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The Outdoor Cat

Safe Alternatives to an Indoors-Only Lifestyle for Cats

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cat wearing walking jacket and leash

Your cat may just lie down, until he becomes accustomed to the harness and leash. This is fine.

Franny Syufy

Cat lovers who want their cats to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and the ambiance of trees, bushes, and plants, often feel guilt by confining their cats to the indoors. This was the mindset in my generation: that cats are free and independent creatures, and should not be confined. That they cannot be healthy, happy, and active, if not allowed to experience all the glories of the outdoors.

Today, we understand the hazards of allowing cats to roam freely, either by personal experience, hearsay, or through the media, including the Internet. Here are just a few of the outdoors dangers, although not an exhaustive list.

  • The risk of contracting killer diseases, including FIV, FeLV, and FIP
  • .
  • Injury and/or death from attacks by dogs, other cats, or predators
  • Injury or death from vehicles
  • "Cat-napping" for profit, or personal gain
  • Trapping and disposal by cat-hating neighbors
  • Torture and/or killing by psychopaths
  • Confiscation by animal control authorities

On the other hand, there are some safe compromises to offer your indoor cat the best of both worlds, without the potential hazards of free roaming outdoors.

Carrying Your Cat

Gary Loewenthal, former Host for the About Cats forum used to carry his cat, Mike around their back yard, allowing him to sniff and explore at will. Mike's nose led Gary on their walk, and each outdoor expedition was a bit different than the last. These explorations are best kept to a very short time - 10 or 15 minutes - as most cats will become too eager to jump down and explore on their own. I'd suggest starting with just a minute or two for a timid cat who has never had an outdoor experience. However,carrying your cat is a great way to accustom him to the initially scary world of the outdoors, and a good preface to the next step:

Leash Training

Any cat can be trained to a harness and leash, using a gradual method of training. Many cats will initially feel confined by the additional weight of the harness, and their first attempts at walking on a leash will appear to be more of the "slinking" or "belly-crawling" variety. However, given time and patience on the part of the trainer, most cats will enjoy leash walking. Basic training instructions can be found in my lesson, "How to Train Your Cat to Walk With a Leash."

Your cat may prefer to just "lie around" outdoors on his leash, as does our Jaspurr (pictured above), who is a beginner in "leash ettiquete." Although Jaspurr is at the "belly-walking" stage, he eventually will progress to walking with us. It's all a matter of time and patience.

Please note that tying a cat outside on a leash is not a substitute for personal interaction and supervision. Cats should never be left alone outdoors on a leash or a rope extension. There is too much danger of their becoming tangled up, with the possibility of choking.

I recommend a sturdy harness or walking jacket, as opposed to a collar. Collars can be slipped too easily, which will most likely happen at times of danger, as when meeting a strange dog or cat on the street. Also try to buy as lightweight a leash as possible, consistent with safety. The additional "drag" of a bulky leash will slow your cat's walking progress.

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