Why should dogs have all the fun?
As a huge cat lover, when I see people walking their cats on a leash, it seems strange and unnatural. But this may just be because I'm so unfamiliar with this concept. If I break it down and think about how much my cats love to sit in the window, bird watch, and chew on grass (and throw it up), why wouldn't they enjoy actually being outside?
"A lot of cats love to go outside and smell things, see things and roll around in sand and grass and dirt. They love to scratch real trees. Those are things they can do on a walk," Woodard said.
If you're considering walking your cat on a leash to experience the great outdoors, here are the benefits:
1. It increases their exercise.
Walking is one of the best kinds of exercise human or animals can do. No matter how diligent you are in playing with your cat or how much they may run around, taking a walk is an even better way to get in physical activity. Bonus: if you're the one taking them on the walk, you'll get some exercise too.
2. It improves their mental health as well.
When a cat is outside and exploring, they're stimulating their brain.
"The cat is thinking more. It's thinking about how to use its body and what things smell like," Woodard said. "The cats are brighter and more engaged."
3. It helps with weight control.
Even a little bit of extra weight can be dangerous for a cat and can increase the risk of medical conditions like diabetes, lower urinary tract infections, and arthritis.
4. It decreases the risk of interacting with stray cats.
When you let your cat outside for unsupervised visits, you run the risk of your cat coming into contact with stray or feral cats, which could potentially lead to disease or other safety concerns.
5. It makes trips to the vet easier.
Cats are always better when they get comfortable with a situation.
6. You get to spend more quality time together.
What could be better than that?
Now, leash training a cat isn't easy and takes a lot of patience. The first step is to get your cat comfortable with the harness by placing it near them or their food.
Woodard suggests letting your cat play with and smell the harness so he gets used to it. Put your cat into the harness and reward your cat generously for letting you put the harness on and keeping it on. Cats can get bored of the same kind of treats, so make sure you have a variety of food and/or toys. If the treats don't work, petting and affection can be a reward for some cats.
Once you successfully get the harness on your cat, only leave it on for five minutes, several times a day. If your cat remains calm and comfortable with the harness on, increase the length of time that they wear it.
When your cat is accustomed to being in the harness, attach the leash and allow your cat to move around the house, dragging the leash behind them while you supervise. Then gently pull on the leash and use the command "come" while rewarding with treats.
Now your cat is ready to go outside. Don't go outside when you're in a rush; you'll want to open the door and let your cat sniff around and choose the direction. The first outdoor space ideally would be enclosed with a fence and not overloaded with stimuli. If you live in a city, think about putting your cat in a carrier and driving somewhere more remote without loud sounds and a ton of people, as this can be overstimulating.
Be careful that you haven't created an escape artist monster, as some cats may become so fascinated by the outdoors that they may try to run out of the house at every chance they get.
Remember: like dogs, cats learn a lot about their surroundings by their sense of smell and while on their walk may make frequent stops to check out various smells.