Cats are independent creatures with minds of their own. For a cat, being outside is like being in a playground that suits all their curious needs. They love exploring, and a cat’s need to be out at night is instinctual.
Because they need to be outside at night, many people think cats are nocturnal. However, they are crepuscular, which means they are most active around dawn and dusk. You’ve probably noticed that when your cat is inside during these times, they have an excessive amount of energy. They want nothing more to be outside and hunt!
However, nighttime is a dangerous time of day for cats. During the darkness, they’re more likely to get into road traffic accidents or get lost. With all the other cats in the neighborhood also exploring at night, fights with cats are more likely. Plus, predators can be lurking in the darkness!
As such, you might want to know how to get a cat home at night. This gives them the freedom to roam during the day and spark their curiosity, without the risks of the darkness. And in this article, I give you a tried and tested method for getting your cat home safely at night. Keep reading to discover my top tips.
Why Do Cats Not Want to Come Inside at Night?
There are various reasons why your cat might not want to come inside at night. The best answer is that they have quite a bit they want to do during their active nights! And one nighttime activity stands out above all others: hunting!
There is plenty of research on cats’ nighttime habits to support this claim. In a study from the University of Georgia, researchers traced 55 cats with small cameras to see what they were up to at night. With over 37 hours of footage to analyze, researchers found some noticeable trends.
The study found that cats do spend much of their time hunting their prey, which is also largely active during dusk and dawn. This study took place in the Atlanta area, so the most common prey was small lizards and voles, which are small rodents related to hamsters.
The researchers estimated that cats kill an average of 2.1 animals per week while out at night. Younger cats also kill more small animals than older cats because they have more energy to burn. Cats can see in the dark, making them such great hunters. However, younger cats also have better vision than older felines, again explaining why younger cats are superior hunters.
It isn’t just hunting that happens at night, though. If you’ve got a male kitty, he is more likely to engage in risky behavior like going into storm drains, crossing roads, or confronting stranger cats. Male cats love to roam, which is just one of the differences between male cats and female cats.
Cats also were seen doing things we might think were “odd.” For example, some cats ate Chex Mix, while others were seen fighting off opossums. All cats are different, so they spend their nights doing whatever makes them happy or whatever it is they need to survive.
What Do You Do When Your Cat Doesn’t Come Home?
With your cats having the ability to get into anything, venture far off, or be potentially in dangerous situations, you’re probably thinking you want your cat inside at night. It’s better safe than sorry, right?
However, figuring out how to get your cat to come home at night can be a struggle. Sometimes, it’s hard to get your cat to come home in the first place. So, what should you do when your cat doesn’t come home?
The best answer is not one you’ll like, but it’s simple: Wait.
In most cases, cats will return home. A cat’s sense of smell is so strong it can guide them home from miles away. Besides, most cats never venture as far as you think. I had my indoor cat missing for 24 hours before she turned up the next day safe and sound. You simply need to wait for them to finish their adventures – patience is key here!
While you’re waiting, there are a few things you can try to encourage your kitty to return home quickly:
- Leave a Door Open: Consider leaving a door cracked open enough for your cat to get through. Most cats, since they like sneaking around anyway, will use these entrances at their will without reliance on their humans. Plus, you won’t have to worry about getting up to let them in or potentially missing them while you sleep.
- Put Something Familiar Outside: Another method would be to put something of yours outside to help lure them home. Maybe you could put your most recently worn hoodie or shirt out, their favorite blanket, or even their bed. They will recognize the scent and should come home.
- Use Food to Lure Your Cat Home: You can also lure your furry friend home with food. Perhaps they have a favorite treat or canned food. Set it outside, and likely, they will return to snack, especially during their most active hours. If using food, bear in mind that you might attract other cats, prey, or predators to your garden in the process.
- Call Your Cat Home: If you’re not the waiting kind of person, you can try to bring them home with the calming sound of your voice. It’s probably your instinct to yell or to call out in a pleading tone, but likely these are not sounds your cat is used to. Instead, speak as if you’re talking to a friend or someone on the phone.
- Use a Baby Monitor: If you don’t want to leave a door or window ajar for your cat, consider using a baby monitor to listen for your cat scratching or meowing. Most cats cry like a baby at night when they want their owners’ attention (such as being let back inside), so you’ll be able to hear their arrival.
After your cat returns, you might consider training your cat to come home at night. This means you won’t have to stress when you let your furry friend out on their adventures and know that it’ll come home when it turns dark – the ultimate balance of safety and freedom.
How Can You Train Your Cat to Come Home at Night?
Once you’ve got your cat back in from his nightly galivants, you may be looking for a solution to ensure you can sleep without worry.
Confining a cat to a room at night is one option. This ensures your cat is safely locked inside but also prevents your kitty from waking you up. I hear my cat meow at night when I go to bed every day without fail! But keeping her in a separate room stops this disruption and gives me a peaceful night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, confining a cat to a room at night isn’t always recommended. Indeed, a better option is to train your cat to come back when it starts to get dark. The great news is that cats are highly intelligent, and getting them to come home isn’t complex. It is nothing a little training can’t solve!
Training cats may take some time, but it is possible. Below are four simple steps you can try if you want to train your kitty. Be patient, work through the process, and you’ll have a well-trained cat in no time!
1. Supervised Walks
Going on supervised walks is a great start for you and your kitty. You can do this the traditional way with a leash and a harness, but we have all seen the videos of the cats flopping over because they have a harness on.
This can be hilarious when it’s not happening to you, but it can be frustrating if you’re in the situation. You may even consider not taking your cat outside again. However, you need to let your cat get used to the harness inside and use positive reinforcement. Perhaps give them a treat every time you put their harness on to help your kitty form positive associations.
Leaving the harness on for extended periods can also be a good idea. That way, your cat will learn that the harness, though uncomfortable and new, doesn’t hurt. They will also learn that the harness will be removed eventually. But it’s important to supervise your cat while they have the harness on to ensure they don’t hurt themselves somehow.
Once your cat is comfortable with the harness, they may even start associating it with going outside, which is exactly what you want. Start taking your kitty on short outdoor walks and let them explore the world while in your control.
2. Extend Your Walks
When you’re ready to go a little farther from the house and spend a little more time outside, you can show your cat places they are safe to explore. Take them to all the areas you’re happy for them to visit at night. This might include your garden, a nearby park, and places away from roads.
You can also show them boundaries. If your yard has a fence and your cat shows interest in jumping over it, you can move away, giving them a calm rebuke to associate the fence with a negative tone. This can show them that the fence is off-limits. With no fence, you can still do this within the boundaries of your yard. Only go as far as you want your cat to go. They may learn that they should only go that far with you.
While on longer walks with your cat, it’s also a good idea to show them areas like busy roads so they can be more aware of some dangers. When you’re near the road, it might be natural for your cat to be scared. It’s okay to pick them up at this time so they don’t get too frightened and make a run for it.
There are several other things you can do on your walks to help train your cat about certain boundaries and limitations:
- Call Your Cat & Reward: As you explore the boundaries you wish your cat to stay in, keep practicing calling their name and telling them to come to you. Have their favorite treat handy when you do this to make it extra pleasant for them.
- Starts with Smaller Walks: For the first few supervised walks, it’s best to stay close to your home. You want to get your cat used to the idea of being outside but still being Start by going 20 to 30 feet from the door you plan on using to let your cat in and out later on.
- Pick Your Cat Up: During your cat’s time outside, it’s also a good idea to pick your kitty up occasionally. If you only pick your furry friend up to take him back inside, then he may learn to avoid you or run from you. It’s best to keep him guessing and to associate being picked up with petting and treats.
- Use Positive Reinforcement: Whenever your cat does something you want him to repeat, give him some praise or even a treat. Your goal is to associate his experiences outside with good things unless he does something or goes somewhere you don’t want him to.
- Stick to a Set Schedule: These supervised walks can start with as little as five minutes a day, and you can make them part of your cat’s daily routine. Make sure you bring them inside when you would like them to return home in the future, so they can start associating that time of day with their curfew right off the bat.
Once you get inside, give your cat a treat, and make them feel as comfortable and happy inside as they were outside. You might also consider making this your cat’s daily feeding time, so whenever you let them out in the future, they will know that dinner is at a particular time, and it will help encourage them to return before nightfall.
3. Add a Little Freedom
Once you have explored the safe and dangerous areas outside your house, it’s time to add a little freedom.
When your cat is feeling comfortable, and you’re feeling ready, let go of your cat’s leash. Ideally, you should stay close to your cat and keep talking to them as you usually would. You should also give them treats and pick them up every so often to keep your routine going. This is also a chance for you to really set the boundaries of how far you want your cat to go.
As you explore together, your cat may go to the sidewalk or attempt a jump over the fence. If this happens, here is how to regain control:
- Tell your cat a gentle warning “no”
- Encourage your cat back into the yard by gently pushing them or picking them up and returning them to the yard
- When they return to where they should be, give them a pet and a treat
- If your cat does not come to you or return to where you want them to be, take them inside immediately. You want them to learn that going outside is a privilege
Stay close to your cat during this time and stay present. If your cat goes over the line again, you must ensure you repeat the process of showing them they shouldn’t go that far. It’s also important not to say its name when redirecting your cat during outdoor training. You want his or her name to be associated with good things like treats, pets, and going back inside.
Try not to let your cat get away with too many mistakes, especially in the first stages of training. When your cat comes to you or returns to your safe area, you can reward them with a few more minutes outside. This shows they are testing your boundaries but willing to follow your lead.
This stage may go on for a few days, but it’s important to stick with it if you want your cat to return home at night. If your cat routinely runs from you when you go to pick it up, this training might not be effective for them, and you must make a hard choice about whether to continue.
4. Time to Go Off-Leash
When you feel like your cat’s got the hang of listening to you and sticking to the areas you’ve shown, it’s time to try going off-leash. In this stage, you’ll still want your cat to wear a collar (preferably one with a breakaway closure for safety) and a bell.
Continue as you have for the first couple of stages; give treats and pets when they do something right and redirect when they go out of bounds. Ensure that you remain strict. If your cat breaks the “law” and goes across the sidewalk, but doesn’t respond to your call, take him inside and try again later.
As your cat shows they can follow the rules, you can let them start exploring a little on their own. It’s essential to get out of their sight but still be watchful. Call him or her back if you spy on him going out of bounds.
You may also wish to enlist the help of your neighbors. When it’s time for your cat to explore on their own, ask your neighbors to shoo your cat from their property or yard. This will help keep your cat close because it doesn’t necessarily feel welcome in those areas. You can skip this step if you’re comfortable with your cat being in someone else’s yard.
Eventually, your cat will be able to explore independently, and you can go back into the house for short periods. Just like in the other steps, you can gradually increase your cat’s time outside alone.
Other Tips for Getting Your Cat Home at Night
The above training process will work – if you are persistent. It takes a fair amount of time and patience, but I’m sure we can all agree this is worth it for your cat’s safety.
Nevertheless, here are a few extra tips you can try to reduce your cat’s desire to roam at night:
- Feeding Before Bed: Feed your cat before bed, so it’s not hunting to satisfy hunger. This will also stop your cat from waking you up as early for breakfast!
- Get Loads of Toys: Provide plenty of toys to keep your cat entertained indoors. Cats play with toys as they play with prey, so this also satisfies their hunting needs. Automatic toys are perfect for keeping your cat entertained while you’re sleeping.
- Get Your Cat Neutered: Get your cat neutered, so they aren’t roaming in search of a mate. Males tend to roam further than females, so this is a great tip if you have an active stud. It is never too late to neuter a cat, so speak to your vet if you want to learn more about this operation.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Even if you have an outdoor cat, it is wise to keep your furry friend inside at night. They have an innate desire to explore at dusk and dawn, but many dangers are lurking in the dark! Thankfully, your cat can bring itself home safely after a bit of training.
Unfortunately, training your cat to come inside at night can be a long process. It can be frustrating and challenging, but it will be worth keeping your kitty safe and satisfied in the end. Remember to have patience, and it’s okay if you or your cat makes a mistake. Just repeat the process and move forward.
Make sure you always let them out before dinner time and always give them dinner when they come home at the appropriate time. With this training, your outdoor kitty will be home by dinner!
I have 4 neutered male cats, 14 year old, 5 year old, 2 year old and a 1 year old. Only one who comes in when called is 5 year old! Others are very naughty and even though I see them if I go near them they run off, tried all the tips mentioned, leaving door open, putting their stuff outside, using food and toys, picking them up and giving affection when I see them at different times of the day and then letting them go again and nothing is working?
I have a spayed female who is so naughty and will not come in at night. She runs off too, like it is an amusing game. Tonight I have left her out, we have foxes and stray cats around here and I am hoping that she will get a jolt of sensibility and realise she is better off inside at night. Wish me luck!
Dina Ranes says
I have a 10 y/o male neutered cat. He has a “cat door” open all day/closed at night. He has crunchies available all the time. About 5pm he gets tuna. Maybe 2 times a month he refuses to come in at night for tuna. He sits outside and looks at me. He does come in sometime during the night, but I have trouble sleeping. My point of all this is: when your cat does come home., pet him, feed him, pet him, praise him. He may not understand, but he for sure will understand if you make him feel he did something wrong & you’re mad at him. Pet him, let him know that you re so happy he came home. Good luck!