So you want to take your cat on a (leashed) adventure.
It may seem daunting, but with the right amount of preparation and care, learning how to walk your cat doesnt have to be scary. Many cats are constantly chirping at squirrels, dreaming of pouncing on birds through windows, and maybe even making a dash for the door when you enter. If they are interested in going outside, theres a safe way for them to do so: On a leash.
What about an indoor/outdoor cat?
My cat was a stray. She walked up to our door one day, a 6-month-old kitten covered in fleas. She wasnt microchipped, no collar, and didnt belong to anyone in the neighborhood, so we took her in. She enjoyed the indoor life for a few months, but it soon became clear that she was under-stimulated (compared to her wild stray life), constantly tried to escape, and had other behavioral issues. We decided it was worth it to let her be an indoor-outdoor cat. And it worked - for a while. Then came the dead cardinal on our front porch. Then the fights with the other neighborhood cats. Then the fight that lead to the emergency vet. We cut her off from the outdoors and an indoor cat she became, once more. We didn't make this decision lightly - she loved her free time outside, was friends with all our neighbors, and came home every time she was called (more reliably than my dog) - but upon researching, there were a few facts that made the choice easier:
Indoor cats live 18-20 years. Outdoor cats average 2-5 years.
This does not take into account cats that come inside at night, and there are obviously areas that are safer for outdoor cats than others, but overall, cats live longer lives indoors. A cat that spends unsupervised time outdoors is more likely to be hit by a car and be attacked by other animals. The Humane Society urges owners to bring their cats indoors.
Cats disrupt the ecosystem and are a danger to wildlife.
Cats are natural, talented predators, and that takes its toll on the wildlife surrounding them. According to the Wildlife Society and the American Bird Conservancy, outdoor pet cats kill an average of two animals per week and are linked to the extinction of 33 species around the world. Ecologists believe that cats are the leading human-influenced cause of dead birds.
The bottom line...
This is a personal choice. For me, the cons of unsupervised time outdoors outweighed the pros. You may feel differently, but there is no harm in being more informed!
What about the benefits of the Great Outdoors?
Outdoor time for your cat is an enrichment activity. Enrichment activities are crucial for the health of your cat, but vets are confident that your cat can live a fulfilling, enriched life indoors. Here are a few great ways to help your cat live a happy life indoors! But if you, like me, know how much your cat loves being outside and want to give them that experience in a safer way, let me introduce you to leash training your cat.
How to Leash Train Your Cat
What you'll need:
- Cat Harness
- Pet ID Tag
Step One: Getting your cat comfortable with their harness
This will be the trickiest part, but it is also the most important. It is not safe to walk your cat on a collar alone - their necks are not strong enough and they can easily escape. Your cat might fight the harness, but that will most likely occur later on. Their first reaction will be a little sillier. Google cat walking in harness for hilarious videos of cats walking as if they are drunk, refusing to walk at all, or sometimes going stiff and tipping over. All of this is very normal - cats don't immediately love things that constrain them and unlike dogs, they have not been conditioned to harnesses from a young age. You will want to give them time to get used to this new accessory. It could be days - sometimes weeks. Put it on them for small periods of time, slowly increasing, until they are walking normally and comfortably.
Here are two harnesses I use and recommend:
PetSafe Come With Me Kitty Harness and Bungee Leash
This was highly recommended as the most comfortable harness. It's so thin my cat barely notices it's there, and it's the one she uses most often. However, this harness is very easy to escape from. Luckily, she is usually pretty happy just lounging in the grass, but she has pounced out of this harness a few times. This is why it is so important to not only supervise your cats, but also make sure they are microchipped and have a proper collar and pet ID tag. Check out our cat-specific tags, here!
rabbitgoo Cat Harness and Leash
This harness was also highly recommended - for the cats who love to escape. Its a bit bulkier, but its breathable and soft. I dont use this one as much, but the 4.3/5 stars and almost 25,000 reviews dont lie - this one is a keeper.
Step Two: Testing it outside
Once your cat is comfortable in their harness, they are ready to head outdoors! Clip on a leash (both of the harnesses I recommend come with one, but I purchased a 20 ft dog training leash so that she can explore on her own), and carry them outside. Hot tip: Bring them outside in their carrier first, and let them get used to the sounds. This may sound overkill, but cats get overwhelmed easily and this gives them a safe space. Keep them in their carrier for a few minutes then open it to let them explore at their own pace. If a truck revs an engine or someone honks a horn, you will want them to be able to run to their carrier and not escape the harness and hide under your house. Like the harness, this will take time and patience. Eventually your cat will be used to outside noises and you wont need to bring their carrier out.
Step Three: Walking your cat (maybe)
Now that they are comfortable with the harness, can handle outdoor noises, are hooked up to a leash - you can walk them like a dog, right? Nope. Walking a cat is more like walking behind a cat while they slowly explore. Odds are they wont be great at following you. And they might not even love you being that close behind them - they are very independent. But the hard part is over and you achieved your goal: They are enjoying the Great Outdoors and participating in a very mentally and physically enriching activity. Yay! Meow!
On To Bigger Adventures
Say you have one of those cats that immediately loves their leashed life, is extremely confident, and you are ready to take them on more adventures (I love that for you!!) - enter the world of Adventure Cats. Adventure Cats is an incredible resource full of helpful articles. They cover everything from RVing with your cat to rock climbing with your cat (so cool!). Then there are the real-life adventuring cats that we love to follow:
Suki might just be the prettiest cat you follow on Instagram - adventuring or otherwise! Suki and her family are based in Canada, but travel all over the world together! They have taken her everywhere from Italy to Mexico and have the most beautiful photos to prove it.
Henry was insta-famous on his own, but when his little cat-brother Baloo joined the fam? Head-over-heels cuteness. You will be amazed at how they cuddle together and you will be flabbergasted when you see Baloo ride Henry like a horse. They go camping and hiking together all over the states, and you will love watching them adventure.
We love cats and want them to be safe! A collar and cat ID tag give you the peace of mind that if they do escape from their harness, they can be found!