Updated: Mar 10
(Photo of Frankie during one of her first outings. As you can see, we wore the backpack on our front to allow us to easily see how the kittens were doing and to comfort and pet them if they got nervous.)
We love being outside in all seasons. And we're also crazy about our cats. So naturally, even before we brought Fox and Franky home, we knew that we wanted to share our outdoor adventures with our new feline family members.
We learned the key to enjoying outdoor time with our kittens was first, understanding and "reading" their cat body language. So before you even set foot outside with your kitty ask yourself, is your cat comfortable in new situations? And is your cat comfortable meeting new and unfamiliar people? If your cat is nervous or skittish in these kinds of situations, we recommend to take it slow.
Baby Steps to the Great Outdoors
The first step we did to get Fox and Frankie used to the outdoors was ensure they were very comfortable in their harnesses and carriers. (We've covered this in earlier blog posts.) Then we ventured outside on our patio, allowing them to smell all the different smells and hear the "outdoor" sounds, such as the birds and in our case - city sounds- from the safety of their backpacks. Our first experiences were around our house and we would wear our backpacks in front. This enabled us to comfort the kittens, pet them and reassure them that all was okay if they started to get anxious.
Don't Forget the Treats
In all situations, especially in new environments, we bring out the "highest value" treats. These are the treats that the kittens love the most and are reserved for when we are training new skills. For Fox and Frankie, those treats are Churus. Using these treats outside, for example, while around car noises and truck sounds (which are often frightening), has helped the kittens to associate the outdoors with positive experiences.
So Now They're Comfortable Outside
Once Fox and Frankie were comfortable in their backpacks, we then started to use the leash and harness. We once again, ventured first in our backyard. When they were comfortable, on-leash, in the backyard, we took them in our backpacks and walked to the park. Once we reached the nearby park, we allowed Fox and Frankie to roam a small, quiet area on-leash. The first time we did this, it was a bit stressful because there were some big dogs present. However, picking them up up gently petting and reassuring the kittens, really helped to ease the nervousness.
Start the Car!
After the cats got comfortable with walks to the park, we started to take them on short car rides. At first, they were nervous and began panting. During this phase of training, we kept the rides very short - like five minutes and then gradually increased the time. Soon the kittens were used to the sensations of car rids and we began to venture to parks and trails that were within 15-20 minutes away from our home. These days, Fox and Frankie can easily travel for an hour or more by car to get to a destination further afield.
Sometimes Two Steps Forward and then Two Steps Back
Just like humans, cats also have "off" days. On one day, Fox and Frankie were great in new places and around strangers, and then on other days, they were nervous. It happens! And that is why it's really important, whether your cat is a first timer outdoors or a seasoned pro, to always pay attention to their kitty body language - their tail, ears and body position. They are unable to speak to us, but gauging their comfort level through their body language is important during any outdoor adventure.
(Photo of Fox taken recently during their first adventure on a hike in the snow.)
Adventuring Outdoors is a Continual Journey for Both
In the brief time we have adventured with Fox and Frankie, we are appreciating and embracing the need for continual learning for both cat and human. We liken it to the relationship between rider and horse in equestrian events. The relationship is one built on trust and respect. And paying attention to the cues from your cat will help to bring both human and feline closer. For our family, our goal is to take Fox and Frankie on road and camping trips this summer. It is a pretty big goal for us. But it all starts with baby steps.