Why Do Cats Insist on Getting to the Other Side? Solving the Mystery of Closed Doors

Cats are territorial

Cats have a strong instinct to protect their territory and resources. According to Four Paws, claiming territory is a natural part of feline behavior, even for indoor cats. Cats want to be able to patrol and access all of the space they consider their own.

When a door is closed, it blocks a cat’s access to part of its territory. This can frustrate a cat’s desire to monitor its entire domain. As territorial creatures, cats want free reign to patrol, mark, and access all areas of their space (Wikivet). A closed door disrupts a cat’s ability to freely access its full territory.

Cats are curious

Insatiable curiosity is in a cat’s nature. Cats have an inherent drive to investigate their surroundings and satisfy their curiosity about the world around them. This trait developed as an evolutionary advantage, allowing cats to better hunt prey, identify threats, and learn about their territory (https://www.rover.com/blog/why-are-cats-so-curious/).

This innate curiosity motivates much of a cat’s behavior. When a door is closed, it represents an obstacle between a curious cat and the mysteries behind it. Not being able to access and investigate what’s behind a closed door is incredibly frustrating and disturbing for cats.

Cats hate not being able to satisfy their endless curiosity. A closed door blocks them from exploring, patrolling their territory, and knowing what’s happening in their environment. This can cause anxiety, fear of missing out, and a strong desire to get past the barrier. A cat’s hatred of closed doors stems largely from the curiosity inherent to their nature.

Cats feel separation anxiety

Cats are social animals who form strong bonds with their owners. When a door separates them from their owner, they can experience separation anxiety. According to a 2020 study, over 70% of cats show signs of separation-related problems like inappropriate urination and destructive behavior (de Souza Machado, 2020). Being separated by closed doors can lead to distress, meowing, and scratching as they try to reunite with their owner.

Since cats have a strong attachment to their owners, they want to be near them as much as possible. Closed doors disrupt this access to their bonded human, which causes anxiety. This anxiety manifests through vocalization and attempts to open the door and reunite with the owner.

Cats Want to Feel in Control

Cats are naturally independent animals who value their freedom and ability to make choices. When a door is closed, it takes away a cat’s sense of control over their environment. As territorial creatures, cats want to be able to freely access and patrol all areas they consider their domain.

According to Cats and Control, “Other cats will exhibit another common result of lack of control: aggression. A cat whose choice and control over their body is restricted is likely to become frustrated and lash out.” Closed doors restrict a cat’s freedom and choice, which can lead to stress and anxiety.

Giving cats more control over their environment can help satisfy their need for independence. Allowing them the ability to open doors, such as placing a pet door in a closed door, helps them regain a sense of control. Limiting closed doors also reduces a cat’s frustration and stress levels.

Closed doors disrupt routines

Cats thrive on routine and consistency in their environment. As creatures of habit, they develop regular schedules for activities like eating, sleeping, and playtime (Cat Psychology: Routines and Schedules For Your Cat). When a door that is normally open suddenly closes, it disrupts their habitual pathways and access to resources. A closed door fundamentally alters the landscape of their territory.

Cats rely heavily on their excellent spatial memory to navigate through their domain (Do cats rely on routine and memory? If so, why? How?). A closed door limits their ability to freely follow familiar routes for food, water, litter box access, sunbeams, toys, and human interaction. It interrupts their schedule and control over their surroundings, causing stress.

For cats accustomed to having full reign of a home, a closed door can be jarring. It signals an abrupt change in their territory and in the “map” held in their memory. Cats dislike closed doors because it means losing freedom, consistency, and control over their environment.

Cats fear missing out

Cats are naturally curious creatures and constantly want to know what’s happening, especially if they hear noises coming from the other side of a closed door. According to research, cats can experience a “feline FOMO” or fear of missing out, where they worry they are missing out on something exciting or important happening on the other side of the door (https://medium.com/catness/my-cats-have-fomo-and-yours-probably-do-too-91074adc4080). Cats like to be part of the action and involved in everything going on in their environment. When shut outside of a room, they may frantically scratch at the door trying to get in because their natural curiosity makes them anxious about missing out on potential fun or attention.

Cats want attention

Cats are highly social animals who crave attention and interaction with their owners. One reason cats may meow at closed doors is simply to get your attention, even if it’s negative attention. As the ASPCA explains, “The cat’s meow is her way of communicating with people.” Cats meow when they want food, care, play, and your acknowledgment. So a cat that meows loudly and incessantly at a closed door is probably doing so to get you to open the door and interact with them.

For some cats, even negative attention like being scolded is better than no attention at all. As long as you open the door and engage with the cat when it meows, it is rewarding that behavior and will continue doing it. The key is to ignore unwanted meowing rather than scolding or engaging with the cat. This teaches the cat that meowing at closed doors doesn’t get your attention. Only reward and engage with the cat when it is quiet. This reinforces calm behavior.

How to ease cats’ door anxiety

There are several steps you can take to help ease your cat’s anxiety about closed doors:

Provide plenty of toys and activities like scratching posts, cat trees, and interactive toys when your cat is alone behind a closed door. This will keep them entertained and distracted. According to The Door Buddy, having activities available is an important way to reduce anxiety.

Give your cat their own private territory space like a cat tree, cat bed, or window perch where they can relax when separated by a door. As territorial animals, having a dedicated space can help them feel more secure according to PetMD.

Try to maintain consistent daily routines for feeding, play time, and pets. Cats feel less anxious when their schedule stays predictable. Any change, like a closed door disrupting their routine, can heighten anxiety.

If your cat shows signs of separation anxiety like meowing, scratching at doors, or inappropriate urination, try techniques like providing a worn clothing item with your scent or using pheromone diffusers. These can help reassure your cat and make them feel less distressed when separated behind closed doors.

When to see the vet

If your cat’s anxiety becomes severe or persists for an extended period, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Prolonged anxiety can lead to serious physical and psychological problems in cats. According to PetMD, some signs that indicate it’s time to seek professional help include:

  • Prolonged scratching or damage caused by anxiety
  • Failing to use the litter box
  • Increased aggression or hiding
  • Significant loss of appetite

A vet can rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing your cat’s anxiety symptoms. They can also provide advice on behavioral training techniques or prescribe anti-anxiety medication if needed. Don’t hesitate to reach out if your cat’s anxiety is impacting their physical health, emotional well-being, or your ability to properly care for them.

Teaching cats to accept closed doors

With some patience and positive reinforcement, you can teach your cat to become more comfortable with closed doors in the home.

Start by associating the closed door with something positive. Grab some of your cat’s favorite treats or toys and bring them into the room you want to close them out of. Play with your cat and reward them with treats for a few minutes, then leave the treats or toys behind as you shut the door for just a minute or two at first. Gradually increase the duration as your cat learns that closed doors are not something to fear.

Establishing a new routine can also help a cat accept closed doors. For example, set up a cozy cat bed or sanctuary space for your cat in a room away from the closed door, so they have a comfortable place to relax. Provide food, water, toys, and litter in this space when you need to separate your cat from other areas. This helps reinforce that they are not trapped or abandoned behind the door.

With consistent, positive training methods, your cat can learn that closed doors are a normal part of household activities and routines. Just be patient – changing a cat’s behavior takes time. If your cat continues to show signs of distress, consult your veterinarian to rule out separation anxiety or other medical issues.


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