For some owners, cat walks may not be a stretch

09/15/2012 12:00 AM

09/14/2012 8:36 AM

Karen Nichols wanted a life unchained to twice-daily dog walks, so she got herself three cats. But she still strolls the neighborhood on nice days — with her cat Skeezix.

Nichols took part in a program that encourages bringing out the wild nature in house cats. Some cat behavior problems stem from boredom, which can be remedied by enriching their environment and involving them in more activities, experts told the class.

So Nichols started training Skeezix to go for walks. It took a couple of weeks to get him used to a leash and to the stroller that’s his refuge when a dog approaches.

“You must be patient and devote time to the training every day, but if it’s apparent after a week or so that your cat detests it, you need to give it up,” says Nichols, managing editor of Mousebreath Media and mousebreath.com, an online cat lifestyle magazine.

The United States is home to more than 74 million pet cats, according to the American Pet Products Association. Although the overwhelming majority likely have never been on a leash, every cat should be comfortable on a leash, in a carrier and traveling in a car, Nichols says.

Training a cat involves patience, repetition and treats while getting it used to wearing a snug harness, being leashed and walking. The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have instructions on their websites.

Whether a cat is ready for a walk depends on its personality. Friendly, curious, mellow and confident cats are good candidates, while scaredy cats and indoor lurkers are not, says Nancy Peterson, the humane society’s cat programs manager.

Disabled cats, including ones that are declawed, deaf or blind, should not be walked, because if they get loose, they cannot defend themselves, she adds.

Unlike dogs, cats should be kept on a tight leash. With a lead longer than 6 feet, a frightened cat might shimmy under a car, jump over a fence or dive around a corner.

“You always want your cat in sight and within grabbing distance,” Peterson says.

Cat-walkers should watch out for poisonous plants, chemicals and insecticides and protect their feline charges against fleas, ticks, heartworm and other parasites, Peterson says. And owners of white cats should be mindful of skin cancer in summer heat, she says.

Whether or not a cat can go for a walk, teaching it to wear a harness is a good idea, says Lisa-Maria Padilla, whose cat Twyla Mooner won the Cat Fanciers Association national agility.

“It’s not just to go to the vet. It increases the cat’s sensory experiences and enriches the cat,” Padilla says. “It makes it safer when we have company and easier to get the cat in case of emergency. The cat becomes more portable.”

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