How to walk a cat (and why)
Own an indoor cat that could do with a change of scenery? If your feline friend can learn to confidently walk in a harness, then they can safely explore the great outdoors! Cats that are used to wearing a harness and lead also have the benefit of being easier to transport to a cat sitter or to the vet.
Whilst some cats take to walking on a lead like a duck to water, others don't enjoy it at all, so pay attention to how your little buddy feels about it before diving in!
Walking a cat might not be simple, it can be one great way to enrich your cat's life. It's important to understand your cat's behaviour and appreciate the signals and signs they give you when venturing to the great outdoors, so be observant and respect your cat's boundaries.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can simply walk your cat like a dog; cats and dogs are fundamentally different. For example, unlike dogs, cats primarily use sight to perceive the world, rather than their noses, and as such feel safest when perched up high with a good view.
In unfamiliar territory, down next to you on the ground, your cat instinctively feels exposed and under threat. Bringing them suddenly into the big wide world without sufficient preparation is a bad idea. Instead, build up to it slowly. Many cats are easy to train and, with guidance, will ultimately be happy to join you outside.
Step 1: The Harness
Your cat may have never worn a harness before, so allow puss to get used to it gradually. First of all: lay the harness down on the ground and let your cat sniff it. If your cat looks relaxed around the harness, hold it up for your cat to nuzzle and use it to gently stroke your cat's neck and shoulders. You can also lay it nearby while they are relaxing. Try to gently rest the harness on your cat's shoulders, and if this goes well, try to put it on and fasten it.
If your cat protests, then leave them alone and try again later. If he or she is comfortable with it, reward them with a treat and allow them to walk around freely. Only do this for short periods of time so that they can get used to the feeling of the harness.
Step 2: Walking on the Lead
Please note: you should remain indoors throughout this stage! You're now going to practice walking together using the lead. Attach the harness to your cat, and then securely attach the lead. Allow your cat to get used to this and maybe walk a few steps. If your cat walks with you, reward him or her with a treat.
Begin training for just a few minutes and slowly build up every day until, eventually, your cat walks next to you in a completely relaxed manner with their tail in the air. Never pull or yank on the harness, even if your cat reacts negatively. And if puss tries to walk in the wrong direction, stop and reward them as soon as they start walking the right way again.
Step 3: Braving the Outside World
The outside world can be a scary place for indoor cats! Start off in your garden or a quiet local park when there aren't too many people around. Don't step outside immediately, but first open the door and carry your cat outside (so that they don't get used to bolting out the door themselves).
Remember, a passer-by, dog or a car can be enough to scare your cat out of their wits. Put your cat on the ground outside your front door and allow them to soak it all up from the safety of the home base. If this goes well, reward puss and take a step further outside. Build up the training gradually, starting with a few minutes each day as per step 2. If he or she visibly enjoys it, then take one step further each day.
If your cat clearly finds it scary, stressful or uncomfortable, then keep them inside and provide plenty of opportunity for stimulation and play indoors instead. One great way to make sure they get enough stimulation and play is to have a Pawshake cat sitter drop around during the day when you are at work. Your cat sitter can give your cat plenty of cuddles and even a game or two of chasies with their favourite toy.