It’s the latest trend: walking a cat on a lead. All the cool cats are doing it. Why walk a feline on a leash? Cats are curious creatures and any opportunities they have to explore the big wide world can enrich their lives. To help your indoor cat have safe outdoor adventures, you can teach her to wear a harness and walk on leash.
At Best Friends, our caregivers have found that walking outdoors lowers stress for many cats, making them happier and healthier. Keep in mind, though, that your cat should enjoy this activity, so if there is any indication that she is stressed by wearing a harness or being leashed up, this type of enrichment may not be suitable for her.
Steps to walking a cat
Step 1. The first step is to buy a harness and leash. There are many different types of harnesses made especially for cats. Choose one that is simple and fast to put on, but that your cat will not be able to wiggle out of. An excellent harness is the Kitty Holster; it’s soft and lightweight, has wide Velcro closures and comes in several colors. If you want your cat to look especially stylish, the Kitty Holster company also sells a boutique line of handmade harnesses made of high-quality luxury fabrics.
At Best Friends, we also use Coastal Pet’s Size Right, which has a figure-eight configuration and only one buckle, and the Come with Me Kitty harness and bungee leash by Premier. All of these harnesses are available online or at pet supply stores.
Step 2. Next, you’ll want to get the cat accustomed to the harness. Leave the harness in your cat’s sleeping area for a few days so she can inspect it. Then, break down the steps necessary to put the harness on. Some of the steps might be these:
- Slide the harness over her head.
- Rest the harness on the back of her neck.
- Adjust the belly straps.
- Fasten the closures.
Reward her with treats after you perform each step, taking care to notice whether she’s showing signs of anxiety. Speak in a friendly voice and tell her that this is the beginning of a big adventure. If the cat gets too anxious, take the harness off and try again the next day. It will likely take several sessions for your cat to get comfortable with the harness. If she isn’t making progress, try consulting a behavior professional or look at alternatives, such as a cat stroller.
Step 3. Once she’s comfortable dressed in the harness, clip on the leash and let her walk around indoors. Again, use treats and a soothing voice to make it a positive experience. During this indoor trial run, make sure you adjust the harness properly to fit your cat; you don’t want it to be too tight or so loose that she can slip out of it.
Step 4. If your cat seems relaxed with indoor walks on lead, try it outdoors. For her first time outdoors, carry her outside and set her down in a safe and relatively quiet place, such as a fenced backyard. Make sure to leave the door open so she can retreat inside if she gets scared.
A cat on a leash
While your cat is on leash, let her go where she wants to go, but keep her well away from streets and traffic. Always keep the leash slack and don’t ever pull on it. If your cat is startled by something, try to keep the leash slack until you can reach her, to prevent her from wriggling out of the harness. Until she is comfortable with being outside and is used to the sounds and sights, we recommend bringing along a towel to protect yourself should the cat become distressed and need to be picked up and carried back inside.
Before long, though, your cat will probably look forward to walks. Many of the cats at Best Friends who started out timidly are now pros, and outdoor excursions are an exciting part of their day.