January 14, 2011 9:37 AM   Subscribe

My small, slinky, wily cat dashes out of my apartment every time I come home. I read these suggestions but my situation is a little different.

Background: I have two Tonkinese (a mix of Siamese and Burmese) cats, brother and sister, Zach and Zoey, who have been together since birth. However, they are newly mine. They were my parents' cats, but my parents sold their house and moved to a high-rise condo with balconies and my mother was afraid the cats would dash out onto them and fall off and die. Thus, the cats moved in with me. They have adjusted fairly well, with minor stress, and the dashing-out behavior is not new. My parents used to have to sneak out of the garage door to avoid it.

The main, and superior, dasher is the boy, Zach. He is not big on compressed air or squirted water, but this is one intelligent cat. He knows when I'm doing something to distract him, and can easily ignore it. It's easier to keep him inside when I'm leaving, just based on the configuration of the door opening, but throwing a favorite toy does not dissuade him in any way. He knows what is going on. He hates closed doors and just wants to go beyond them. He will meow in front of closets. He meows in front of the front door regularly.

There is not a great deal of danger awaiting him in the hallway. I'm on the second floor of the apartment building, and he mostly just runs to the end of the hallway and back. This is more of a question of annoyance and future-possible-danger, because I will be moving in a few months and my as-yet-unknown new building may have a hallway that is more easily accessible to the front door of the building and thus the outside world, where cats get hit by cars.

I have looked into cat gates and baby gates. The problem is that Zach is an extraordinarily high jumper. He can jump from the floor to the shoulder of a grown man, easily, and he does this all the time. He's a tiny cat, at eight pounds, a fast cat, a smart and curious cat, and a high jumper, and this makes him hard to keep inside.

I can't install anything permanent. I do need some sort of physical barrier, though--Moving his food around and providing more stimulation isn't going to change this, because I already play with him a lot and he's been doing this ever since he was a baby. I think it's just part of his personality.

posted by millipede to Pets & Animals (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you opening the door wide open when you come home? I find that cracking the door just wide enough for me to get a foot through and then (gently!) pushing back the cats that are crowded against the door is key.
posted by crankylex at 9:52 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have never had success in deterring run-out-the-door cats with barriers or distractions. I think you really have to have an active, physical strategy every time you leave.

My mother has always used the tactic of what she refers to as "grimbling" (god knows why) -- whenever you exit the house, have all your things with you, open the door just wide enough to get through and back out of it, all the while stomping and shuffling your feet and yelling "grimble grimble GRIMBLE!!" The erratic foot movement and loud noise is often enough to bewilder/deter the cat long enough for you to slip through and shut the door quickly. You can also bend down on your way out and facepalm the cat while you back out.

If it's just one main dasher, and you're not carrying too many things out, you can always pick the cat up right as you are leaving and then -- surprise! -- toss him a goodly distance (gently, gently!) back into the house and quick-slam-the-door.

I don't think there are reliable training- or home-improvement-based solutions. You have to outsmart the cat. He's quick, but he's still trickable, I promise.
posted by little cow make small moo at 9:54 AM on January 14, 2011 [24 favorites]

Hmm, I see that you are mostly concerned with coming in. Sorry. Grimbling works equally well for that. Just open the door a tiny crack and grimble your way in.
posted by little cow make small moo at 9:55 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

How weird would it be to install a screen door inside your apartment? Preferrably opening the reverse direction from the door? That would give you a little extra buffer as you execute crankylex's maneuver.
posted by Ys at 9:56 AM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: 1) i really do only open the door a tiny bit. I'm not opening the door wide and screaming "cats! I'm home!" These are some smaller-than-average cats. They can squish out of a door if it is open wide enough to accomodate my foot.

2) My apartment would be well situated for a barrier. I have a little alcove with an archway perpendicular to the doorway that would be ideal for a barrier. I cannot install something with hardware, as I am only living here a few more months.

3) The "grimbling" solution makes me laugh, but it doesn't work with my cat. He's single-minded and unconfused by anything. I promise.
posted by millipede at 10:00 AM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: (I think I basically need something like this: but much taller)
posted by millipede at 10:02 AM on January 14, 2011

Grimbling! What a handy term. I do that every time I enter the house, minus the shouting.

I have a Siamese, and she's almost eleven - every now and then she still bolts between my ankles and dashes down the hall. She always waits to make sure I'm following before going any further, though. While I do make it inconvenient for her by not opening the door much and putting a foot right up in her face when she looks like she's going for it, I pretty much lose every time she puts her mind to getting out.

It happens much, much less now that she's almost eleven, though. When she was two, it was every third time I opened the door - now it's twice a year or so. So... patience, I guess.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:03 AM on January 14, 2011

I think your only possibly option for a physical barrier is an airlock, made out of two or three $12 markerboard sheets (Lowes or Home Depot) attached to a lightweight frame of 2x3 pieces of lumber bolted together. This is not an alteration, just something propped up against the door area. If you plan it out carefully, the hardware store will take care of cutting down all the materials to size, and you just bolt it together at home. This takes up some room but would be 100% effective.

Other than that, yeah, you're looking at some sort of confinement or grimbling.
posted by crapmatic at 10:10 AM on January 14, 2011

Grimbling definitely deters our ginger kitty (although I roar rather than saying "grimble"), who likes to dash out the door to sit out-of-reach under the rhododendron and eat grass.

My animal-trainer wife would tell you that your cat has you trained to do a trick!
posted by MisterMo at 10:13 AM on January 14, 2011

I have this vision of the double-door setup at the kangaroo enclosure and bird houses at my local zoo - could you put a tall closet in front of your door, that's the same width as your door, but without the back? If it was a big enough closet, you could stand inside of it, close the real door behind you, and then open the closet door. Zach could still dash, for all of a few feet.
posted by SMPA at 10:15 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could potentially get two (or three, I've had a high jumper as well) gates and bolt them together vertically. Personally I'd finagle a folding privacy screen. Probably secure it on one side with brackets. A couple of small screw holes in the wall are easily mended before moving out.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:17 AM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: You guys, see my update: They way my apartment is situated, I have an entryway alcove. You open the door and you're in a little box. You turn right and there is an open archway and through that is the rest of my apartment. I just need a tall catproof barrier for the archway. I don't need to put anything in front of my door.
posted by millipede at 10:19 AM on January 14, 2011

One of my cats, Rory, loves to run outside whenever someone opens the door. As we live on a reasonably busy street we don't particularly like this. This is my strategy:

If I'm coming home with nothing in my hands this is easy, I use my better-than-catlike reflexes to pick her up before she can run past me.

If I have a bag in my hand then I will open the door and keep the bag low enough that it blocks her from coming out, and in fact pushes her back.

If I have a big box or basket and can't use it to block her then I just go about my business as quickly as I can and collect her once all the stuff is inside. If I've got someone else with me then I'll open the door first without anything and have the other person take care of her from the inside.

These tactics don't always work, but they work enough. The saving grace is that Rory only wants to eat the grass right by the door so she doesn't go all that far. If your cats are going to escape anyway, see if you can place something near your door (if your building lets you) that will keep them occupied so they don't go farther afield.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:20 AM on January 14, 2011

A friend's cats to this to her all the time. I was housesitting for her and they never never never did this to me, because they were so excited that I had arrived and was about to feed them. Even when one did the stairwell dash, the sound of my continuing into the apartment and saying "kitties! dinner!" brought her zooming back. I realize it's not practical to feed the cat every single time you walk in the door, but if indoors becomes significantly awesomer than outdoors as soon as you get home, it won't really matter what's out there.

I assume your door opens out of the hallway into your apartment, meaning you'd have to use the baby gate to create a foyer, which he could easily leap into as soon as he hears your keys, to greet you at the door. One idea would be to put the baby gate on the outside of the door - such that Zach would have to leap up/over/out through the crack of the door, as soon as he gets any view of the barrier. He's fast, but that sould at least buy you some time. You arrive, open the door, reach over and scoop him up while he's gathering his sense of direction to leap, step over/through the gate, close the door, and set him down. The point being not that he can't leap over it, but that he'll take a second to do so. For a week, at least. ;) This does involve your neighbors not taking a baby gate out of the hallway just because it's not chained down.
posted by aimedwander at 10:21 AM on January 14, 2011

I tend to hold my bag very low so that it's in front of my shins and use it like armor to keep my cat Pacey from running out the door. Pacey also happens to hate the sound of very crinkly plastic bags. So maybe you can try crinkling on your way in and out. You can crinkle as you grimble.
posted by mokeydraws at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2011

He wants to go out because it's fun and interesting. Something else to focus on, maybe not even in that exact moment, might be good for him and *might* even make him less interested in running out.

I suggest this book all the time. I haven't tried it for dashing problems, per se, but I will say that our very curious small red cat (with an extra X chromosome, a black spot piratically located at the base of his right ear, and arguably the temperament of a fierce tortie) has been less interested in dashing out since we started clicker training him.

This will seem like an activity only tenuously connected to your problem, but the author of the small but well-written Clicker Training for Cats book makes a convincing (to me) case that engaging your cat in, for example, touching his nose to your thumb when called (and getting rewarded), rolling over, or playing piano makes him more likely to listen to you in general and makes his life a lot more fun.

Every cat I've done this with -- and it's five or six or more now -- has *loved* it, and purrs and follows me and generally looks happy even when sitting around for hours after each session.

You can also teach the cat to "stay", by the way.
posted by amtho at 10:25 AM on January 14, 2011

In response to your follow-up: I'm having trouble imagining a tall, cat-proof barrier except for another whole door. Which might not be a bad idea, but is probably more trouble than you want. Also, if the doorway is arched and the door leaves a gap, your exceptionally nimble guy might find a way to perch on top of the door and wait for you.
posted by amtho at 10:28 AM on January 14, 2011

Have you tried a barrier that has no ledge on the top, the way a baby gate does? I used to have pet rabbits and they would run around in an exercise pen like this. My cat, who would jump over baby gates in a heartbeat, never really understood how to jump over the pen. I think it was because he had no ledge to stabilize him at the top, to prepare for the jump down.

I am not saying that the pen itself is the answer, but maybe a wire grid of some kind could be fashioned into a door?
posted by cabingirl at 10:28 AM on January 14, 2011

Oh good point cabingirl - you mention that your cat can jump on stuff, but the reason Manu seems so silly is that most cats won't jump all the way over something.

At least trying one gate is cheaper than constructing a large physical barrier to make a true lock system, which is my other idea.
posted by muddgirl at 10:32 AM on January 14, 2011

How about just using a heavy room divider in that secondary "doorway" after your entryway? something like this, that the cat won't be able to knock over.
posted by brainmouse at 10:33 AM on January 14, 2011

Or, stack 2 tension-mounted pet gates one above the other to make it tall enough that the cat can't jump onto it.
posted by brainmouse at 10:39 AM on January 14, 2011

We use foamcore, bought in big sheets from the local arts/printing store, to block off areas we don't want the cats to go. You could get a sheet the size of the doorway off of the alcove, probably, or tape/ziptie two together if need be. It's very light and maneuverable, so could probably be affixed without lots of bolts or anything too damaging, and it's relatively inexpensive. Determined cats can destroy it if they claw or chew at the edges, but we find that no cat can get a grip on it long enough to climb it, and then they usually ignore it, and stop trying to bust in to that room. (We foster, so we've had experience with this solution with MANY cats over the years, it seems to really work.)
posted by strega_bianca at 10:41 AM on January 14, 2011

Well, I directed my mother here so she could see that she had vicariously caused The Internet to use a silly word, and she responded with some further suggestions. She also called me out on "so this is what you do at work?" Thanks.

Anyway, the second part relates to building an indoor barrier, so here you go:

You heard my idea of mounting a holy-water font by the front door, filling it with treats, and flinging a treat into the room whenever you leave? Mongo doesn't seem to greet at the door, only follow you to it.

And also, I think it's with fencing against some kind of outdoor varmint, you are supposed to leave it kind of wobbly at the top, to keep the critter from bracing on it or climbing up it.

She might make a gate at the inside of the entry that would have a rectangular frame, but have a bulging piece of chicken wire extending above the frame to be convincingly unstable for the cat. Just a thought.

posted by little cow make small moo at 11:26 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had a similar problem. I started using a shaker can (an empty tea tin with some pebbles and spare change). Whenever I came home I would open the door a crack, then throw the shaker can hard so that it hit the floor right in front of the cat. It took some doing, but he eventually became convinced that there were monsters outside.

Surely Zach is frightened of something. At the very least, you could spend an afternoon teaching him that when the door opens, there's a VACUUM CLEANER THAT SWITCHES ON RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR OH NO RUUUUUUUN!!!!
posted by ErikaB at 11:40 AM on January 14, 2011

My own Zach used to be an escape artist himself. I finally tried using a "reverse psychology" approach -- I picked up up and carried him out the front door and into the hallway. I figured I'd walk around with him a little, let him sniff a few things, and then bring him back inside. However -- I barely made it three steps out the front door before he freaked out because whoashit i don't know what this place is like and was scrambling up and over my shoulder and making a mad dash back into the apartment. He still met me at the door, but didn't dare step outside the apartment for another several years.

I had to do it again when I moved to a new apartment; he wasn't as freaked out when I brought him outside, and I let him have a good chance to sniff around in the hallway outside before bringing him back in. He stopped trying to escape after I did that. Maybe trying to just have a controlled case of letting him satisfy his curiosity will help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:43 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think there are a lot of great suggestions here, but I just wanted to say that I find it completely unacceptable that we've made it this far without pics. The exchange is cat advice for cat pictures, bucko.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 11:52 AM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, I also do the carry-outside-for-sniffs thing regularly, too. Dottie adores it, as near as I can tell, and doesn't try to jump down until she's done, then she jumps back inside and bolts to the bedroom.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:07 PM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: Here they are: Zach is on the left; Zoey is on the right.
posted by millipede at 12:11 PM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, not to threadmonitor too much, but here's more: So, I went to get a package from my landlord across the street, and I decided that I'd try grimbling when I returned, just to see what happened. It didn't work, and I grimbled loudly and with much gusto. I grimbled with so much gusto that the elderly man who lives two doors down came out and we had a short conversation as I was retreiving Zach. And now the man thinks my cat's name is Grimble. He hopes I have better luck with Grimble. So at least things are funny now.
posted by millipede at 12:31 PM on January 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

Seconding EmpressCallipygos's approach. Have you tried taking Zach outside with you on a cat harness and leash? Cat walks tend to be creeping about with sniffing. The leash part is less for direction and more for keeping him close if he spooks at something and tries to run, so he can't just scratch and jump from your arms. Getting to see what the outside is like may give it less lure of the forbidden/unknown (you can take him out when it's miserably damp and cold!)

Also, the pictured cats are adorable and the grimbling story hilarious.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:52 PM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: My mom took Zach for a walk on a leash when he used to meow at their front door. He did not like it outside and was very creepish and scared. But once he was back inside, the meowing at the door increased tenfold, apparently. Maybe he's not really that smart after all.
posted by millipede at 12:57 PM on January 14, 2011

Slight tangent: since you know Zach's reputation as an escapist, I'd recommend fitting him with an ID microchip and possibly collar/tags with contact info, if you haven't done so already, to increase his chances of getting home if he gets out.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:58 PM on January 14, 2011

This sounds like it could do the job. He may be tricky, but he can't trick a motion detector.
posted by ignignokt at 1:00 PM on January 14, 2011

Hrmm, of course. When you let him in, then he wants to be out; / He's always on the wrong side of every door, / And as soon as he's at home, then he'd like to get about. Perhaps letting him sit (on a leash) and sniff at the open door from the safe interior? My roommate's cat is permitted to go outside but still door dashes, but he's just as likely to prefer to cautiously watch things from the safety of his threshold. And if you push him outside before it's 100% his idea he is not happy.

I dunno. Chicken wire constructions? Other methods meant to keep foxes out of henhouses? Good luck.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:10 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

And now the man thinks my cat's name is Grimble. He hopes I have better luck with Grimble. So at least things are funny now.

Goddamn. I am impressed with Zach's persistence and your willingness to be as weird as my mom. Sorry it didn't work! Not sorry that you increased my work afternoon's entertainment value tenfold, though!
posted by little cow make small moo at 1:27 PM on January 14, 2011

Here's why I've done: I have a normal floor broom, and whenever I'm leaving, I hold up the broom. If my cat or cats make a break for it, I take the broom and rub it on them, almost like I'm sweeping them away, but not that forceful.

It's gotten to the point where they've associated the broom with unpleasantness and they won't go anywhere near the thing. Works like a charm.
posted by elder18 at 2:40 PM on January 14, 2011

By the way, your cats are adorable.
posted by elder18 at 2:40 PM on January 14, 2011

I think the folding room divider (privacy screen) mentioned upthread sounds like a really good idea. I've seen fairly substantial ones that go just about to the ceiling and don't leave any room underneath, are easy to move, and nicely decorative on top of that. Since you just need to block the one archway (which is quite convenient) you should be able to do that with a room divider.
posted by galadriel at 3:09 PM on January 14, 2011

I'm wondering about laying down a big 'ol piece of something yucky to step on, like doubled chicken wire, or a plastic version of chicken wire, right on the floor in front of the inner entrance — something big enough that can't leap past it.
posted by taz at 12:11 AM on January 15, 2011

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