cat suddenly refuses to use cat flap
Questions About Cats

Why Won’t My Cat Use the Cat Flap?

Cat flaps were designed to make life easier for cats and their owners. However, many cats are hesitant to use cat flaps. You may find your new cat is baffled about this exit in the wall. Even experienced cats may suddenly refuse to use a cat flap. Others will leave through it, no problem, but then cry for you to let them back in.

Most cats avoid cat flaps due to confusion. Your cat might think it’s just a wall, assuming that it’s dangerous on the other side or find it too heavy to push. Other cats dislike the sound produced from a locking mechanism or plastic cat flaps. If your cat was locked out before or was attacked after using a cat flap, it may be traumatized about it now. Older animals avoid cat flaps that are too high, or the entrance may be too small for larger cats.

If you’re wondering, “how do I get my cat to go through the cat flap?” the usual fix is to show your cat how the exit works. Hold up the flap, toss a treat through, and encourage your cat to follow. You may also need to wrap it in insulation to dampen any noise or remove magnets to make the flap lightweight. If your cat is afraid, you can open the flap, attach a piece of fabric, and slowly lower it until the cat is fine with passing through the exit blind.

Why Won’t My Cat Go Through The Cat Flap?

When a cat refuses to use its cat flap, it’s not just being unreasonable. It’s usually caused by issues with the flap, something in the nearby area, or confusion.

The Flap Is The Problem

If your cat doesn’t want to use the flap, the problem may lie with the exit itself. Here are factors you can check to resolve the issue:

Cat Too Big For Cat Flap

Your cat may be unable to fit through the door. The cat may have recently gained weight, became pregnant, or have wider hips than other cats in your home. However, it’s also possible that the flap itself is fully responsible. Even if the cat is physically able to squeeze through, the flap may:

  • Have sharp edges, rubbing against the cat as it goes through
  • Be too small for comfort, and the feline doesn’t want to squeeze

When buying a cat flap, the correct dimensions depend on a cat’s size and weight are:

  • For cats under 12 pounds, look for a flap that is about 5 x 5 inches.
  • For heavier cats over 12 pounds, look for a cat flap about 7 x 7 inches.
  • There are also flaps made for bigger animals, like dogs, that you can also use.

Cat Flap Not At The Right Height

A flap can be the right size but positioned too high for cats. Some cats are more sensitive about this than others. They dislike the hassle of climbing up or losing their balance as they exit the door.

Older cats are especially picky. If they have arthritis or other joint problems, jumping up or climbing will be uncomfortable.  How high should a cat flap be? The ideal position is 10 to 15 centimeters from the floor.

  • The most common measurement is 15 centimeters
  • If you have an older cat, or a cat with mobility issues, aim for 10 centimeters
how do i get my cat to go through the cat flap?

Cat Flap Made of Wrong Material 

Cats are picky about the materials they interact with. Flaps are even more suspect since your cat uses its head to open them. Designs made of stiff or rough materials can be very uncomfortable.

Most cat flaps use plastic, which is sturdy and cheap. However, some felines are allergic to plastic. If your feline is avoiding your plastic flap, as well as other plastic objects, this may be the case. Thankfully, there are many other types you can choose from:

  • Rubber flaps close much quieter than plastic.
  • Wood and glass cat flaps can blend in with your door and decor and smell more natural to cats.
  • Flaps made of steel are durable and strong.

The Cat Is The Problem

Sometimes, the problem is with the cat itself. Here are the reasons why your cat refuses to use its flap and what you can do to solve it:

Cat Afraid Of Cat Flap

Cats are predators and prey and tend to be skeptical of new objects. If your cat doesn’t use its flap, this may be out of fear. To lessen your cat’s anxiety, consider using transparent cat flaps. These are made out of see-through plexiglass or safety glass. Your cat is then able to:

  • Enjoy a clear view of what lies beyond
  • Avoid a noisy sound as it passes through the flap
  • See that the flap isn’t hiding or containing something dangerous

If you don’t want to buy an entirely new cat flap, you can also train the cat by using fabric. It’s slowly lowered to cover an open cat flap, so the feline gets used to passing through the blind. Here’s how:

  1. Keep the flap open using clips.
  2. Attach a piece of cloth to hang just a bit over the opening.
  3. As your cat uses the flap, slowly lower the cloth until it covers the whole opening.
  4. Once your cat has grown comfortable, you can lower the actual flap and remove the cloth.

Cat Is Traumatized

If your cat is a rescue, it might’ve had a negative experience with using cat flaps. This can be true for felines that:

  • Refuse to even go near a cat flap.
  • Show aggression when a cat flap is presented to them.

Trauma comes in many forms, and not all of them are the result of malice. For example, a cat that tried to use a locked cat flap may have grown frustrated. As such, it decided never to use the flap again. If the cat was attacked outdoors after using a cat flap, it may also associate the flap with bad experiences. You can slowly train the cat to understand and trust the exit once again. This will involve:

  • Using the cloth method described above.
  • Switching to a different material for the flap, so the cat doesn’t recognize it.
  • Calling your feline through the flap and rewarding it with treats on either side.

However, trauma can be tough to undo in felines. Your frightened cat may take far longer to respond to training. It has the added work of unlearning past experiences, after all, and patience will go a long way.

Cat Won’t Push Cat Flap Open

What if your cat doesn’t seem afraid of the cat flap but refuses to push it open? Here are some causes to explore and solutions you can apply:

Cat Doesn’t Understand Cat Flap

The cat may be puzzled about how the flap works. This is often the case with felines that have never used a flap before. While it’s common, it’s also easy to fix. You need only show your cat how the flap operates:

  1. Open the flap while the cat is watching.
  2. Toss a toy or treat through the exit while holding the flap open.
  3. Let it fall, then do again another 1-2 times.
  4. If the cat doesn’t respond to treats, do the same with a serving of its favorite food.

This will teach the cat that it’s merely an exit, not a barrier. After this, stand back and let your cat explore the flap. When it does, give it positive reinforcement through petting and treats.

While some owners recommend physically pushing a cat through the flap, this is unwise. The cat may try to resist you, bump its head, or start fighting back. This can result in scratches for you and a bad experience for the cat.

If it doesn’t go well, you’ll have to undertake more complicated training, which isn’t fun for anyone. Instead, just give your cat time. It should begin using the flap in 1-2 days.

Flap Is Too Heavy

If the flap is too heavy, your cat will avoid using it. After all, it’s either painful, a hassle, or the cat thinks it’s a genuine wall. Small cats, older cats, or more anxious cats will:

  • Push the flap with their head
  • Meet resistance from the flap
  • Decide that they shouldn’t continue

Sometimes, cats don’t understand that they need to push harder. Frustrated, they then refuse to use the flap at all. Once this happens, it isn’t easy to convince the cat otherwise.

As such, watch your cat try the exit at first. If you notice that it’s having this problem, adjust the flap right away. Those with magnets often have too much resistance for cats to push through. You can easily remove these magnets and put them back once your feline is comfortable.

Cat Flap Is Too Noisy

The sound of the flap opening and closing may be irritating to a cat’s sensitive ears. According to Hearing Research, domestic cats have a hearing range from 48 Hz to 85 kHz. This gives cats one of the broadest hearing ranges of all mammals. With this sensitive hearing, your cat may be:

  • Annoyed by the sound
  • Afraid that it’s going to attract predators or scare away prey
  • Fearful that the cat flap will harm it

To make sure the flap isn’t too loud, wrap it with cling film. This will remove or lessen the sound and allow it to open smoothly. When your cat notices the dampened sound, it’s more likely to accept the exit. To use cling film:

  • Cover the bottom half of the flap, where it makes the most sound.
  • Cover the top half, especially around the sides, without getting into the hinge.
  • Once you’ve finished, go over the entire flap once more, so there are no gaps.

Cat Flap Has A Lock

Cat flaps that have locking mechanisms are notoriously loud. They make a clicking noise when they lock, and the mechanisms often clack together when the flap opens or closes.

This can be upsetting to an already anxious cat. The snapping sound can ward off cats that are newly investigating the flap. You can muffle the lock with insulation to fix this. As a bonus, this is great for keeping in heat during colder months. Here’s how:

  • Place strips of foam along the sides of the cat flap.
  • Alternatively, you can use spray foam from a can.
  • Trim the excess to ensure it doesn’t block the natural swing of the flap or make it heavy for your cat to push open.

If your cat flap’s locking mechanism uses magnets, remove the magnets. This will eliminate the clicking noise that locking and unlocking produces. Once your cat has grown familiar with the flap, you can put the magnets back in place.

Cat Will Go Out Cat Flap But Not In

What if your cat will only use the flap one way? This is a common (although confusing) habit for cats new to the flap experience. Here are some causes and solutions to explore:

Flap Is Too High On Other Side

It’s possible that the outside surface is not level with the inside surface. As such, while your flap is the right height from indoors, it may still be hard to reach from outdoors.

  • Measure the height of the flap from the outside.
  • If it is more than 15 centimeters, make a platform for your cat to even out the difference.

Although cats can jump or climb the difference, they can also be picky. Squeezing through an uncomfortable flap that’s the wrong height may not be worth it. That’s especially true when the cat has other interesting (or lazy) things to do.

Cat Is Asking You To Open The Flap

Perhaps the cat goes out but then cries for you to let it back in. Likewise, it may only go both ways if you physically hold the flap open for it. In this case, the feline is likely manipulating you.

Cats are smart creatures. If your cat learns that you will open the flap when asked, it will take advantage of this. The simplest fix is to start ignoring your cat.

As long as you know there aren’t any real obstacles stopping it, your cat will eventually unlearn the behavior. It will get irritated after a few days or a week, and then use the flap with its own effort.  

Just Keep Training

Sometimes, all you need to do is to just keep training. Some cats don’t realize that what they learned on one side of the cat flap also applies to the other. You can:

  • Continue opening the flap, tossing a treat, and encouraging the cat to go through.
  • Take your cat outside and repeat the process so that it can see the difference.
  • Leave the cat flap open for a day or two, so the cat realizes it’s not a barrier, no matter the entry point.
  • Place tasty food on either side of the flap, so the cat must pass through to gain access.

Just keep training your cat. Eventually, it will learn how to use the flap from both sides.

my cat has stopped using the cat flap

Cat Suddenly Afraid Of Cat Flap

Has your cat suddenly refused to use the flap? Does it appear scared to use it, or frightened whenever it approaches the flap? In these cases, you should:

  • Check that the flap isn’t covered in fungus, mold, or other growths your cat is smelling.
  • Ensure there are no harmful bugs, like bees or wasps, near the flap.
  • Ensure the flap doesn’t have any sharp edges that might’ve poked the cat (especially in older flaps).
  • Verify if your cat can comfortably fit through the flap and isn’t getting stuck.

If these factors are in play, then remove them. Your cat should warm up to the flap once they’re gone. If those factors are ruled out, then your cat might’ve had a bad experience and is now associating it with the flap. For example:

  • Another pet may have stopped your cat from entering or exiting.
  • Another pet might’ve spooked your cat from the other side.
  • The cat might’ve been scared by a sudden noise, light, or animal as it was using the flap.
  • The cat might’ve been rushed through the flap by another pet and hurt itself.

To resolve this, you will need to limit any frightening stimuli around the flap. You can also train the other pets to stop antagonizing each other around the cat flap. If need be, adding a second flap nearby can give your cat options, so it doesn’t feel overcrowded there.

If your cat is simply anxious, then you will need to try and calm it down. According to the International Safety of Feline Medicine, calming sprays work as a natural solution to aggressive or easily frightened cats. Spraying this around the flap will help your cat recognize it as a peaceful area, not a scary one.

How Long Does It Take For A Cat To Use A Cat Flap?

Different cats learn at different paces. A juvenile cat may take 2-3 days to pick up the habit. An adult cat that has no experience should take only a day. If the cat has a bad experience with flaps, then it may take 1-2 weeks or more.

For heavier cat flaps, you should expect the process to take double the normal time. Cats will be wary of pushing their faces against what appears to be an unmovable object. Even if they see you open the flap, they might assume that an owner will always be necessary to remove the barrier. Starting with a lighter flap, and working up, can help mitigate this wait time.

To speed up this process, you should always use bribery. Tempting your cat with food, toys, and treats will help lure it through the exit. Once it realizes that it was a safe and rewarding experience, it will take the opportunity for freedom all by itself.

Can You Have A Cat Without A Cat Flap?

It’s not mandatory to install a cat flap just because you own a feline. Some cats aren’t allowed outside for their own safety, and as such, a cat flap is irrelevant. If you want your cat to go in and outside, though, then a flap saves you the trouble of physically letting the cat out.

With that said, if you let the cat explore outside for most of the day, a cat flap is wise. This ensures it can get back into your home for food, water, and shelter. If you aren’t around to notice and let the cat in yourself, it may get stuck outside for long periods. This can be dangerous in hot weather, during storms, or if the cat is attempting to escape a predator.

No matter the reason for your cat’s aversion to cat flaps, time and patience is the key. Never force your cat through a flap, and approach its training from a place of understanding and empathy. With enough time, your cat is bound to learn how to use this exit.