Cats are my favorite beings on this planet, and all I want is for every kitty ever to be happy and healthy and live out all nine of their lives in pure bliss, as they deserve. Is that too much to ask? If your response to that question is "NO, SAME," then cool — we're on the same page. So let's talk about one of the cutest and most exciting ways to enrich a feline's life, which is taking cats on walks. If you've ever seen a cat out n' about on a leash IRL, then you know the joy this sight brings everyone who spots it. We're so used to seeing cats either playing around indoors or darting about outside solo that it's a total spectacle to see one on a leash with their guardian, like a lil' pup.
But walking your cat on a leash isn't just a totally adorable sight to behold — it's also a really fabulous way to get kitties some exercise, enrich their lives with some excitement, and allow them to explore the great outdoors in a way that's safe. Because while many people mistakenly think it's OK to let their cats go outdoors unsupervised, coming and going as they please, almost all humane societies and animal organizations advocate for keeping your kitty indoors at all times. Cats may have wild instincts, but they are fully domestic animals, just like dogs — and you wouldn't let your dog run wild in your neighborhood, would you? Outdoor cats are at a much higher risk for illnesses, injuries, and even death, so having outdoor cats is basically playing roulette with their lives.
Obviously, though, kitties gotta have exercise, too, and a lot of cats seem super eager to get some outdoor time (any fellow cat guardians who have become experts in blocking their front door each time anyone enters or exits their home knows what I'm talking about). That said, outdoor time on a leash is definitely the safest and most adorable option. "Walking a cat on a leash strikes a good balance between having an indoor cat that lives to old age but in an unstimulating environment and an outdoor cat that can kill birds or get killed itself," explained the New York Times.
If you think you're ready to take your ~crazy cat person~ energy to the next level and start leash training your cat, here's everything kitty owners should know about taking their feline babies on walks.
It's Much Safer Than Letting Them Roam Outdoors
There's a big misconception floating around that cats are outdoor animals and that it's OK to let them roam, but that's not actually the best choice when it comes to their well-being. As mentioned, most experts advise cats stay indoor only — unless they're safely taken out on a leash or in an enclosed, cat-proofed environment. Outdoor cats are at a much higher risk of contracting an illness, getting in a fight with another cat or other animal, or being injured in some other way (like by a car, getting stuck somewhere, or even by a cruel person — which there are unfortunately many cases of). Cats are also natural hunters, so they can wreak total havoc on local populations of birds and other wildlife if left to their own devices outside. Say no to letting kitty run wild, and yes to cat walks! It'll give you more time to bond with your fur baby too, which is always a good thing.
Get Your Kitty The Right Gear
Before you take your cat on a walk, you'll want to be sure you get him or her the proper gear that ensures both safety and comfort. Avoid leashes that only attach to a neck collar, as they can pull and be uncomfortable. Most experts recommend a vest-like harness that has chest coverage instead, as they're more secure and a lot comfier for your fur baby. Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy (who also hosts the epic show My Cat From Hell) reportedly recommends either Kitty Holster Cat Harness or WalkingJacket For Cats.
There's A Learning Curve & Training Period
Cats are independent creatures, so don't expect them to immediately take to the walks — most cats have a major adjustment period when it comes to leash training (it's called training for a reason!). Start by simply putting their harness on them for a few minutes a day, along with treats and lots of positive affirmation (think lots of petting, a nice warm tone of voice, etc.). If they seem uncomfortable or freaked out, don't force it — just a few minutes a day and extending it from there should do the trick. Once they're comfortable walking around inside your home with the harness on, you can try hitting the great outdoors. Remember to watch kitty's body language for any signs of fear or discomfort, and bring them back indoors if they seem distressed.
You'll Want To Try Different Locations
The commotion of a busy street may not offer kitties the fun, outdoorsy experience they deserve on their walk — car traffic, skateboards and bicycles, dogs, or other potentially loud or stressful factors can be super scary, especially to a kitty who is used to the chillness of your home. Gauge your cat's comfort level based on their reactions to their surroundings, and switch up the scene if needed. If your block is too wild, try hitting a nice quiet park, or just take a simple stroll with some supervised playtime in your own yard. If that's all your cat can handle, that's OK!
Let Your Kitty Lead
Walking a cat isn't going to be exactly the same as walking a dog — they are, after all, a different species! So expect cat walks to be a learning experience for you, too. Cats tend to want to spend more time staring at or watching things quietly (they're natural born hunters, remember?) and are more easily distracted that dogs are, so patience is going to be key. But, just like with dogs, you never want to yank on a cat's leash and should always let them lead the way — unless, of course, they're heading toward a potentially dangerous area, in which case you should simply hold the leash tightly until they head back in your direction.
It's Good Exercise
The one positive thing about outdoor kitty life is that cats get lots of exercise being able to run around and explore — and indoor dwelling doesn't always offer the same level of action. That said, it's not worth the risk to your cat or wildlife to let them out unsupervised, so walks can be an amazing way to allow your kitty to unload some feline energy and get in some healthy exercise. Some cat owners report their kitties being calmer at home after they get their walks in, so it's a win win.
Keep A Close Eye On Your Kitty, Even While Leashed
The outside world is very curious indeed, but make sure your kitty isn't trying to lick or eat something that could be harmful, and keep them from climbing up trees, as it can be dangerous and they could get stuck or tangled by their leash. Also, make sure you keep an eye out for other animals that could hurt (or even just freak out) your cat, like dogs, even leashed ones. Lastly, you'll want to watch for smaller animals like birds, as obviously they're in danger if your cat gets ahold of them. Keep those eyes peeled!
Remember: Walks Aren't For Every Cat
At the end of the day, you know your cat best. If your kitty is jumpy and scared, leash training may be harder to accomplish or require a much longer training period. Some cats simply aren't interested in walks at all, and that's OK, too. Don't try to fit a square into a circle, and put some extra effort into indoor playtime and exercise if your cat doesn't take to outdoor walking the way you'd planned.