Electronic | Automatic | Motorized | Magnetic Pet Doors
You understand the importance of a pet door but you have stray cats coming around spraying, or you have wild animals that might try to break in for food, or you have a cat--or a baby!-- that you want to keep in while you let the dog out, or your pet is so arthritic or handicapped that he just can't manage his old pet door. Maybe you'd just feel more secure without an unlocked dog door. What to do?
The answer, of course, is to get an electronic pet door - an electronic, magnetic, rfid chip or even motorized dog door or cat door. Pay close attention to measuring for size as always. But also think about power source, spare collar keys, locking mechanism and opening method. They'll all play a role in the success of your choice.
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Q. Which type of collar key is best?
A. This is a difficult question to answer because different people have different needs and may not agree on what is "good" and what is "bad". However, we'll take a stab at it. Remember that the features of the pet door you want may be just as or more important than the characteristics of the type of collar key that it uses.
- The Vet-Implanted ID Microchip - The pros for this type of collar key are impressive. Most importantly, there's no collar needed because the collar key is actually the ID chip that your vet implanted under the skin. The absence of the need for a collar has a number of very important advantages. Some cats won't tolerate them. There's always some danger of a cat accidentally getting his collar hung up on a branch or other object which can have disastrous consequences. (Break-away collars avoid that danger but if they break away you've lost both the collar and the collar key possibly trapping the pet outside). In addition, the implanted chip doesn't add to the clutter if you've already got id tags (You DO have an ID Tag, Right?) or a hidden fencing system receiver on the collar. These collar keys and the only ones that are never lost and you don't need to pay for spares "just in case". Finally no batteries required for the collar key (the pet door will need power, though).
On the other hand there are a few disadvantage. As of this writing there are no electronic dog doors or even large-cat sized electronic cat doors that use this type of collar key. Even though, "every" North American chip in use is "covered", it might be wise to check with your vet to be sure you've got one of the right ones and, at the same time, get his assurance that the chip is still at the top of the neck where it belongs and hasn't migrated somewhere else. Finally, installation in a metal door is a hassle because a wood "collar" is needed for the door to keep it separate from the metal.
- The Magnetic Collar Key - There are two types: For the first, the magnet actually pulls a lever inside the cat door which unlocks the door. In this case, the cat door doesn't require any power either and there is no electronic circuitry to corrode or fail. For the second type the magnetic field of the magnet is sensed by the pet door and it unlocks in response. These cat doors require power. In both cases the collar key requires no power and there are no batteries to fail. Spares are relatively less expensive. Magnetic collar keys are waterproof.
On the other hand, the magnets used to pull an inside lever are relatively strong and more likely to pickup debris like nails and bottle caps. Since they're stronger they may exert more pull than is comfortable for a kitten and at least one manufacturer recommends that they not be used until the cat is a little older. At least some manufacturers recommend that installation in a ferrous metal door may require that a wooden collar be built to isolate the pet door from the door. An aluminum door would not present a problem. Finally, a magnet is a magnet. There's no way for the cat door to distinguish among your pets or between your cat and a neighbor cat that happens to also wear a magnet collar key.
- The Ultra-Sonic Collar Key - High frequency sound (much higher than can be heard by your pet) is not affected by sunlight (as were the infra-red type) or by the material that the electronic door is installed in or by the use of any other electronic like hidden fencing. The sensitivity of the microphones can be adjusted to allow the user to control the distance at which the electronic pet door activates.
But, batteries are required so you'll need to check them occasionally. The units are susceptible to damage from water. Even though, there is a water-resistant version, you shouldn't use this for a pet that swims in a lake. Finally, a few (but not all) cat owners have felt that the unit was too large to hang on their cat.
- The Radio Frequency Chip - The PetSafe Smart Door, a popular electronic dog door, uses a chip that emits a radio frequency signal. When the door reads that signal, it unlocks and when it can no longer read the signal it locks again. The collar key can be programmed to emit a unique signal and the door can recognize up to five different keys.
Of course these keys require battery power and, again, some have felt them to be too large for their cats.
- RFID Chip Collar Keys - RFID technology is the latest to make its appearance in the collar key world and appears to have some strong advantages: They require no batteries, they are very durable, some allow programming of the key (similar to a garage door opener) and are waterproof.
While some, like for the Cat Mate Elite series are perfectly appropriate for cats, others are larger and you may not find them suitable for use by your cat. As well, they tend to be on the more expensive side.
Q. Some Electronic Pet Doors Control Access From Outside Only While Others are Control from Both Sides. What Difference Does This Make?
A. In most cases, the outside access control only works just fine. Here are the situations in which access from both directions can be an advantage:
- You want to keep an inside pet (or a child) from going outside in addition to preventing strays and other animals from coming inside.
- You are concerned about raccoons coming in through the pet door. At least some raccoons have figured out that a one-way control electronic pet door can be broken into by hooking the flap with a claw and pulling the flap toward the outside. Then they can come through the opening. No one knows if every raccoon can do this, but they are very clever. Two way control prevents this. We haven't heard yet of this problem with other animals.
Q. Some Electronic Pet Doors are Motorized While Others Require the Pet to Push the Flap After Unlocking. What's the Difference?
- A. Motorized electronic pet doors always control from both directions; non-motorized versions may be either one-way or two-way control.
- A timid, arthritic or injured pet may find it easier to use a motorized version since he doesn't need to learn to push anything; the door simply opens in front of him. This is probably the most significant advantage of a motorized pet door.
- We suspect that the motorized versions may be slightly less able to keep a second pet from following the first out. It's true that the time the flap remains open can be made short. But it's still open to all during that time. The must-push versions present a following pet with a flap swinging toward him as the leader clears the door. That would seem to be more effective deterrent.
- Manual versions may be used in a non-electronic mode; motorized pet doors cannot.
Q. What are the different power requirements of electronic pet doors?
A. As we've seen above, magnetic operated pet doors require no power source at all either for the door or for the collar key. For the remaining electronic pet doors there are three possibilities:
- Some are operated by batteries only
- Some may be operated with AC power thus requiring a nearby wall outlet.
- At least one, the Hi Tech Power Pet, can use AC power with a battery backup in addition to the first two options.
Q. What Other Problems Are There With Electronic Pet Doors?
- A. The first is reliability. If a manual pet door will do the job, it will be more reliable than an electronic one and would usually be a better choice
- Cost. Electronic pet doors, particularly the motorized versions, tend to be more expensive than manual pet doors though there certainly are some high-performance manual pet doors that are quite expensive as well.
- Rigid Flaps. All electronic pet doors incorporate rigid flaps. However, some people prefer a flexible flap for reasons of safety and a softer surface for the pet to push. In this regard it should be noted that the motorized pet doors do not offer the pinching danger of a normal rigid flap.
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