Friday, February 23, 2024
cat behaviorhealth and safety

Windows, Screens and Cats

watercolor of cat on windowsill
“Kelly on the Windowsill”, ink and watercolor, 6″ x 5″

I heard a siren, or was it the wind? I knew it was summer and my windows were open, but it was very early and I thought I’d better get up and close the windows if a storm was coming.

As I awoke I realized there were no cats with me at all though I lived with six and they always slept with me and impatiently milled around on the bed until I awoke, but not even immovable Moses was in her spot on the other pillow.

Wide awake, I leapt out of bed looking everywhere. That house was rather large and I had no idea where to look first because I had no idea where they might be. But I followed the now obvious sound of two cats wailing at each other and in the dining room found a window screen pushed out of place and Fawn timidly about to step outside. Through the window I could see Sally, who was deaf, out in the garden! I grabbed Fawn and slammed the window shut, then ran through the kitchen out the back door and grabbed Sally just as she saw me and was about to playfully run off.

back porch
Under the porch where Stanley was defending his kingdom from the tomcat.

Holding her as she struggled wildly I looked around and realized the yowling was coming from the front. I had to put Sally inside so I tossed her in the back door and ran around the side to find Stanley in a standoff with a huge tabby tomcat under the front porch. Stanley, sweet and loving, could be unpredictable in his temperament and he had actually bitten me about a year before that; set off like this I had no idea how he’d be, and I knew not to go near them or try to touch them.

I clapped my hands to distract them, yelled and stomped my feet threatening to run toward them knowing if the tom ran so would Stanley. They inched their way out from under the porch as I continued clapping and stomping and I guess the tom figured he could deal with the cats but not with the crazy human and took off, but I called Stanley as he gave chase and he stopped, content the intruder had left “his” domain. Stanley was still wild-eyed but I managed to talk him down and both scruff and cuddle him, and carry him back inside.

Back outside, I saw Allegro trotting along the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill along our back yard. Down I went—summer nightie and bare feet—and though he ran, startled, I managed to follow him along the tracks and talk him into familiarity enough trust and let me cautiously approach him, touch him, and quickly pick him up.

Moses under the table with the incriminating window beyond; also, the cat carrier I always left open in our "relaxing room".
Moses under the table with the incriminating window beyond; also, the cat carrier I always left open in our “relaxing room”.

In the house with him and all the others, I found Moses on a chair under the dining room table, and that left only Kublai. I fed them breakfast, knowing I couldn’t leave for work until I found him. The people I would be calling in to would understand this and after putting on some real clothes I went back outside, the sun now risen, and called and called for my heart cat, the leader of my household, and after about two hours he came trotting through my neighbor’s yard, talking to me, asking me what the problem was. I scooped him up and carried him inside, my household again intact.

He ate, then immediately returned to the window where the screen had been removed and began working along the bottom edge, stopping to look at me: “Don’t you see how easy this is?” It was a window I often used in spring to move my seedlings outside for the day and back inside at night. I could see he’d carefully watched my actions to lift and remove the screen, and it was old enough to be easy for him—just like the old door handles he could easily turn which I had replaced with ones where you had to push a button to make the handle turn.

I closed all the windows, went to work, and then set about adding a little hand-tightened thumb latch to all 12 windows in the house. I kept collars and tags on them, but there was no such thing as a microchip in those days. I tried not to think about what would have happened if I’d been gone for one of my 14-hour days or if formerly feral Moses had gotten out or timid Fawn, or even the braggadocius boys. My story might be entirely different today if I had lost my entire household of cats at one time.

Let us at him!
Let us at him!

Make sure your screens can handle your cats

They make lovely photos and paintings, but you really need to be aware of a few things before you can all have a nap in the sun.

First of all, never presume your cats won’t jump out the window if it’s open without a screen. This sadly happens frequently each spring as people open their windows on unusually warm days before they either put their screens in place for the windows or turn on air conditioning and leave the windows closed. Even by accident a cat can fall, and even a cautious cat can decide to step out on a ledge or a roof.

Screens and cats can get along—I have always had my windows open all summer long with no air conditioning, and as many as ten cats of all sizes and levels of ingenuity. A few other escapes happened, but only involving one cat with motivation, yet teaching me another lesson.

Open windows are naturally enticing to cats, and truly an enhancement to their environment. Because of that, even if you only open your windows once in a while, you need to have screens in place and be certain they can withstand the rigors of a cat with an agenda, or without—or a bunch of cats following their predatory instinct all at the same time, like a little over 40 pounds of motivated cats pushing on the screen. My cats lean on my screens while they sleep, leap on them when they see a bird at the feeder or a neighbor cat outdoors, and though they have other “exercise equipment” easily available, now and then they have a good stretch and claw them or climb them just for fun.


With all these cats and all these years, I’ve only replaced one screen once, and that was from my own accident when I ripped it in basement storage. I used the “pet safe” screening but didn’t notice it handled the rigors of cats better than the usual vinyl screening that came with my windows or metal screening from my older windows and storm doors. After 20 years, it’s time for me to replace the screens on that big casement window that sees a lot of action, and I’ll be getting regular screening for that.

black cat hanging on screen
Jelly Bean is in trouble.


The way the screen is constructed is very important. The better the quality of the window, the better quality the screen, a little heavier screen, the frame a little thicker and wider and so that the spline—the narrow tube of rubber that holds the screen material into its frame—is thicker and its channel deeper, holding the screen into the frame more securely.

My bathroom window is a nice one but not necessarily expensive. I returned home one afternoon to see the screen in the casement at the top of the stairs at an angle and Kelly and Giuseppe out on the deck roof! Kelly was really happy walking along and looking at her new paradise to explore, but Giuseppe was outside desperately leaping up to the casement trying to get back in, which had pulled the screen on an angle and prevented him from getting a clawhold on anything. In the bathroom, I could see the entire bottom edge of the screen flapping free and cursed myself for neglecting to take care of that when I’d seen it beginning to bulge and possibly let loose as Kelly had long naps on the windowsill each day. It had seemed sound enough and she was so happy.

Kelly only looked curious, not frightened or ready to jump, so I closed the bathroom window and first reached out the casement and got a grip on Giuseppe’s scruff and pulled him in, shutting that window; the other cats gathered around as I did this and I saw all were accounted for.

Then I closed the bathroom door, opened the window and pulled the damaged screen inside, leaning way out the bathroom window coaxing Kelly to come to me while she happily ran around on the roof, talking to me. She eventually did come over and effortlessly leaped up on the windowsill, purring and rubbing on me. I brought her in and closed the window.

I was lucky there was a deck roof right under the window to catch Kelly when she accidentally rolled out the second-floor window in the middle of her nap. Cats fall out of windows all the time and the consequences are often much worse.

I actually replaced that screen with a much sturdier expanding screen that is held in place with clips. Repairing that screen would not have made it any more secure—I even tried gluing it all together with a larger piece of screen and it still let loose—and I couldn’t find a replacement that was any better, though I’m looking around again this year.

Reinforcing a screen door with hardware cloth.
Reinforcing a screen door with hardware cloth.

Installation, new screens and reinforcing old ones

A screen that simply pressure-fits into the window frame or holds in place with magnets can be easily pushed out of place—and not just by a cat, but also by an intruder or even wildlife. Screens should not only perfectly fit the opening, but also be held in place by some means. Never underestimate the intelligence of a cat, even without opposable thumbs, to be able to remove a screen that isn’t held in place by something they can’t remove, or for a good accidental shove to push it out of place.

The basement door sees a heck of a lot of activity from indoors and out since both neighbor cats and wildlife approach the door. Also, a certain kitty with box-cutter claws managed to trim a hole large enough to escape. I added a layer of metal “hardware cloth” on the inside of the door that no one can get through, indoors or out.

When I replaced my biggest windows soon after moving in I did my homework for value and cost, insulation and construction, and saw the screens that would come with them. My newer screens either have metal springs top and bottom and a deep track or tiny spring-loaded thumb-latches that fit into slots around the screen—the second is what holds those 24” x 48” screens in place at the big casement and they also install from the inside, so they are difficult to push out the opening.

The older casements upstairs have only thumb latches that turn to hold them in place and the frames are metal, but I have also added a strip of packing tape top and bottom that holds them in place for the season, and a spring-loaded pressure-fit curtain rod that holds them against the window frame.

Both Namir and Kublai were escape artists—I would swear Kublai had thumbs when I wasn’t looking, and Namir had a Swiss army knife hidden in his right paw. Someday soon I’ll tell the stories of their little escapes.

But for now, create a safe and enjoyable environment for your kitties around your windows. The ASPCA has an informative article on “high-rise syndrome” that reflects both the dangers of falling several stories from open windows as well as cautions about windows and screens. So that you and your kitties can enjoy summer birdwatching and even long naps, take care if you shop for replacement windows, keep your screens in mind as well as the mechanics of the window, and if you have your screens replaced, make sure the replacement screen is sturdy enough to hold its shape without twisting, and you have some means of fixing it in place in the window.

Browse some rescued cats and kittens!

cats for adoption

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.

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