Friday, June 20, 2008

Horseless Friday: Outward Bound Cats

I'm going to start doing a horseless post every Friday. We'll have to see how long I can keep up! Some topics might be cooking, other pets, humor and hobbies. This Friday's topic is enjoying the outdoors with your cat.

Do you enjoy the outdoors? Your cat probably does too! There are a lot of health and safety reasons for keeping your cat confined indoors. (Click here to read a few.) My family has always kept our cats indoors. But my husband came from a no-cats-in-the-house family. However, when we married we both agreed to keep them indoor-only, and outdoors only under supervision. For some folks, this debate is a sure-fire way to start an argument, but we've fortunately "married" our differences. We sit on the floor and play with our cats every day; remember to have a friend you must first be a friend. And we provide toys (ping-pong balls are cheap thrills) and a screened porch for our two cats to enjoy. They enjoy the outdoors, but only under our supervision. Most people would never think of leaving their dog for long periods unattended outdoors, particularly toy dogs. As I once told my vet (and she heartily agreed), "Cats are not second-class pets!". Cats can be an integral part of family life, and can even be trained. (Yes, my cat does tricks for cat-nip. It's ok, you can laugh.) Which brings me to the topic of walking your cat on a leash, and other safe outdoor adventures. If Fido can enjoy life on the leash, so can Fluffy!

Here are some ideas for you and your cat:

Leash walking

Walking my cat on a leash has been a cooperative adventure. Some times I pick the direction, other times she does. But we always enjoy ourselves. She often finds interesting plants and insects that I would have walked right over. We use an "H" style harness. These are much more escape-proof than a "Figure-8" style or a collar and leash alone.

When you first put your cat on a leash, she will probably do one of four things:
* Lie down and refuse to move
* Wiggle backwards and attempt to escape
* Flip-around like a fish on a line
* Be just fine

In my experience, cats who have lived indoors think "the sky is falling!" when they first go out. If she has any trouble, try having her wear just the harness part, without the leash, around the house while you supervise. Supper time is a great time to introduce the harness as a good thing. Play time in the harness or cat-nip can also help. Our cats haven't had any trouble after a few sessions. When you start going outdoors together, only stay out for a few minutes at a time, and only go as far from the house as Fluffy is comfortable with. Slowly introduce her to meeting strange humans and to road noise. Also, we don't walk even our seasoned cats in the road on a leash. The traffic could be dangerous if they get startled. For that we use a carrier.

There are a number of pet chest-carrier-packs made for small dogs, which work great for cats too. There are also completely enclosed strollers for small dogs or cats. I bet strollers would be perfect for city-dwelling kitties with access to nice sidewalks. My country kitties ride in the carriers I mentioned first. Again it's easiest to introduce this idea indoors, for short periods, before going on excursions. My cat, Baby, learned to ride in her pack, we call it her "Land Rover", at 10 years old, so no kitty is too old to learn new tricks. We carry her if we'll be walking near traffic, or if we are going on a long hike. Just smile while the neighbors stare and scratch their heads. We took her on our Humane Society's charity walk last year and she turned a few heads.


If you have an enclosed porch or sun-room at home, your cat probably already really enjoys it. Cats can get over or out of almost anything, so a complete enclosure (roof and all) is safest, especially if you aren't going to have your eye on Fluffy every minute. There are also a line of "KittyWalk" products on the market. They work like snap-together, cat-sized, hamster tunnels. I haven't tried them since we already have a screened-porch, but they look fun. Or Do-it-yourself - I've also seen houses with homemade kitty kennels, just like smaller versions of doggy ones. Or if you'd rather keep things simple, look for a "cat window seat (or perch)". These hook on to your window sill.

So don't be afraid to try some thing new with your cat, as long as you can handle a few funny looks from the neighbors. You may find you and Fluffy will become better friends! I won't say best friends, because cats VS dogs is one debate I know enough to stay out of!

Further resources:
* Don't forget to have Fluffy wear identification, in case you are separated. Ask your vet about microchips and for any other tips.
* has a good essay here on safe outdoor alternatives. The email list is a really good resource for cat owners. You can sign up here.
* You can order the Pet-A-Roo pouch from PETCO here. This is the one we use, but there are other similar products.
* We use this Lupine "H" style harness. It's been very secure and sturdy. They are very attractive too. Baby wears "Cherry Blossom".
* Check out KittyWalk Systems here

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