Choosing the Right Dog Door

It would be nice if we could always be there for our pets, letting them in when it gets too hot or too cold, letting them out when nature calls or that pesky squirrel is just begging to be chased. But between jobs and kids and activities and everything else we have to do, it’s just not possible.

So we decide to install a pet door to make it easy for Fido or Fluffy to go in and out on their schedule instead of ours. Simple, right? Buy a door, put it in, and presto…instant access.

But wait! It’s not that simple! A quick search of the options at pet supply stores yields dozens of pet doors in all kinds of shapes, sizes and styles. How do you find the right one for your house and your pets?

Choosing a pet door means considering 5 factors: pet size, pet type, entrance options, security and energy efficiency. Taking it step by step through each factor will help you find the best pet door options for your family.

Pet size

Of course your pet has to be able to fit through the door, but that’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

Many people measure their dog or cat from the ground to the top of their head, and then try to find a pet door that size. But if you have a large dog, you might conclude that there are no doors tall enough for your pet. And if you have a smaller dog or a cat, you might end up buying a much larger door than you actually need.

Instead of floor to head, measure your pet’s height at his or her shoulder (typically this is the highest part of their back.) Pets will automatically duck their heads and lift up their feet when they go in and out. Consider this the minimum height for your new pet door. You may need to add a couple of inches if there is a ledge or stoop they need to step over. If you have more than one pet, size the door for the taller animal.

Don’t forget to also consider width. Your pet needs to comfortably fit through from side to side as well. You can estimate this by seeing how wide open a regular door needs to be to allow your pet to walk through without rubbing against the sides. Or you can cut a hole in a cardboard box, place a treat inside and find out what width works for easy access.

Also, consider growth. A puppy, even one approaching a year in age, might grow more. Either allow for the growth or hold off on buying a door until your dog is fully grown.

Pet Type

Although it might seem that any animal of a certain size could fit through the same pet door, different animals have different levels of strength. They also may differ in their willingness to push against a heavier flap, or safely wear an electronic collar to open limited access dog doors.

The ability to jump or climb is also a factor, so pay attention to the height of the window or door frame when making your choice.

Also, older or sick animals might need different door types than younger or healthier ones. Dog or cat doors that require pushing or stepping up and over an obstacle might not work for a pet with physical challenges. And doors that blend into the surrounding door could be almost invisible to pets with eye problems.

Entrance Options

Pet doors can be installed in walls, entry doors, storm doors, garage doors, sliding glass doors and double-hung windows. You can also install a pet door in some other window types, if you’re willing to have custom glass work done.

The choice of where to place the dog door depends on your home’s design and the location of safe, accessible entrances and exits. Some people are hesitant to cut holes in walls and exterior doors. For those shoppers, a door that fits into an existing window or sliding door frame might be the best choice.

Some pet owners who want the convenience of a pet door in an exterior door without destroying resale value of the home have purchased a second, less expensive door to use temporarily. That way, they can cut the door and install a pet entrance, then rehang the fancier door when it’s time to sell. This also works well for renters who cannot destroy the landlord’s door but want pet access.


We’ve all heard about cases where a burglar entered a house through a pet door – it’s a popular theme on television shows as well (especially when the would-be intruder gets stuck!)

Although it’s unlikely that any human could fit through most pet doors, you will probably have a time when you don’t want your cat or dog using the door. And you certainly don’t want the neighborhood raccoons or squirrel showing up in your kitchen!

Travel is another factor. When you go on vacation with your pet, it’s nice to be able to lock the pet door to add a feeling of security. Depending on your family, you also may need to keep your small children or grandchildren from crawling out through a pet door, especially one that opens onto an unfenced area, stairs, a pool, or an upper story exit.

The security level of pet doors ranges from none (a simple flap) to doors with locks, slide-in panels, and even pet doors that work with electronic collars that only allow animals wearing the collar can enter or exit.

Spend some time thinking about the issues you might face with an unsecured pet door, then select the door that offers at least that level of lock or access-restriction. In most cases, too secure is better than not secure enough.

Energy Efficiency

With energy costs through the roof, everyone is concerned about saving money on heating and air conditioning costs. An inefficiently designed or incorrectly installed pet door can take a chunk out of your energy budget. But a properly installed door can actually save you money over opening and closing a regular door multiple times a day.

There are several options in pet door design that can minimize heating or cooling loss. The first factor is to select the right door for your space. “Making-do” with a door that’s too small, and trying to fill in the gaps with wood, plastic or even towels is an almost guaranteed energy-loss.

A second factor is door placement. Try to place your pet door away from areas that get regular high winds or extreme sun exposure.

The other common mistake in installing the doors is skipping the weather-stripping. Most doors come with weather stripping. If not, make sure you buy weather stripping and install it according to manufacturer’s directions. If you’re installing the door into a wall, caulking around the opening on both front and back will minimize air leaks. Use a clear silicone caulk unless the door manufacturer
recommends something else.

There are pet doors designed to further reduce energy loss. Doors with double flaps, magnetic flaps and self-sealing edges will help to keep air loss to a minimum. A door that offers a locking panel or other means of security when you’re not using it will further cut waste.

Take Your Time

A pet door is seldom an emergency purchase, so take your time and consider all the factors. With some planning and shopping, you’re sure to find the perfect door for you and your pet.

Lindsay Shugerman is an SEO pro and online marketing specialist, and writes for and other websites. She’s also an advocate for dog rescue, and loves fostering pups waiting for home. Lindsay lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, dog, cat, and various 4-legged guests.

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