Walking Your Cat: How To Steps And Alternatives
By Sara Ochoa, DVM April 25, 2019
For indoor cats that long for the great outdoors, teaching them how to walk on a leash can be a wonderful and safe way to let them experience nature. However with some cats, teaching them to wear and get used to a harness can be tricky. With a little time and patience though, most cats can become quite comfortable with wearing one. Still, we present some alternatives in case your cat really doesn’t like wearing a harness.
Choosing A Harness For Your Cat
When it comes time to fit your kitten or cat with a harness, it is important to select the appropriate size. If the harness is too loose, your cat may get away from you, which could result in a potentially dangerous or life threatening situation. On the other hand, if the harness is too tight, your cat may feel constricted and will refuse to move. A good rule of thumb is to have the harness be snug enough to not slide around, but loose enough for you to easily slide two fingers between your cat’s body and the harness.
Training Your Cat To Walk Outside
Before beginning, it is imperative that your cat is NEVER left unattended while wearing a harness. They can become entangled or stuck, which can result in injury or even death. Furthermore, make sure you and your cat are comfortable with each step before moving on to the next one. This process takes time, so be patient.
- Step 1: Get Comfortable With A Harness
Get your cat comfortable with wearing a harness without the attached leash. Some cats really don’t react at all while wearing a harness, but the likelihood of this occurring is very low. Once they have the harness on, let them walk around the house to get a feel for it. This should be done indoors under your direct supervision. Try to start training in an open room where there are not a lot of objects for your cat to get hung up on. This step can take around 2-3 weeks, so be patient and give your cat plenty of positive reinforcement during the process. By giving lots of pets and cuddles, you help take their mind off of the harness and redirect it to something else. Also, engage in play during this process. The objective is for your cat to be happy while wearing the harness.
- Step 2: Add a Leash to the Harness
Once your cat seems comfortable with wearing a harness, then add a leash to the harness. Clip the leash to the harness without holding it. Let your cat roam around with the leash attached, so they can get used to having the leash tugging on them. Most cats respond and adjust well to having a leash since they are already used to the feel of the harness. However if your cat is not adjusting well, you can try different leashes or harnesses. For example, some cats do not like the clip on the leashes touching them while they walk and different types of leashes have different buckles.
- Step 3: Walk With The Leash
Now that your cat is used to the leash, pick it up and walk around the house with your cat. If your cat tries to get ahead of you, redirect your cat by giving some pets and even engage in play by using a toy. Treats can also help. Always be gentle with the leash. Try not to pull or tug roughly as you can potentially injure your companion and ruin the positive emotions they have come to associate with the harness and leash. Most cats, especially those that are predominantly indoors, will likely stay very close to you while walking around outside. Therefore, tugging is not usually necessary.
- Step 4: Try Walking Outside
Now that your cat is walking with you while you are holding the leash, it is time to try walking outside. The recommendation is to stay within your backyard. For those who don’t have access to a backyard, choosing a controlled location that is quiet and free of busy traffic is a good alternative. Once you are outside with your cat, let your cat explore and take in their new surroundings to get them accustomed to being outdoors. This way, your cat won’t be easily startled when you start walking around with him/her in public.
Precautions To Take When Walking Your Cat Outdoors
Even though walking your cat on a harness is a great way to let them experience the outdoors, the experience comes with certain hazards. For instance, you may encounter a fractious dog that is barking or a loud garbage truck going by. These things can startle your cat and cause them to panic. Having this situation occur can potentially put you and your cat in a harmful situation. So always choose a route that is well known to you. Try picking one that will be as quiet and free of traffic as possible. You want your walks to be a positive experience for both you and your cat.
Another precaution to consider is to be sure your cat is vaccinated. Stray cats are everywhere, and you may unexpectedly come across one that wants to fight during your walk. A single scratch can carry diseases like FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus), but that won’t be an issue if your cat is properly vaccinated. So be sure to talk to your veterinarian about getting all of the proper vaccinations before walking your cat in public.
Alternatives To Using A Harness
Some cats, no matter how patient you have been, are simply not going to wear a harness. There are also situations that can make a quiet stroll impossible because of the area that you live in. Whatever the reason may be, alternatives exist to help.
Some alternatives include specially designed backpacks and pet strollers. Pet strollers look and act like a human baby stroller except that they are completely enclosed. They offer a large viewing area so your cat can see outside from the safety of the stroller. It is similar to walking around in a big bubble. If you know your area is busy with vehicle or pet traffic, then the pet stroller is a fantastic and safe option for your cat.
If you are someone who enjoys taking the road less traveled by, then the pet backpack would likely be a more suitable option for your cat. Pet strollers do better on smooth sidewalks or paved paths, whereas pet backpacks allow you to bring your cat on all your adventures, such as hiking through the woods. Backpacks are a little smaller than strollers, but backpacks still offer a large viewing area with the added benefit of being able to take your cat virtually anywhere. The freedom to go anywhere with your cat has increased the backpacks popularity.
Pet strollers, harnesses, and backpacks are all great options to consider if you are able to physically walk your cat around. But what if you are injured or disabled? Then cat patios are a wonderful option. Cat patios allow your cat to become more immersed in the world around them without leaving the safety of the patio. They come in a huge variety of sizes and applications. The options are almost limitless. Furthermore, cat patios are completely enclosed, so any wild animal that comes across your cat won't pose a threat.
There are many options when it comes to letting your cat experience the outdoors. The option you decide on will depend on your cat’s preference and your current situation. From trekking the great outdoors to sitting in your backyard, your cat will undoubtedly love the feeling and freedom they get from being outside. However, there are hazards that exist outside, so remember to take the necessary precautions beforehand. In the end, you will find taking your cat outdoors to be very beneficial to their mental and physical well-being.