How to Walk a Cat: The Ultimate Guide
Cat owners: Do you ever see dog people out and about with their pets with them and feel a little bit jealous? There’s an easy solution to that: Learning how to walk a cat!
Cats can be trained to walk on leashes just like dogs do, and many of them really enjoy going with their humans on all kinds of adventures. But the outside world isn’t particularly safe for cats, so there are some precautions you need to take to keep your cat safe on walks. That’s where this guide comes in.
Whether you’re just curious about learning to walk your cat, or you already have dreams of going to the park together on sunny days, this guide will cover everything you need to know: Why you should learn to walk your cat, what types of cats might enjoy going for walks, leash training, and protecting your cat from dangers outside. Read on to learn it all.
Why You Should Learn How to Walk a Cat
If you have a cat that wants to go outdoors, you may be asking, “Why can’t my cat just be an outdoor cat?”
Many cats are allowed to go outside, but that isn’t safe. In fact, the average lifespan of an indoor cat is close to 20 years, while the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is less than five years.
That’s because the outdoors is just really dangerous for an unsupervised cat. They can easily be hit by cars, attacked by predators, poisoned, injured, lost, and so many other terrible fates.
So the #1 benefit to learning how to walk a cat is that it’s a way for your feline friend to enjoy the outdoors safely.
But there are other benefits, too.
Going for walks can be great exercise for your cat (and for you!). And walking together is an excellent opportunity for you and your cat to bond, even more than you already have. And going for walks is mentally stimulating for cats, and might help encourage curiosity and playfulness.
What Type of Cat Might Enjoy a Walk?
Of course, not every cat is cut out for walking on a leash. If you have cats, you already know — many of them are inclined to being shy, especially in new environments, and cats in general aren’t particularly known for listening to and following their humans.
But some cats have traits that might make them naturally inclined for going on walks.
- If you have an adventurous cat who enjoys meeting new people and tries to sneak out doors and windows when your back is turned, that might be a cat that enjoys going for walks.
- If your cat shows signs of being bored or stressed, a walk might help relieve that. Over-grooming, aggression, and destructive tendencies can all indicate that a cat isn’t getting enough mental stimulation, but make sure you take your cat to the vet to rule out any underlying health issues before trying to solve these problems with walks.
- If you live in a very small apartment where it’s hard for your cat to get enough exercise, going for walks can help keep them in shape.
- And if you are transitioning a cat from an outdoor lifestyle to staying inside, going for walks is a safe way for them to keep enjoying the outdoors.
When considering whether your cat might want to go for walks, keep in mind that every cat is different, and you won’t really know until you try.
Learning How to Walk a Cat Starts Indoors
Before you can even take your first adventure outside, there are some steps to learning how to walk a cat that have to happen indoors.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Cat is Protected
Even if you take every possible precaution to protect your cat, he or she will still encounter more potential dangers and hazards outside than they would if they stayed indoors. That’s why the first thing you need to do is take steps to keep your cat safe.
Vaccinate your cat against all infectious diseases, including rabies, feline leukemia, and FIV.
Make sure your cat is microchipped. You should also get an ID tag for your cat’s collar or harness that has your contact information listed. You might have the tag engraved with a message that says something like, “I’m not supposed to be outside, please call my owner,” so strangers won’t see your cat and assume he or she is an outdoor cat.
Step 2: Choose the Right Harness and Leash
When learning how to walk a cat, one of the first things to know is that you absolutely cannot walk a cat with a leash attached to their collar. Cats are excellent at squirming out of things, and that won’t keep your pet secure. You need a good harness.
The right harness should provide two important things: Comfort, and safety.
For comfort, you’ll want to make sure the harness distributes pressure to various points on your cat’s body, and that it doesn’t put pressure on his or her throat, since that could cause choking. For safety, you’ll want a harness your cat can’t slip out of. That means it needs completely adjustable straps around his or her neck, legs, and body, and it won’t have velcro or quick-release snaps that your cat can break free from.
Choosing the right harness might take some trial and error. You will also likely need to try several different types and sizes to get just the right fit for your cat.
As for the leash, choose one that is secure and well-made, and make sure it’s short enough to keep your cat pretty close to you, especially on your first few walks. Retractable leashes aren’t recommended, since a cat can get scared and dash away unexpectedly at just about any time.
Step 3: Get Your Cat Used to the Harness
Before you’re ready to walk your cat, you need to get him or her used to their new harness.
Don’t put the harness straight on your cat. Instead, leave it on the floor (near your cat’s scratcher, a toy, or a favorite bed is ideal), and let the cat sniff it and get used to it. If that goes well, try touching your cat with the harness by stroking them with it or draping it on their back.
Once your cat is comfortable being touched by the harness, then you can put it on — but don’t attach a leash yet. Just put the harness on during the day and allow your cat to get used to moving around in it. Don’t worry if your cat is reluctant to move in the harness at first, but only leave it on for about 10 minutes at a time when you’re first starting out, until your cat is more comfortable walking and behaving normally in their harness.
Step 4: Walk Your Cat Inside
Once your cat is fully comfortable in the harness, it’s time to put on the leash.
Your cat won’t move around your home the same way he or she will in an unfamiliar place outdoors. But this will get them used to the feeling of the leash before going outside.
Once your cat is fully comfortable in a harness with a leash attached, congratulations! You’re ready to venture outside for the first time.
How to Walk a Cat Outdoors
On your first trip to practice walking your cat outdoors, consider your environment very carefully.
You should look for somewhere quiet and relatively private if possible. If you have a yard, that’s ideal. But if you don’t, a park during quiet, less busy hours will work.
If you live in a busy urban area, don’t just walk your cat out your front door onto a sidewalk filled with people and noise. Look for somewhere more peaceful where you can take your cat in a carrier to practice walking.
Keep in mind that cats don’t walk the same way dogs do. They like to stay near walls, especially when exploring an unfamiliar place. If you can walk your cat somewhere with a wall or covered area, that’s ideal — it will likely help them feel more safe.
And when you walk your cat outside, it’s a good idea to bring a “walk bag” with some essential supplies:
- Poop bags;
- Treats for encouraging good walk behavior;
- A water bowl and water;
- A first aid kit for your cat;
- A towel, in case your cat gets scared and you need to grab him or her without being bit or scratched.
As your cat gets more used to walks, you can explore different kinds of places. Just keep in mind that you should always be thinking about how to best keep your cat safe on walks.
How to Protect Your Cat on Walks
When walking your cat outside, you have to be aware that there are certain dangers they might encounter that just don’t exist inside.
Watch Out for Toxic Plants and Flowers
Many plants and flowers are toxic to cats. When walking your cat, it’s important not to let him or her eat, bite, lick, or rub up against any plants you don’t specifically know are cat-safe.
One of the most important plants to watch out for is lillies. These common flowers can be found in many yards and public spaces like parks. And everything about them is dangerous for cats — their leaves, stems, flowers, and even pollen. One quick lick or nibble could send your cat into acute kidney failure.
Here’s the ASPCA’s list of plants that are toxic to cats.
Protect Your Cat from Parasites
The outdoors is home to a lot more parasites that your cat is less likely to encounter at home. From mosquitoes to fleas to worms, it’s important to make sure your pet is protected.
Before you take your cat on any walks, make sure he or she is up to date on flea and tick preventative medication. These can be purchased over-the-counter from a pet store or website, and generally need to be applied around every 30 days.
Additionally, protect your cat from heartworm and intestinal worms with preventative medications. Talk to your vet about these.
Watch Out for Predators
Parasites aren’t the only potentially harmful animals when walking your cat. You also need to be mindful of predators, from dogs to wild animals to even other cats. This is why having a relatively short leash is important — always keep your cat close enough to scoop him or her up and out of danger if needed.
Protect Your Cat from Getting Lost
When you’re out on a walk, there’s always the possibility that your cat will get away from you and run away.