Among other things, January is Walk Your Pet Month! It’s great advice all-year-round, of course, giving both you and your pet a chance for some fresh air, exercise, and having a fun time together. However, most of the times we think about taking a pet for a walk, our thoughts immediately jump to the family dog. But what if you have a cat? Especially if your cat is primarily (or entirely) an indoor cat? Sure, cats can get plenty of exercise indoors, especially if they have a cat castle/jungle gym, other cats to romp with, or you take the time to get out some of their favorite toys most days. Did you know, though, that cats can be walked just as well as dogs? Most people don’t even consider this, but if you’d like to switch up your feline family member’s routine, consider breaking out the collar and leash and helping them explore the great outdoors.
Here are a few safety concerns and things to keep in mind if you decide to give this a try. First of all, you should wait to start cat-walking until after your cat is fully vaccinated. This reduces the risk of your cat becoming ill after being exposed to other animals or environmental hazards. However, you don’t want to wait too long, especially if you have a younger cat, because it might develop a fear of the outdoors or unfamiliar stimuli, making walking more difficult at first. Also, do some preemptive training so your cat is more responsive to you–either coming to you when you call its name or responding to you offering a treat.
Cat walking harnesses are also going to be a bit different from collars or harnesses you would use on a dog. Cats are more flexible than dogs, and so can wriggle out of more traditional collars much more easily. Many pet stores these days have harnesses designed specifically for cats, and allow them to remain secure and not get loose, while still being able to roam more freely and explore on the end of a leash.
Take it slow when you first get your cat used to wearing a harness. Don’t strap it on and immediately head outdoors. Let them wear the harness around indoors for a few days. You may even just leave the harness lying around so the cat gets used to its look and smell before putting it on them. Provide praise and treats as they become more comfortable with a harness, so they quickly learn it’s not anything to be afraid of.
Lastly, when you do transition outdoors, be sure your cat has an up-to-date ID on their collar, and it’s always a wise idea to get them chipped just in case they do get loose.
At that point, it’s mostly a matter of easing them into longer and longer walks. Spend a day where you’re outside in the yard for just a few minutes at a time, and then begin to extend the period each time you go outdoors. For many cats, they’ll learn to enjoy being outside, and you can remain assured that they aren’t getting into fights with other cats or otherwise exposing themselves to dangerous circumstances at the same time!
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