Why Can Some Cats Open Doors?

Have you ever been sure you closed your bedroom door, only to discover that your cat somehow made it into your room anyway? Cats may not have opposable thumbs, but with enough patience and practice, the most persistent of cats can learn to open doors.

Cats are highly intelligent, and the most observant cats can learn how to open doors just by watching their owners. Door knobs are typically trickier for cats, but many cats find it simple to open door handles. Most cats like to have access to every part of the house, and they can teach themselves to open doors so they can go wherever they please!

As adorable as it may be to find out that your clever little cat learned how to open doors, it can end up being a huge inconvenience at times.

Your cat may learn how to open cupboards and mess with your pantry, or it could even use its newfound knowledge to get into dangerous places.

If you’re afraid of your cat getting into things it shouldn’t, read on to find out how you can stop your cat from opening doors!

How Do Cats Open Doors?

Cats, of course, don’t have hands like we humans do, so how is it that they’re able to open doors in the first place? YouTube is full of videos showing cats being clever and opening doors.

The easiest way that cats can open doors is by using their body weight to pull or push open a door that wasn’t closed all the way. This is a simple solution that most cats figure out at some point in their lives, and this problem can easily be solved by making sure to close your doors all the way.

Unfortunately, the cleverest of cats can still figure out how to open doors that have been firmly closed.

Lever door handles are the easiest kind of handles for cats to open. Cats have a difficult time gripping door knobs, but they can hook their paws beneath lever door handles and pull them down, effectively opening the door.

A tabby cat jumping on to the handle of a door to open it.
Cats can learn to jump on to a door handle to open the door. Photo: © rudolfoelias/stock.adobe.com.

It is possible for cats to open these kinds of doors by jumping and pulling down on lever handles.

It’s incredibly rare to see a cat who knows how to open a door knob. If there is a higher surface next to the door, like a shelf, your cat might have an easier time learning how to twist its paws to open the door knob, but this usually only happens with the smartest and most determined of cats.

Why Don’t Cats Like Closed Doors?

It’s fascinating to learn how cats are able to open doors, but the bigger mystery for most owners is why their cat wants to open doors in the first place. What motivates cats to spend minutes or even hours learning how to open doors?

Gray tabby cat staring at a closed white wooden door.
Cats don’t like it when doors are closed. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

We humans have a lot of agency in our lives. We can choose when to leave the house, and where to go. Cats, however, don’t have that luxury.

While keeping cats indoors is safer, it can sometimes lead to boredom. Imagine living in the same room or two for your entire life!

Cats Like to Explore

Cats don’t like closed doors because they restrict their access to parts of the house, and make it difficult to explore. This is especially true for cats that don’t receive much enrichment.

A gray tabby reaching a paw under the door to open it.
Some cats will learning to reach a paws under a door that hasn’t been shut tightly to pull it open. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

If you don’t have a cat tree, lots of interesting toys, or give your cat much playtime, then your cat might try to get more stimulation by exploring other rooms.

Your Cat Wants to be Near You

Some cats don’t like closed doors because they miss their owners. A lot of people assume that cats are aloof and independent, but there are plenty of cats out there who love their owners, and who enjoy lots of attention.

If your cat is feeling lonely because you’re hanging out in a different room, it might try to open the door to spend more time with you.

Do Cats Have Object Permanence?

Object permanence is when a living being is able to understand that something exists, even when they can’t see it. Humans don’t develop object permanence until they’re around eight months old, which is why the game of Peek-A-Boo is so exciting for young babies! Object permanence is also used as a measure of intelligence in different animal species.

Not all animals have object permanence, but cats certainly do! If you were to throw a blanket over your cat’s favorite treats, it would still know that the treats were there, and not just because it would be able to smell them! But what does this have to do with cats opening doors?

If your cat has a certain toy or sleeping spot in one room, and you close the door, your cat won’t simply forget that those things exist. Instead, your cat might become frustrated that it can’t reach the objects it wants to, leading it to learn how to open the door.

How To Stop Your Cat From Opening Doors

It might be cute at first to watch your cat open a door, but that can quickly turn into annoyance or even fear. After all, some doors are best kept closed for our cat’s safety! If your cat learns how to open doors, it might also learn how to open cupboards containing food or even dangerous cleaning chemicals.

If you’re trying to keep your cat out of a room so you can study, or to protect your feline from something dangerous, then your cat’s ability to open doors can suddenly become a huge problem. But what can you do to stop your cat from opening doors?

For every method of training, you’ll need to be firm and consistent. Keep a close eye on your cat and make sure to react the same way every time your cat opens the door, or even tries to open the door.

One possible way to stop your cat from opening doors is to use something loud, like a can filled with pennies, or even your own voice. Once your cat tries to open a door, shout or rattle the can to startle your cat. Your cat should eventually build a negative association with trying to open the door, and will eventually stop.

You can also place environmental deterrents to make opening doors unpleasant for your cat. Double-sided tape, aluminum foil, and other materials can be unpleasant or even scary for your cat to touch! Putting these materials in front of the door, as well as near the door handle, should train your cat to stop.

Another method is to spray cat-safe citrus scents around the door. Cats have very sensitive noses, and citrus is so strong for cats that it usually makes a good repellant.

Environmental factors like aluminum foil, tape, or citrus scents should be reapplied consistently until your cat stops opening doors altogether. Then, you should be able to remove these items.

Finally, one way you can encourage your cat to stop opening doors is to provide enrichment and attention. If your cat is opening doors because it needs more stimulation, or because it misses you, then the best way to solve the problem is to start at its root cause.

A black cat sitting in front of a crinkly toy.
Provide your cat with enrichment such as crinkly toys to keep them entertained. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Consider getting a cat tree, or even some wall-mounted shelves for your cat to climb on. Instead of keeping every cat toy out and in reach of your cat at all times, divide your cat’s toys in half and cycle them out every few weeks. This will keep things exciting for your cat, and prevent it from becoming bored with its toys.

You should also make sure to provide your cat with attention and playtime for at least thirty minutes every day. Overall, this can help your cat feel more satisfied with its life, and it will be less likely to open doors.

Can You Train Your Cat To Open Doors?

Most people find it annoying when their cat learns to open doors, but for some owners, this skill might actually be convenient. This can increase your cat’s independence and can make for some pretty cute videos. While it’s not possible to train every cat how to open doors, it’s always worth a shot!

Gray tabby opening a white door.
If you want your cat to learn how to open a door, praise them and give them a treat when training them to open the door. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Positive reinforcement is essential when it comes to training cats. Whenever your cat does something good, like touch the doorknob, make sure to give it a few treats and some pets. However, keep in mind that the following training method only works for doors with lever handles, as it’s not really possible to teach a cat how to open round door knobs.

Place a treat or two on top of the door handle. Your cat should paw at it, which will open the door. Do this several times, then switch to standing behind the closed door while rattling food or your cat’s favorite toy. It should figure out how to open the door so it can get to its treat!

Final Thoughts

Cats are super intelligent, and the smartest of felines can even use their wits to open doors! While this may seem cute at first, however, it can actually be a huge inconvenience, or even a danger to your cat. By providing negative reinforcement, like making loud noises or putting repellants near door handles, you should be able to train your cat to stop opening doors.

References

Bradshaw, J. W. (2012). The behaviour of the domestic cat. Cabi.

Goulet, S., Doré, F. Y., & Rousseau, R. (1994). Object permanence and working memory in cats (Felis catus). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes20(4), 347. https://doi.org/10.1037/0097-7403.20.4.347

Thorndike, E. L. (1898). Animal intelligence: An experimental study of the associative processes in animals. The Psychological Review: Monograph Supplements2(4), i.  https://doi.org/10.1037/h0092987

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