Spring has arrived and I have started taking my deaf cat out for walks again. We have been taking a break from walks in the coldest winter months. This blogpost is about why we took this break and something important to consider before ever taking your cat out on a leash.
First thing to consider before starting up walks with your indoor cat, is if the cat will accept the leash. You need to try out different harnesses and find one that is comfertable for the cat and that feels safe to you. But there's another very important aspect to consider that most people don't realise. And that is if you are able to provide enough walks for the cat ones it gets a taste for the outdoor life? Because you might think of walks as a weekend bonus, but the cat cas a different point of view.
Cats and territories
You know that thing where the outdoor cat constantly meows at the door? When you let it outside it wants to go back inside, just a few minutes later. And then outside... and back in, out, in, out! It seems to us humans that the cat is being indecisive and unreasonable. But there's a purrfect logical reason behind its behaviour. A cat is very territorial and needs to patrol it's area in order to keep it. The cat doesn't think of it as inside and outside as booth areas are part of its terrritory and both are equally important to maintain. The door is just this obsticle right in the middle of the cat's territorie, that devides the area needed to be patroled in two. So it actually makes sense that a cat needs to go in and out all day.
When you bring you indoor cat outside on a leash for the first time, it's on completly new territory. But if you take your cat outside in the same area every day it becomes part of it's territory. When you think about it like that, one walk a day is very little time for the cat to maintain that area. Everytime the cat is inside, part of it's territory is exposed to other cats. So even if you take your cat outside every day, it may not be enough for very territorial cats. Just as the outdoor cat will meow at the door, an indoor cat walking on a leash, will ask to go outside just the same. Meow meow meow. Knowing that their area is constantly in danger of being taken over, how can you blame them?
You cannot predict which cat will meow more after getting used to walks. But fact is that once you have offered the cats walks outside, you risk having a cat constantly begging for more. All you can do is be realistic about the amount of time you have to walk your cat before throwing yourself into this project. Cause it will almost be like having a dog. Most cats wont be satisfied with a few weekly walk, as it is not just about exploring new things and having fun. To cats it is a very serious game. So please know that this is a huge project to take upon yourself.
I have come to realise that I can't offer Ronja daily walk during the winter. One reason is the weather and the very early darkness that limits the hours we can go outside. But we also live on a Christmas tree farm. So the last two months of the year, there's a lot of people, traffic and dogs around, making it impossible to get out. My experience is that if I can't offer Ronja walks on a daily basis, it is better not to do it at all. By shutting down the walks, Ronja's territorial need to go outside eventually fades too. Of course it doesn't happen overnight, so the first week or two are rough. A lot of meowing at the door. But then suddenly the need shuts down and the begging at the door stops.
As the days gets brigther in spring Ronja automatically starts up meowing at the door again. Spring outside just pulls on her. Not all cats will be able to put this outdoor need in hibernation. I know a certain boy who couldn't do it.
Our other deaf cat Victor is patroling our home frequently. My guess is that his lack of hearing makes him constantly check for threaths. Victor has a hard time feeling safe in his own shin and I believe this makes him extremely territorial. So I'm convinced that expanding his world would mean expanding the territory he needs to patrol.
Before arriving to the conclusion that Victor is not fit to walk in a harness, I took him out on our balcony on a leash. This was back in 2017 and he still meows at the balcony door today! If I took a cat like Victor outside, I would never get a moments peace, no matter how many long walks I would take him on. This is just one of the many reasons why I don't walk Victor. If you want to know more, I wrote a seperate post about it here.
Worse case scenario
I know someone who used the have the most gorgeous deaf cat. She wanted to do something nice for her beloved cat and took it out on walks on a leash. THe cat enjoyed it so much, that it couldn't forget about it. So it would meow heartbreakenly at the door none stop. At the end the owner couldn't bare it anymore and decided to let it outside without a leash. Unfortunatly the outdoor adventures didn't last long as the cat got run over by a car after just a few weeks. I never met this cat myself, just followed it on Facebook and I cried when I heard she lost it to a car. Cause she loved that cat so much! This poor woman couldn't know that her cat would react this way after getting a taste of the outdoors. Some people are lucky to have deaf cats outside for years without accidents and advocate for letting them out. So I'm not telling this story to place blame on her whatsoever, it could have gone either way. I'm only telling this story to let you know the worse case scenario of introducing your indoor cat to walks. So please think it over carefully.
It's always Ronja who decides our rute and she walks back home when she is done. When we start up walks in spring, she only wants short walks of about 15 minutes. Then the trips become longer and longer. Eventually she follows the same route every time and she marks the same places (yes, with urine). So the walks turn into a regular patrol where the goal is to maintain a specifik area. With all the community cats out there, it's a lot of work!
So that's why ROnja's walks are important in the summer. She can take a rest from the patrols in winter, where she just needs to maintain the indoor part of her territory. And here all she needs to do is to rub up against mom and dad's legs.