“When I first started walking Luc-Luc, he wasn’t afraid of dogs or even cars– it was pinecones,” said Lise, a cat parent who has gained a lot of experience walking her tuxedo cat. She noted that, apart from being a very quirky feline, Luc-Luc has some traits that made him eager for walks and able to adapt well to walking on a leash. For one, Luc-Luc has always been able to overcome his fears rather quickly. Even more importantly, Luc-Luc showed a fascination with the outdoors from a very young age and is high energy.
Lise adopted Luc-Luc when he was three months old. In good weather, Lise would open her patio door and leave the screen on. “I saw that Luc-Luc would sit in front of that screen for hours at a time. This is much different from my other cat, who will sit there for a few minutes and then go do other things.”
Cat expert Jackson Galaxy explains that not all feline personalities are cut out for walks. “If your cat is one who typically avoids hanging out anywhere near the front door and doesn’t exhibit any interest in the great outdoors –or who might even be fearful of going outside– don’t bother.”
As Luc-Luc grew older, his interest in toys decreased and he would often linger around the front door. At age two, he started running out the front door whenever it was opened. He would sprint a few feet outside and have to be carried back in. This behavior prompted Lise to consider leash and harness training.
Jackson Galaxy teaches that taking your cat for a walk “provides an extra dose of exercise for your cat– and when they are outside, with all of the Raw Cat senses in high gear, they come home tired in a 360 degree way.” Furthermore, “It’s a great way to change things up, stave off ‘play boredom,’ and just provide an extra complimentary dose of play along with interactive daily sessions.”
However, easing a cat into walks is a process that takes time. The first steps of leash training actually take place indoors. Claws’ N’ Paws Animal Hospital suggests putting the harness on your cat for short periods at the beginning. “Once she seems to have accepted it, you can start attaching a leash and letting her drag it around.” However, you need to keep a close eye on your cat at first because they “will probably want to play with the leash, and could easily get tangled up in it.” Once your cat is comfortable with both harness and leash, the veterinarians at Claws’ N’ Paws Animal Hospital suggest doing a “trial walk” in which you stay close to home and watch your cat’s reaction to the new environment.
“At first our ‘walks’ were just Luc-Luc spending 15 minutes sitting or pacing around just ten feet outside the front door,” said Lise, “He would head to the door when he was ready to go back inside.” Within a few months, their daily walks involved Luc-Luc heading around the outside of two of the buildings in the apartment complex for twenty to thirty minutes, with many pauses to sniff the ground, stare at birds, rub against sticks, or simply sit. As Jackson Galaxy advises, pet parents need to understand that “walking a cat is very different from walking a dog, in that, essentially, your cat will walk you.”
Every cat is prone to being startled on a walk and the cause of their alarm could be any number of sights, sounds, or smells. Also, it’s not always clear to their human what has scared them. When Luc-Luc was still getting used to walks, he spent a couple months avoiding pinecones. He then went through a phase of observing the pinecones while sitting at a distance. Around a month later, he started “investigating” them up close, and from there he started to bat at them. Lise said that’s when “he learned that they are, in fact, objects that will not attack him.”
It’s important that cat parents let the cat lead the walk and only redirect the cat if it is time to go home, they are headed into an off-limits area (such as private property), or headed toward an unsafe area (such as the rocky shoreline of a pond). Claws’ N’ Paws Animal Hospital urges “Always put safety first. Avoid areas with heavy traffic, and keep an eye out for dogs. Also, make sure the harness is attached well, and that you have a good grip on the leash.” Cat parents also need to make sure their kitty doesn’t eat harmful plants or enter grass that has been sprayed with chemicals that are unsafe for pets.
When a cat starts walking or running toward home, their choice needs to be respected. If a cat does not want to walk in a particular area, they shouldn’t be forced to. After all, the walk is for both cat parent and cat to enjoy! After a little over a year of going on walks, Luc-Luc has established three general ‘routes’ he will typically choose from and his human follows his steps. In Luc-Luc’s case, “Trees and bushes are big landmarks for him. Sometimes he’ll stop at a bush he’d normally walk past, as if to say ‘oh, this bush I haven’t sniffed in a while!’”
Quote to remember: "A cat will do what it wants when it wants, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.” - Frank Perkins