Ideally, a pet should come and go relatively freely from the home to do their business in their fenced yard. Often that’s not the case.
Many pet parents have looked at home-to-yard transition doors and gates that supposedly deny access for all but the pet. Here too, there are drawbacks.
Take the simple insert for a sliding glass door screen door. This is usually a long narrow rectangle of glass in an aluminum frame. At the bottom is a rectangular hole and a flexible flap that allows the pet to go in and out. That means the glass door is open, if only so narrow as to accommodate the swinging flap. Yes, fresh air comes in but heated or cooled air leaves.
Most flaps don’t keep other things out like bugs, skunks, raccoons, other peoples’ pets and skinny burglars.
There are doorways sold with a chip in the flap and one for the pet’s collar. The chip allows only that pet to actuate the flap to enter or leave. Of course, the price is more. And goodness help you if you lose the chip.
Some people want to build it themselves, and that’s okay, but you’ll need some basic homebuilding skills to put a pet doorway through an interior wall to the outside. There’s drywall patching and painting to do and on the outside, there is siding, finishing and faded paint matching to do. Doing it through the door might be more manageable.
Security is another issue. Yes, skinny criminals have crawled through pet doors, if only to open a door to let their friends in while you are away. Similarly, pets left unattended have been stolen with an occasionally nasty ransom demand showing up. Some toddlers have been known to make a break for it, too.
Some pets, like my previous cat, liked to bring “gifts” in the house for the owners to admire. A lot of people don’t want to come home and find a partially eaten, perhaps still alive mouse in the house. Trust me though, you’d rather come home and find such a thing than to come home and not find it until your nose leads you to it later.
So, what size pet door do you get? First off, assemble what you need. Get a pencil and paper or your phone, because you will invariably forget the measurements when you get to the store if you don’t write them down.
Measure the distance from the floor to the top of your pet’s shoulders. Having a second person hold a ruler or yardstick across their shoulder helps make the measuring go faster.
Next, measure the distance from the floor to the top of the elbow of your pet’s front paw. This gives you the rise or the minimum height the pet must step to come through the opening. You don’t want the opening to go all the way to the floor. The structure will be less stable, and more bugs can come in.
Subtract the rise from the first measurement, and that provides the long side of the opening’s rectangle.
Now the hard one comes; width. How wide are your pets? Find the widest one and don’t be modest. Again, a helper can set two sticks or rulers down the sides of the pet and help you get width.
That’s all you need to go shopping for a pet door.
After the pet door is installed, how do you get a pet to walk through? Simple, put food on the other side and show them how the flap works.
Trust me, they’ll walk through.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service.