If you have a confident cat, he may be the ideal candidate to join you for a daily walk. “Certainly, not all cats are suited to take on walks,” says Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., emeritus James Law Professor of Animal Behavior at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “You need a bold and curious type of cat — the type who looks around in drawers, looks out the window and is not content to sit and purr. This is the type who will truly enjoy a leashed walk.”
Regular walks can help you both maintain a healthy weight. Your indoor cat will benefit by having the opportunity to explore a varied environment and more: “We don’t know why for certain, but the incidence of interstitial cystitis is much lower in indoor/outdoor cats than in indoor cats,” Dr. Houpt says.
To achieve a successful outing, she shares these tips:
– Ensure your cat is healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations to reduce the risk of his contracting a contagious disease.
– Select a harness and leash designed for cats. Cats have flexible spines and can wiggle out of dog harnesses. Dr. Houpt likes the Premier Pet Come With Me Kitty Harness & Bungee Leash because it’s adjustable, secure and easy to put on. She recommends using a bungee-style leash rather than a nylon or leather leash because it offers more give — cats do not like being suddenly yanked. You don’t want to attach a leash to a collar because a sharp pull could injure your cat’s trachea.
– Be patient. Introduce your cat to the harness and leash indoors. It may take a few hours or a few weeks for him to become accustomed to it. Start by placing the harness and leash around his food bowl or near his scratching post. Then put the harness and leash on your cat and let him walk around the house. Praise him and give him his favorite treat. If he seems to accept the gear, then test him in a secure outdoor location, such as a fenced backyard, before taking him out on the sidewalk.
– Accept the catwalk style. You can’t expect a cat eager to explore to trot alongside you like a dog. Cats like to meander, stop and start, and walk in various directions, depending on the sight (a bug on the sidewalk) or sound (a robin singing in a nest) that draws their attention.
– Stick to a schedule. Cats crave routines and will look forward to your daily walks. In general, 10 to 15 minutes can provide enough physical exercise. If possible, time the walk when you know neighborhood dogs aren’t on their walks.
– Pay attention to your surroundings. Always look ahead and around to avoid spraying sprinklers, lawns sprayed with chemicals, leashed or loose dogs and other potential hazards.
“If a dog off leash comes heading your way, try to shoo the dog away and stand between the dog and your cat,” Dr. Houpt says. “Dogs like to look at their prey, so this maneuver blocks his view. And, if you can, pick your cat up at arm’s length so you won’t get scratched.”
If off-leash dogs roam your neighborhood, consider taking along a canister of compressed air or citronella spray to repel one who might advance on the attack.
Despite your best efforts, if your cat doesn’t enjoy walking on a leash, perhaps he would like riding in a screened baby stroller. Or perhaps you could install an outdoor enclosure so he can explore beyond his window ledge free from risk.
“Walks — or safe access to the outdoors — give indoor cats the opportunities to see and smell different things,” Dr. Houpt says. “That can go a long way in preventing behavior issues due to an indoor cat being bored with nothing to do but eat and nap.”