During your evening stroll around the neighborhood, you may have noticed a new trend: more and more pet parents walking their cat on a leash. But before trying out a leash and harness on your own fur baby, let's ask the question: should you walk your cat? After all, not all kitties enjoy the great outdoors.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats
There are many good reasons for keeping your feline friend indoors, as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals emphasizes: "Outdoor cats are at risk of trauma from cars, or from fights with other cats, raccoons and free-roaming dogs. Coyotes are known to eat cats. Outdoor cats are more likely to become infested with fleas or ticks, as well as contract infectious diseases." Cats also can become ill from eating toxic plants or insects.
In addition to keeping your cat safe from potentially harmful situations, keeping her indoors also cuts down on bringing unwanted pests and germs into the home (taking off your shoes inside the house helps with this, too).
It's a common cat myth that indoor cats cannot contract diseases, so it's important to keep her as safe and healthy as possible. Kitties who are in ill health, particularly senior cats, should stay inside all the time.
Another strong argument for keeping your kitty inside is that her predatory instincts, which still run deep, are taking a toll on the world's songbird population. It's true that cats are natural-born predators and once thrived in the wild, but today's house cat leads a fairly long, healthy life because she's indoors.
The last reason to consider keeping your cat indoors is by understanding her natural tendencies. If your cat is skittish around strangers or gets anxiety when you try to take her to the vet, a stroll around the block might put her in an unpleasant mood. It's important to take your cat's feelings into consideration before opting to walk her. Unlike dogs, many cats don't get super excited when you say, "Wanna go for a walk?"
However, some cats flourish with a combination of the two: a life of luxury indoors and a life of leisure outdoors. This is where walking a cat can help bridge the two lives: she has her safe home indoors and can get a taste of fresh air.
Walking Your Cat: How to Get Started
If you want to take your kitty for a stroll, try out a secure harness that wraps around her body and has a hook to attach a leash. Much like your own clothing does for you, the walking gear you purchase for your furry friend reflects her personality, so be sure to choose a harness and leash set (also referred to as a lead) that shows off her style.
Keep in mind that not all cats will take to the lead right away, if at all. As Petcha humorously notes, "if your cat hates being handled, she probably won't want your grabby mitts putting a harness on her. Nervous, timid kitties aren't good prospects for walks, either." As with most training, it's best to start when she's a kitten, but don't let her age keep you from trying.
When introducing anything new to your cat's daily schedule, such as a change in cat food or a new grooming routine, start slowly. Set out the harness and leash on the floor for the first day or two so that she can sniff and play with them so that she becomes accustomed to them. It's also a great idea to allow her to wear the harness around the house before giving it a test drive outside. Try taking a few walks around the house first to see how she likes it. Gauge her interest. If she doesn't seem excited about it at first, you can try it a couple more times, but never force it on her. You don't want your cat becoming anxious whenever she sees the harness or lead.
Although some cats are wary of the lead, others leap at the chance to get up and go. "He loves to be outside," says Erin Billie of her cat, Boogie, "and runs full speed from upstairs if he hears the sliding door open!" Boogie loves to explore the outdoors, and using a harness and leash allow him to do so safely. Additionally, it's great bonding time for Boogie and his mom.
When you take your cat outside for the first time, make it a short trip, just a few minutes will do, until she's comfortable being outside the home. She'll most likely perform what pet parents refer to as the "cat flop," where she goes limp and refuses to move. And that's OK. Giving her time and space will help you understand if a cat walk is worth the time and effort.
If you do decide to take your cat out for a stroll make sure prepare her before you leave the home:
- Always make sure she has her collar on with an updated ID tag. Make sure it fits well and not something that she can wriggle out of. It's also probably a good idea to look into microchipping your cat if you plan to take her outdoors, so you can find her in the event she does get lost.
- Make sure your cat is up to date on all of her flea, tick and heartworm medicine. This is a good idea for all cats, but especially crucial for kitties going outdoors.
- Prepare her for any weather you might experience. A cat that is used to sitting in a 70 degrees fahrenheit home all day, probably isn't prepared for cold winter walks. The same can be said of rain. If you take her on a summer stroll, make sure to bring water with you to keep her hydrated.
- Keep her on a short leash. While you think taking your cat for a walk is perfectly normal, it's still a new trend. There is a chance that you meet people out walking their dog, and you want to keep your cat safe from any dog looking to explore this new creature. This will also help you keep her from chasing any wildlife she might encounter.
- Cat strollers are also a new phenomenon. While she won't get the same exercise, it can be a bonding opportunity for you. If you decide to take this method for a walk around the block, make sure she is secure in the stroller with no accidental escapes possible. She should still have her collar and ID on.
If you think your cat is up for the challenge (as her pet parent, you know her better than anyone), walking a cat is a great way for both of you to get some exercise. Just always make sure to keep her health and safety your first priority.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.