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Kitty Doors: Access to the Outside

By: Alex Lieber

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At one time or another, some cat owners have wondered what joys a pet door could bring. Imagine sitting down to your breakfast or dinner without keeping an eye cocked at the door, in case he needs to answer nature's call. Or how much happier the cat would be if she wanted to expend some of her energy in the safety of the yard, able to come back to the house at will.

Ah yes, there are many advantages to a pet door – if the right one is selected and installed properly, and you use it the right way. It goes without saying that a pet door should only lead out to a securely fenced yard, but this point is so important, we're going to say it anyway. The fence should be secure enough to prevent your cat from leaping over it. For your typical agile feline, this is often quite difficult to do. The fence should also be locked from the inside.

With that said, there's another important point to know about pet doors: it's no excuse to leave your pet alone for long periods. In fact, a pet door should be closed and locked when you're gone for many reasons:

  • Someone may still be able to get in the gate and steal your cat.

  • Your pet may discover an opening you've missed. By the time you get home and find he's gone, he could be miles away, lost. Cats in particular are very agile climbers. It's accepted as fact that cats are much healthier when they stay indoors, and indoor/outdoor cats may decide to take it on the lam.

  • An animal from outside may get into your home. Stray dogs, cats, raccoons (even snakes in some parts of the country) have gained entry through the pet door. However, technology has tried to solve this problem (see below).

  • Your cat may bring you love offerings – mice or birds – that he deposits proudly in your living room for when you get home.

  • Burglars may be able to wriggle through the opening, or gain enough access to use a tool to unlock the door from the inside. Although this is less likely with a small opening, don't forget that prying off the frame makes the opening bigger. With the metal frame off, a burglar may be able to enlarge the opening even more.

    Finally, your cat will still miss you like mad. These aren't points against installing pet doors, just aspects to consider on choosing and using them. On the plus side, your cat will be able to relieve himself at will, and he can amuse himself indoors or out when you're busy around the house

    Doors range in styles, features and of course cost. They run anywhere between $25 to almost $1,000. Typically, small cat doors are on the inexpensive side.

  • An inexpensive pet door ($15 to $65) should have a feature that self-locks after a pet comes back in the house. They are usually plastic frames with acrylic flaps. Different styles allow adjustments to the lock (in-only, out-only, open and locked).

  • A moderately priced pet door ($70 to $150) is usually made of aluminum with better insulation to keep out drafts. These may be designed for people with both small and larger pets.

  • Other models are designed for walls or even glass (price depends on size and model), which are more expensive. However, it may help conceal the fact you have a kitty door by placing it in an unusual location.

    Technology has helped solve the problem of unwanted animal intruders. Electronic and electromagnetic doors, which only open in response to a "key" on your pet's collar, are now available. These doors are locked until your pet comes within a few inches of the door. The "key," attached to your pet's collar, sends a signal to unlatch the door. The pet can then walk through the door, which falls back into place and locks.

    The cost of these doors is surprisingly low – between $60 and $100 for certain models designed for cats. The cost goes up with the size of the door – larger dogs may cost several hundred to $1,000.

    Note: Remember to buy a door for the size of your cat as an adult to save money and labor. The width of the opening should be a little wider than the widest part of your pet, and the height should be measured from the top of the shoulders to the chest, just behind the front legs.

    A final note about cats: As mentioned earlier, cats are generally safer and healthier indoors. Even a fenced-in yard may contain dangers to your cat. You might consider a pet door that leads out to a screened-in patio, for her safety.

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