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A Walk on the Wild Side

The benefits of taking your cat for a walk

By: Mieshelle Nagelschneider, The Cat Whisperer™️, and Author of The Cat Whisperer (Random House Publishing)

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Illustration by Ryan Garcia

Walking a cat on a leash? As a cat owner, you’ve probably heard of this phenomenon by now. To some it may seem absurd, but to others, exploring the great outdoors with their leashed feline is a normal part of their daily lives. And it turns out there are some very good reasons to consider it.

Cats usually do quite well living inside our homes and never setting a paw outside, but if you think about it, the cat is not designed to be stuck in “captivity.” Our cats’ wild ancestors lived outdoors for thousands of years, exploring and hunting—but there were also many dangers they encountered that our inside cats will never experience. Letting our domesticated cats run amok throughout the neighbourhood unsupervised can provide extra exercise and enrichment, but because of serious outdoor hazards, I do not recommend it. Instead, I promote keeping cats safely inside to help them live healthier and longer lives. Yet there is still an occasional twinge of guilt that many cat owners feel for not letting their cat outside to experience all that nature has to offer. This is where walking a cat on a leash comes in. It may not be suitable for certain cats, but for many, walking outside on a leash is a great way to provide the enrichment that only outside can provide, while at the same time keeping your cat out of harm’s way.

How to Walk Your Cat on a Leash

#1. Have the right gear
You will need a harness specifically designed for a cat, and a leash. Do not use anything other than a cat harness or your cat can easily maneuver out of it in an instant. {Editor’s Pick: We like Sturdi Products Walking Vest. Sturdiproducts.com}

#2. Start indoors
For safety, help your cat get used to the cat harness and leash inside the home before venturing outside. Under direct supervision, place the cat harness on your cat making sure it fits snugly. Once your cat has become accustomed to wearing the harness, attach the leash and hold onto it while he meanders throughout the home. Give him cat treats, canned food, or his favourite catnip toys to help keep the experience pleasant.

#3. Moving outdoors
Once he’s accustomed to the harness and leash, it’s time to move outdoors.  Make sure you always place the harness and leash on your cat inside the home before moving outside. It’s best to start in an area outside that is the safest and quietest. Ideal is a yard enclosed with a fence and free of noises that can cause your cat to become fearful. Let your cat move at his own pace and decide where to explore.

#4. Keep fear out of the equation
Help your cat feel in control and confident by maneuvering a wand toy for him to play with while outside. Cats cannot feel fear while they are in hunting mode. The more confidently he behaves on his outings, the more confident he will become over time. I always have the leash in my left hand and the wand toy in my right hand.

#5. Adjust expectations
Do not expect your cat to walk on a leash like a dog. This is all about exposing your cat safely to the outdoors to enrich his life; not a lesson in “obedience” training.  Expect your cat to be meandering and exploring while you hang onto the leash instead of him walking perfectly by your side. This is a chance for your cat to experience the birds flying overhead, smell all the new scents, and even roll around in the dirt for the first time! Let your cat dictate the direction and pace.

Many cat owners tell me that their once timid cat is now more confident following the addition of outdoor treks to their routine. They notice their cat’s behaviour is elevated, with the cat showing a new level of thinking and engagement with their environment.  Some of my clients even tell me their own lives have changed for the better by strolling through their neighbourhood for the very first time, and, like their cat, their lives have become enriched too!

Mieshelle Nagelschneider performs phone and video cat behaviour consultations nationally and internationally.
You can contact her at thecatbehaviorclinic.com.

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