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Selecting the right pet door

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There are a lot of designs to pick from, meeting different needs and price points. Items to consider in choosing the right door include:

     
 

Price and Features

While you could just cut a hole somewhere for your pet, for most owners, this is usually unacceptable for many reasons, if not looks alone. Like most purchases, the more you pay the more features you get.  Some of the considerations and features that will affect price include:

  • Size of the opening – Larger doors usually cost a bit more

  • Door seal – A good door seal greatly reduces heating and cooling losses if the seal is good. It also helps to keep out bugs.

  • Reliability – The cheapest designs rarely last long.  Look for doors with hard plastic doors for a much longer life.  The soft vinyl “flap” type doors may tear over time, and can be hard to clean.  They also tend to deform causing a poor weather seal.  We've had raccoons cut right through locked soft plastic doors to get in.  So don’t count on them to hold back the most determined varmints!

  • Electric Door Locks – Doors with a locking system can prevent outside strays and varmints from entering your house. They all work by having your pet wear a collar with some type of key. When the key is close to the door, it unlocks.  Some of the cheapest keyed solutions work poorly, so look at our reviews for more about which ones really work. Some of these even have different coded keys, so that two neighbors can use the same system with different keys.

  • Direction control – most pet doors above the cheapest level offer some kind of manual direction control beyond allowing your pet to go in or out when they want. These have settings to allow pets to go out, but not come back in; to come in, but not go back out; or completely locked from going out or in. Your pet door may include a board or shield that fits over the door to completely close off the door.

  • Powered door – The most advanced pet doors will sense when the pet approaches the door and electrically open the door for the pet. These designs also have a locking pin in place when the door is closed.  While expensive, these ensure raccoons and other uninvited guests can’t get in. Other lower-cost doors are not all that effective at stopping raccoons, even those with electronic locks.  Smaller pets seem to like these type doors, as it requires no effort and no door hits them on the back as they go through the door as with other push-through flap designs.
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Security

Assuming you plan to install your pet door in an existing door, you will want to be sure the door is secured by a double-keyed dead-bolt, so that someone can’t reach through the pet door and unlock the door.

Large pet doors may have the additional concern that a child or small adult could enter through the pet door itself.  You may want to limit the access to a room without valuables and one that is secure (via a lock) to the rest of the house. It's a rare cat that would be any kind of deterrent, and even dogs might not be enough to deter an aggressive thief.

Surprisingly, just having a pet door can also reduce the likelihood of a break-in. Most experienced burglars will pass over a house with a pet door, assuming there could be an aggressive dog inside.

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Weather/Temperature conditions

If you live in a temperate zone such as the west coast or the south, you may not be too concerned with snow and temperature extremes. For others, weather may be a major consideration. Will it hold up under extremes? How well does the door seal from hot or cool temperatures and wind?

Most doors are not well suited to high extremes and hard plastic may become brittle at sub-freezing conditions or flaps may get stiff and fail to seal properly. At the other end, if your door is in direct sun in 110+ degree temperatures, plastic could deform. Aluminum doors are best for these kinds of extreme conditions, but they are also really poor insulators, so it's not going to help your heating/cooling bill!

If you're subject to harsh weather conditions, you may not want to let your pet out on their own either, so a door that can be blocked off may be the best solution.

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Size of the opening

Generally there are four size groups ranging from small to extra-large. Often the manufacturer is weak on identifying what size will work best for you.  Almost all cats and small dogs less than 20 pounds will fit through the small doors.  Medium doors will often work for dogs up to 40 pounds, and large and extra large will work for those over 40 pounds.

Consider not only the current size and weight of your pet, but what you expect it to be in 2 years.  Obviously, picking a door sized for a puppy today could easily be too small as they grow up.  Also consider if you are likely to get more pets in the future and what size they might be.

Ideally you should measure your largest pet (or estimate what size they will be when full grown).  Measure how wide your pet is and use a pet door opening that is at least an inch wider. 

If you have both small and large pets, usually the larger pet door should work, although small pets may not be willing or able to push open a larger, heavier door.  They also don’t want to get run over when the large dog jumps in or out of the door! You might consider a powered door that physically opens for your pets, although these are quite expense.

This is a bit too tight!
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photo courtesy Philip Greenspun
     
 

Prevention of unwanted guests

One goal may be to keep out neighbors pets and other varmints. Most of the doors that offer some sort of electronic locking will do fine at keeping out unwanted pets. These use some type of collar key that unlocks the door for your pets. Most systems have only a single key type, so if you have neighbors using same pet door system, their pets could use your door. It may be worth it to get a system that has selective keys, such as the Staywell Infrared door.

Raccoons pose another problem altogether. They are very determined, rather smart, and strong. The only pet door we've seen that can keep the varmints at bay is the Power Pet door, that uses a hard lexan door and electrically opens and closes the door (the pet does not push the door open). This is a great door, but not cheap.

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Support for multiple pets

If you currently have more than one pet, or plan to have more pets in the future, additional considerations include:

  • Size the door for the largest pet

  • If using a electronic locking door, consider the expense of extra keys

  • If the pets are very different in size, such as a large German shepard and a small cat, you might be wise to consider two doors.

  • If some of the pets should be restricted on how they use the door, you may need two doors, or plan to not provide the restricted pet with a collar key.
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