Cats love the outdoors but roaming freely without supervision can put them at risk of getting injured or killed by traffic, dogs and disease, not to mention be a danger to native wildlife.
Training your cat to walk on a leash or harness is a good alternative - provided both you and your adventurous feline enjoy the experience, says Dr Joanne Righetti, renown animal behaviourist and author of pet behaviour books.
"Cats tend to do better on a harness, rather than a lead," she says. "A harness tends to be a safer option as they cannot back out of it. It is also made to fit. Whatever is used, owners need to make sure the harness or leash fits snugly, not allowing the cat to escape or be hurt. Never leave your cat alone with a harness on."
When choosing a harness, consider ones designed to pull from the chest, not from the throat. You should be able to slip two fingers between the harness and the cat.
If you want to use a leash, consider ones that are lightweight and detachable, with a clip that closes tightly.
Cat owners know that it's never easy to train a feline. But it's easier to introduce the harness/leash to kittens, when life is a huge adventure, says Dr Righetti, adding that older cats can also be accepting of it, depending on how patient and persistent their owners are.
"Most cats dislike a leash or harness to begin with, so it is important to make it as positive an experience as possible. With time, they accept it and even enjoy the experience, as it leads to pleasant outdoor encounters," she says.
How To Introduce The Leash Or Harness
You can introduce the leash/harness by allowing your cat to sniff it and take a treat off it as it lies on the floor, she explains. Make sure the cat is used to being handled. If not, practice handling first. Then, place the harness over the cat’s body and quickly take off again. Next time, place it on and fasten. Then, place it on and adjust to correct size.
"Each time, praise the cat and/or give a treat. Leave (the harness/leash) on for increasingly longer periods of time, perhaps even feeding the cat when wearing the harness," she says.
What if your cat hates the harness? In many cases, the cat will often lie down and roll over to try and get it off. If this happens, take a step back and go more slowly in getting your cat used to the device, says Dr Righetti.
"It is easiest to begin while the cat is young but most cats can be trained - with patience!" she says. "Start in the home, progressing to the back yard, front yard and finally the street, preferably a very quiet one. Always try to finish the ‘training’ session on a positive note with a pat or a cat treat."
Keep in mind, your cat may walks beautifully on a harness in the backyard, but when out on the street, noises, dogs or people can easily scare your cat, causing him/her to become tangled or throw themselves on the ground, getting injured. Then, they may injure you as you try to transport a frightened, angry and injured cat back home!
Also, meeting a cat on a leash will be a novelty encounter for most dogs so care needs to be taken not to elicit the dog’s predatory response, says Dr Righetti.
"Try to avoid dogs, unknown people or vehicles when you and your cat are out exploring the world," she adds. "Walking the cat on a harness/leash can be great for owners who wish to take their cat to work with them."
Topic: Pet Walking, Cats