How to Walk Your Cat With A Leash And Live to Tell About It
Cats are much safer living indoors, but that doesn't mean they should never get to spend time outdoors. They can derive great enjoyment and mental stimulation from supervised trips outside. One way to broaden your kitty's horizons and enrich her comfortable, if under-stimulating indoor existence, is to train her to walk on a harness and leash. In fact, walking your cat can be an ideal way to allow her safe, controlled access to the great outdoors. Here's a helpful guide for walking your cat.
Via: Dr. Becker on Healthy Pets / Pet MD
Never force anything on your kitty
It's very important to be aware that while most cats, and especially kittens, can be trained to walk on a harness and leash, your kitty could be an exception. If you suspect your cat would never under any circumstances be agreeable to walking on a leash, or would be so terrified by the experience that she could be psychologically damaged, chances are you're probably right. It's important to never force anything on your kitty. You can certainly try to gently slip a harness on her, but if she's very resistant or clearly about to have a meltdown, don't push the issue. Some cats, especially older kitties, will naturally be reluctant to wear a harness, be tethered to a leash, or put so much as a paw outdoors. Only you can decide whether the stress of a walk outweighs the benefits for your cat.
Once a cat has reached the age when she has been fully vaccinated, it is safe for her to go on walks outside
Remember that this is not so much to protect other animals from what she might be carrying, but to protect her from what they might be carrying. It is best to start as early as possible, before your cat has developed a fear of the outdoors or a fear of unusual noises. Older cats are often more reluctant to go outside on a leash -- or to be on a leash at all. It may take months to get her used to accepting a harness, and to being led, but with diligence and a wish to succeed, you can do it.
Selecting the proper harness
There are few creatures on earth as flexible as a cat, so attaching a leash to a collar is asking for trouble. Not only are kitties notorious for slipping out of their collars, but if your cat runs up a tree, a standard collar could strangle him, and a breakaway collar will detach. Invest in a harness designed specifically for cats. The leash clip is toward the middle of these harnesses rather than the neck, which is much safer and less stressful for your kitty. The harness should fit snugly to your cat's body, but not so tight that airflow is constricted. Make sure you can slip two fingers under the harness at the neck and under the chest. The harness clips should snap securely, and should not be the breakaway style used on some cat collars.
Getting Kitty Accustomed to the Harness
If your cat has never worn a collar before, sometimes getting him accustomed to a collar first can help desensitize him to the slightly larger tethering apparatus otherwise known as a harness. Very few cats take right away to wearing a harness. That's why verbal praise, head scratches, and especially, healthy food treats will be your friends during training sessions. Plan sessions for when your cat is hungry. Break the treats into tiny pieces because your kitty's willingness to cooperate will decrease as her tummy fills up. Cats aren't people-pleasers, so food treats are their primary incentive. And remember to present treats within a second or so of a desired behavior. When you bring the harness home, put it near your cat's napping spot or food bowl and let her get used to the sight, smell and feel of it. When she shows interest in the harness, praise her and give her a treat. After a few days of this, while holding your cat, give her a treat, drape the harness over her, and leave it for a minute or two. Use your cat's response and comfort level to decide the best time to secure the harness on her body. Make sure to keep the praise, petting, and food treats coming. Leave the harness on kitty for a few minutes to start, and gradually increase the time she wears it. Remember: Don't force anything on your cat. If she is really struggling against the harness, remove it and try again later. The goal is have your kitty associate wearing the harness with good things.
Now Comes the Leash
Once your cat is walking around comfortably in his harness, it's time to attach the leash. Use a flat cat leash, not a retractable leash. Initially, you just want him to walk around the house with the leash attached so he can get used to the feel of it. During this time, you'll want to keep a close eye on him to make sure the leash doesn't get caught on anything. Make sure to offer treats, praise and petting as he moves around with the leash. When kitty gets used to the presence of the leash, you can begin walking him around the house on it. Don't pull the leash or drag him with it. Let him lead, while you follow and offer treats and praise at regular intervals. Once he seems comfortable being walked around the house, take a short trip outside. It's best to open the door and let kitty take the lead. He may be quite tentative at first, but gradually he should get curious enough to start investigating all the new smells, sights, and sounds he's experiencing.
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