your cat has experienced issues, based on the problems listed above. Some of the issues surrounding space and anxiety with traditional flaps could also be at play.

Watch your cat carefully, and learn what their reluctance appears to revolve around. Does the cat flap react when your pet approaches? Does your pet walk away after a second, not giving the microchip time to work? Does your cat refuse to even entertain the idea of using the cat flap? Do they seem to tug and pull at their collar? Are they standing at an appropriate angle, or are they blocking access to the chip reader?

Any of these could be explanations for a cat showing reluctance to use a microchip cat flap. If the device is faulty, you’ll need to take it up with the manufacturer. If it’s your cat’s actions that cause confusion, however, it’s back to the previously profiled training.

Even the most strong-willed and stubborn feline can be taught to use a cat flap. You may need an iron will yourself to have enough patience to train them.

As is always the case when teaching an old cat new tricks, praise and consistency are key. The short-term pain will lead to long-term gain when your pet masters the cat flap, though. You’ll no longer be up and down like a yo-yo to let them in and out.