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Do Cats Set Off Motion Detectors? A Pet-Friendly Wireless Alarms Guide

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Do Cats Set Off Motion Detectors? A Pet-Friendly Wireless Alarms Guide
October 28, 2019

Do Cats Set Off Motion Detectors? A Pet-Friendly Wireless Alarms Guide

Stop naughty cats from triggering

home security systems with pet-friendly alarm sensors

Life with a cat means hilarious, gravity-defying antics and impossibly adorable faces popping up in the strangest of places. But when it comes to home security systems, cat ownership can also infuse new meaning into the concept of “cat burglar” if your home lacks pet-friendly alarm sensors.

A Miami, FL homeowner didn’t find his feline friend so charming when his cat knocked a picture frame off a table and triggered his security system's glass break sensor. In the amusing video from a home security camera below, a second kitty "accomplice" made a frantic getaway while the defiant perpetrator remained on the table as the alarm blared. Clearly, this wasn't the first offense, judging by the glare the homeowner shoots the cats' way as he races in his boxers to silence the alarm:

Cats can be an amazing addition to any home, but their ability to reach unexpected places can cause issues with improperly set up home security systems—especially when motion sensors are activated. And short of training a cat not to climb (cue laughter from cat owners), frustrated homeowners may be tempted to stop arming their systems after false alarms. However, that solution leaves your house vulnerable to actual break-ins, and properly calibrated and well-placed sensors can be compatible with even the most mischievous of felines.

Avoiding false alarms when you share your home with a cat is an achievable goal. In honor of National Cat Day, let’s examine some simple ways owners can help their cats and security systems co-exist in harmony.

Picture of cats looking through a window at a racoonPicture of cats looking through a window at a racoon

The secret to pet-friendly alarm

sensors: passive infrared technology that ignores body heat under 40 pounds

Frequent false alarms can annoy homeowners or renters and their neighbors; even worse, they can cause people not to take alarms seriously and overlook a real emergency.

Motion sensors are involved in the majority of pet-induced false alarms, triggered by cats, dogs, or other pets crossing the sensor’s field of view when no one else is home. But failing to turn on motion detectors for fear of false alarms can significantly weaken a home’s defense against intruders.

Strong security and furry friends can be a good mix, however, when pet-friendly motion sensors are used and installed properly.

There are two main types of motion detectors: active and passive. Active infrared motion sensors are typically the more sensitive variety; they emit energy waves that actively search their field of view for movement, much like sonar does on a submarine. While active sensors can be positioned to ignore movement below a certain level in the room, that advantage works better for small- or medium-sized dogs than climbing cats.

In contrast, passive infrared sensors pick up infrared signals emitted by body heat. They sense changes in a room’s thermal environment, which generally remains stable when it’s empty. Unlike traditional motion sensors, which detect any movement in a space, pet-friendly sensors enable homeowners to arm their systems with confidence by using passive infrared to detect body heat that is large enough to represent a person—not a pet smaller than 40 pounds.

Since the average adult cat weighs about 10 pounds, pet-friendly motion detectors can significantly reduce the number of false alarms caused by darting cats. But when a person moves across the armed sensor’s field of view, it detects their heat signature and triggers an alarm.

Picture of the Frontpoint Motion SensorPicture of the Frontpoint Motion Sensor
Pet-friendly motion sensors help cat owners avoid false alarms by detecting the movement of heat signatures from people, not pets.

Tips for using pet-friendly sensors to

minimize false alarms

Even with pet-friendly motion sensors, false alarms can occasionally occur. Multiple cats that roll around on the floor together during play could trigger an alarm by tricking motion sensors into thinking they represent a single heat signature that’s bigger than 40 pounds. If a climbing cat manages to get directly in front of a pet-friendly motion sensor, a swipe from a curious paw could damage it—or set it off.

Proper installation is key to avoiding false alarms from pets. And when an alarm is triggered, it’s important to have a system that allows you to immediately shut off your system from anywhere after confirming that there is no emergency.

Let’s examine some simple steps homeowners can take to mitigate the risk of false alarms caused by especially curious cats:

Consider your cat’s climbing

habits before placing pet-friendly alarm sensors

Motion sensors are typically installed about four or five feet above the ground. However, in homes with pets, some homeowners prefer to place motion sensors up high—positioned to capture the movements of upright people instead of animals on four legs—to further reduce the chances of false alarms. When installed near the ceiling, for instance, a motion sensor’s field of view can end a few feet above the floor, missing small- or medium-sized pets scampering low to the ground.

However, even if you place a motion sensor high, it can still be triggered by climbing cats if you set it near household items they have claimed as their personal jungle gyms. For instance, if your cat likes to play on the stairs or parade across the top of the kitchen cabinets, you may want to point your sensor in another direction, such as at doors or openings.

Placing sensors out of reach is also key to avoiding damage inflicted by curious kitties. Mount sensors on the wall or in a corner instead of setting them on counters or bookshelves where they can be knocked off by mischievous paws. Keep in mind that determined cats can be adept at climbing doors, drapes, and bookcases to stalk their “prey,” so locate sensors accordingly. In some instances, the wisest course of action may simply be preventing your cat from entering the area where your motion sensors are armed.

If false alarms continue,

consider other smart security system features for certain periods and areas

If a particularly adventurous kitty or a household with multiple cats makes motion sensors a concern, some homeowners opt to reserve them for certain periods and/or places, restricting their cats to specific areas so they don’t move freely and trigger false alarms. There are many other smart security system features that can protect homes when cats have free reign. For instance, door/window sensors will sound alarms and trigger mobile notifications if a home’s entrances are breached, but are rarely triggered by playful pets.

Picture of the Frontpoint Door and Window SensorPicture of the Frontpoint Door and Window Sensor
Almost invisible to the eye, these small-yet-powerful Frontpoint Door/Window Sensors are easy to install safely out of a cat’s reach.

Smart security cameras also provide peace of mind by automatically recording and sending homeowners instant mobile alerts if any motion is detected—without triggering alarms. Instead, video clips are stored and can be viewed at any time on smartphones or other mobile devices, enabling the homeowner to quickly investigate and only call 911 if necessary—or immediately stop the alarm from a simple command. All cameras will simultaneously start recording once intrusions sensors spur an alarm.

Smart cameras also enable people to check on their homes at any time from anywhere via a real-time feed. Owners can check in on pets to see what hijinks they are up to, and even talk to them via cameras with two-way audio capabilities.

Video of a cat in front of a security cameraVideo of a cat in front of a security camera
Hilarious footage of a cat burglar in action.

Beyond pet-friendly alarm sensors:

troubleshooting false alarms when your cat isn’t the culprit

Of course, if you’re experiencing false alarms and the tips above don’t help, it’s a good indication that your cat may not be the problem. Here are some other troubleshooting tips for motion sensors:

  • Make sure your motion sensor is properly installed. Motion sensors that aren’t securely mounted can trigger false alarms.
  • Don’t point motion detectors at windows. Light and heat that seeps through the glass can trigger sensors designed to detect changes in thermal environments.
  • Make sure motion sensors aren’t facing fireplaces, air vents, space heaters, or other heating and cooling sources that can fool the sensor into sounding an
Picture of a cat wearing a paper bag maskPicture of a cat wearing a paper bag mask

Of course, some prowling cats really

can’t resist the purr-fect crime

Pet-friendly motion sensors make it easy to protect your home without risking false alarms triggered by energetic cats. Most cats are innocent and simply playful or curious. However, every now and then, a prowling cat really is a hardened criminal.

For instance, it turns out that "cat burglar" was a precise term for one "notorious" thief who stole about 600 items from a neighborhood in California for over three years. The culprit: a 15-pound Siamese cat named Dusty. His favorite target: bathing suits drying outside. But a host of other items were also snatched by his pilfering paws, including shoes, leg warmers, stuffed animals, underwear, and bras.

We guess some klepto kitties just can’t resist the purr-fect crime:


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