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Walking Your Cat - Yes, It Can Be Done!

Most of us don’t think of walking our cat, and our cats rarely sit at the door begging to go out.  In fact, most cats will resist mightily your attempts to share the outside world with them.  But you can keep cat happier and healthier with regular outside excursions.  Getting to the point where you and your cat can enjoy the outside together is a bit more complex than clicking the leash on your dog and opening the door.   Here are some tips to sharing the outside world with your cat.

  1. Plan Ahead – Cats do not like leashes and harnesses. They are masters of escape and many will challenge the notion of an escape proof harness.  Choose a harness made specifically for cats and that is adjustable so that it is both comfortable and safe.  Make sure the harness is easy to put on and take off since cats are rarely patient during this process.
  2. Develop a training plan – Wearing a harness is a new experience for your cat. They are likely to protest wearing it – a sudden fall over to the floor, yowling, hiding, and fighting it are common reactions.  Put the harness out where she can play with it, drag it on the floor and let her pounce on it.  Put it on for around the house wear.  When she’s comfortable wearing the harness around the house add the leash to it and let her pull it behind her.  Be sure to provide rewards for each positive outcome.
  3. Choose a quiet spot for your first walk - Cats are highly sensitive to their surroundings and if they are outdoors in a noisy active environment they are apt to cower, retreat and demand a return to the safety and quiet of indoors.  So, make sure that the location is quiet and free of threats. Let her explore this new world with security.  If you live in an urban area you can use a pet stroller to transport your cat to the park or other safe walking space.
  4. Cats map their world very carefully – While your dog is happy to explore wide areas, cats are conservative and explore on their own terms. They may stand and stare at a leaf for 20 minutes or walk sweetly or both.  Accept that your cat is exploring the world on her terms.  Over time you’ll find that cats develop routes they follow as they map the outside area just as they do the inside. 
  5. Set a Schedule – Cats are creatures of routine and unless you set a specific time for walks you’re liable to find relentless requests. Once they know “walk time” it will be easier for both of you.  Once she is using to going outdoors the call of the wild may be such that you have to be careful of open doors and windows. 
  6. Use a tag and collar – Despite the “escape proof” harness cats are masters of escape and the appearance of a chipmunk or mouse may cause sudden moves that leave you holding an empty harness. Consider having a microchip implanted. 
  7. Outdoor Health – Once you take your cat outside they are exposed to fleas, ticks, other cats to mention just a few. Be sure her vaccinations are up to date.  Take flea and tick precautions and check for ticks after walks.  It’s tempting to put the leash down at calm moments only to find their cat 25 feet up a tree after a sudden sprint. 
  8. Outdoor dining is generally bad for cats – Many cats eat grass for reasons only they know but in most instances, it causes them to vomit.  There are many flowers and other plants which are poisonous to cats and cat curiosity about tasting has caused serious injury and death.  
  9. Know when its time to go home – Your cat is incredibly sensitive to their environment, and you should be aware of their body language. Ears back, tail down will tell you they feel threatened. Prevent panic by your cat and conclude your excursion.  Your cat is by birth and breeding a hunter and you are likely to observe stalking behavior which will spell trouble for an unsuspecting mouse or other small creature.  This is a good time to redirect your cat to other than hunting focus.

For all its challenges, giving your cat the chance to live the outdoor life, even in small amounts, will make them happier and healthier. 

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