Is It Safe to Walk My Cat?

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger weighs in on the outdoor activity.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: March 6, 2009, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: I have a 5-year-old Bengal cat who I adopted. I would like to take him for walks with me. I bought a harness and a leash for him but he hates it when I put the harness on him. I know it is a bad idea to allow him outside, but I think he needs the sun and the fresh air. What do you think?

A: Walking cats is becoming a popular way of giving cats some outside time while simultaneously having some protection and safety. While walking a cat can be safer then allowing a cat to be outside on his own, it still has many pitfalls you need to be aware of. Though there might be a rare exception, I do not recommend walking cats for a number of reasons:

  • While you have some control of the cat on the leash, you have no control over the environment. Cats can easily become startled and agitated. A barking dog or the sounds from road noises such as sirens and car horns can frighten and stress a cat. An agitated or startled cat can develop anxiety and stress behaviors and can potentially hurt himself or his human companion. One of my friends was peacefully walking a cat in her back yard when unexpectedly the neighbor’s dog barked. The cat reacted by jumping up, biting my friend’s hand, then squirming out of his harness and running away.

  • Other potential problems are dogs and other animals who chase cats. Currently, I have one trauma case where the cat was on a nice walk with her mom. A dog off-leash spotted the cat and lunged for her. My client picked the cat up and held her over her head. The dog jumped up on my client, knocked her down and traumatized the cat.

  • Walking cats can trigger behavior problems. Some cats that are walked become door darters, dashing to the door whenever it is open. Additionally, it is not uncommon to find that cats who enjoy their outings become howlers and criers. They cry at the windows and doors in their attempts to get outside.

Cats can have very full and complete lives living indoors. Providing lots of environmental enrichment, interactive toys and scheduled play times will help keep cats happy and satisfied.

It is true that not all cats adjust to indoor living. For those cats, I recommend large outdoor enclosures, or a yard that has a safe (nonshock) fence system. These fence systems will keep cats safe in their yards, while simultaneously keeping other animals out.

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Reader Comments

Alan    UK, IN

4/10/2010 6:41:01 AM

Our 2 year old cat is from a shelter where he was abandoned with an bad ear infection as a kitten.

This left him with a permanent balance problem, so the shelter trained him to go on a leash.

When we adopted him he'd been at the shelter a year and was well used to walks and putting on a harness.

The shelter told us that if he was allowed out on his own he could easily hurt himself, and that is definitely the case, while he jumps around on furniture OK most of the time, he can occasionally have spectacular falls from even the shortest heights.

We take him for daily walks. He does cry to get out, but only around his walk time. This might be also because he only goes to the bathroom outside he no longer likes to use his litter box.

While we try to give him a bit of freedom, we never go far from the house.

A lot of people see us walking, some look, some choose not to! Some will say "that's a cat" very loudly to whoever they're with. It is very rare however that anyone will approach him, or speak to us about him.

We're based in the UK where I don't think cat walking goes on very much at all. So it's interesting to hear other peoples experiences with walking cats.

Michelle    Agassiz, BC

1/2/2010 12:35:49 AM

My cat came to live with me when he was about a year old - we're not sure of his exact age, & so that's an estimate by the vet. I had made a promise to my sis-in-law that he wouldn't be allowed outside except on a harness. He's the kind of cat who'd go outside freely if I let him, & if I was able to have a proper cat run for him, he'd be free to come & go as he'd like. However, this neighbourhood's just not safe for him to roam freely.

So I got him a harness & started letting him go outside at the end of a long rope. He didn't like it at first, but at least I could get the harness on with minimal struggle. It doesn't go over his head, & he doesn't mind it now. Occasionally he still resists, & then I don't force the issue, even though he wants out so badly. A few moments later & he'll let me put it on.

I've taken him for walks, to the great amusement of other people. He likes it, though, because it allows him to explore & to see areas he wouldn't otherwise get to see. I give him some freedom by letting him choose the course, as long as I keep him from going into yards, & I feel fine because I know I have control over his safety in this matter. So far we haven't encountered any dogs that've startled him, & he's moved away when vehicles approach us.

Dennis    Elmira, NY

9/5/2009 11:33:15 AM

I have two cats that are trained to walk on a leash. They do not try to get out or cry to go out. They are 3 1/2 years old and 1 1/2 years old. They love it outdoors and they are content to be indoors if we don't bring them outside. It is the safest way to have cats under control. If a dog comes up and tries to attack the cat it is easier for the cat to get away and up a tree to your control of the height or you can pick the cat up. in the stroller the dog could get to the cat by attacking it the the mess with no way out.

ruth    Austin, TX

3/18/2009 9:23:57 AM

Tried to do this w/my Bengal when he was younger, but he didn't like the harness/leash. Would like to try it again. But, the pet stroller sounds ideal! Much Safer!!

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