Helena Ochoa, Columnist

Many cat owners let their cats out during the day, allowing them to prowl the neighborhood and go wherever they please. People don’t think much about it. They let their cat out, don’t see them for a few hours, and then let them back in to eat when they scratch at the door. Cats are independent animals and most cat owners trust them to take care of themselves, but often times they aren’t as safe from dangers or from causing damage as we might think.

While outside, cats can encounter dangerous predators like coyotes and wild cats. Vehicles are always a threat to felines when crossing streets and driveways, and they can get injured from getting into fights with other cats. They also have the potential to cause harm to the environment by being free-range. Most outdoor cats kill an average of two animals every week, while some more experienced pets can do even more. Domesticated cats alone can have a very noticeable impact on the ecosystem, especially in neighborhoods with many cats in each household, according to the Smithsonian.

The perfect solution to these potential problems comes on a leash. But cats have a more fragile build than dogs, so you can’t just attach a leash to their collar and yank them along on a walk. The specific type depends on your cat, but cats need harnesses as opposed to collars, which they can slip out or be hurt by if you pull too hard. It can take a while to get your cat used to a harness and leash enough to venture outside, and even when you do, you have to be patient. Cats prefer to take time to investigate their surroundings before moving on. Taking your cat on a walk is a vastly different experience from taking a dog on one. You aren’t just walking them for more exercise. According to Preventive Vet, taking your cat on walks mentally stimulates them because they’re in an environment that they can interact and respond to, which is especially important for cats who formerly spent their time solely indoors.

But walking your cat can quickly become a bad experience. Cats usually don’t do very well in loud and busy environments, so if you decide to take them to a big park near the road with lots of people, it can scare them and cause a lot of stress. Therefore, it’s important to bring them to quieter areas that have less activity and more nature that they can enjoy.

Ultimately, cats definitely benefit from time outside, but in order to make your cat, you, and the ecosystem happy, put them on a leash and let them explore under your supervision.