Dogs tend to be the focus of pet owner exercise tips and tricks, but many cat owners have found that their cats are willing to, and even enjoy, taking walks outside. Walking with your cat can be an excellent form of exercise and a great way to bond with your feline companion.
Because cats don’t tend to go on leashed walks as often as dogs, many cat owners are unsure of how accomplish this task safely. Fortunately, with just a little time and patience, you can get your kitty used to leashing up and taking a stroll every once in a while.
Benefits of walking your cat
You may be wondering, why would my cat want or need to walk outside when it seems perfectly happy indoors? While it’s true that many cats are comfortable remaining inside the home, other cats are more adventurous and curious about the great outdoors. Walking your cat can also provide some unique benefits.
- Great exercise: House cats don’t always get the physical exercise they need by running around the house. This might lead to problems with muscle degeneration or joint issues. Physical issues are more likely in cats raised in smaller homes, like apartments, because there is less space to run around and play.
- Mental stimulation: Cats enjoy being stimulated mentally and taking them outside in a brand-new environment can be an awesome way to challenge your cat’s brain and give them new experiences.
- Head outdoors safely: Some cats are extremely interested in going outdoors and may even try to sneak out at times. However, letting your cat go outside by itself comes with the risk of external dangers like cars, wild animals, getting lost and more. By taking your cat for walks, you’re allowing it the opportunity to engage its curiosity with the outside world in a controlled and safe manner.
To begin the training process for walks, you’ll need to invest in a harness and leash. Cats can easily squirm their way out of collars, so you’ll want to find a snug-fitting harness to keep your pet secure while on the walk. Shop around for the perfect type of harness for your cat. It shouldn’t be so tight that it’s restricting or choking your cat, but it should be snug enough to prevent it from getting loose.
Also, be mindful that cats don’t respond to leashes as well as dogs. Many house cats don’t even wear collars, so putting a leash on a cat might be your pet’s worst nightmare.
Easing into it
Easing your cat into the walking experience can take time, like most new experiences with feline friends—cats often need repeated exposure to decide something is safe and enjoyable. If you strap your cat in and bring it outside for a walk, it will likely be very scared and stressed and try to run away.
Get your cat used to the harness, first, by putting it on inside and letting your cat walk around in it for a while each day. Use treats and other rewards to reinforce positive behaviors and reactions toward the harness.
When your cat is comfortable in the harness for a period of time, try walking your cat indoors with a leash. Again, reward it with treats when it responds in an appropriate way. Eventually, your cat should be able to walk next to you freely while inside.
When your cat demonstrates the ability to walk on a leash inside, take it for a test walk outside in your yard or right outside your home. Don’t venture further from home while your cat gets used to the new sights, smells and experiences.
Take your time with the first few outdoor walks, and only go further if your cat seems to feel comfortable. Stick to quiet areas without a lot of traffic, noise and distractions. Your cat might get easily spooked if there are too many strange things outside to overwhelm it.
While on your first few outdoor walks, carry a thick towel with you. If your cat becomes agitated, scared or aggressive for any reason, you can wrap it in the towel and carry it home without being scratched. The towel may also be comforting and help your cat calm down.
Be wary of hazards
Walking outside is generally safe for cats but be sure to be on the lookout for potential dangers, including the following health hazards.
- Snow and ice: Walking outside during winter is not ideal because of the snow and ice. Your cat’s paws may get cold or injured.
- Allergies: If your cat is allergic to specific types of pollen, grass or other seasonal allergens, be mindful of that when taking them for walks. Some seasons may affect your cat’s allergies more than others, but you can help limit your cat’s reactions by giving them allergy supplements or medications.
- Diseases: Outdoor cats are more likely to catch diseases, fleas and worms. Make sure your cat is fully vaccinated and protected from pests before venturing outside.
Always remember to keep a close eye on your cat while walking, but feel free to let the cat investigate the area around it. Letting your cat express its curious nature is all part of the fun and will probably help it grow to love walks.