Why walk your cat?
Imagine you are enjoying a nice stroll along a beach or by a little stream in the woods – with your cat! Wouldn’t it be awesome to share that experience with your beloved kitty.
Many cats really do benefit from safe outdoor enrichment, such as leash walking. Its a safe way to get your cat some exercise, enrich their lives with some excitement, and allow them to explore the great outdoors in a way that’s risk free.
- Does your cat spend a lot of time staring out of windows?
- Is your cat showing signs of boredom and stress?
- Does your indoor cat try to bolt when someone opens the front door?
- Does your cat live a small home and you’re worried about lack of exercise?
- Are you worried about your indoor cats lack of outdoor enrichment?
- Do you need to get your previously outdoor cat used to being an indoor cat?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then you might want to consider taking your cat outside for walks. However, you know your cat best and it’s worth noting that some cats just aren’t interested in walks at all, and that’s ok.
Stats show that taking your cat for a walk on a leash is much safer than letting them roam alone outdoors. Of course this does depend on where you live and your individual cat.
Stephanie Clifford states in her article for the New York Times, “Walking a cat on a leash strikes a good balance between having an indoor cat that lives to old age but in an unstimulating environment and an outdoor cat that can kill birds or gets killed itself.”
Many cat owners report their cats are noticeably calmer at home after they get their walks.
Another wonderful benefit is that walking together can help strengthen the wonderful bond between cats and their owners.
What you need to get started
The advice from VetMD is that once a cat has reached the age when she has been fully vaccinated, it is safe for them to go on walks outside.
Remember that this is not so much to protect other animals from what your cat might be carrying, but to protect your cat from what they might be carrying.
They go on the explain it helps a lot of your cat is already responsive to you. If you can call your cat and she consistently comes to you, you are already on a good track. However, if you do not have this type of relationship, you will need to start there. Using treats and lots of praise, call your cat to come to you. After some time, your cat will learn that coming when called will be rewarding.
In terms of leash walking cats, it will be no surprise to you that walking a kitten is a different experience than walking an older cat.
So of course the younger you start cat leash walking, the easier it will be to train your cat. Also, the younger the cat, the easier it is to establish a routine and create a pack mentality.
Recommended cat walking equipment
Before you take your cat on a walk, you’ll want to be sure you get him or her the proper gear that ensures both safety and comfort.
Avoid leashes that only attach to a neck collar, as they can pull and be uncomfortable.
Purchase a harness for the leash, not a collar. If your cat runs up a tree, a standard collar could strangle him, and a breakaway collar will detach.
You will need a good-quality harness that has been designed especially for cats. Here you can purchase this highly recommended harness.
Cat harness training
Start slow, take baby steps forward, and expect setbacks. As anyone knows who is a cat owner they are not dogs eager to please and will do whatever they want and will simply please themselves.
As cats are independent animals, they will more than likely need a lot of time to adjust to leash training. A lot of patience on your part may be required during this process.
Start by simply putting their harness nearby their favourite areas for a few minutes a day.
Bethany from Cascadian Nomads, advice is to always introduce a cat to a harness slowly. Bethany explains how she trained her cat Amelia,
“I began Amelia’s harness training my placing her harness in some of her favourite places. Throughout a month or so, Amelia would find herself next to her harness during playtime on her cat tree, mealtime on the counter or nap time in the closet.
I do the same thing with every new harness my cat gets. During this phase of harness training, if I see Amelia sniff or interact with her harness, I praise her and place a treat next to or on her harness. The goal is not just to get a cat used to the harness but to associate it with good things.”
Read the why and how Bethany successfully trained her cat here.
Most cats do respond positively to food treats as getting food, is for the most part, their primary motivation. Of course this can go hand in hand with verbal praise, and praise in the form of head pats and ear scratches.
For best results, Dr. Becker from Healthy Pets recommends to do your training sessions when your cat is hungry. She explains, “break treats into very small pieces – your cat’s level of cooperation will decrease in direct proportion to how quickly their tummy gets full!”
Ensure that the very moment you’ve got the harness on and before you let go of them, you give them a treat and lots of positive and verbal affirmation (think lots of petting, a nice warm tone of voice, etc).
If they seem uncomfortable or freaked out, don’t force it. When they’re obviously done with a training session, for example they’ve dropped to the ground,tail is switching, ears flattened – whatever signs your cat normally gives that they’re no longer enjoying something – remove the harness immediately.
If trying on the harness didn’t go well
Try leaving the harness near your cat’s food bowl at mealtime and near her favourite napping spot for a few days to get her used to seeing it in places she associates with good things.
You can also hold the harness and a few treats and when/if kitty sniffs the harness, give her a treat.
Next hold the harness against her body and offer a treat. As she sniffs the treat, slowly pull the harness away and let her eat the treat.
After a few days of this, hold your cat securely and give her a treat. As she’s eating the treat, drape the harness loosely over her and leave it for a few minutes.
Adding a leash to the harness
Once your cat accepts actually wearing the harness, let them wear it around the house, doing their normal kitty cat thing aiming to gradually increase the amount of time your cat is left in the harness.
You can even feeding your cat while they are wearing the harness, hopefully reaffirming the idea that good things happen when the harness is worn.
The next stage is to attach the leash to the harness, allowing your cat to pull the leash around, the idea being to get them used to the weight of the leash.
You can then graduate to walking around inside while holding the leash. Don’t pull on the leash and don’t try to force kitty to follow you, at first follow their lead instead. Every now and then stop and call them over to you, giving them a treat and praise when they do.
Ok, so they’re wearing the harness
Well done! So now kitty is comfortable walking around inside your home with the harness and leash on, you can now try the next stage… actually going outside.
Cat behaviour experts recommend that the first thing to do is to open the door and let your cat sniff around and choose the direction (while you are holding on to the leash). Ideally, the first outdoor space should be enclosed with a fence and not be filled with stimuli.
If you live in a city, consider putting your cat in a crate and driving somewhere more remote without loud sounds and masses of people, which can be overwhelming.
Cat walking training tips
Depending on your pet’s temperament, you could easily spend the next month just getting down the front step.
Or your cat could be zooming ahead eager to start an adventure – it just depends on how easily your cat adjusts to being outdoors and tethered to you.
Remember to keep watching your cats body language for any signs of fear or discomfort, and bring them back indoors straight away if they seem distressed.
Try to coax your cat a little farther on each outing. When he’s eagerly exploring a new area with his tail up, take another baby step.
Remember is normal to get setbacks. Your cat might be okay in a new area and when you take them there again the next day, something freaks them out.
Step back to the last place they were happy with, and start moving forward with baby steps again.
And unless your kitty is in danger, try to resist the urge to pick them up if something spooks them. It’s better for your cats confidence if you can leave them on the ground.
Becky from Clover and Thyme advises not to actually expect a walk. She writes on her blog,
“Fluffers would happily walk away from our house, but getting him to turn around (or even loop around the block) to come home without a myriad of detours was next to impossible.
“We quickly discovered that Fluffers was (mostly) happy to just browse around our yard, sniffing, stalking, and rolling around within the bounds of our property line. He still tests the boundaries regularly, but there is usually plenty going on in our own yard to keep him entertained.” Read more on her post here.
Make sure your cat doesn’t become an escape artist
Cat experts warn that once they get a taste of being outside, some cats may wait by the door and attempt to run out once it’s opened. Make it clear to your cat that the only time he can go outside is when he is dressed in the harness.
Top 3 don’ts when walking your cat
1. Don’t let your cat pick up anything in their mouth or lick anything.
2. Don’t let your cat climb a tree or go exploring in thick bushy undergrowth where you can’t see them.
3. Don’t tie your cat’s leash to something and leave them outside, even for a minute. If something spooks them they could get tangled in the leash or they might get attacked by a dog and not be able to escape . Your cat should never be outside unattended for any reason.
Possible problems & solutions for when out and about
Cat walking with a leash is still a fairly new concept and some people may not have seen a cat on a lead before.
Bethany from Cascadian Nomads says,
“Two years ago when I began taking adventure cat Amelia out on her harness and leash, the majority of people we met either laughed, said they had never seen such a thing, commented that their cat would never wear a harness or that they wished they could teach their cat to come out on a leash.”
However not all comments you receive in public might be positive. Remember to just ignore those comments and if needed make a non-committal response, such as, “Interesting!” Then continue go about your own business…your way. Rely on the confidence that you are doing your best for your cat!
Also remember to keep an eye out for other animals that could hurt (or even just freak out) your cat, like dogs, even leashed ones.
Anna from Anna Everywhere tells her experience with her cat Poofy. She explains,
“My Poofy loved to travel and is actually getting mad at us when we leave him at home. Strangers are still stunned by the view of a cat walking on the leash, but I’m telling you that it’s all normal. My cat is basically like a dog in this sense, he even scratches the door if we don’t walk him every day.
“It took time for him to get a sense of what people, bikes, and cars are, but now he only occasionally freaks out for the first 5 minutes and then doesn’t even want to go back home.
“It took Poofy half a year to understand commands like ‘walk’ and ‘stop’, but he’s basically like a well-trained puppy.”
Read her training tips on her blog post ‘How to Travel with a Cat’ here.
The last thing to bear in mind, when out and about is you’ll want to watch out for smaller animals like birds, as obviously they’ll be the ones in trouble if your cat gets ahold of them!
Walking multiple cats
What if you have more than one cat?
Cat Explorer covered just that question by reaching out and asking their community. They found out that it is possible to successfully explore with multiple cats.
Here is some of their advice:
- One human per cat. One of the most common ways to explore with multiple cats is to have a human per cat.
- Have one cat in a cat backpack and the other walking on the ground on a harness and leash.
- If walking 2 cats train your cats not to pull their leash and train them to heel.
To read more tips, read the full article ‘How to Walk 2 or More Cats on a Leash’ here.
However it’s worth a mention here that if one cat doesn’t like walking, but the other does – there is no need to feel guilty about leaving them behind at home. You can always spend quality time with that particular homebody cat by playing together indoors at another time.
Cat walking in the news
Meet the Charlie the cat from Scotland that made the news. Charlie is a moggie who loves going hill walking with her owner – who says cats should have the same freedom as dogs.
Charlie the cat has just started to be let off the leash by owner Fiona Milne, 50, when they go for hikes together.
Fiona introduced Charlie to hill walking slowly, first of all using a lead, but now lets her run free, picking her up if they see dogs.
This picture show Charlie, a two-year-old cat, happily trotting after her owner, on Greenock Cut, Inverclyde, Scotland.
“We tend to take her to places which are quite open, so we can see if there’s a dog coming and pick her up.
“People stop us and say ‘we’ve never seen anything like it’.
“Being off the lead, she sticks by us.
“We want to show people what a cat can do.
“Everything Charlie does is what a dog would do.”
Charlies owner wishes,
“Hopefully it will inspire a few more people to broaden their cat’s horizons.”
Are you training your cat for leash walks? Do you regularly go out on walks with your cat?
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