Door to a Different Cat Habitat

Cats want to come inside

This is a cat article loosely inspired by the novel ‘The Door Into Summer’ by an American science fiction writer., Robert A. Heinlein.

Cats don’t understand doors. Why should they? Doors are just human barriers between one place and another. For a cat, the door to the outside is a barrier between a stable, fixed environment to an environment which is subject to the seasons and which is full of nature. How does a cat see this?

If you keep a cat indoors full-time, sometimes the cat will not walk through a door to the outside even if it is open. It is as if there is a sheet of glass stopping her. It is as if, for the cat, the world beyond the door is unknown. It is different and the cat will instinctively be cautious and stop before stepping out.

Sometimes a cat will shoot through the door notwithstanding that the cat has no idea what is outside except that it is a place to be. I know this because I have read many stories of “escaped” cats who were then lost or killed.

There is a book by Robert A. Heinlein, The Door Into Summer, that hints at this. In an interview with Alfred Bester (another science fiction writer) he says this about his book:

“Well the fastest was – I’ll have to explain. When we were living in Colorado there was snowfall. Our cat – I’m a cat man – wanted to get out of the house so I opened a door for him but he wouldn’t leave. Just kept on crying. He’d seen snow before and I couldn’t understand it. I kept opening other doors for him and he still wouldn’t leave. Then Ginny said, ‘Oh, he’s looking for a door into summer.’ I threw up my hands, told her not to say another word, and wrote the novel ‘The Door Into Summer’ in 13 days.”

The author’s cat did not want to go outside because there was snow on the ground. Ginny, his wife, made a remark that inspired his book.

Indoors is always warm and pleasant but unnatural. The cat seeks a door into summer; a better environment. The smells and sights of summer. If the door opens to snow a cat will often (not always) choose indoors.

A cat sees the outdoors as a different place. A different habitat. Different doors will lead, at different times, to a different habitat. The domestic cat hopes to see a better one than he finds inside the family home.

All things being equal, the habitat outside is better than the habitat inside but because of routines that does not mean a cat automatically goes out. Also when it is cold, inside is better than outside. This is probably because the wildcat ancestor is generally adapted to warm conditions. And even when it is nice outside, eventually a cat will want to come in because he knows the inside habitat. He feels secure.

Rarely a cat will go outside and never come back. That is when the lure of the wild that is within all domestic cats overcomes the security of the inside world to which he has become accustomed. Every newborn cat needs to be socialised which effectively means being domesticated. The domestic cat is that close to the wildcat.

Picture: by cloudzilla


VG gave me the idea for this article. It is far from perfect. I am just thinking aloud.

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Door to a Different Cat Habitat — 9 Comments

  1. The biggest worry about strictly indoor cats is that if one day they did find themselves outside for whatever reason, they would be totally bewildered. Most wouldn’t venture far from home, would probably hide quite near the house, but if they were frightened by a noise or chased by a dog or a person further away they may not find their way home as they wouldn’t have learned their territory.
    It’s not natural for a cat to live strictly indoors, no matter what some people say, they were not born to live looking out at the world unable to experience and enjoy it.
    But yes it’s necessary to keep cats indoors in dangerous places where there are busy roads, wild animals, bad people and that’s a very sad state of affairs.
    Our cats know they can have their freedom if they want it, apart from night time and if no one is going to be home. They have worked out their own happy balance, they choose to come in and stay in sometimes but other times to go out whatever the weather. It’s the freedom of choice cats like and ours soon cottoned on we are their willing doormen lol

  2. It sounds like a very interesting book. I love that idea. Sometimes I have seen cat’s – including mine – meow in annoyance seemingly at the rainy or cold weather. Almost like they are complaining to me about the bad weather.

  3. I had a house-cat when I house-sat for a year (I was taking care of owner’s cat). Indoor – outdoor cat. In the snowy winter the cat would go to the back door, make a fuss about going out, look at the snowdrifts when I opened the door, and then decide not to go out. Then, having rejected the back door, she would go to the front door, and make a fuss to go out. I’d open it, she’d look at the snow, and again reject going out.

    What I found amusing and odd was that somehow she expected the “outdoors” would be different (better) if she went out a different door. She was, btw, totally familiar with going in and out via both front and back doors.

    So, I see from the Heinlein quote that I’m not the only one who’s had this experience with a cat. It made me wonder how cats perceive space- surroundings.

    • p.s. I just reread the Heinlein quote, and it occurred to me maybe he described something different than I experienced.

      ~~He’d seen snow before and I couldn’t understand it. I kept opening other doors for him and he still wouldn’t leave.~~

      When I first read the Heinlein quote I assumed (projecting from my experience) that the cat went from door to door on its own, fussing to go out different doors in turn, and rejecting them in turn. But that isn’t actually explicitly stated, I now realize.

      In the case of my “rental” cat, she made it a point to “try another door”- as if the outside would be different via another door.

  4. Never been a SciFi reader, but I found a link that has a compilation of his quotes on all subjects. Makes me think I should read his books.

    He is obviously a “cat person”- a few cat quotes-

    ”Never try to outstubborn a cat.”
    ― Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

    “There is no such thing as “Just a cat.”
    ― Robert A. Heinlein

    “How you behave toward cats here below determines your status in Heaven.”
    ― Robert A. Heinlein

    http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/205.Robert_A_Heinlein?page=1

    • The first quote tells me he knows cats. You can’t argue with a cat and win. Or you should never argue with a cat and try and win. It is just not the right thing to do.

  5. I think Monty has searched for that door into summer as well. And the door into not raining. But he likes outside so much that he will go out no matter what the weather usually. He does seem annoyed with me if the weather is not to his liking. I control so much of his environment and provide for so many of his needs that I think he believes I can control that too. He gets annoyed because I refuse to change it to his liking out there.

  6. Honey just has to go out whatever the weather even if its pouring she looks and makes a dash for it!! Even in the snow she has to go out even if for a short while just to play in it but then she’s straight back in!

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