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First of all, bravo for providing an activity your cat relishes! Leashed outings are an excellent way for friendly, relaxed felines to explore the outside world in a safe, protected manner. Walks offer enrichment and exercise, and give your cat a chance to experience interesting sights and intriguing smells.
Any sudden change in behavior (including suddenly meowing to go outside more often) warrants a call to the vet to rule out medical issues before assuming the problem is behavioral. Once your cat has a clean bill of health, though, you can begin working with him on changing his behavior.
By making a few simple changes to your cat’s routine and his environment, you can keep him busier at home and help put a stop to the meowing.
Schedule your cat’s walks. “Cats, like most animals, like routine,” veterinary behavior expert Dr. Wailani Sungsays. “I usually recommend [that] owners determine their schedule ahead of time.” For example, she says cat owners “should stick to once a week or whatever schedule works for the cat.” Keeping walks close to the determined schedule helps to eliminate guesswork on the cat’s part. Rather than not knowing when his walk is coming, your cat will begin to learn when his next outing will be, which may help lessen his meowing to go out.
Add a cue. Another way to make walks more predictable is by adding specific cues that directly tell your cat a walk is coming. You can use a verbal cue, like “walkies,” or a visual cue, like getting out the leash and harness — or you can pair them together (say “walkies” as you get the leash out). Ideally, your cue should be specific to the walk. This can mean using a word that is not likely to occur in normal conversation (like “walkies”) or storing the leash and harness in an out-of-the-way place where your cat won’t typically encounter them.
Reward only desired behaviors. Cats understand cause and effect. If you have rewarded your cat in the past — even unintentionally — with attention, petting, food or access to a walk when he was meowing, he will have learned that meowing gets him what he wants. To counter this, work on reinforcing patient waiting behavior by rewarding kitty with things that he enjoys, like treats or petting, when he’s being polite. In addition, only give the walk cue when your cat is quiet and away from the door — for example, when he’s climbing his cat tree or playing with a toy. Consistently rewarding quiet behavior and ignoring demand meowing helps your cat learn which strategies do and don’t work to get him what he wants.
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