How to Train a Cat to Use a Cat Flap

A cat sitting on the inside of a cat looking out

When I receive emails asking me how to train a cat to use a cat flap this is the process I usually give them, and unless your cat is particularly cat-flap phobic it should work!

Start off using an upturned cardboard box with a square hole cut in it. Throw treat inside to get your cat used to jumping in and once in, throw another treat or toy outside to get him to jump out. Once he is happy doing this, get a new cardboard box, cut 3 sides of a square to form a flap and place a few treats or catnip/valerian toy under it. When he is in the box, call him out with another treat or toy, or trail a feather through the opening.

Tabby cat on cardboard box in the shape of a castle

Then start training on the actual cat flap.

Phase 1 is to get your cat used to using going through it prior to its installation and with the door propped open. Some microchip cat flaps make a clicking noise as the latch is retracted. A good idea to desensitize cats to the click sound by finding something that imitates it for example a ball point pen, clicking this as they pass through the open door and giving them a treat as you make the noise. This should be done during training sessions prior to installation and will hopefully stop them being put off by the click sound when cat flap is installed.

Phase 2 starts when the cat flap is installed. Firstly, prop the door open, then reward your cat for any investigative behaviour around the opening of the cat flap. You might need to lure him by dangling a wand toy in front of or placing food treats around the opening. Once he’s comfortable eating or retrieving a toy from the opening, you can teach him that it’s a pleasant experience to actually move through the opening. You can toss treats through the opening or drag a toy through to encourage him to follow.

Man pushing cat flap open for tabby and white cat

He is unlikely to go through the opening the first time, so remember to reward successive approximations of the final goal, for example, reward for whiskers and nose going over the opening, then only the whole head, then head and one paw lifted, and so forth. Once your cat has gone all the way through, no longer reward the half-hearted attempts, only the entire body through the opening. Make sure you practice with your cat going through the opening from both sides to mimic indoors to outdoors and vice versa.

When your cat is used to going through the door, then gradually lower the flap whilst placing a treat on the other side. This should provide motivation for him to push the flap to get the treat.

The final step is to practise with the cat flap completely closed. Patience may be needed as this is one training exercise in which cats often take their time to move.

Never be tempted to ‘help’ your cat through the cat flap, he should do it because he wants to.

Avoid opening the door for him in future as this may kick-start an old habit!

And if you’d like to see how different cats have different styles of using a cat flap check out these videos!

Clare Hemington

Clare has worked in the field of cat behaviour for sixteen years. She is an accredited Cat Behaviourist and respected member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers. Clare believes that understanding cat behaviour is key to their overall welfare. Through consultation and education her aim is to share information with owners that enables them to give their cat a life that is as happy as it possibly can be. Clare is also founder and owner of Honeysuckle cat toys. Toys made from Tatarian honeysuckle wood which provide wonderful natural enrichment for cats.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *