I visited my mom last month in Barcelona and while walking my Cat Mia in a park someone yelled at us
“Cómprate un perro!” (Which in Spanish means: "Get a Dog")
That question got stuck in my head… should we walk our cats? I had the question coming back to me.
I did a few google searches and animal welfare charities and veterinarians are advising against it and this is what I found:
Walking outdoors exposes cats to unfamiliar experiences that may be threatening or stressful for our cats. On the flip side, cats are the happiest when outdoors and you can see them thrive when they can stalk, chase and pounce outdoors. Walking a cat outdoors is a good idea but you need to be aware of the risks it entails.
I realized I had to make a list of the pros and cons. If CONS is bigger than PROS, I’ll never walk my cat Mia again:
Is Walking a Cat Good or Bad?
PRO #1 - Cats are meant to be outdoors
If cats nature had designed cats to stay indoors, it would’ve equipped them with sandals, not murder mittens.
Cats are fully awake and alive when outdoors, a little like the fulfillment sensation we get from being outdoors and doing the things we like. When cats are walking on a leash you can see all their instincts turned on.
Offering our cats mentally and physically stimulating activities is part of being a cat guardian and walking them can be a part of it.
This is the #1 reason I walk my cat, Mia.
PRO #2 - It’s great for bonding
By being outdoors in situations that are stimulating, your cat creates a positive association between you and the outdoors.
When uncertainty or stress happens, because a dog, some people, or just a noise break into the scene in a place where you are the main source of comfort, will create in your cat an increased trust in you.
Developing the trust and bond with my cat at a greater level is invaluable for me, and going outdoors with your cat will enable that.
PRO #3 - It’s a way to release energy
(Cats have a ton of energy. Sometimes we play with them and it feels like there’s no way we can drain all of our cats energy.
Walking our cats on a leash is a great way to help them unwind and stalk, chase and pounce around.
Some of the coziest evenings I’ve had with Mia happen after long hikes when Mia is tired and seeks a safe place to get a good deep rest.
This is for me a great reason to go outdoors but if you don’t have easy outdoor access, we can achieve the same through playtime.
PRO #4 - It’s healthy
A whopping 59.5% of cats in the US are overweight or obese. Obese cats are at a greater risk for many diseases like diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, urinary problems, lameness, pancreatitis and GI diseases of all types, and skin problems such as dandruff.
Fat cats also experience a decreased quality of life and even an increased possibility of cancer.
Letting your cat explore the outdoors it’s a healthy and fun way to keep them at their ideal weight.
CONS #1 - You are exposing your cat to potential stress
For cats that are not used to road noises, dogs barking or the smells of the outside world being exposed to it without any acclimatization can quickly become overwhelming. Start small and expand his territory as he feels comfortable. Stretch a new explorer into new experiences gently.
Don’t force them to do more than he wants to tackle on any given day. There are many mistakes people make when walking their cats on leashes. This video below will tell help you prevent overwhelming your cat and make leash walking your cat a fun experience for both you and your cat:
I want to imagine that we all do this for our cats and we are going to listen to what they have to say but for the sake of this exercise, I consider it a cons.
CONS #2 - You are exposing your cat to potential threats
Yes, I AGREE. there are risks when going outdoors and there’s nothing safer than staying at home. But… is a life locked down a life worth living? We’ve experienced this ourselves during the pandemic.
However, dogs of leash and other predators can also pose big threats to our cats. Cats are preyed upon by larger animals like off-leash dogs, coyotes, even birds such as hawks and owls.
There are also flea and ticks outside that can pose a risk to both your cat and your family. I remember vividly removing ticks from myself and my friends after a beach walk this past summer.
Each of us had dozens of ticks yet we found none on either of our cats.
It’s good to use a good flea and tick prevention. I use revolution, which I’ve been recommended many times and… YES! It works. This product can’t be found on amazon, you’ll have to speak with your veterinarian.
CONS #3 - Cats can become door darters and howlers
Many cats go into on-demand mode after they start going on walks.
They will vocalize and howl, broadcasting their expectations as loud as possible. Sometimes they run from window to window. Others keep an eye out for open doors and windows aware of every opportunity to make a mad dash for the great outdoors.
This is just proof of how enriching can outdoors be for our cats, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying or dangerous.
To prevent our cats from howling and darting, routine and positive reinforcement are your best friends.
Try to take your cat outside consistently, you pick it, once a month, once a week, on a daily basis… but stick to it. Also, put the harness far from the door and create a routine where your cat has to sit and wait for you to let them out when on a leash. This will prevent them from darting a soon as the door opens.
CONS #4 - You can lose your cat
Losing my cat Mia when on a hike is the scariest thing in the world. She would have no way to come back home and I could not stay there forever trying to find her as I have responsibilities in the city.
After walking with her in all kind of environments, I know now that I can safely walk with her without her escaping but it’s still a lingering risk.
Make sure you find a good harness that’s in line with your cat’s level of confidence outdoors. Start with very safe harnesses that are easy to put on and off and continue with harnesses that are comfortable for your cat and give them freedom:
- Escape Proof: Some harnesses are safer than others, look for a harness that your cat can't squeeze out from.
- Easy to Put on and Off: Particularly cats that are new at walking on a leash might be turned off by the harness. Making the process easy it's a great way to reducing the stress that comes with it.
- Comfortable: As your cat gains confidence outdoors, you want to make sure that your cat can move as freely as possible.
I made a post comparing all the best cat harnesses from Amazon to help cat parents that want to start walking their cats decide which harness buy at each stage. In the below video you can see the differences between them:
CONS #5 - You can’t walk a cat like you walk a dog
Cats will often be slower and may stop to sniff and explore. It means you may not get very far or cover much ground.
We are not doing it for us, we are doing it for them. So take it easy and help them enjoy the experience. If you want to go far, it’s best to get a backpack or help your cat to ride on your shoulder. You can find the options that we like most in the description down below.
If you are equipped with a backpack, some treats and some patience, there’s nothing to worry about.
The thing is that while cats do like to explore, they do so in a very different way from dogs. Not all cats have outdoors disposition and it should be decided on a cat-by-cat basis. No one knows your cat better than you but there’s only one way to know for sure and I’ve found that if you don’t know for sure, you might be exposing your cat to unnecessary stress. Watch this video to understand if your cat is adventure ready!
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, See you Outdoors!