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Cats are known for their independent nature and strong sense of self. The great outdoors serves as the perfect environment for these inquisitive creatures, fulfilling their innate desire to explore. Cats are particularly drawn to the night, as their instincts drive them to be active during this time.
Contrary to popular belief, cats are not nocturnal but rather crepuscular, meaning they are most lively around the hours of dawn and dusk. It’s not uncommon for indoor cats to exhibit high energy levels during these periods, longing for the opportunity to venture outside and fulfill their hunting desires.
However, the night can pose various dangers for our feline friends. The cover of darkness increases their risk of being involved in road accidents or becoming disoriented and lost. Additionally, with other neighborhood cats also roaming at night, the likelihood of territorial disputes and confrontations increases. Furthermore, predators may be lurking in the shadows, posing a threat to our beloved pets.
Given these risks, it is crucial for cat owners to know how to safely bring their cats home at night. Allowing your cat to explore during the day can satiate their curiosity, while minimizing nighttime dangers. In this article, I will share a proven method for ensuring your cat’s safe return at night. Continue reading to learn my top recommendations.
What Makes Cats Hesitant to Return Indoors at Night?
There are several factors contributing to a cat’s reluctance to come back inside during nighttime hours. One key reason is that they have numerous activities they wish to engage in while they’re active at night, with hunting being the most prominent.
Extensive research on feline nighttime behaviors supports this assertion. In a study conducted by the University of Georgia, researchers equipped 55 cats with small cameras to monitor their nocturnal activities. After examining over 37 hours of footage, some clear patterns emerged.
The study revealed that cats spend a significant portion of their time hunting prey, which is typically most active around dawn and dusk. In the Atlanta area where the research took place, the most common prey included small lizards and voles, a type of rodent related to hamsters.
On average, the researchers estimated that cats kill approximately 2.1 animals per week during their nighttime excursions. Younger cats tend to kill more small creatures than their older counterparts, as they possess greater energy reserves. Although cats possess the ability to see in the dark, younger cats generally have better vision than older ones, contributing to their superior hunting skills.
However, hunting isn’t the only nighttime activity cats engage in. Male cats, for instance, are more likely to participate in risky behaviors such as entering storm drains, crossing roads, or confronting unfamiliar felines. Roaming is a common trait among male cats, setting them apart from their female counterparts.
Additionally, cats were observed engaging in seemingly peculiar activities. Some were seen consuming Chex Mix, while others fended off opossums. Ultimately, each cat is unique, and they spend their nights pursuing whatever brings them joy or supports their survival needs.,
What Should You Do If Your Cat Doesn’t Return Home?
When faced with the knowledge that cats can find themselves in various situations, wander far away, or potentially encounter danger, it’s natural to want your feline friend indoors at night. Erring on the side of caution is always a wise decision.
However, convincing your cat to return home at night can be challenging. So, what should you do when your cat fails to come back?
Although it may not be the most comforting answer, the best course of action is to simply wait.
In most instances, cats will eventually return home. Their keen sense of smell can guide them back from considerable distances. Moreover, cats typically don’t wander as far as you might assume. Exercising patience while your cat completes their adventures is crucial.
While you wait, consider trying these strategies to coax your cat into coming home sooner:
- Leave a Door Ajar: Keep a door slightly open, providing enough space for your cat to enter. Cats enjoy stealthy movements and will likely use this access point without depending on you. This also eliminates the need to wake up and let them in or risk missing their return while you sleep.
- Place Familiar Items Outside: To entice your cat to return, leave a personal item outdoors, such as a recently worn piece of clothing, their favorite blanket, or their bed. The familiar scent should draw them back home.
- Use Food as a Lure: Offer your cat’s preferred treat or canned food to tempt them to return. Place the food outside during their most active hours. However, be aware that this method may also attract other animals or predators to your yard.
- Call Your Cat Gently: Resist the urge to shout or plead when calling your cat. Instead, use a calm, conversational tone, as if speaking to a friend or on the phone.
- Employ a Baby Monitor: If you prefer not to leave a door or window open, consider using a baby monitor to listen for your cat’s scratching or meowing. Cats often emit baby-like cries at night to get their owners’ attention (such as requesting to be let inside), enabling you to hear their return.
Once your cat is back, you might think about training them to come home at night. This approach reduces stress when your cat ventures outside, ensuring they’ll return when darkness falls – striking the perfect balance between safety and freedom.
How Can You Teach Your Cat to Return Home at Night?
After your cat has returned from their nighttime escapades, you might seek a solution to ensure you can rest easy without worrying about their safety.
One option is to keep your cat in a separate room at night, ensuring their safety and preventing them from disturbing your sleep. For instance, my cat meows every night when I go to bed, but confining her to another room eliminates this disruption and allows me to rest peacefully.
However, keeping a cat confined at night isn’t always the best solution. A more desirable alternative is to teach your cat to return home as evening sets in. The good news is that cats are highly intelligent creatures, and training them to come back isn’t overly complicated with a little persistence.
Although training a cat may take some time, it is achievable. Here are four straightforward steps to help you train your feline companion. With patience and dedication, you’ll have a well-trained cat in no time:
1. Guided Strolls
Initiating guided strolls is an excellent beginning for both you and your feline companion. You can opt for the conventional approach of using a leash and harness, though we’ve all seen videos of cats collapsing in protest when harnessed.
While it may be amusing to watch, it can be frustrating when it’s your cat. You might even consider not taking your cat outside again. However, it’s essential to help your cat acclimate to the harness indoors and employ positive reinforcement. Offering a treat every time you put the harness on can assist in creating positive associations for your cat.
Allowing the harness to remain on for longer durations can also be beneficial. In doing so, your cat will learn that, despite the initial discomfort and unfamiliarity, the harness is harmless and will eventually be removed. It’s crucial to keep an eye on your cat while they’re wearing the harness to ensure they don’t accidentally injure themselves.
Once your cat becomes comfortable with the harness, they may even begin to associate it with going outside – which is precisely the desired outcome. Begin taking your cat on brief outdoor excursions, allowing them to explore their surroundings while under your supervision.
2. Gradually Lengthen Your Walks
When you feel ready to venture further from home and spend more time outside, you can introduce your cat to safe areas for exploration. Take them to spots you’re comfortable with them visiting at night, such as your garden, a nearby park, or areas away from busy roads.
You can also establish boundaries. If your yard has a fence and your cat shows interest in jumping over it, calmly move away and express disapproval to associate the fence with a negative tone. This can signal that the fence is off-limits. Without a fence, you can still set boundaries within your yard, only going as far as you want your cat to wander. They may learn to stay within those limits while accompanied by you.
During longer walks, it’s a good idea to expose your cat to potential hazards, such as busy roads, so they become more aware of potential dangers. If your cat seems frightened near the road, it’s fine to pick them up to prevent them from bolting.
Here are several strategies to teach your cat about boundaries and restrictions during your walks:
- Call Your Cat & Reward: While exploring the desired boundaries, practice calling your cat and asking them to come to you. Offer their favorite treat to create a positive experience.
- Begin with Short Walks: Start with short, supervised walks close to home to help your cat get used to the outdoors. Initially, stay within 20 to 30 feet of the door you’ll be using to let them in and out later.
- Pick Up Your Cat Occasionally: Periodically pick up your cat while outside to prevent them from associating being picked up with going back indoors, which could lead to them avoiding or running away from you. Encourage them to link being picked up with petting and treats.
- Use Positive Reinforcement: Praise or treat your cat whenever they do something you want them to repeat. Aim to associate positive experiences with outdoor activities, except when they do something undesirable or venture somewhere off-limits.
- Establish a Set Schedule: Start with supervised walks as short as five minutes daily, making them part of your cat’s routine. Bring them inside at the time you’d like them to return home in the future, helping them associate that time with their daily curfew.
Upon returning indoors, reward your cat with a treat and ensure they feel as comfortable and content inside as they were outside. You might also consider making this your cat’s daily feeding time, so they associate a specific time with dinner and are more likely to return home before nightfall.
3. Grant Some Independence
After familiarizing yourself and your cat with safe and risky areas outside your home, it’s time to grant them a bit more freedom.
When both you and your cat feel comfortable, release the leash. It’s best to stay close to your cat, maintaining conversation and offering treats as usual. Pick them up occasionally to continue the routine and establish boundaries for how far they can wander.
While exploring, your cat may venture onto the sidewalk or try to jump over a fence. If this happens, here’s how to regain control:
- Gently warn your cat with a “no.”
- Encourage your cat back into the yard by gently guiding or picking them up and returning them to the designated area.
- Once they’re back where they should be, reward them with petting and a treat.
- If your cat doesn’t respond or return to the desired area, bring them inside immediately. Teach them that going outside is a privilege.
Stay close and attentive to your cat during this time. If they cross the line again, consistently repeat the process to reinforce the boundaries. Avoid using their name when redirecting them during outdoor training, as you want their name to be associated with positive experiences like treats, petting, and returning indoors.
Avoid allowing your cat to make too many mistakes, particularly during early training stages. When they come to you or return to the safe area, reward them with extra time outside. This demonstrates they’re testing boundaries but are willing to follow your guidance.
This phase may last a few days, but persisting is crucial if you want your cat to return home at night. If your cat consistently evades you when you attempt to pick them up, the training might not work for them, and you’ll need to decide whether to continue.
4. Transition to Off-Leash Exploration
Once you’re confident that your cat understands the rules and adheres to the designated areas, it’s time to let them roam off-leash. During this phase, keep a collar on your cat (ideally with a breakaway closure for safety) and attach a bell.
Maintain the same approach as in previous stages: reward your cat with treats and pets for good behavior and redirect them when they stray from the allowed area. Be firm with the rules. If your cat goes beyond the sidewalk and doesn’t respond to your call, bring them inside and try again later.
As your cat demonstrates their ability to follow the rules, allow them to explore more independently. Keep an eye on them, even if you’re out of their sight, and call them back if you see them crossing boundaries.
Consider involving your neighbors in the training process. When your cat begins to explore on their own, ask neighbors to gently shoo your cat away from their property or yard. This helps reinforce the idea that your cat should stay close to home, as they may not feel welcome in other areas. However, you can skip this step if you don’t mind your cat visiting a neighbor’s yard.
Over time, your cat will be able to explore independently, and you can gradually spend more time indoors. Like the previous stages, continue to increase the duration of your cat’s solo outdoor adventures.
Additional Tips for Encouraging Your Cat to Return Home at Night
The training process outlined above can be effective if you remain consistent and patient. While it takes time and dedication, it’s a worthwhile investment for your cat’s safety.
Here are a few more tips to help curb your cat’s nighttime wanderlust:
- Feed Your Cat Before Bedtime: Offer your cat a meal before bedtime to reduce their need to hunt for food during the night. This can also prevent them from waking you up early for breakfast.
- Provide Plenty of Toys: Ensure your cat has access to a variety of toys to keep them entertained indoors. Playing with toys simulates hunting behavior, satisfying their natural instincts. Automated toys are particularly useful for engaging your cat while you’re asleep.
- Neuter Your Cat: Having your cat neutered can help curb their desire to roam in search of mates. Male cats tend to roam farther than females, making this tip especially helpful for owners of adventurous tomcats. It’s never too late to neuter a cat, so consult with your veterinarian to learn more about the procedure.
Ensuring that your outdoor cat stays indoors during nighttime is a smart choice, as there are numerous potential dangers that come with the darkness. While cats have a natural tendency to explore during dusk and dawn, proper training can help them return home safely.
Training a cat to come indoors at night might be a time-consuming and challenging process, but the end result is worth it to keep your feline friend safe and content. It’s essential to be patient and understand that both you and your cat may make mistakes along the way. Simply review the process and continue moving forward.
Always let your cat out before dinnertime and make sure to provide them with their meal when they return at the desired time. With consistent training, your outdoor cat will learn to come home for dinner each night!
Becca The Crazy Cats Lady is an experienced and knoweldgeable cat owner with years of experience caring for a multi-cat household. She curates, writes and shares cat content at https://CrazyCatsLady.com.