Every time I notice my cat staring out a window in my apartment, I wonder if she’s longing for a nice stroll around the neighborhood. Growing up in the suburbs, my family’s cat was able to go in and out as often as she pleased, but now that I live in a big city I don’t ever let my kitty roam on her own. That made me think about how often I’ve seen photos of people with their cats on a leash, but the idea just sounds so bizarre. Is it ever really OK to take your cat out for a walk like you would with a dog?
According to Jackson Galaxy, famous for his knowledge on all things feline, it’s not actually that crazy. “It’s a great way to change things up, stave off ‘play boredom,’ and just provide an extra complimentary dose of play along with interactive daily sessions,” he explains on his website. “I’m all for leash-walking your cat, presuming that we have a thumbs-up from the most important family member: the cat actually wants to go for a walk!” Of course, if you’ve already got a cat you’re comfortable with going outside and returning home when they feel like it, you can probably skip the leash.
Galaxy recommends paying attention to your cat’s behavior around the front door to know if they’d even be interested in a jaunt around the block. If they avoid the area altogether, they’re probably perfectly happy staying inside. On the other hand, if you have a “door-dasher” who seems totally obsessed with what lies beyond your threshold, you might want to consider taking them for a walk.
Before buying a leash and harness ($10.99 for a set, Amazon), and waltzing outside with your feline friend, it’s important to note that walking a cat is a lot different than walking a dog. “Essentially, your cat will walk you,” Galaxy explains. “You might take a few steps, then stop so they can take a few sniffs. A few more steps, a quick dart to explore a bug, followed by a few more sniffs, etc. From there, you might go into a little bit of a trot, only to stop again for more sniffing.”
David Grimm, author of Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship With Cats and Dogs ($30.77, Amazon), echoed that description while writing about his own experience with his kitty for the New York Times. “You’re going to spend a lot of time just standing there while they chatter at squirrels… Bring a magazine — and a sense of humor.” He also warned that neighbors will probably have a lot of questions for you, but that it might help you make a few new friends along the way. Plus, you’ll probably notice your cat’s personality change. “With each day, you’ll see your cat come alive in amazing ways, bolting, scaling, leaping and becoming one with the wild world around him.”
Marty Becker, DVM, (also known as “America’s Veterinarian”) recommends testing your cat out with a leash and harness in your home before hitting the sidewalk together. Your furry friend will probably not be huge a fan at first, but it will get used to it. And once it starts associating the leash with going outside and having fun, it should be totally fine with it.
“Introduce your cat to it very slowly, with lots of treats and praise,” he explained on VetStreet. “When you see that your cat is comfortable having the harness around, work up to short periods with it on — again, with treats and praise.” Keeping your walks close to your home is a good idea, or in the safety of your own backyard. The last thing you want is something like a dog startling your kitty so much they leap up a tree — and try to take you with them on the leash.
I’m pretty sure my cat is fine staying inside (and snoozing on the couch), but if your feline shows a bigger interest in the great outdoors but you don’t want to risk letting them run free, you can test them out with a harness and see how things go! It’s all about whatever helps our precious pets stay happy, healthy, and safe.
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