Table of Contents
Cats are tricky creatures with minds of their own. For a cat, being outside is like being in a playground that suits all of their curious needs. A cat’s need to be out at night, however, is instinctual.
Many people think that cats are nocturnal, but they are actually crepuscular, which means they are mostly active around dawn and dusk.
You’ve probably noticed that when your cat is inside during these times, they have an exorbitant amount of energy. Maybe they’re barreling through the hallways or trouncing up and down the stairs. Usually they are making some sort of racket and looking for something to do.
Most likely, your cat has pounced on your unsuspecting feet once or twice while you’re sleeping.
These are all things they do when they can’t do what’s most natural to them: hunt.
So, Why Do Cats Not Want to Come Inside at Night?
There are various reasons as to 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!
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.
Cats do, indeed, 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 killed an average of 2.1 animals per week when they were out at night. Younger cats also killed more small animals than older cats because they simply have more energy to burn.
If you’ve got a male kitty, then he is more likely to engage in risky behavior like going into storm drains, crossing roads, or confronting stranger cats.
Cats also were seen doing things we might think is “odd”. For example, some cats ate Chex Mix, while others were seen fighting off opossums.
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?
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.
What Do You Do When Your Cat Won’t Come Home?
The best answer is not one you’ll like, but it’s simple: Wait.
If your cat is already outside, consider leaving a door or perhaps the garage 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.
If they have the option to come home on their own, they will most likely do it. Plus, you won’t have to worry about getting up to let them in, or potentially missing them if they’re at the door, but you’re sleeping.
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.
You can lure them home with food as well. Perhaps they have a favorite treat or canned food. Set it outside, and likely, they will return in order to snack, especially during their most active hours.
Consider staying up late or getting up early. Since cats are most active at dusk and dawn, you might want to be awake in order to let your cat back inside.
If you’re not the waiting kind of person, you can try to bring them home with the calming sound of your voice. Now, it’s probably your instinct to yell or to call out in a pleading tone, but likely, these are not sounds that your cat is used to.
It’s important to use a normal voice when you’re trying to lure your cat home. Speak as if you’re talking to someone on the phone or to a friend. Your normal voice is likely to draw your cat’s attention, and they may make their way back to you.
Using a baby monitor to listen for your cat scratching or meowing could be helpful, too.
After your cat returns, you might consider training your cat for the great outdoors.
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 get him to come home on his own and without the worry.
The great news is that cats are highly intelligent and training them to come home isn’t a difficult process, but it may take some time.
1. Supervised Walks
Going on supervised walks is a great start for you and your indoor/outdoor 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 if you’re in the situation, it can be frustrating, and you may consider not even taking your cat outside again.
However, you just have to let your cat get used to the harness inside. Perhaps give them a treat every time you put their harness on.
Leaving the harness on for extended periods of time 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.
It’s important to supervise your cat while they have the harness on, just to make sure they don’t hurt themselves somehow.
Once your cat is comfortable with the harness, they may even start to associate it with going outside, which is exactly what you want.
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.
You can also show them boundaries. If your yard has a fence and your cat shows interest in jumping up and over it, you can move away, maybe 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 with 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 you go on longer and broader 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.
As you continue to explore the boundaries you wish your cat to stay in, make sure to keep practicing calling them to you and rewarding them with treats whenever they do something you want them to do.
For the first few days and 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 be home. Start by going 20 to 30 feet from the door you plan on using to let your cat in and out later on.
During his time outside, it’s also a good idea to pick him up every so often. If you only pick him 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.
You should also call his or her name to start getting them to come to you. Have their favorite treat handy when you do this to make it extra pleasant for them.
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.
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 certain time, and it will help encourage them to return before nightfall.
Gradually, you can increase your cat’s time spent outside.
3. Add a Little Freedom
Once you have explored the safe and dangerous areas outside of your house, it’s time to add just a little freedom.
When your cat is feeling comfortable and you’re feeling ready, let go of your cat’s leash. Ideally, you should still stay close to your cat and keep talking to him or her as you normally 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, tell your cat a gentle and warning “no.” Then, encourage your cat back into the yard by gently pushing them or picking them up and returning them to the yard.
When they are back to where they should be, give them some pets and maybe a treat.
Make sure to stay close to your cat during this time and stay present. If your cat goes over the line again, you need to make sure you repeat the process of showing them they shouldn’t go that far.
It’s also important that when you’re redirecting your cat during outdoor training, you don’t say its name. You want his or her name to be associated with good things like treats, pets, and going back inside.
If you do miss your cat stepping out of bounds, there are a couple of things you can do. First, try to redirect them into the yard. If they do not come to you or come back to where you want them to be, take them inside immediately. You want them to learn that going outside is a privilege.
If they run from you this time, they may not be ready for this freedom, and you can go back to holding on to the leash for a couple more days.
If they routinely run from you when you go to pick them up, this training might not be effective for them, and you have to make a hard choice about whether or not to continue.
When your cat comes to you or goes back into your safe area, you can reward him or her with a few more minutes outside. This shows that they are testing your boundaries, but they are willing to follow your lead.
Try not to let your cat get away with too many mistakes, especially in the first stages of training.
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.
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, 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 he or she does something right. Redirect when they go out of bounds.
Be strict. If your cat breaks the “law” and goes across the sidewalk, but he 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 important to get out of their sight but still be watchful. If you spy him going out of bounds, call him or her back.
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.
If you’re comfortable with your cat being someone else’s yard, then you can skip this step.
Eventually, your cat will be able to explore on their own, and you can go back into the house for short periods of time. Just like in the other steps, you can gradually increase your cat’s time outside alone.
Your New Outdoor Kitty
Training your cat to come inside at night can be a long process. It can be frustrating and difficult, but in the end, it will be worth it to keep your indoor/outdoor kitty safe and satisfied. 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!