Q: I recently bought my indoor cat a harness and a lead and for the last few weeks have been walking her outside. She seems to enjoy it because sometimes she doesn’t want to go back inside. One of my friends is buying a cat harness and a lead because she also likes the idea. Do you think it would be OK to walk our cats together in my yard?
As a kitten, my cat was socialized with many cats from her family. She is now an only cat. My friend’s cat lives with two other cats and is supposed to be friendly toward people.
A: Cat parents are becoming more aware of the dangers of allowing their cats to roam freely outdoors. Some people who find it hard to accept that cats can live happy and fulfilled lives never venturing out of doors compromise by taking their cats for walks. In theory, cat-walking sounds like a fun, effective way for cats to get exercise and safely experience the outdoors. In reality, cat-walking can lead to behavior problems, parasites and to cats becoming startled, slipping out of their harnesses and escaping.
I see an increase of clients who walk their cats. Like your cat, after being walked, their cats are reluctant to go indoors. When their cats are indoors, they often howl and yell at the windows and try to take advantage of every opportunity to dart out of doors. I also have clients who have been badly bitten and scratched by their cats while they’ve walking them. Cats startle easily, becoming frightened at sudden and unexpected sounds such as loud car horns or barking dogs. Frightened cats, when they can’t escape a stressful or threatening situation, sometimes bite or scratch the nearest animal to them. Often that animal is their favorite person, or if there is another nearby cat or dog buddy, the other animal becomes the unwilling recipient of the aggression. One of my clients was walking her cat when a neighbor’s dog barked and scared the cat. The cat jumped up, bit my client through her hand and escaped his walking jacket. Another reason I do not recommend walking cats is that the environment can’t be controlled. The reactions and responses of other animals, such as dogs who are cat-reactive, can’t be predicted or controlled. Also, parasites such as fleas are easily picked up by cats when they are taken for walks outside.
Walking cats together who do not know each other can lead to cat fights and serious owner injuries. Don’t do it. In the best of circumstances, in a stable and familiar, inside environment, introductions between cats can take a month or longer. Cats do not behave like many dogs, who eagerly meet and fraternize with other unknown dogs. Cats do not immediately accept strange cats into their world. Forcing unfamiliar cats who are on leash to be together will most likely end in a serious confrontation. In addition to having no means to escape, the cats are in a novel environment with unforeseen challenges.
Cats can live happy and fulfilled lives indoors, never having the desire to venture outside. Instead of walking your cat, keep her inside and make her environment fun and exciting. Interactive toys, high objects to climb up on and regular play, attention and clicker training will help keep her stimulated and happy.