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Cats: How to Keep Hairy Houdinis From Escaping

Carola has been a cat lover for many years and is interested in learning more about cat behavior.

My little Houdini, Mittens

My little Houdini, Mittens

My 16-year-old cat Mittens has it made. She is a beautiful little tabby with white paws and a snow-white chest. My family and I lavish attention on her, and her food bowl was always full of delectable treats. Every morning, her purring, furry, warm body is nestled next to my pillow. She has two other cats to boss around and dominate. Most of the time, she revels in it all.

Now and then, I try to prevent Mittens from zipping out the front door of my house. I never let her outside because my city has a bylaw that forbids owners from allowing their cats to roam at large. I also worry that her feisty nature will cause fights with other cats.

When she was about 11 years old, she managed a spectacular escape in late summer. I reported her missing to Animal Services and anyone else who could help. She was gone for about a month. I was frantic with worry but was beginning to accept that she was probably gone forever.

I got a surprising but welcome call from Animal Services. Mittens had been found! The animal control officer doubted the cat was Mittens because she was found a long way from our house. The cat was not microchipped. Most cats stay close to home after an escape. I was sure it was her, though, because she was adventurous. If curiosity killed any cat, it would be Mittens.

Mittens settled back home and seemed content. Then five years later, she managed to get out again for several days. This time, a woman turned Mittens in to Animal Services. When I went to pick my cat up, the Animal Services officer commented on how sweet and friendly she was. I knew that – I just wish she would stay home. I was determined to prevent another cat escape.

Tips for Preventing Cat Escapes

Here are some innovative ways that others and I have used to keep my furballs at home.

Awareness when Cats Seem to be Hearing the Call Of The Wild

Mittens would start hanging around the door and looking for opportunities to escape at times. Cats have a natural drive to get out and hunt. When Mittens gets out, birds and rodents beware. She was also a fearless explorer.

A natural drive may drive other owners' cats to mate or to mark territory. Neutering or spaying usually reduces their desire to roam but not my cat.

Mittens would sometimes hide around a corner or at the back of the front hall near the door and wait. She was smart enough to know that us opening the door or coming back into the house was an opportunity to get out. It is so easy for a grey streak to zoom outside undetected.

Increasing Mindfulness

I had to train myself to be mindful every time I opened the front door. I check to see if Mittens was around before I went out. I also enlisted the help of everyone in my home to prevent an escape. Some cat owners put a sign near the door to warn visitors that furry escape artists may try to get out when they open or close the door.

Establishing a No Cat Zone

We have one main door to enter and exit. When Mittens gets too close, I established a no-cat zone by gently saying “no” in a low voice and an additional sound or gesture. Cats dislike loud noises and are sensitive to sounds such as clapping or a loud voice. Sometimes I will distract her with food or treats before going out. If Mittens comes to the door, I pick her up and move my furry offender down the hall.

I also spray the welcome mat with cat repellant. Some cat repellants have a built-in motion detector that sprays lightly nearby at movement. Some pet owners use other smell deterrents. However, some scents such as citrus essential oils can be toxic to cats. Owners should do research on the product to ensure it is safe before using.

Other pet owners recommend adding surfaces that cats hate to walk on such as aluminum foil. Two-sided sticky tape on placemats can create an uncomfortable environment. The placemats can easily be removed.

A cat tree away from the door and near a window can bring the outdoors in for my furballs. My cats loved to perch and survey the world.

Use Security Cameras

We installed a security camera that detected and recorded movement mainly to be notified on our Android phones when Amazon brought us treasures. It is also triggered by an escaped cat.

It is important to make sure the motion detection notifications are turned on. At the time of the second escape, we had installed an upgrade on our camera. The upgrade somehow turned off the notifications that beeped an alert for any action outside our house. We discovered this problem too late. When my husband reviewed the footage later that evening, there was our little tabby, meowing to come in.

If Cats Do Get Out

No matter how diligent we are, our sneaky pussycats will get out. There are some things we can do to prepare for an escape.

Be Prepared to Report to local Animal Services and Other People

Cats may run off outside business hours. For local animal services and other interested parties, we should:

  • Keep recent photographs on your computer and smartphone and share them
  • Have a detailed description of the cat, including their age and any health issues
  • Keep a file handy for vaccines, medical conditions, if any, and microchip information

Microchipping and GPS Tracking

Mittens was microchipped after the first escape, and I felt reassured that a vet or animal services could easily identify her. When I was at Animal Services to pick her up after the second escape, the receptionist said they could detect the microchip but could not read it. I had the vet check it to see if it is working. It turned out that the microchip had slipped down to one of her shoulders.

Some cat owners use a GPS tracker to monitor where their kitties are. These devices are easy to attach and will break apart under pressure.

Mittens' new behavior, drinking from an open tap

Mittens' new behavior, drinking from an open tap

Changes After The Escape

Mittens did change in several ways after the first escape. She was obsessed with running water, for example. She would jump in the bathtub and demand a small stream be opened. She also loves drinking from a sink tap. We set up a cat water fountain in addition to her water bowl.

Nowadays, Mittens is very affectionate and clingy. She has claimed my room as her territory and my bed as her resting place. She is more interested in demanding cat food than getting out these days. If her treats bowl is empty, she sits in the kitchen entrance and meows “feed me” with a look just like the man-eating plant in the movie Little Shop of Horrors.

At night, she curls up along my pillow, preferably with my arm along her back and my hand on her head. And that is the way I like it.



How to Stop Your Cat From Escaping, The Spruce Pets, Amy Shojai
5 Ways to Keep Your Cat From Escaping, Petsafe
Why do cats run away? 11 reasons and how to deal with it, Tractive


Sp Greaney from Ireland on April 12, 2021:

It's great that you found her both times after she managed to escape.

I like the list of ideas that you mentioned too, to help deter her from escaping. Using different methods is always a good idea.

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