Q. At the pet store I saw they have harnesses and leashes for cats. Do you think a cat would really enjoy going for a walk? Our cat is an inside cat and I often wonder if he would like to go out.
A. That would all depend on your cat. If he is outgoing and takes most things in stride, then, yes, he may enjoy going outside to explore on a leash. But if your feline is shy about new things and hides, then maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea.
Walking a cat isn’t like walking a dog. Where you train your dog to go where you go without pulling, with a cat you are really accompanying him while he wanders around. Leash training a cat is really about allowing them to go outdoors in a safe and controlled manner. Felines with free access outdoors are much more likely to be exposed to diseases, poisons, predators and speeding traffic.
First, I would recommend getting a harness specifically for cats, as you mentioned in your question. A harness is much more difficult for a cat to free itself from. A collar is not a good idea to walk a cat on because if kitty spooks, he could slip out of it or seriously hurt himself if he runs and jerks his neck. Though, it would be a good idea to also have a collar on with identification, just in case your feline did get free.
In the house you will need to get your cat used to the harness by making it a positive experience, which means including food in the introduction. Cats do not have the desire to please their humans like a dog, so food treats are their primary incentive. You can start by leaving the harness by his food bowl or holding it for him to sniff and then feeding treats after he does. Once your cat is used to the harness it’s time to put it on. Slip it on, but don’t fasten it and provide treats along with verbal praise and some head scratches. When this is going good the next step is to fasten it. Be sure to adjust the harness so it is not only comfortable but snug enough so kitty can’t slip out. Leave it on for a few minutes and don’t forget to provide treats with verbal praise. Leave it on longer and longer as he appears to be more comfortable in it. It may take several days or even weeks to acquire this, so don’t get discouraged. Once kitty is used to it and walking normally while it is on, it is time to introduce the leash. Attach the leash and let your cat drag it around the house while you supervise and give treats. Next, pick the leash up and follow kitty around. You can try giving your feline gentle little tugs in the direction you want him to go and reward when he does.
When everything is going good inside the house and kitty is comfortable in the harness with a leash attached, then is the time to head outdoors. I think it is a good idea to carry your cat outside so he doesn’t get used to walking out the door on his own. Take him to a quiet spot and put him down. He may freeze or be very curious. Be patient and take baby steps. With time your cat may enjoy a stroll down the street or at least get outside to enjoy some new smells and explore a bit in the yard.
Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].