You’re sitting at home watching your cat and you realize over time that they have started playing less, they’re getting heavier, maybe even a bit unhealthy. You play with them every day, you feed them well, but they look bored and sad. What do you do?
Cats are natural hunters, they like to be outside, they like to chase birds and lizards and funny sounds. But if your cat is indoors all the time, the most exposure they get to the outdoors is through a window.
You’ve probably seen someone who walks their cat on a leash and thought it was funny. Maybe you laughed or maybe you thought “I wish I could walk my cat like that.”
The great thing is it’s not as tough as you may think. It’s definitely not for all cats, some are happy inside and it’s too much stimulation for them outside. But a lot of cats love this safe way to be outside. You know your cat best so trust your instincts on whether or not they will like it outside.
The most important thing to remember is you have to be patient. It will take time to get your cat comfortable on a leash, especially if they’ve been an indoor cat for a long time. But before you’re ready to take your cat on a walk, you first need to get them comfortable with a harness and leash.
Tip 1: Getting Comfortable With a Harness and Leash
If your cat has never worn a harness, or even a collar, this may take some time. Cats don’t always love trying new things. But the easiest way to ease your cat into being comfortable in a harness is to give them treats.
Again, take this step slowly: put the harness on, give your cat a treat, take the harness off. Do this until your cat can comfortably walk around in the harness as if it isn’t there. Remember than this can take weeks depending on the cat.
Once your cat is comfortable in the harness, start the whole process over again with the leash.
Tip 2: Getting Out the Door
The most important thing about choosing to walk your cat on a leash is keeping them safe. Cats have a tendency to dart off if you let them, which can lead to a number of bad situations.
If you’re interested in walking your cat, you probably have a cat that has expressed interest in being outside. Once you open that world to them, they will crave it even more. Teaching them when it’s okay to leave the house and when it’s not is important.
When it’s walk time, rather than letting your cat walk out the door themselves, carry your cat over the threshold. Every time you do this, it reinforces with your cat that they need to have you with them to go outside.
Tip 3: Let Your Cat Walk You
As you probably know, cats are very different from dogs. It’s almost impossible to get a cat to do something they don’t want to do. This is no different. Be prepared to let your cat walk you.
Remember that walks with your cat will involve a lot of stops for sniffing and exploring, it will not be the exercise that walking a dog is.
Tip 4: Be Gentle
Whereas you may pull on a dog’s leash to keep them away from something or someone, use subtle manipulations of the leash for a cat. Your cat will get the idea and will back off.
Tip 5: Get Creative and Be Consistent
One of our employees here at Pet Food Express recently leash trained her cat to go on hikes with her on the weekends. It took close to six months to get her 3-year-old cat comfortable in the harness and outside.
She originally decided to start taking her cat on walks because he was a door darter. He always seemed to want to be outside, and she was excited to potentially have some company on hikes.
The first problem she encountered was that he had never worn so much as a collar so it took some time to get used to the harness. He isn’t an incredibly food motivated cat, either, so she had to get creative.
At first, she took it slow: she would put the harness on him, pet him a little, give him a treat, take the harness off. Sometimes he would eat the treat, sometimes he wouldn’t.
Next, she tried playing with him instead of a treat. She would put the harness on, pet him a little, playing with him, take the harness off. This started to work. After a few days of trying this technique, he began to play more and more, and after a few weeks he began walking and playing normally while in the harness. He now wears the harness most of the day.
The leash was a far easier task. He didn’t even notice it was there at first. Rather than keeping a tight grip, like you might with a dog, she kept a good amount of slack so he always felt like he was free to go where he wanted.
But the real trouble started once they went outside for the first time. Every little sound seemed to scare him. He would happily run outside, but as soon as he got out there, he would freeze on the spot.
She began taking him outside in a carrier he was comfortable in and then let him explore the backyard on his own time. He kept the harness on and dragged the leash behind him, while she slowly followed him around the yard.
After a few months of roaming the backyard, he began to walk normally and comfortably. He finally let her pick up the leash and they ventured out for their first walk. It took time, but it was completely worth it. They now go on walks most days.