Looking to keep your cat from scratching at the door? Cats make fantastic pets and bring so much joy to their families. Sometimes though, a cat will display behaviors that, though normal for the cat, are unpleasant for the humans in the family.
One such behavior is scratching at closed bedroom doors at night while the family is trying to sleep. For indoor cats that are always kept strictly indoors, displaying this behavior suggests that some adjustments need to be made to keep the household in harmony.1 You may consider a cat door that will allow you to sleep peacefully as your cat comes and goes as he pleases.
Why Is My Cat Scratching at the Door?
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It is essential to always try to understand the “why” behind behaviors when it comes to cats. Cats are unique in many ways. A basic understanding of their natural instincts and inclinations will be a tremendous help to any pet parent trying to live peacefully with their pet cat.
Scratching Behavior in General
For cats, scratching is normal and instinctive behavior. Though it may seem odd to us, cats genuinely need to scratch.
Cats scratch on objects for many reasons. The first reason is physical – they need to sharpen their claws and remove the dead portions of the nails as they grow.
Cats also scratch to express how they are feeling, whether it is excitement, happiness, or stress. It is essential to be attuned to these behaviors so the cat’s feelings can be deciphered.
The scratching process also works to deposit the cat’s scent onto objects in their environment. Cats communicate with each other through the deposition of scents called pheromones. These substances are located in the cheeks and paws of cats. Cats leave their scent on objects they consider to be theirs, and the pheromones they deposit act to mark their territory.
Scratching at Doors
Everyone has heard the phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat.” The truth in this statement is that cats are naturally curious creatures. If a cat encounters a closed door in their home, they immediately want to know what is happening on the other side.
Though this behavior is normal for cats, it can be unpleasant for their humans. If a family member wishes to get a good night’s sleep behind a closed bedroom door, a cat scratching at the door and asking to be let in can become a real problem.
Keeping in mind that scratching is normal behavior for a cat and that their curiosity drives them to want into the closed room, pet parents should never punish the cat for this behavior. Punishing the cat may damage the human-animal bond.
Luckily, there are some strategies that pet parents can employ to deal with a cat that is scratching at the bedroom door at night.
Ways to Stop Your Cat from Scratching at the Door at Night
When dealing with a cat, it is imperative to remember that its behavior is not malicious. Owners often mistakenly believe that their pet is “acting out” in anger or to punish the humans in their lives.
If your cat is scratching at your bedroom door at night, some basic steps should be taken to deal with this sometimes frustrating behavior.
#1 Ignore Kitty
Ignoring the cat when they are scratching is probably the most effective strategy, though if you’re a light sleeper, this can be easier said than done.
Keep in mind that your cat is scratching at the door in an effort to communicate with you. They are telling you that they are curious about what you’re doing, and they want in. The cat wants to be with you and wants you to respond.
Punishing the cat for scratching at the door is never appropriate and may lead to other undesirable behaviors. Cats do not understand why they would receive negative feedback in response to trying to communicate with you.
If a cat receives negative feedback or punishment, it may reinforce the behavior, as they are getting attention from you. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is very common in animal behavior. The cat learns that their scratching is working and that it gets you to respond.
The appropriate response is to ignore the cat’s scratching completely. Over time the cat will learn that their behavior does not work to get what they want, and they will stop.
#2 Show Kitty Attention During the Day
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Cats are social creatures, and they want to interact with you. One of the best ways to help your kitty sleep at night is to spend lots of time with them during the day.
Indoor-only cats need mental stimulation and exercise. A bored and neglected cat is much more likely to seek out your attention at night when you are trying to sleep.
Things that will enrich the cat’s environment and provide exercise and stimulation include cat perches, activity toys, and time spent playing with their owner. Games that involve exercise are especially useful. Examples are laser pointers, puzzle toys, cat wheels, and objects attached to poles that the cat can chase.
When an owner gets home in the evening, they should make an effort to play with their cat every night before bed. This playtime will help meet the cat’s social interaction needs and make them tired enough for sleep.
#3 Provide Food for Kitty
Often, a cat scratching at the door wants your attention because they are hungry. It can help to feed your cat right before you go to bed and close the door.
Cats are biologically programmed to hunt and eat small meals all day long. Cats in the wild spend half of each day hunting and eating. Once domesticated, cats no longer have the need to hunt, but that does not change the way they are meant to eat.
Cats need to eat frequently to satisfy their mental and biological needs. A cat that receives multiple small meals throughout the day will be much happier and healthier than a cat that only enjoys food once or twice a day. The frustration of too infrequent feedings can lead to a cat scratching at your bedroom door at night.
Indoor-only cats are especially prone to obesity, so it is not a good idea to free-feed them. Instead, they should be provided several small meals a day. If no one is home and available to feed the cat this often, a programmable automatic feeder may be the perfect solution.2
#4 Scratching Posts and Cat Trees
If ignoring the cat and playing with them before bed does not work, it may be helpful to direct their scratching elsewhere. This can be accomplished with the use of scratching posts and cat trees.
Cats love cat trees because they provide safe hiding places, a surface to scratch, and elevation. It is a natural instinct for cats to get as high as possible and look down on their surroundings.
Placing a cat tree near a window so the cat can look outside is also often very helpful.
Different cats prefer different surfaces for scratching, so it is good to let them try out different types of scratching posts in the beginning. Once a cat has found their preferred scratching post, it will be much less likely to scratch your furniture or your door.
#5 Last Resort – Deterrents
If all else fails and the cat is still scratching at your bedroom door at night, you may want to give in and let the cat in or sleep with your door open. However, if this is not an option, there are commercially available deterrents that may work.
The most effective deterrent for cats that is also humane is a device that uses a sensor to know that your cat is nearby. When the sensor detects the cat’s movement, it will spray out a large puff of air, which will scare the cat away.
These deterrents need to be set up near the bedroom door each night, and in time the cat will learn to avoid the door. After some time, the deterrent may no longer be needed.
It is important to remember that when a cat is scratching at a door, they are seeking attention. Understanding the motivation behind the cat’s behavior can help tremendously when trying to deal with it.
Negative reinforcement or punishment should never be used to try to make a cat stop scratching at doors. This approach will be unsuccessful and likely damage the pet parent’s bond with the cat.
Implementing the approaches above will require patience and consistency but will likely lead to a much happier household for everyone.
If you’re looking for additional resources to help keep your cat healthy, happy, and clean you can also check out our list of the zero dust cat litter options.
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- Grier KC, Peterson N. Indoor cats, scratching, and the debate over declawing: When normal pet behavior becomes a problem. wellbeingintlstudiesrepository.org. 2005; 27-41.
- Foreman-Worsley R, Finka LR, Ward SJ, Farnworth MJ. Indoors or Outdoors? An International Exploration of Owner Demographics and Decision Making Associated with Lifestyle of Pet Cats. Animals (Basel). 2021;11(2):253. Published 2021 Jan 20. doi:10.3390/ani11020253