There's no doubt that daily dog walks are a great way to get moving, with 48% of people citing an increase in exercise as a reason for getting a pet dog. It’s incredibly commonplace to see dogs out and about with their parents.
But what about cat walks for those with copilots of the feline variety? Walking your cat on a leash can be a great way to increase your step count while providing your pet with valuable enrichment.
If you're interested in taking your cat outside safely, follow these five steps to train them how to walk on a leash.
1. Introduce the harness
The sensation of a harness feels strange for a cat, so go very slowly when introducing them to it.
Begin by having the cat sniff the harness. Try fastening and unfastening it in front of them so they can get used to the noise of the clips or Velcro.
Do this at mealtimes or while feeding treats to make it a positive experience, and allow them to approach it at their own pace.
2. Practice wearing the harness indoors
Once the cat is familiar with the harness, slip it onto them without fastening it. Always remove the harness if or when your cat appears upset by it.
Repeat this several days in a row until you can fasten the harness and adjust it for a perfect fit. You want it to be a tight enough fit that you can only slip one or two fingers underneath it.
It's normal for cats to freeze and refuse to walk in a harness initially, so work on gradually increasing the amount of time they wear it.
3. Use the leash with tension indoors
When your cat's used to wearing the harness, take the next step of attaching the leash. Initially, let them walk around with the leash trailing after them as long as this doesn't startle them – the weight can take a little getting used to.
Once they're used to this, try taking hold of the leash and following the cat wherever they choose to go. This helps them get used to leash tension.
4. Lead your cat on indoor walks
The next stage is using the leash to guide your cat to walk. Use treats to encourage your cat to follow you while they're harnessed and leashed.
Something to note about training cats is that you don't have to reward them every single time they show the correct behaviour. Unlike dogs, cats respond to training best when rewards are intermittent because it keeps them guessing and motivated.
5. Take your walks outside
After you've had plenty of practice with indoor walks, it's time to head outside. Begin by simply opening the door and encouraging your cat to venture out of it.
Some cats are thrilled at the prospect of exploring unknown territory, while others are more cautious.
Don't force nervous cats to go out. Let them get comfortable at their own pace and gradually increase the time you spend outside by a few minutes each day.
Slow and steady wins the race
It can take time to train a cat to walk on a leash, so be patient and work at it regularly. Studies show that cats look to their owners for a sense of security and safety.
With your calm presence as reassurance, your cat will gradually adapt to new experiences and enjoy their daily walks.
Lizz Caputo is the Manager of Content Strategy at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.