Adjusting the sensitivity of an electronic cat flap...
February 8, 2012 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Adjusting the sensitivity of an electronic cat flap -- bright ideas needed!

I've got a electronic cat flap that senses the cat's microchip and opens the door (this one and I'm in the UK). The trouble is that there's something wrong with my cat. I programmed him into the thing, but the flap won't recognize him and open the flap.

The manufacturers have sent me instructions to adjust the sensitivity of the device, but they advise holding the cat under the sensor apparatus while this is done. They mustn't have experience of many cats because this is impossible with my cat at least, and will result in a scratched human and a scared cat.

Is there any trick using household equipment that I could do to adjust the sensitivity? For example, I know these things sometimes cause interference in analog radios so I wondered if could find the interference frequency and try adjusting the cat flap while moving the radio closer and further away...?

But are there any other things I can try?
posted by humblepigeon to Technology (11 answers total)
Would it work if you fed the cat next to the flap? Or other food bribery? Can you put him in a carrier and set that under the sensor?
posted by WowLookStars at 7:04 AM on February 8, 2012

Response by poster: WowLookStars, a carrier wouldn't fit under the cat flap, and would mean the cat was too far away from the sensor.

Feeding him there is possible but it would depend (a) how hungry he was at the time and (b) how he approached the food (his neck needs to be directly beneath the sensor). So it'd be tricky.
posted by humblepigeon at 7:08 AM on February 8, 2012

Gardening gloves, or falconing gloves, if you have access to them. How long do you have to hold the cat there for?

If the door is removable, you can always try to put the door against the cat instead of the cat against the door. Just put it down next to where he's sleeping.

Don't discount the possibility that your cat's chip was installed incorrectly. If you can't get the flap to pick up your cat's chip no matter how close you hold him to it, you might want to check with your vet to check on the chip.
posted by juniperesque at 7:09 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

How hard would it be to take the flap off the door? Then you can go to where you cat is taking a nap, and move the plastic thing toward him, instead of waving the cat around. Ideally you'd be able to get some idea of the response time at different distances.

Have you checked where your cat's chip is? From Wikipedia, the back of hte neck is most common, but continental Europe sometimes does the side of the neck - that would probably put it a bit farther from the sensor, and might affect how you think about "distance" when you're doing your test.

That article also points out that this is passive RFID, while I think the stuff that interferes with radio is non-passive. Although there are other things out htere that use passive RFID (tollbooth passes, passports, some Metro-cards or workplace IDs, Zipcar rentals, etc) which you could try testing with your pet door, there's no guarantee that the systems are compatible enough, or that the sensitivity would be comparable... I certainly don't know enough about RFID technology to predict, but it seems unlikely to help much.
posted by aimedwander at 7:21 AM on February 8, 2012

The microchips have been known to migrate, or move from their original position in the body. I've seen one that made it all the way down to a foreleg, and have heard of microchips failing or actually migrating out of the body. Can you confirm with a vet that his chip is still active and is where it is supposed to be?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:24 AM on February 8, 2012

I successfully catch and hold unwilling cats with a large towel. Grab the cat with the towel in hands, then quickly wrap the cat up in the towel (swaddling-style), and hold cat like a baby in my arms. If the towel is tight enough, I can use my elbows to hold the cat and still have one or even two hands free. The neck of the cat would still be accessible. You might try it. I use this technique mostly for giving cats pills and putting them in carriers.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:26 AM on February 8, 2012

Can you remove the catflap from the door and hold it over the cat (while it's sleeping on someone's lap) rather than the other way round?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:53 AM on February 8, 2012

Why not just crank the sensitivity to a very high level, so that the flap opens any time the cat is near it, and then tune it down a little bit at a time over the next week or so? You're dealing with a radio system here and adjusting it to just enough when the cat is right there on a day when noise is low might result in it not opening at all on a noisier day.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:49 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have one of those too! It worked fine with my cat, but to set it up, we held the sensor over the cat, rather than vice versa. I held the cat, and my husband waved the sensor over her. We had to reset it at some point, and as it was already in the door, we put the cat outside, and her favourite food on our side, and banged the dish with a spoon and called "come" (she comes when called, which helps, but we taught her to do that using clicker training in an afternoon, so don't disregard this suggestion even if yours doesn't.) She couldn't actually get through the flap, since it wasn't detecting her, but she stuck her head up against it and pushed for long enough to set the sensor.

Finally, I don't think vets mind putting a second chip in, if the first one isn't working properly. They don't have to remove the first one. So maybe take her in and get that done. You could probably take the door with you and check that the chip works with it before they insert it in the cat, even.
posted by lollusc at 5:31 PM on February 8, 2012

Best answer: Another thought: if it really is just a matter of adjusting sensitivity, find a friend with a more docile cat and take the door to their place. Adjust it to the sensitivity needed to work with their cat, and then use the same settings on yours? Or see if a vet will sell you a chip without putting it in your cat, and adjust the cat door sensitivity while holding the chip in various places with various degrees of padding around it?

(We didn't have to adjust the sensitivity of ours to make it work, so forgive me if these suggestions wouldn't help.)
posted by lollusc at 5:34 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: > Why not just crank the sensitivity to a very high level, so that the flap opens any time the cat is near it

Because it's a simple screw that you turn on the circuit board (adjustable resistor?), and the instructions I've sent are extremely vague, suggesting I turn it one way and then another. Believe me I'd do that if I could. Yes, the instructions are crap.

As for other ideas, I was hoping for a clever technological solution, rather than one were I cause the animal distress by wrapping it in a towel, or holding it by the scruff of the neck etc.

The best solution suggested here is to see if I can buy a microchip on eBay and use that to maximise the sensitivity.
posted by humblepigeon at 7:11 AM on February 12, 2012

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