It takes a bit of time and a little planning, but with the right equipment and attitude, it won’t be long before you’ll be sharing sunny days around your neighborhood with your cat.
There are many benefits to training your cat to walk on a leash beyond the pleasure of their company outdoors. Acclimating a cat to the security of a leash can result in less stress when it comes to traveling to the vet, clipping nails or brushing teeth, or introducing your cat to a new home or neighborhood.
It’s best to begin to train your cat to walk on a leash while he or she is still a kitten, but adult cats can also be trained to look forward to “walkies.” Whether your feline student is a kitten or an adult, it’s important to begin with the right equipment. You’ll need a leash, of course. Since cats are generally smaller than dogs, some manufacturers make light-weight leashes especially for cats. Whatever weight leash you do select, it should be long enough to allow your cat to wander a bit – after all, your kitty will still be the same independent spirit outdoors as she is at home. Avoid the retractable leashes made for walking dogs, however, since they can present a serious hazard to cats.
You won’t want to attach that leash directly to your cat’s collar, since that could result in injury or – since everyone knows that cats are notorious escape artists – your skittish kitty making a break for it. Instead, you should invest in either a cat harness or a cat walking jacket. Cat harnesses come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. The most popular cat harnesses are shaped like the letter H, and are often made from the same woven material as leashes. The proper fit is essential – the harness should fit snugly, but should be roomy enough so that you can slip two fingers between the harness and your cat’s body.
A more unusual alternative to a cat harness is a walking jacket, which is available in both soft and hard sided versions. The soft-sided version is made of nylon, and encircles a cat’s middle, curling under the stomach for comfort and support, secured by adjustable straps. Fans of cat walking jackets say that their cats find them comfy and psychologically reassuring.
Whether you choose a cat harness or jacket, it’s going to take a while for your kitty to feel comfortable with this new garb. Begin with ten minute sessions every day for several days during which you let your cat wear the harness or jacket around the house, being sure to lavish praise on kitty throughout the session. Once you feel that your cat is comfortable with that first step, you can attach a leash. Again, use praise and treats to encourage your cat to walk with the leash attached to the harness, first allowing the leash to trail behind your cat for a while, then – once you sense he/she is used to that – allowing kitty to wander at will around the house while you follow holding the leash.
Soon it will be time to take to the great outdoors. A cat’s idea of a walk is very different from a dog’s. Unlike an eager to please canine, your cat will usually want to choose the direction in which you’ll head, rather than following your lead. At first, kitty may just want to sit outside and enjoy the view. Eventually, the two of you will be able to enjoy a slow and leisurely paced walk. Do remember, whether you’re strolling or just taking in the scenery, let kitty set the pace.
There are a few other important things that a smart cat owner should keep in mind if you plan to take to the streets – or even the backyard – with your kitty. Always attach I.D. tags with your contact information to your cat’s harness or collar, in addition to micro-chipping your pet. If possible, avoid allowing your cat to wander onto neighborhood lawns, as the pesticides used can present a serious health risk. And if you fear that once you’ve let your cat sample the outdoor lifestyle, you’ll be pestered at all hours by kitty’s insistent meowing asking to take another walk, simply take your walks at the same time each day.