Most housecats, given the opportunity, enjoy being outdoors.
Living inside isn’t an entirely natural environment for felines.
Unfortunately, letting him run around loose outside is unacceptably risky.
Cats with free access to the outdoors are much more likely to be exposed to viruses and other disease-causing agents … not to mention poisons, predators, and speeding traffic.
Indoor cats need environmental enrichment, and one of the ways to broaden your kitty’s horizons is to get her outdoors on a harness and leash.
Cats that needs to roam outside include:
Adventurous cats that might show an interest in going outside (e.g., cats that spend a lot of time looking out the window or glass doors, cats that try to “bolt” whenever you open the door, etc.).
Cats showing potential signs of boredom and stress, even if you’ve tried to make their indoor environment more stimulating. Signs such as overgrooming, aggression, destructive tendancies around your home, and even urinating outside of their litter boxes can indicate boredom (but they can also indicate underlying medical issues — be sure to have them checked out by your vet before just chalking it up to boredom!).
Cats living in small apartments — although you should still take steps to provide plenty of indoor environmental enrichment, too.
Cats transitioning from outdoor to indoor lifestyles, whether they’re in the process of switching or have already made the switch.
Introducing Your Cat to the Harness
- Purchase a harness for the leash, not a collar. If your cat runs up a tree, a standard collar could strangle him, and a breakaway collar will detach.
- Let your cat explore the harness. Every time they sniff, touch, or show interest in the harness, give a treat as a reward.
- Touch your cat with the harness: Drape the harness on your cat. As long as they don’t freak out and try to pull it off or run away, reward with a treat.
- Put your cat in the harness: Only when your cat is fully comfortable with this new wardrobe choice should you attempt to put it on. Gently slip them in the harness, providing verbal praise, head pats, or treats the whole time to reinforce the idea that wearing the harness is a good thing.
- When she’s obviously done with a training session, meaning she’s dropped to the ground, her tail is switching, ears flattened – whatever signs she normally gives that she’s no longer enjoying herself – remove the harness immediately. You want to end the session with kitty feeling confident and in control.
Begin by Walking Indoors
- When your cat is comfortable wearing their harness, start going for little walks indoors.
- Let your cat wander the home while wearing the harness, with you holding the leash. Praise and treat frequently to encourage a positive association. If your cat struggles or refuses to walk, it’s time to take a break and then start again later at the level your cat was previously comfortable with.
- Patience is key at this phase. Don’t try to tug your cat into submission or force them to walk. Instead, reward them when they behave the way you want them to.
- Give lots of praise and treats when your cat walks alongside you. Your goal should be to get your cat walking freely, but close enough that you can easily scoop them up in your arms, should the need arise.
How to Protect Your Cat When Walking Outside
- If your neighborhood has lots of traffic noise, dogs, or other distractions that your cat views as threatening, try taking her to a quieter area where she’s less exposed to frightening sights and sounds.
- Coax your cat a little farther on each outing. When he’s eagerly exploring a new area with his tail up, take another baby step.
- Make sure your kitty doesn’t pick up anything in her mouth or lick anything. And no tree climbing for leashed cats. It’s too dangerous.
- Don’t tie your cat’s leash to something and leave her outside, even for a minute. If something spooks her, she could get tangled in the leash. If she’s threatened by another animal or even a person, she can’t get away. Your kitty should never be outside unattended for any reason.
- Expect setbacks. Your cat might be okay in a new area on Monday and when you take him there on Tuesday, something freaks him out. Step back to the last place he was comfortable, and start moving forward with baby steps again. And unless your kitty is in harm’s way, resist the urge to pick him up if something spooks him. It’s better for his confidence if you can leave him on the ground.
- Make sure that they’re protected with the appropriate vaccines, deworming and anti-flea treatment. Outdoor cats, whether leashed or wandering freely, are at greater risk for infections and other problems associated with bugs and parasites. (Note that indoor cats aren’t completely immune from fleas, mosquitoes, and worms… but they do have less risk.). You may also need to know which plants or flowers are dangerous to your cat.
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