Monday, January 2, 2017

January is Walk Your Pet Month!

January is Walk Your Pet Month!

Do you walk your cat? Many people don't think that a cat will walk on a leash, but that's a misconception. Not all cats will, but with the proper training cats will take to walking on a leash just as well as dogs do.

That said, cats do take some working with in order to get them accustomed to walking on a leash. These tips will make it easier for you to take your cat safely for a walk.

Acclimating Your Cat to a Harness

You can't attach a cat's leash to a collar, it must be hooked onto a harness. Cats are too adept at wriggling out of a collar, and you should never fasten a collar on a cat tightly enough to make escape impossible. This means getting your cat accustomed to wearing a harness.

Most cats will handle wearing a harness, but it must fit them properly first. The best harnesses for cats are like the one shown above: they fit tightly, like a sleeveless jacket. These are more comfortable for the cat, since they don't impede the movement of the front legs. They also make escape from the harness more difficult.

Pay close attention to the sizing chart for your selected harness. Each brand is manufactured differently. If there's a diagram of where they want you to measure the cat, follow it. Remember, you want the harness to fit snugly to prevent escape, but not so tightly that it prevents the cat from breathing.

Why should preventing escape concern you? Because if your cat gets spooked by something, he's going to try to bolt. The whole idea of walking a cat on a leash is so that you can prevent this and maintain control of your kitty's whereabouts.

Cats also prefer a lightweight harness.  Too many buckles and trim will make the harness heavier and uncomfortable for your kitty. Harnesses made for dogs seem to be heavier on the hardware. So find one made for a cat, or that has been tested on cats.

The first time you put a harness on your cat, he's most likely going to flop over and act like he's dead. Cats can be big on drama, and this is kitty's way of saying, "I'm in prison! I can't move!" Once he figures out that he can move just fine, and that you're not falling for his act, he'll start walking around and acting like he's wearing nothing.

Let your cat inspect the harness thoroughly before trying to put it on. Cats are naturally suspicious of anything new in their environment and will want to look it over, sniff it, taste it, and play with it. If it has a hook-and-loop (Velcro®) closure, let your cat get accustomed to the sound of that; some cats freak out at that noise.

Put the harness on your cat and let him wear it around the house for a little while, up to several days. You may want to do this a few times before hooking the leash to it. Get your cat acquainted with the harness so he knows it's a comfortable, safe thing.

The Best Leash For a Cat

While they're popular for walking dogs, retractable leashes are not a good idea when walking a cat. (They're not really a great idea when walking a dog if you want control over the dog, but that's another post for another dog-oriented blog!)

Why aren't they great for cats? Ever seen a cat scramble up a tree? Want to try to climb that tree to get said cat down, when you have a leash that's likely now tangled in branches and leaves? 'Nuff said.

A traditional leash with a hook on one end and a loop on the other is best for walking cats. The leash is long enough to give the cat a sense of freedom, but not so long that you lose control. You can always bunch it up to shorten the distance between you and your cat for crossing streets, or if you sense danger nearby.

Once your cat is accustomed to the harness, attach the leash to it and walk kitty around inside the house. Let your feline companion get accustomed to having you walk behind or next to him. You may want to use a wand toy at first to get the cat's attention away from the additional weight of the leash hook and make him realize that it's no big deal. Show him that walking is fun!

Before you know it, the time will come to venture out into the neighborhood. Begin with your yard. Let your cat explore at his own pace. You may want to bring along a book to read! My first cat enjoyed getting outdoors on a leash and harness. But he didn't actually walk, he would stand and sniff the grass. Then he'd move a foot or two away and sniff that grass. Walking him was never going to get me any exercise, that's for sure!

Safety First - Yours and Your Cat's

There are many dangers outdoors for cats -- even those being walked on a leash! And it only takes a moment for a cat-astrophe to happen.

Even if your cat is on a leash, a free-roaming dog (or a pack of them) with cat-aggression could finish off your kitty in an instant. It's a good idea to carry something with you to deter them. An ultrasonic deterrent or pepper spray should be in your pocket. While these won't deter a dog indefinitely, they will give you time to grab up your cat and retreat to a safer distance.

You never know what types of lawn chemicals have been sprayed on your neighbors' yards, so be careful of letting your cat sniff too much at grass or plants in them. Ditto for plants in general - there are many types of plants that are toxic to cats. While you've taken great care to keep those out of your own yard where your cats have access, your neighbors may not have been so careful. If your cat likes to eat plants, refrain from letting him snack on anything while out walking unless you know it's safe.

The same goes for water. We know that there can be dangers in rain puddles, including antifreeze or other automotive runoff. But even if it looks like someone has put out water for passing pets, you don't know what could be in that water. Sadly, there are people who intensely dislike cats and would intentionally do things to harm them. And a communal water bowl shared with any passing animal is a great way to share communicable diseases.

This should go without saying, but if your cat is going to be outside, updated vaccinations are essential. When was the last time your cat had a booster or a titer test? If you'll be going on walks, double check to make sure your cat is protected from preventable serious diseases.

Alternatives to Walking Your Cat on a Leash

If your kitty won't take to the harness and leash, that doesn't mean he has to be doomed to a life without enjoying the fresh air! There are many designs of cat strollers available that give you another option. These are specifically designed for pets, with washable beds, tethers to keep your cat from escaping, and fully-enclosed compartments to protect your cat and make him feel secure. Some of the larger models will accommodate more than one cat, so you can take two out for a walk together.

If you don't have a walkable neighborhood, but you have a yard, Kittywalk makes a line of outdoor enclosures you can use to let kitty enjoy the outdoors. While this isn't "walking" your cat, per se, some of the designs have enough room for your cats to enjoy running and playing outdoors.

One word of caution: strollers and soft-sided enclosures will not protect your cat from aggressive predators such as coyotes or malevolent humans. Always supervise your cats when they are outside your home in such enclosures. Just as you'd take precaution when walking a cat on a leash, be vigilant and remain in the yard with them while they play in any soft-sided enclosure.

So, there you have it! Yes, January tends to be chilly, but not always. Get out there and enjoy the outdoors with your cats!

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