Can You Take Indoor Cats for Walks?

Each time you leash your dog up for a walk, you look at your cat and feel bad. Don’t they ever wish they could go outside the same way dogs do several times a day? Then you had a thought. Why not put a harness on your indoor cat and take them for a walk too? They’ll like it, right?

Can you take indoor cats for walks? You can take indoor cats for walks, but some cats might be terrified of the outdoors or unwilling to spend time outside. With some training and coaxing, you might be able to acclimate an indoor cat to the outdoors. 

In today’s article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about walking your indoor cat outdoors. From the benefits of spending time outdoors and tips for helping your kitty adjust, you’ll be all ready to take your indoor cat for a walk! 

Can You Take an Indoor Cat for a Walk?

Every now and again, the Internet lights up with viral footage of a cat doing something very un-cat-like. From the cat that gets along famously with the family dog to the kitty that loves the water, these felines baffle our collective minds. 

It’s also relatively un-cat-like to see a feline leashed up and walked outdoors like a dog. The next time you spot such a sight, I’d be willing to bet that the cat that’s happily walking down the street is an outdoor cat, not an indoor one.

There is a difference between the two, and that difference determines whether you can walk your cat outside, so allow me to explain now. 

The Difference Between Outdoor and Indoor Cats 

What is an outdoor cat? An outdoor cat is one who spends all of its time or a good portion of its time outside. These cats may be unsocialized feral animals, abandoned or lost cats, or strays, but some outdoor cats have homes and are just allowed to wander.

Depending on if it’s living outside versus just visiting, the activities of an outdoor cat can vary. If a feline depends on its outdoor environment to survive, then it might befriend humans to beg for food and scavenge through garbage. Some outdoor cats can even hunt, typically small game like mice. 

These outdoor cats may form feral cat communities or colonies where they can reproduce. Unfortunately, they’re also typically spreading rabies among these communities. 

For those outdoor cats that have a home, they often skip the part where they’d pick through garbage. They still might hunt due to an ancestral urge, but they do it less for eating and more for fun.

What about indoor cats? An indoor cat has lived most or all of its life indoors. Everything the cat needs is provided for it, including food, water, shelter, exercise, comfort, and entertainment. 

These cats still have hunting instincts, sure, but they might refine those instincts by playing with toys rather than chasing real animals. Although it sounds like they lead lazy, pampered lives, indoor cats are better off than their outdoor counterparts. According to adoption resource Animal Friends, Inc., outdoor cats might live for up to five years and indoor cats between 10 and 20 years. That’s quite a difference. 

Outdoor and Indoor Cats and Their Preferences for Walks

Since an outdoor cat has lived outside most or all its life, it’s going to have no problem walking with you. Maybe your cat won’t love the idea of being leashed up, but some kitty owners walk their pet unleashed (not like I’d recommend you do the same!). 

Compare that to an indoor cat. These felines might have never gone outside before, so the thought of leaving their safe haven can be very scary for them. Some indoor cats might acclimate to the outdoors surprisingly well, but much more often, you’ll get resistance from your cat that will make walking them hard without training them.  

Do Cats Need to Go on Walks?

If you’ve read this blog, then you know you should take a puppy outside to urinate or defecate every two hours. As an adult, dogs need to go out three to five times every day. Is it the same thing with your cat?

Cats don’t have to go on walks like dogs since they have an indoor litter box they can use. When your cat has the urge to urinate or defecate, many cats or kittens will use their litter box without you having to do anything (well, except dump the litter box from time to time). That’s part of what makes cats more independent than dogs. 

Okay, so cats don’t need to go outside to use the bathroom, but don’t they get bored with the same old, same old inside the house? Actually, no, especially not indoor cats., another pet adoption organization, goes so far as to say that “most cats who grow up inside show no inclination to leave the safety of home.”

How to Acclimate an Indoor Cat to Walking Outdoors 

That doesn’t mean your indoor cat can’t ever be a partial outdoor cat, but it will take time, patience, and repetition to get there. Here are a few methods for acclimating your indoor cat to outdoor walking that I’ve found to be surprisingly helpful.

The Earlier in Life You Can Adjust Your Indoor Cat to the Outdoors, the Better

Okay, so this first one isn’t really a method, but rather, a tip. If you have a kitten that you plan to keep primarily indoors but who you’d also like to adjust to the outdoors, get them outside early. Like with any pet behavior, if you start them when they’re young, that behavior becomes ingrained in them.

This doesn’t mean you can’t make your five-year-old indoor cat a part-time outdoor feline, but it’s more likely to be an uphill battle. Your cat has spent all five years of their life in the house, so they’re going to be confused about why you’re making them leave. They may react by having an accident, running, hiding, or even hissing and turning aggressive.

Sit or Stand on the Porch with Your Indoor Cat for Limited Periods

You don’t want to throw a harness on your cat, leash them up, and take them for a walk around the neighborhood all on the first day they’re outside. It’s too much, too soon. 

Before you even think of walking your indoor cat, you must get them used to the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors just outside your residence. The best way to do that is to be as close to home as possible in case they become too uncomfortable.

Take your cat outside and just stand or sit on your porch. If your porch is enclosed, you can let your cat roam, but otherwise, I would suggest you hold them so they don’t run away from you. 

Don’t be surprised if this outdoor interaction lasts only a second or two. Your cat is probably going to be scared more than they are curious, so they’ll be eager to get out of there. The moment they look like they want to go back inside, open the door and let them in. 

Reward Your Indoor Cat for Time Successfully Spent Outside 

Yes, you could have blinked your eyes and missed your cat’s time outdoors, but they still went out there. Their good behavior calls for a reward, be that some affection or your cat’s favorite treats. 

While giving your cat their treat, you might also accompany this by a verbal sound, such as a signal, that you can later use to call your cat back inside.

Adjust Your Indoor Cat to Their Harness in the House First

Keep repeating the above two steps, taking your cat outside on your porch, then bringing them in and rewarding them. As you maintain this schedule, the time you spend outside with your cat should gradually increase. Within a few days or weeks, you might be enjoying several minutes at a time outdoors with your cat.

You’re getting readier and readier to begin walking your cat, which is good. Keep up the progress by adjusting them to their harness. 

If your cat has worn a collar for its entire life, then using a harness isn’t a huge step up. Those pet owners who let their cats go collarless will have a bigger struggle getting kitty to wear the harness. 

Put the harness on your cat in the house, not outdoors. You’re just now achieving some headway with your cat’s outdoor time, and you don’t want to undo it by making them uncomfortable with the harness. 

Once you have the harness on your cat, let them wear it for a minute or two, then take it off. The next day, they should wear the harness for five minutes, then 10 minutes, then 20 minutes. As the time the cat wears the harness increases, let them do their regular cat things with their harness on. 

This shows your cat that wearing the harness is no big deal. They might even find it somewhat comfortable after a while, or at least inoffensive. 

Begin Walking Your Indoor Cat in Very Small Increments

Now it’s time to combine your cat’s outdoor time with wearing their harness and finally take them for a walk. There’s no need to open your fitness tracker, because your very first walks won’t be far enough to even break a sweat.

With your cat leashed up, you want to guide them off your porch and down to your driveway or concrete walkway. That will be your goal for the first day. Then on your next walk, you want to get them halfway up your street, then to the end of the street, and so on. 

If at any time throughout this entire process your cat is stressed, you want to stop what you’re doing immediately. Cats show stress by reducing or increasing their eating, withdrawing, and/or vomiting.

Remember, not all indoor cats will want to go outside, and that’s okay. If the outdoors are not for your cat, you need to know when to call it a day. 

The Benefits of Walking Your Cat Outdoors

That said, if your indoor cat shows some interest in walking outdoors, there’s nothing wrong with fostering that interest. What are some reasons you might consider walking your cat? Here are the benefits:

  • Sunshine
  • Exercise
  • Fresh air
  • Creating a deeper bond with your cat

Let’s talk more about these great benefits of walking your indoor cat.

Indoor Cats Get Plenty of Sun When Walking

If you ever notice that your cat gravitates towards the sunniest spots of the house, it’s because felines adore the warmth of the sunlight. They especially prefer finding a sunny spot to go to sleep, as being basked in sunlight gives them a great feeling of security and helps them regulate their temperature. 

Now instead of only experiencing the sun through a window, your cat can be outdoors in the direct light. The sun is a source of vitamin D, which benefits felines as well as people. By getting enough vitamin D, your kitty could be safeguarded against a condition called rheumatism. This causes joint swelling and even lameness in some instances. 

Walking Is a Great Form of Exercise for Indoor Cats

Cats need exercise like any animal, and while they can get it indoors by playing, walking is another excellent means of physical fitness in felines. 

As for how long you should walk your cat, let them dictate it. If your cat begins slowing down after three or five minutes, that’s not unexpected. Cats tend to only play in short bursts but many times over a day, so prolonged walks might not be something they can do at first or at all. 

The Fresh Air Your Indoor Cat Gets from Walking Is Refreshing

When it comes to animals with strong senses of smells, most people think of dogs. Cats are also super-sniffers. By taking them out for a walk, you give your cat a chance to smell everything, from the scents in the air to the grass, the flowers, even other animals and people (safely, of course!). 

Spending “Outside Time” with Your Cat can Improve the Quality of Both of your Lives

Just like experiencing something new with a friend can bring the two of you closer, I truly believe that when you and your cat overcome fears and experience life outside your comfort zone together, it can have a profound effect on the both of you while improving the quality of both of your lives.

Last but not least, I wanted to point out something I learned quickly when I began walking my cat “Tilly” outside on a leash.

When Walking your Cat, the Outside World can Become Your Cat’s Litter box 

You tend to bring waste bags with you when walking your dog, right? Don’t leave the bags at home when you take the cat out either.

They might not realize it at first, but the more you walk your cat, they’ll soon discover that it’s okay to use the bathroom on the grass or that patch of sidewalk. You’ll want to quickly clean the mess up. Just make sure this potty freedom doesn’t translate to your kitty not using their litterbox at home! 

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