By Barbara Alvarez
You may notice your cat sitting at a window or the door, just gazing around. Occasionally, she may jump up and stretch out — she’s just spotted a bird! Eventually, you may begin to wonder, “Should I let her go outside? Should I walk my cat? Is it safe?” Here’s everything you need to know before you make a decision to walk your cat outside.
How Walking Your Cat Improves Their Health
Getting outside and into a new environment can be good for your cat’s emotional, mental and physical health. Boredom and a lack of stimulation can lead to destructive behavior (i.e. scratching up your couch) and even cat depression and obesity. While many vets argue that letting your cat free roam outdoors can shorten their lifespan dramatically — due to the risk of wildlife attacks, cars and injury — leashing training your cat can be a viable option for safe outdoor exercise.
Cats get to see, smell and experience new things on walks (hey, maybe I can catch that lizard!) Using their brain in different ways helps stay sharp and interested. Their mental and emotional health may benefit, while physically, it gives your cat more chances for exercise.
So, Is it Safe?
Definitely! However, it is a good idea to speak with your vet about getting your cat vaccinated for feline infectious virus (FIV) to protect her. And it’s important to leash train your cat first — cats need to get used to the feeling of the harness around their body. Spend some time with your cat helping him/her get adjusted to the leash and harness, and training him/her to walk while you hold the leash. This may take some time. Some cats just may not like going outside no matter how many new smells there are. And that’s fine!
How to Leash Train Your Cat
You will have to gently guide your cat through a few steps to get him/her used to wearing and walking on a leash. You’ll also need a harness made specifically for cats, one made of cloth or nylon that’s lightweight and doesn’t pull on their neck.
Begin by getting your cat used to just wearing the harness without attaching the leash — you’ll attach the leash later. After you’ve gotten the harness onto your cat, give her a few treats to let her know she did well, then remove the harness. Repeat the process, and slowly increase the amount of time she wears the harness.
Once she’s comfortable wearing her harness, attach the leash. Don’t try to walk her around. Just let her walk around on her own so she can get used to the weight of the leash. Then, remove both the leash and harness. Repeat this process until your cat is able to stay relaxed and walk around freely. Walking around freely with the leash on her harness helps him/her used to the feeling of a little tension.
Next, put the harness and leash onto your cat. Leave the leash on the ground and just follow her. After a few minutes, pick the leash up and try gently leading her in a different direction. To encourage her to walk while you’re holding the leash, hold treats in your fingers or drop them on the floor so she moves to pick them up.
Finally, put the harness and leash on your cat and go outside on a calm day. Encourage her if she hesitates by tossing a treat a small distance to tempt her outside. If she refuses, stop and try again. Always bring treats with you.
Should I Give My Cat a Bath After Walks?
Outdoor cats, even on the leash, may be exposed to more environmental elements and need more regular bathing to prevent itching or irritation. Skout’s Honor Probiotic Shampoo contains avocado oil and topical probiotics that soothe their skin and protect their microbiome (learn more about how to bathe your cat here). Our Probiotic Pet Balm is also great for keeping paws soft and moisturized.