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  • Writer's pictureDunsmuir Hardware

How to Install a Pet Door

If you have a pet that spends time both indoors and out, you play a constant game of letting him in and out by opening the door time after time. So who’s really in charge? By installing a pet door into an exterior door, you can give him the freedom to come and go as he pleases and relieve yourself of the duty.

Step 1: Get the Right Door

Before you start cutting into one of your doors to install a pet door, be sure to do the prep work required to do it right. Take your pet’s size into consideration. The pet door should give your pet about 2" of clearance all around. It is important to get the correct size pet door because not only do you want your pet to be able to move freely in and out, you don’t want an unnecessarily large opening that could be a possible security risk. Once you know the size of your pet, you can then find the correct size pet door at your local True Value hardware store. Usually, pet doors come with everything you need for installation. Don’t forget if you have a puppy or kitten, leave enough room for growth.


Install a door with a sturdy two-flap design and weather-stripping features. These effectively shut out any drafts from outside to save energy and keep out the elements.

Choose a model that comes with a removable interior door panel that closes the opening when you are away or if you want it securely shut overnight.

Step 2: Remove the Exterior Door

Choose the exterior door that best suits your needs. If your pet usually goes outdoors into a fenced-in backyard, install the pet door on that rear door, for example. Remove the door from its hinges by removing the hinge screws and then carry it to your designated work area. Have sawhorses ready on which to place the door. Having the door lying flat and elevated in this way will make the job easier and safer.


Doors can be heavy and also unwieldy. Ask a friend, family member or neighbor to help you remove and carry the door.

Step 3: Trace Pet Door Opening

Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before starting. Most pet door kits come with a template to use as a guide so that you can mark the dimensions of the pet door opening on the exterior door. Use a pencil to trace the size and shape of the template on the door’s surface. Be sure when placing the template on the door that you check that it is level and equidistant from both sides. Use a level and a ruler or measuring tape for measurements. Keep in mind that the bottom of the pet door should be at least 3" to 4" from the bottom of the exterior door and should be at about the height of the pet’s abdomen. Mark an “X” at each corner of the traced outline of the pet door.


Be sure that the pet door’s position makes the exterior door lock out of reach from an enterprising intruder.

Step 4: Cut the Opening in the Door

Drill a hole in each “X” using a drill. Starting at one of the “Xs,” use a jigsaw to cut through the door along one of the traced lines. Repeat around the entire outline and then knock out the cut-out piece. If you have a steel exterior door, you may need to make your cuts using a circular saw with a metal-cutting blade if the jigsaw won’t do the job.


Wear safety glasses and ear protection when using power saws and heed all manufacturer instructions and safety guidelines.

Step 5: Attach Pet Door Frame

Following the supplied instructions, make the appropriate holes for the screws that will hold the pet door frame in place using the drill. Attach the exterior side of the frame using the supplied screws and a power screwdriver or drill. Then, attach the interior frame the same way. Apply a bead of silicone caulk around the outside edges of the exterior side of the pet door to provide an airtight seal. Let the caulk set for the time specified by the manufacturer.

Step 6: Rehang Exterior Door

After the pet door has been completely installed, put the exterior door back in place with help from your assistant. Have your helper hold the door in place as you reattach the hinges by reinstalling the screws using a screwdriver. Once all hinges are back in place, open and close the door to make sure that it still swings correctly in the entryway, does not stick, or does not close and open incorrectly.

Step 7: Train Your Pet to Use the Door

Now comes the hard part (depending on the pet) — getting them to use the pet door. Some will take right to it, seeing an easy way outside. Others may need some coaxing to show them how to use it. You can start by simply showing them the opening and gently nudging them through it to show them how it works. More hesitant pets may need some sort of treat and positive reinforcement to entice them to try it out. Use one of his favorite treats and a lot of “good boys” to lead him through the opening.

Good job! Now your pet has the freedom to go out when he needs to, while you’re free to do whatever it is you need to do.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.

  • Pet door kit

  • Screwdriver

  • Sawhorses

  • Pencil

  • Level

  • Tape measure

  • Drill

  • Jigsaw

  • Circular saw

  • Safety glasses

  • Ear protection

  • Silicone caulk

  • Caulking gun

  • Pet treats


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