Leash Walking the Cat
Over the years as a veterinarian, I will occasionally have clients who have trained their cats to a leash. I remember one cat that occasionally boarded at the clinic I worked at. She would confidently walk in to the clinic on the end of a leash, apparently oblivious to people or other pets in the waiting room. Her owners took her on daily walks in their neighborhood. While, in general, unattended outdoor cats have a shorter lifespan than indoor cats, those that go outdoors under direct supervision (so that they are protected from cars, dogs, coyotes, poisonings, and roaming cats) experience a more physically and mentally active life, which equates to a healthier, longer life.
What is the best way to train your cat to a harness and leash? I have seen different approaches, but they all start indoors, take it slowly, and offer rewards. Dr. Sophia Yin, a renowned behaviorist and veterinarian, has an article with pictures on her website, drsophiayin.com, that is very helpful. Dr. Yin starts with teaching a cat to sit for treats and to follow for treats (also on her website), before the harness. This makes the harness training much easier. One thing is certain, you need to determine what treat is really a motivator for your cat, and only give your cat treats when training. Dr. Yin often uses canned cat food in a syringe with the tip cut off.
It is recommended to place the harness in your cats living/sleeping area for several days first. One recommendation is to offer treats while placing the harness on to make it a more positive experience. Dr. Yin’s method is carefully orchestrated, in as much as she places the syringe of cat food in the opening of the harness and presents the food through the opening, later withdrawing both together. This is intended to cause an association between the treat and the harness. Whatever you do, use treats and encouragement, don’t force, and know how your harness works before you put it on. They can be confusing. Once you have the harness on and fastened, keep the treats coming. Then leave the harness on for a few hours in the house (under supervision). Once your cat is used to the harness, attach a leash, once again using treats as you attach it. Let your cat walk around the house with the leash attached. Then try holding the leash and walking with your cat. Once your cat is comfortable indoors, start venturing outdoors. Don’t forget, cats are stalkers, they may want to stop in one area for some time, or even hide in tall grass or under a bush.
I would recommend getting a cat specific harness. Recommended brands are Premier’s Come With Me Kitty harness with bungee leash, Coastal Pet’s Size Right harness, and The Kitty Holster, which is a cloth vest that you attach the leash to. Happy Walking!