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I often see people out walking their dog to get them exercise and fresh air. However, I have never noticed someone taking their cat for a walk, although I have seen cat harnesses and leashes for outdoor activities with felines.

Why is it less common for cats to be taken outside for walks? Don't they need exercise and fresh air, too, (especially when they're young and hyper and active) or do they get enough indoor play-time?

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Unlike dogs, cats are not pack animals. They do not like to walk, stalk or prowl in groups. –  RBarryYoung Apr 14 at 15:21
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Have you ever tried to walk a cat? If you have, then you already know the answer. I have two. I've tried to walk them both. They don't like it. They are too timid and prefer being stealthy. –  jcalabris Apr 14 at 19:59
    
I haven't tried it yet but my cat is very curious and always wants to get out, but we live in the city on a semi-busy road so I don't want her getting hurt. Seeing all the passer-bys walking their dogs made me think of this question. –  Nicole Rae Apr 14 at 20:33
    
@NicoleRae I would say it's worth a shot if you can take them to a secluded park with trees. My cats enjoy walking around in the wooded areas more than out in the big open spaces (and moving cars are scary). –  Matt S. Apr 14 at 22:12
    
Most cats hate to be put on a leash and enjoy solitary moments exploring the neighbourhood while most dogs prefer to be accompanied for a walk. –  Question Overflow Apr 15 at 3:46

10 Answers 10

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I use a leash + harness with my cats to let them outside, but I don't take them for a walk like I would with a dog. It's more of letting them explore around the yard as much as they want, but controlling how far they go, and when they come back.

They're not interested in walking around the block because they don't really like meeting strangers outside of the house, as they're already nervous from leaving the known safety of the house. I also don't want to take them outside of the yard because I don't want to have to deal with finding out what happens if they meet a dog. They've already had some bad experiences with dogs, so I'd rather keep them away as much as possible.

The only types of cats that really do enjoy walking around the block are cats that are still relatively wild, like Bengals and Servals. They still have strong instincts to patrol/mark a broader territory than normal housecats, along with having higher amounts of energy. Servals are rarely seen as pets due to the legal restrictions on them, and Bengals are generally kept by owners who care more about how they look than how happy they are, so the chances of you happening across an owner walking their cat is almost none.

The only reason I like to take my cat's outside to explore is for the fresh air really. It's mental stimulation, the same reasons what people want to get out of the house is that it gets boring after so long. It's just nice to see something different every once in a while.

Sure, it's a bit of exercise for them too, but it's not really the only way they can get exercise. They are smaller than most dogs, meaning they have more room to run around without knocking into things (most of the time). But really the main difference is that they can climb. I have a 6 foot tall cat tree that my cats can climb up and down, which gives them vertical space to exercise.

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Here in the UK, I think most people with cats that aren't worth stealing just let them go out as they please. What happens when they meet a dog (or for that matter a tougher cat) is that there's a loud crashing noise from the kitchen when the cat hits the catflap at speed :-) I get the impression it's less common to do this in the US, even ignoring people in apartments etc where it's not possible. But anyway, here you see unaccompanied cats in the street all the time in suburban areas, following their own exercise regime. –  Steve Jessop Apr 14 at 9:54
    
Don't forget all the people who live in apartments and still manage to allow their cats out: catladderhalloffame.blogspot.co.uk –  Bill Cheatham Apr 14 at 13:22
    
There are people that let their cats wander outside freely. I choose not to because I don't want either getting lost, picked up as a stray, hurt by another animal, or even hurt by a human. –  Matt S. Apr 14 at 21:52
    
I put one of my cats in a harness and a leash. She flopped over on her side and refused to move. I interpreted her actions as her way of saying "I am not going to have any part in this, under any circumstances." –  Beo Apr 17 at 2:27

I believe the simplest answer is that (a) dogs are more likely to be actively aggressive toward other pets and livestock, and toward humans, and (b) more people feel threatened by a dog than by a cat, so (c) it's considered more necessary to keep dogs under control and (d) leash laws get written for dogs but not cats.

Dogs, being pack animals, also care more about having another member of their pack with them; cats, given their choice are more likely to explore alone. In fact I have walked cats/walked with cats (it's unclear who was accompanying who) at times, usually off-leash. And when travelling with a cat I have sometimes used a light leash, but that's more to reassure both the cat and me and to tell everyone else who we belong to than because I expect it to be needed.

In rural areas, I suspect dogs and outdoor cats are allowed nearly equal freedom.

The other factor, of course, is that dogs need to be let outside. Cats, who have an instinct to bury their waste when they aren't the alpha in their area, are much more willing to use litterboxes -- one of humanity's greatest inventions.

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The last paragraph is huge, I think; "taking the dog for a walk" does double duty as euphemism. –  Russell Borogove Apr 14 at 19:26

I think this comes from the basic difference between cats and dogs - the former being predominantly solitary animals, and the latter being pack animals.

Wild dogs living in a pack are regularly led on 'walks' by the alpha dog. In the wild this is obviously for practical reasons like looking for food. The pack leader starts walking and the others follow because of their place in the pack. This makes the idea of following a more dominant leader very natural for a dog.

Although there are some cat species that live in a pack, most live more solitary lives. Therefore, an individual cat will go and explore their environment whenever it chooses, not following the lead of a more dominant cat. For this reason they are not naturally prone to following the lead of a human going for a walk.

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I also wonder if the need for exercise is different. Maybe cats can more-or-less get the exercise they need by chasing fluff down the stairs, whereas dogs need to cover more ground over a longer period of time? Most wild cats hunt by stalking/sprinting, most wild dogs hunt by chasing. I guess this is somewhat related to what works as solitary/pack hunting. –  Steve Jessop Apr 14 at 16:06
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I've been told by greyhound owners that their dogs are "30-mile-per-hour couch potatoes"... perfectly willing to either exercise or be lazy depending on what their options and mood are at any given moment. Also, note that cats are smaller than most dogs; indoors has more exercise/stalking options for them than for a larger beast, relatively speaking. (And remember "most" on any of this. I've known very social cats -- my current two can be quite demanding of my company and attention, and they aren't even 'meezers.) –  keshlam Apr 15 at 0:59

There are a lot of factors that affect the answer here, and each will affect an individual cat/human pair in different amounts.

Harness Training

The first step to being able to exercise your cat outside responsibly is to train him to accept the harness and leash. Often when a cat feels an unfamiliar weight on his back, he will roll over to escape it, and when the harness does not come off he will get confused and distressed. Properly training the cat to accept a harness (instead of just sticking it on him and seeing what happens) is a lengthy process that most cat owners are not familiar with and do not take the time to do properly.

Territorial Familiarity

Cats are territorial, and an indoor cat will view your home as his territory. He's comfortable there because he knows all of the hiding spots, the food/water sources, and the safe places to eliminate, etc.

When you take your cat to a new place (outdoors) you are forcing your cat out of his territory so he's already slightly uncomfortable. Additionally, if the area has any feral/outdoor cats, the area may be scent marked as someone else's territory, further putting him on edge.

You see this behavior some with dogs as they scent mark the route of their walk, but when two dogs meet they may be friends or competition, and they also have a much longer history of looking to humans for socialization cues. Cats are more likely to view an intruder as competition.

Territory Structure

Cats view their surroundings in 3 dimensions, where people (and dogs) generally just look in 2 dimensions. Climbing helps cats feel safe (they can observe their surroundings without beeing seen), but a walk with a person forces them to only use the more exposed ground level. This can be pretty uncomfortable for a cat.

Elimination

Cats are often trained to use a litter box (as predators they will bury their waste to avoid alerting prey to their presence) and so can eliminate inside. Dogs, on the other hand, are rarely trained to eliminate inside and so must have regular outside time.

Owner Selection

Cats are generally seen as more independant and requiring less intensive care than dogs, so they tend to attract owners who are looking for a pet that does not require regular walks.

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You don't see people walking cats because dogs run away...

Both cats and dogs need to go outside. Cats can simply be let out; they come back by themseves. They rarely cause or get in trouble. Dogs needs to be walked to make sure they come back and don't get in trouble while out.

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+1: though sadly, cats do not always come back either. –  RBarryYoung Apr 14 at 15:23
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This is certainly my experience. We have two cats. They go outside and get plenty of exercise, but have never requested me to accompany them on their journeys. (And frankly I don't think I'd be able to keep up with them. Nor would I be especially welcomed when climbing over all my neighbours' fences.) –  tobyink Apr 15 at 8:07

Disagreeing with the other answers I would like to share what I have always assumed to be the case: Most cats, like dogs, like to explore their surroundings. Some cats like to stay at home, and keep inside, but those are exceptions. The big difference is that cats are not (that) aggressive naturally, nor are people afraid of cats or worry a lot about their excrements. Although it is perfectly doable to teach a dog to behave in a manner which would allow him to be leashless, the reaction this would solicit from people in the neighborhood would be extremely negative, which is reasonable as it's hard to know whether a 'random' dog has been trained well. Lastly I would like to point out that dogs do not run away, when you go to the woods it's perfectly normal to put the leash of the dog and let the dog run wild and unlike cats the dog will return the second when called. So if anything by that argument it should be cats which require leashes, not dogs.

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I disagree with you when you say that dogs can be taught off-leash, maybe some breeds, but there is others that have a strong will to run and when they realise where they are, they can't track their way back. Also, dogs don't really have a sense of a road with cars, so they will just cross it without realising that a car hit might kill them. –  Wawy Apr 15 at 10:30

Dogs are with people for much-much longer than cats and they need directions almost all the time in tough/unfamiliar etc. situations. Leash is the perfect way to communicate with the dog when walking. Cats are more independent and don't need that. Having said that you can train a pet to do anything (within limits). Think about Shepard dogs who take care of the livestock practically without any directions from human... but those are not megalopolis environment. On the funny side: my cat was raised by a Yorkie terrier and she fetches toys still, even he passed few years back. Now we have a Scotie which I take for a walk regularly. The cat also takes morning walk with us!!! Although, she's hiding in the bushes, tracks us all around the block, sometimes jumping out and back into hiding, playing hunter/pray I guess.

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One of my cats brings me her ball to throw. She doesn't exactly "retrieve" it, but she'll bring it back several times before one of us stops playing. (Of course being a cat she has to spend several minutes pouncing on it before she brings it back to me.) –  keshlam Apr 15 at 1:02

I own a cat and have a harness and a leash for him, he enjoys being outside and running around without the harness. Even with the harness and leash attached and hooked up to somewhere with the purpose of restricting the area he has to explore, he'll still walk around and enjoy it. However, as soon as I grab the leash and try to take him for a walk he gives up and lays down and refuses to be led by the leash. The only way he would walk around while I was holding the leash is if the leash had lots of slack and he was leading in whatever direction he wanted to go in. I've seen other peoples cats do the same thing as well.

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I have walked my cats before. Had one who loved to go for a walk and walked very well. Loved to stop and sniff the bejeebers out of every bush and shrubbery. Same cat used to love going on car rides.. would either sit on my lap and stare out the window (got plenty of odd looks as I drove around) or would sit on the back window ledge and stare outside.

I live out in the country and would love to let my cats outside, but there are fishers in the area and they prey on kitties... so I keep them in.

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I have both dogs and a cat. If we go for a walk with the dogs on or off leash starting from our home, our cat follows as if he is part of the pack.

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