LOS ANGELES — Karen Nichols wanted a life unchained to the monotony of 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 recently that encouraged finding ways to bring out the wild nature in her cat. Some cat behavior problems stem from boredom, which can be stymied by enriching their environment and involving them in activities, experts told the class.
So Nichols started training Skeezix to walk with a leash before he turned 1. It took a couple of weeks to get him used to a leash and a stroller. (Skeezix goes into the stroller 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," said Nichols, who lives near San Francisco and is the 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 of domestic cats likely have never been on a leash, every cat should be comfortable on a leash, in a carrier and traveling in a car, Nichols said.
Training a cat involves patience, repetition and food or 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; scaredy-cats are usually indoor lurkers and prefer to stay that way, said Nancy Peterson, the Humane Society's cat programs manager and a registered veterinarian technician.
Disabled cats, including ones that are declawed, deaf or blind, should not be walked, because if they get loose, they cannot defend themselves, she added.
Unlike dogs, cats should be kept on a tight leash. With a longer lead — anything more than 6 feet — a frightened cat might shimmy under a car, jump over a fence or dive around a corner.
Cat-walkers should watch out for poisonous plants, chemicals and insecticides, and protect their cats against fleas, ticks, heartworm and other parasites, Peterson said. Owners of white cats should be mindful of skin cancer in excessive summer heat, she said.