If I had a dollar from every passer by who said, "is that a cat?!" while we were out, I'd be RICH. Yes, this is a cat & yes, he LOVES to go for adventures. Read on to find out how to begin cat exploring!
You're probably wondering how this cat exploring thing works. Introducing your cat to the great outdoors will look different for every cat and their guardian. It's dependant on a cat's age and history, where you live (urban, rural, etc.), and lots more. Just like us, cats also have big personalities which can alter the look of their journey as well and I am here to tell you that's okay! Part of the excitement of it all is that no adventure will ever look the same for any two cats (even with those living in the same household).
Understand your cat & you'll understand the journey.
“Once you've spent time bonding with your cat you can almost predict how they will react in certain situations. The moment we drove Gibson home he wanted to be outside of the carrier and would have rather watched the world go by than to be contained. We knew from that moment he'd be down for an adventure kind of life!”
If you want to get technical, the first day of exposing Gibson to exploring was the day he was brought home. Who knows that riding in a car can be very stressful for some cats? This is an adventure alone! He mastered being transported via car on day 1. Since he was more anxious in the carrier, I took him out and held him up at the window. He relaxed in an instant as we drove him home like this. While I realize that the level of ease won't look this simple for every cat, we all have one thing in common: we have to start (or have already started) somewhere! Let's look at a breakdown of what the sounds, sights and surroundings of an outdoor life looked like at the start and maybe what we've experienced can help you all to create your own journey.
Step 1: Get outside!
I'll be honest with you. When we (myself & cat dad) decided that we were going to introduce Gibson to the outdoors, we were not prepared. We did not have a harness or leash but what we did have was a carrier! We used our Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier (great for if you plan to fly with your cat one day) but you can use any carrier your cat feels comfortable in.
So, out we went just 12 days after bringing him home. We wanted to first give him some time to adjust to his new environment. Once he got comfortable inside I began following his lead outside to see if he'd be down for the adventure sort of life. To give you some context, we live in the City of Toronto on a busy street. I knew that he had to get used to the noises of traffic so I loaded him up in his carrier, ensured that he was comfortable with blankets to hide under if he was scared, and sat down beside him on the ledge right next to all the traffic going by. He observed, hid when he got startled, observed again, jolted at the loud noises that passed him by, and continued this cycle as we sat there for just 15-20 minutes for a few days. I reassured him that he was okay and I really felt that he knew it would be.
Step 2: Get comfortable!
Another very popular comment we get is, "I tried putting a harness on my cat but they hated it!" My question to this would then be, "did you put it on more than just once?"
Often the answer is "no, not really". Now, when a child is taught how to walk and they fall or cry you don't hear parents say, "well, they hated it so I guess they'll just crawl forever". Gibson HATED the harness when we first put it on - you can watch the video above and see for yourself, but then check out his Instagram and look at him now! We decided to use the harness from CatIt (size small) which you can find on Amazon or at Walmart. It was hard finding a harness that fit him because he was just a kitten but this one seemed to adjust and fit him best. When we first put the harness on we spent some time with him wearing it indoors to prepare for it on in the outdoors. What that meant for him was consistently choosing a frame of time every day to put the harness on him daily until he could walk around as if it wasn't even on.
“Allow time to let the harness and cat become one.”
It's important to do this inside where your cat already feels confident and also helps to redirect their attention to other things they enjoy while they have the harness on, such as eating and playing. This will really help to set them up for a win when you begin taking them outside.
Designating one area to be his "safe zone" was also key in making our time outside positive. As you'll be able to see from the video below, he became quite confident in discovering this new world around him; almost TOO confident. I am a RECE (registered early childhood educator) and work with children and families. I once heard of a parent who had to take their child to physiotherapy because their child was walking before they could crawl. They actually skipped a very important step in learning how to walk, which was crawling. It's in this stage that a child develops the muscle needed to be able to walk properly. With Gibson I wanted to limit his discovering to the porch so that he'd see this place as a space that did not harm or scare him so that in the event of a loud vehicle driving by he knew that he could go somewhere safe. I wanted him to work his 'safety muscle' before he got into exploring. I wanted him to first trust the sounds, sights and surroundings of the outdoors with me by his side before he went somewhere he'd never been before and spook himself from any sudden noises, movements or scenes.
Step 3: Have fun!
The last thing you want to do while being out and about is to put pressure on yourself and your cat. Comparing them to other cat explorers also doesn't help to make things enjoyable if that's all you are focused on. Finally, always make every effort possible to let your outdoor time be positive. Why? Because cats are great at remembering and holding onto negative experiences which might render them fearful of the outside world. It can also cause long-term behaviours that will cause your cat to avoid certain situations that can be unavoidable while exploring.
Above all, stay safe, have fun and let me know how your adventures are going by messaging me on Instagram, emailing me, or commenting down below (just note that I cannot comment back but always read what you write).
xx Sarah & Gibson