It can be tempting to take your cat for a walk when you want to share a pleasant moment with him and "show him the landscape". But cats are not dogs, and it can be difficult to set up serene outings with your cat!
Before taking this initiative, it is important to weigh the pros and cons by taking into account the character and the needs of your pet and to understand why walking a cat on a leash is not as easy as it seems...
The advantages of walking your cat on a leash
In the grand scheme of things, there are many benefits to taking your cat outside. First of all, if you live in an apartment and your pet never has the opportunity to go outside, you could consider walking your cat on a leash as an opportunity to offer him a moment of freedom under supervision that would please both of you. From a human point of view, this argument may seem quite valid, but be careful not to anthropomorphize it: indeed, the cat is a territorial animal capable of stressing out in unknown territory! We will come back to this point in more detail.
However, the cat being a very curious animal by nature, confronting it with new stimuli and environments within the framework of a "supervised freedom" can be an enriching and positive experience for it. Outside, he will be able to discover unknown sensations such as new noises and smells which can be interesting stimuli for him. However, you'll have to get him used to it gradually, without ever forcing him, so that it won't be a stressful moment.
Furthermore, taking your cat out on a leash can be an effective solution for animals that tend to run away from home frequently. Some experts recommend it as a way to satisfy a cat's natural curiosity and need for discovery and exploration. But again, it depends on your cat's temperament, desires and needs. Predisposed cats will find real fulfillment. Finally, taking your cat for walks is a good way to get him to exercise and improve his physical condition.
The disadvantages of taking your cat outside
Since cats are solitary and territorial, going outside can be a huge source of stress and aggression for some of them. By taking him out of his comfort zone, we expose him to stimuli that can be as negative as positive for him: passers-by, noises, cars, dogs, and especially fellow cats that can be perceived as rivals... The outside environment can thus be synonymous with many potential threats for an animal that is not prepared for this experience. Moreover, the cat is not aware of "human" dangers such as road traffic and objects on which it could be injured. That's why you'll need to be particularly vigilant and attentive to all these elements and choose the right place for the walk.
How do you prepare your cat to go out on a leash?
To begin with, each cat has its own personality that you must take into account before taking it for a walk. For example, if he is rather shy even at home, hides when visiting and runs away when he hears an unknown noise, it is probably wiser not to try the experience. On the other hand, if he is curious and sociable with visitors and other animals, comes easily to be petted and held, responds to your calls and goes naturally to new objects and people, there is every chance that he is a real little adventurer!
Even if you think your cat is predisposed to enjoy a walk on a leash, it's essential to give it a gentle trial run to test its reactions. First and foremost, you need to make sure his vaccinations are up to date and that he is properly protected against parasites. It is also essential that he be identified in case he escapes during the walk.
Once you have made sure of these formalities, you will have to get your cat used to the harness and the leash. There's no secret to this, you should have gotten him used to it from a young age. If this is not the case, you can gradually get him used to it at home, first with the harness alone and then by adding the leash. Please note that you should never use a simple collar to take your cat out: if he panics and struggles, he may not only hurt himself but also break free from the collar and run away!
How to set up your cat's first trip outside
Once your cat is sufficiently accustomed to the harness and leash, you can plan his first outdoor trip. This should be in a quiet, low-traffic area with as little noise and traffic as possible. If the location is far from your home, take him safely in his usual carrier, already equipped with his harness. Once there, don't let him out before putting the leash on him and take him in your arms so that he can observe the surroundings. Then, gently put him down and let him look around, sniff and move at his own pace. Do not force things and do not pull on the leash.
If he panics and returns to his crate, he's not ready yet: don't insist and repeat the experience another day. Take him to the same place and little by little, he should start to explore and venture out on his own. You can then reward him by petting him. At the beginning, do not exceed 15mn of walk, which you can lengthen gradually. If you don't see any improvement after a few tries, it's because confrontation with the outside world doesn't suit him and you should give up the idea. Remember to remain vigilant in all circumstances so that he doesn't hurt himself or eat dirt.