The following bi-weekly column is written and sponsored by Bark + Boarding, which provides a heart-centered and safe environment for your pets. Conveniently located at 5818-C Seminary Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, Bark & Boarding offers doggy daycare, boarding, grooming, walking and training services, plus in-home pet care.
Exploring the outdoors is always better with a furry friend, but that doesn’t have to only include dogs.
For many cats, learning to walk on a leash and getting to spend time outside is a fun adventure, and a rewarding experience for the owner. Teaching your cat to walk on a leash may take some practice, but it can be fun for both you and your cat.
Find the Right Harness
It’s important to buy a harness to use for walking your cat. Cats are less likely to wriggle out of a harness than a collar while out and about. There are harnesses specifically designed for walking cats, but even within this category there are a variety of options.
You may need to try several before you find one that your cat likes. Make sure you find the right fit; you should be able to fit one or two fingers underneath the harness, but no more than that.
Introduce Your Cat to the Idea
Once you’ve purchased a harness, you need to give your cat time to warm up to it. Begin by letting them smell and play with the harness so it doesn’t seem so foreign. Help them make good associations with it by giving them treats as they investigate it and keep it near their food bowl when you feed them.
Unexpected noises may startle your cat, so also practice clicking and unclicking the harness. Once they seem comfortable with it, try putting it on. Continue giving them treats as they wear it so they have a positive association. When you first put it on, don’t buckle it. As they get used to wearing it loose, buckle it and resize it as necessary.
It will likely take several tries for them to adjust, but if after a few attempts they still seem to hate wearing it and any other harness you try, your cat may just not be made for leash walking.
Bring Out the Leash
Now that your cat is comfortable wearing a harness, it’s time to attach the leash. Even if you’re itching to get outside, patience is your friend when teaching your cat to walk on a leash. Attach the leash to the harness and stay inside as you let them explore.
At first, don’t try to lead them at all — just follow them as they walk around the house. As they adjust to this, you can start giving them gentle guidance. You should never be yanking on the leash or pulling them along.
If your cat doesn’t show any resistance or discomfort walking around inside with the harness and leash attached, you can bring them outdoors. Put on the harness and leash indoors, then carry them out the door to a safe, fenced-in area.
It’s important to always carry your cat outside rather than letting them walk out on their own. If they get used to the idea of walking outside on their own, they’re more likely to do it when they don’t have their leash on.
For your cat’s first outdoor experience, go to an enclosed area away from loud noises or other animals. This removes stress for both you and your cat, so you both have a positive first outdoor adventure. Be sure to keep treats on hand so your cat continues to have good associations with the walk.
You’ll need to be prepared in case your cat becomes extremely frightened. Carry a heavy towel with you so if they get startled or become panicked, you can wrap them up in the towel and bring them inside without being scratched or bitten. To help prevent this, keep your first several walks near an open door so that your cat will feel more secure knowing they have the option to return inside.
Slowly Increase Your Walks
As your cat gets more comfortable outside, gradually increase the time and distance you go outdoors. They won’t be able to handle long distances like a dog, but if they’re enjoying their adventure then you might be surprised at how long they’ll be willing to stay outside. Follow your cat’s lead and enjoy a more leisurely stroll as your cat explores new smells and chases bugs.
Teaching your cat to walk on a leash takes time, but with a little bit of patience (and lots of treats!) you could be having outdoor adventures with your cat before you know it.