So you’re ready to start walking your cat…


Me and Jasper, circa 2005.

Me and Jasper, circa 2005.

Today, I published an op-ed in the New York Times about the need to let our cats outdoors. Cats “have not evolved to slumber in living our living rooms,” I write. “Today’s indoor cat is a tiger robbed of his dominion, a Lamborghini left idling in the garage.” (Here’s me on Cheddar TV talking more about it.)

Yet taking your cat outdoors is a risk for your cat and for wildlife as well. My compromise: Let’s walk our cats like we walk our dogs. Not on leashes, necessarily, (though I’ve certainly done that), but in a responsible way that protects both them and the world around them. As I write, “We don’t let our dogs wander unsupervised or destroy whatever they want. We should exercise the same responsibility with our cats.”

If you’re ready to give it a try, here’s what you’ll need:

A collar/harness: When you bring a cat outside, there’s always the small chance he’s going to get lost. Your cat should at least have a microchip and a collar or harness that contains a name tag and phone number. We’ve been using harnesses with Jasper and Jezebel for the entire thirteen years we’ve been walking them, because we used to walk them on leashes, and it’s much easier to control a cat with a leash attached to a harness than to a collar. A harness also allows you to add other accoutrements like a tracker and a light (more on those below). They sell walking harnesses for cats, though we still use harnesses made for small dogs. We use this type of Lupine harness for Jasper and Jezebel.

A leash: Chances are you won’t be walking your cat on a leash. Cats don’t walk like dogs, and if yours decides to dive into a bush or slink under a car, you’re going to end up twisting yourself into a pretzel to unhook him. Still, I try to have a leash on hand–we use an older version of this Flexi model–in case I want to bring one of our cats home without picking them up, or if I’m trying to find a safe way to extricate one of them from a catfight. For some reason, Jasper goes on autopilot as soon as I connect his leash, and almost immediately starts making his way home. (Jezebel needs a bit more convincing.) If your cat is uncooperative with the leash, don’t drag him. I find that a few soft yanks typically gets them going in the right direction.

A tracker: If your cat isn’t on a leash, there’s a decent possibility that he’s going to disappear into a bush or a neighbor’s yard without you noticing. We keep tabs on our vanished cats with the Loc8tor Pet Tracker (newer models are available). It’s relatively small, fits into a holder that you can attach to the harness, and has a range of about 400 feet. There are other, more expensive options available–some that even let you track your cat with your phone–but the ones I’ve seen so far are too bulky for my taste. If you’ve found one that you like, please let me know in the comments.

A light: In the days before we used a tracker, we used to attach a small light to our cats’ harnesses. This helped us keep an eye on them at night, while making them visible to cars, etc. If you live near a busy street and regularly walk your cat in the dark, I’d recommend it. This Nite Ize one is pretty small and clips easily onto a harness.

Treats: I keep a bag of our cats’ favorite treats (in our case, freeze-dried chicken) on hand. It’s a great way to get them to come home if they don’t want to, and it’s a nice present to thank them for a good walk. It’s also a good consolation prize if I stop one of our cats from attacking a bird or small mammal.

Vaccines and flea medication: If your cat is going to spend even a minute outside, you should make sure they are fully vaccinated. There’s no way to completely prevent your feline from interacting with other cats or encountering pathogens in the great wide world. I also make sure our cats use flea medicine during the spring and summer months.

A good book or magazine: Though you should always be keeping one eye on your cat, walking him is unlikely to be the thrill of a lifetime. I always try to bring something to read, though I try to avoid using my phone (except for phone calls), as I find it too distracting.

There you have it. If you have other advice, please share it in the comments. Have fun, and good luck!

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