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How to Keep Your Cat from Scratching at the Door

Updated on August 29, 2015
Cat outside door
Cat outside door | Source

Are you a cat owner? Are you tired of not getting any sleep? Exhausted from listening to wailing, meowing, and scratching outside your door? Run out of ideas to keep your cat’s anxiety at bay during your sleep and early morning hours? You have come to the right place!

My husband and I were experience all of those same feelings, questions, and more until we finally found the perfect recipe for successfully keeping our indoor kittens quiet at night and their anxiety under control while we were sleeping.

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We are the proud kitty mom and dad to 2 cats, a boy and a girl, (both less than a year old). They are friendly, playful, affection, and loving, but when it comes time to go to sleep their behavior takes a turn for the out of control. When we first adopted our cats we tried sleeping with them in the bedroom. Their rambunctious playfulness at night though soon left us with tired eyes and inability to function at work the next day, so kitties are now kept of the of the bedroom; a fact that does not always sit well with them.

Our boy kitten is typically very mild mannered, tends to sleep quietly and keep himself fairly entertained during the day. Our girl kitten, however gets separation anxiety very quickly when we are away from her long. She loves to be pet and held and near us at all times. Typically her crying our does not begin until the early morning hours – we’re talking anywhere from 4:30 and 6:00AM. She meows to be let into the bedroom accompanied by scratching at the rug and jumping against the door in attempts to get in.

Keep reading below to find out what we did to change her behavior and allow us to get a little more shut eye and peace in our home. Learn what does not work to change your cat’s behavior along with tips to keep your cat from scratching and meowing outside your door including what their behavior means, how to establish a bedtime ritual, using treats, creating an engaging environment, and rewarding positive behavior.

What your Cat’s Scratches Mean

For cats that are kept primarily indoors, their meowing and scratching at the door can indicate a variety of things. We must remember that our pets have limited ways of communicating their thoughts and feelings to their owners so we must carefully tune in to what they are trying to tell us. Some of the most common indications of their restless behavior can indicate the following:

Separation anxiety
Desire to socialize
Tiredness or Restlessness
Need for attention

What doesn’t Work

When we were trying to change their behavior, we quickly learned what does not work. Below is a list of our lessons learned so you do not spend your own time trying ineffective methods to change your cat’s behavior:

Cat's bad behavior
Cat's bad behavior | Source
  • Acknowledging your cat

Yelling, saying their name, or talking toy our cat at all while they are scratching or meowing to be let into your bedroom will only back fire. They enjoy any attention they get as a result of their behavior (even if it’s negative). Try ignoring them (as annoying as this can be) until you implement other behavior changing methods.

  • Feeding them in the morning

Feeding your cat in the morning right after you get up will only encourage them to pester you at night or in the early morning hours to be let in. They know what happens when you get up! Instead, establish different feeding times that do not coincide with you leaving the bedroom first thing in the morning.

  • Not engaging them enough at night

We used to lay down to watch TV or a movie in the evenings before falling asleep not realizing that is when our cats wanted to be active and needed to wear off some energy. Incorporating long play times right before bed dramatically helps ensure a more restful nights sleep.

Once you learn what doesn’t work you can get to work implementing tips and tricks that will work to keep both you and kitty happy.

Establish a Bedtime Ritual

Playing before bed time
Playing before bed time | Source

Playtime and feeding before bed can make a tremendous difference in the sleep you and your pets get at night. Planning for at least 15 minutes of play time followed by feeding immediately after signals the end of play and transitions your cat into digesting their food, setting them up to fall asleep when you do. The better your cat sleeps, the better you will sleep and hopefully the later you will both wake up.

Additionally, when your cat has a full belly at night they will be less likely to bother you at your door to be fed in the morning. We typically leave out hard food during the day and at night so if they get hungry they can help themselves. We save a ½ can of wet food for both cats right before bed time.

Hide Treats

Remember, house cats are descendants of wild cats who are used to hunting for their food in the wild. Indoor cats do not have much opportunity to practice their foraging and hunting skills. Try hiding a small handful or two of treats around your living room or other rooms of the house before bed (just don’t let kitty see where you put them). That way if they wake up early or in the middle of the night, they will be distracted by searching out the treats and they will also help satisfy any hunger they might feel when they wake up.

Each night I hide the treats in a different spot – under the couch or chairs in the living room, in a small box in the laundry room, or under a stool in the kitchen.

Communicate with Your Cat Using Treats

Make your Door Unappealing

The best way to deter your cat from wanting to stick around your door all night or morning is to make it as unappealing as possible. Sticky Paws strips are a great product that you can lay down on the floor in front of any areas that you wish to keep your cats from frequenting. If you don’t want to spend money on ordering that product you can make your own version of Sticky Paws at home.

Flip a short board over and cover the surface with tape, sticky side up. Secure the tape strips on the back with some more tape, sticky side down. Each night before bed, lay the board in front of the door. Your cat won’t like the sticky feeling on their paws and will likely find another area in the house with which to occupy themselves.

Displace their Behavior

Cat trees create an engaging environment
Cat trees create an engaging environment | Source

Similar to making your door area unappealing, try displacing their behavior by making other areas of the house very appealing, engaging spaces with lots of opportunity for activity for your cat to partake in. Try using self-feeding treat toys, invest in a cat tree or shelves that your kitty can climb, and spread some small mice toys, bottle caps, feathers, balls, or other cat toys around the living room so they will have lots of options for play time to keep themselves busy without needing their owner to engage them first thing in the morning.

We use a 4 level cat tree, scratching posts, and even tuck ribbon wands into the corners of our sofa so the cats can play and jump with them when we are not in the room.

Create an Engaging Environment

Similar to the tips above, creating an engaging environment means creating lots of different spaces for your kitten to explore. Keep the food in one room, water in another, and the litter box in yet a different space. Indoor cats need lots of opportunity to run off their energy so establish different areas to encourage lots of exercise and play time.

Reward Good Behavior

Show lots of love
Show lots of love | Source

Now that you understand your cats signals, avoided behavior that will only encourage more undesirable behavior, established a bed time ritual, hid treats, displaced their behavior, and created an engaging environment it is extremely important to reward kitty’s good behavior .

Your cat is part of your family and happy to see you when you get up in the morning or come out of a room in which the door may have been closed. When they display good behavior and do not exhibit scratching and meowing desperately to get in, be sure to spend some time with your cat and reward them once you come out of the room. Cats are social creatures and love spending time with their owners. The more you reward their good behavior, the more love and affection you are sure to receive in return.

Have you ever had issues with your cat or cats scratching and meowing at the door? What tips did you use to help change their behavior? Do you have a cat currently displaying this behavior? What do you think will work best for them and their environment? Share your own thoughts in the comments, below!


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    • johnmariow profile image

      John Gentile 18 months ago from Connecticut

      My wife and I own a cat. We have a four foot gate at the entrance to the bedroom. We purchase the gate from a local pet store. Our cat wants to be with us at all times. She constantly meows and claws at the gate if she hears us or if she is hungry or if she wants attention. Generally, if we both yell no, the cat goes away. We have not tried sticky tape yet.

      My wife mixed the cat treats with her regular food. She has a small container with a 50/50 mix of treats and regular food. I think the cat goes for it because the smell of treats is all over the food.

      Thanks for the tips and suggestions. I enjoyed reading this article.

      Taping aluminum foil to the gate will also discourage the cat from scratching. Our cat is smart. She does quick swipes with her claws to tear the aluminum foil apart.

    • paolaenergya profile image

      Paola Bassanese 2 years ago from London

      I love the sticky paws idea! Congratulations on being featured on the HP facebook page

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Good tips for those who don't want to share their beds. You are certainly creative in your efforts. I think it's probably a matter of your kitties' youth that they are so frisky. At some point perhaps they'll be invited back into the bedroom at night. You are right about bedtime rituals so they know what to expect. I sleep with three, have six cats with a new one having just joined us 10 days ago. Someone abandoned the poor guy in a parking lot. I fed him for three weeks there before I figured he wasn't going anywhere. Best little sleeping mate ever.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      We are servants to 7 cats. None of them are kittens; the newest is a recently rescued semi-feral, who is about 2 or 3 years old.

      I don't usually have a problem at bedtime--we have never shut them out. At least 3 cats share the bed with me. Their purr songs help lull me to sleep.

      Once in a while, they decide to act like jerks, and I give them the boot, but they go about their business elsewhere, and don't usually scratch or whine at the door. I can ignore pawing at the door, or meowing, but clawing the carpet is a no-no, and one of them in particular has destroyed the carpet next to a couple of doors, and also made a bit of a roughed-up mess of the living and dining room carpets where it meet the transition strip to the kitchen floor.

      Sadly, she has also worked up the couch. (It's old, so whatever.) But the sticky-paws strips do not work on her. She has a strategy: she licks them, until all the sticky is gone, then scratches away, anyhow! LOL

      We must remember also: cats were once worshipped as gods; they have not let us forget. ;-)

    • WheelerWife profile image

      WheelerWife 2 years ago from Minnesota

      LOL quicksand and Sara Krenetz - totally know what you mean!! I heard a saying once that dogs have owners and cats have servants :)

    • Sara Krentz profile image

      Sara Krentz 2 years ago from USA

      I, too, have been owned by cats. I'm pretty sure it's impossible to OWN one of them. ; )

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 2 years ago

      No I don't own a cat, but I have been owned by cats!