by Nomi Berger
Walking your indoor cat on a leash not only allows her safe access to the outdoors, but it also provides her with physical exercise and mental stimulation. Whereas some indoor cats much prefer to remain where they are, still others are “hot to trot.”
If your indoor cat is curious and confident, enthusiastic and energetic, she may be a purr-ect candidate for a leashed walk. Before you begin, however, make certain that she’s current on all shots, flea and tick treatments. Ensure that she’s micro-chipped and that your contact information is up to date. Buy her a collar with an ID tag that clearly states she’s an indoor cat and that if she gets lost she should be returned home when found.
Next comes the harness. A harness is exceptionally secure and will keep your kitty safe and close to you even if she attempts to dart about or, worse, run away. Due to the increased popularity of cats being walked on leashes, there is now an ever-increasing assortment of styles, colors and patterns from which to choose.
Even better and, best of all, more comfortable than a harness, is a specially designed walking vest. Durable, adjustable and easy to put on, it’s an especially good choice for regular walkers and/or stronger, more motivated and determined cats.
Last but not least is a lightweight cat leash. Avoid both dog leashes and retractable leashes since they’re too heavy for cats. While many cat harnesses already come with a leash, other options are bungee leashes that will give your cat a little more range once you’re outside and at ease.
Now begins the process of training your cat. Begin by allowing her to get used to wearing a harness inside – a big step since indoor cats don’t normally wear collars AND harnesses. Start slowly, leaving the harness out on the floor with some treats on it to create a positive association for her and entice her to take the treats while smelling the harness itself.
After a few days, put the harness on your cat and promptly provide her with soothing pets and more of those treats. If she’s visibly uncomfortable, however, take the harness off immediately. Then, slowly and patiently, day by day, increase the amount of time she spends in the harness until she no longer minds it. And always remember to highlight the experience by petting her, playing with her, and providing her with treats to ensure that she associates “harness time” with happy times.
Once the harness has been well worn in, attach the leash to it and repeat the same process as above. Then as soon as your cat’s comfortable, bring her outside to a safe space — a patio, deck or any enclosed area where she’s protected from other people and/or other animals. Slowly venture further afield, remembering to continually reward her with loving pets and tasty treats to assure her of the fun that awaits her once she’s well and truly outside. Remember too that any negative experience can set the entire process back, so pay close attention to your surroundings and to any unanticipated threat that may either spook or harm your cat.
Cat walks aren’t like dog walks. You will, in all likelihood, stay close to home, and your walk will (unless your kitty is particularly athletic and adventurous) be more of a meander. A chance for your purr-ecious puss to slowly and satisfyingly explore all of the various sights and smells previously unknown to her. A chance for you to watch the world through her eyes while seeing it through your own in an entirely new way. A chance for the two of you to bond more closely and more deeply. What could paws-ibly be better than that?