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You can teach an old cat new tricks! That may not be the adage you’ve heard in the past, but it is true that you can teach cats and kittens tricks.
While walking on a leash isn’t quite a “trick” it is something you don’t see every day!
There is talk amongst cat owners, and quite a bit of debate on, whether cats who live indoors are happy or whether they’d be happier and healthier as indoor/outdoor cats.
The leaning is that cats are safer and healthier as indoor cats, but many cat parents believe that cats need to “breathe the outdoor air and feel the grass beneath their paws.” If you’re in that camp, but don’t want to let your cats run wild, there are some ways to can help your cat indulge and connect with his inner wild cat!
If you have the budget and space, you could construct a “catio.” These structures allow your indoor cats access to the outdoors in a fenced-in space. Some catios are constructed around trees, have grass and are in both shaded and sunny areas. This is an investment in time, money and dedication to its construction.
Allowing your cat to indulge in outdoor adventures, without constructing a catio can involve teaching your cat to walk on a leash. Getting a cat accustomed to a harness and a leash is sometimes best done with the feline is a kitten. If you’ve adopted an older cat there is no reason you can’t work with him to get him in a harness, but it may take more time and patience.
Most, if not all, cats can be trained to wear a harness and walk on a leash, but keep your cat’s unique personality in mind when making a decision to train him to do this.
Introducing a harness, walking on a leash and being outdoors is best introduced to a kitten because that activity could become part of his “new normal” and he will be more accepting of it as a part of his life.
Follow these steps to teach your cat to walk on a leash:
Find a properly-sized harness: There are many options to make sure you find the perfect fit for your furry friend. One option is to purchase a few harnesses, bring them home from the store and try them on (and return those that don’t fit).
You can also take your cat to the pet store and try harnesses on him there (some cats may enjoy this, others may not – decide based on your cat’s personality).
When harness shopping, you need to assure the harness fits comfortably and snugly. You don’t want to have a harness your cat could wiggle out of.
Introduce the harness: You won’t want to come home and slip the harness right onto your cat and head straight for the door. That is a recipe for disaster with many cats.
What you want to do first is get your cat accustomed to seeing the harness, smelling the harness and associating the harness with treats or positive attention from you.
Hold the harness and call your cat over, pet him, give him a treat and let him sniff or scratch the harness. Place the harness by your cat’s food and water bowl. Eventually, place the harness next to your cat while she’s sleeping. Slowly your cat will become more comfortable with the harness.
Slip it on: Once your cat is accustomed to seeing the harness, slip it over his head. Don’t fasten it up just yet. Give your cat high quality treats when you’ve put the harness on him. Helping your cat associate the harness with delicious treats makes it a positive experience. Put the harness on him right before you feed him his dinner – this leads to the harness being positive and his dinner distracting him from it. Do this for several days until your cat accepts the harness as part of the dinner time routine.
After he’s let you slip in on him before dinner, you can try to fasten the harness. Be aware that your cat may be afraid of the snapping or Velcro noise of the harness and may try to back out of the harness.
Once you’ve fastened it, give your cat another treat. Keep it on him for a few minutes then take it off.
Be aware that once you put the harness on and your cat starts walking he may wobble or even fall over. This is normal behavior as the weight from the harness can feel different to your cat at first when walking.
Let your cat walk around the house for limited times for several days before you attach the leash to the harness.
Putting on the leash: Be prepared for it to take days, or even weeks, for your cat to get comfortable enough in the harness that she will walk around the house and seem unaffected.
Once this happens, put on the leash. This will be another sensation she will need to get accustomed to. You can let your cat drag the leash around while you play with her and give her high-quality treats.
Keep in mind that the leash may scare her because she will feel like something is chasing her. If this is the case, pick up the leash and let your kitty wander.
Leash walking. Once your cat has been allowed to wear the harness and leash and is comfortable with it, try to train him to walk. You can give the leash a gentle pressure and call your kitty over to you. He may try to back out of the harness when you do this, so be prepared.
Chances are you won’t be taking your cat for walks around the neighborhood, what you’re trying to do is keep him safe and comfortable so he can wander around the yard safely. Don’t worry if he doesn’t walk along at your side the way your dog does.
Heading outside: After your time of using the harness and leash indoors, it’s time to head outdoors!
If possible take your cat to a quiet, secluded area for his first outdoor excursion. Placing your cat in the front yard where traffic is zooming past or where there are a lot of dogs or people will likely scare him.
To be safe, carry your cat outdoors, don’t let him walk out the door or you may have a hard time keeping him inside when he isn’t harnessed.
Your cat will likely be on “high alert” his first time outdoors – the sights, sounds and the feeling of the earth beneath his paws are all unfamiliar and could lead to him being scared and nervous.
Let your cat explore on his own – don’t attempt to lead him around the yard.
This first excursion is just an outdoors getting-do-know-you session. If your cat remains afraid of the outdoors, it’s best to take him back inside. The last thing you want to do is scare your cat. If he’s overly afraid, take him back indoors and approach the outdoors even more slowly.
Note of caution: Never leave your cat outdoors unattended.
Never tie your cat outside and leave him even if you only think you’ll be gone for a moment. Your cat could get scared and tangle himself in the leash and hurt himself.
Be Safe and Have Fun
Walking, or being outdoors, can be fun and a great source of enrichment for your cat. It will allow him to chase bugs, bat at flowers and grass and maybe even indulge in his hunting instincts by tracking down those bugs!
Introducing new types of enrichment to your cat is an ideal way to keep him from being bored and potentially destructive!
Make sure when you take your cats outdoors that they have been vaccinated and are protected from potential outdoor hazards.
Invest in a cat healthcare policy and give yourself peace of mind when it comes to your cat’s health and his outdoor activities!
Here at PetFirst, we know accidents and illnesses happen to all pets. PetFirst is here for every canine and cat! From a small cold to big health problems alike. Pet insurance can help cover unexpected vet visits.
Pet insurance provides peace of mind that if your pet gets sick or injured you don’t have to think twice about the financial aspect and you can just focus on your pet’s care.