Have you ever wondered if your indoor cat could double as an “adventure cat” or “explorer cat?”
It’s a trend that’s only grown on social media in recent years. Hiking, sightseeing, and road-tripping are no longer limited to man’s best friend.
Suki Cat, Willow The Traveling Cat, and Bolt and Keel are some examples of feline personas who have taken Instagram by storm, accumulating thousands and even millions of followers for their inquisitive personalities captured in scenic photographs.
And you, too, can leash-train your cat! With the right approach, it’s easier than you think to teach your cat yourself. Read on for everything you need to know about how to do it yourself.
Benefits of Leash Training for Cats
Many cat owners agree that indoors is the safest place for cats to be. After all, indoor-only cats have an average life expectancy of 17 years, compared to only 2-5 for outdoor-only cats.
This comes as no surprise, given that indoor cats are significantly less exposed to fleas, ticks, parasites, and predators — much less dangerous vehicles and toxic chemicals.
But this isn’t to say that going outdoors is bad for your cat altogether. In fact, allowing your cat outdoors in a measured, control manner has many benefits, including:
- Improved mental health
- Instinctual behaviors
Though cats have been domesticated for about 4,000 years, they will always be hunters by nature. Going outside stimulates their senses by exposing them to sights, smells, and sounds that they may not experience indoors.
Moreover, bringing your cat outside allows them to reconnect with their roots.
There, they can hunt prey, providing excellent rodent control. They’re free to use the bathroom wherever and whenever they please. They can scratch up tree trunks instead of scratching up your furniture.
By nurturing your kitty’s curiosity, you’re giving them a natural outlet to act on their impulses. This helps promote better behavior indoors.
How to Leash Train Your Cat
Each cat will have a different response to leash training depending on their breed, age, size, and previous experiences. It’s important to keep these factors in mind as you consider which safety equipment and training methods are right for you.
While it’s generally easier to leash-train your cat while they’re still a kitten, older cats can still learn new tricks… It just might require a little more patience.
Expect to spend a few days on each stage of leash training. No matter what kind of cat you have, all of them still need their personal space, and all of them are a bit more prone to stress than dogs.
As such, remember to maintain a calm, “paws-itive” attitude as you embark on this new journey together.
1. Find the Right Harness
When shopping for cat leashes, remember that harnesses are more comfortable and wiggle-proof than collars. This is because they’re fastened behind the cat’s front legs and over their shoulders — removing the tension from around the neck.
Look for harnesses that are made specifically for cats. These are designed to fit your cat’s weight, shape, and body type.
Use the “two-finger test” to assess how well the cat harnesses fit. If you can slide two fingers under the harness, that means it’s snug enough without being restrictive.
If you can’t fit two fingers — or if you can fit more than two fingers — this means the harness is either too tight or too loose.
2. Introduce the Harness to Your Cat
Food is at the center of every positive experience with your cat. Before you can even put the harness on, it’s important to introduce it to your cat so they can become familiar with what it is and what it does.
Start by letting your cat sniff the harness, and reward them with a treat.
Then, practice gently buckling and unbuckling the harness in front of them. This way, they learn to associate the sound with treats. This is an important step, as some cats are startled by new, unexpected sounds.
Then, leave the harness near their food bowl for a few days. This will help them get familiar with the sight of the harness — and the rewards associated with it — and they might even feel comfortable enough to rub their scent on it.
3. Put the Harness On
Once your cat has embraced the harness as part of their everyday life, it’s time to practice putting it on. The trick is not to fasten it just yet.
Instead, let your cat get used to the gesture of being outfitted with the harness. If you try to put the harness on too suddenly or too forcefully, they may feel trapped and try to flee.
Remember the reward system. If they let you put the harness on, reward them with a treat. You could also practice using the harness right before mealtime, so they learn to associate the harness with food.
4. Fasten the Harness
Once your cat appears comfortable with the unbuckled harness, try fastening it — keeping those treats in mind as a reward.
It will take a few days for your kitty to get used to the feeling of the harness around their torso. Don’t be alarmed if they freeze up, walk funny, or refuse to walk at all.
Monitor your cat’s comfort levels with the fastened harness each day. If your cat appears comfortable, leave it on a little bit longer.
If your cat gets upset, remove the harness and try again in a day or two — this time, with even better treats, like their favorite wet food. Then, remove the harness sooner than you did before to help avoid another negative response.
5. Attach the Leash
Once your cat has really gotten a feel for what the fastened harness feels like, it’s time to attach the leash.
At first, you’ll want to let your cat roam freely, without you holding the leash at all.
Just remember to practice this indoors, in a room that doesn’t have a lot of furniture or other miscellaneous items for the leash to snag on. This gets your cat used to walking on a leash without tension.
Keep in mind that some cats may be alarmed by the sound or sensation of something dragging behind them. This is normal, too. In this case, hold onto the leash gently, and follow your kitty instead of trying to guide them.
Practice engaging your kitty with toys and other stimulating activities once they’re on the leash. Remember to reward positive behavior with treats, or a clicker if you’re using clicker training.
6. Practice Guiding Your Cat
Now that your cat knows what the harness and leash feel like, you can practice gently guiding them! After following your cat around the house a bit, start applying slight tension to the leash with gentle tugs.
Use treats, toys, or commands to guide your cat in the direction you want them to go — and remember to keep rewarding that positive behavior in this stage, too.
Start small once you venture outside for the first time. If you have a fenced-in backyard, this is the best place to start. If not, hang around the door, leaving it open so they know they can always retreat back to safety until they’re comfortable.
And remember to let your cat explore. The outdoors can be overwhelming — especially for first-timers. Let them get acclimated to the various sights, sounds, smells, and sensations they might encounter.
Dos and Don’ts of Leash Training
Do carry your cat out the door whenever you’re ready to go outside. Don’t let your cat walk out the door themselves, as this could promote “door-dashing” behaviors, even when the leash isn’t on.
Do bring a towel or blanket on your outdoor journeys. In case your cat has a “freakout,” this is a quick way to make them feel safe and secure while also protecting yourself from potential bites and scratches.
Do remember to bring food and water on your journeys, no matter how short. Anxiety and excitement can heighten your cat’s thirst, and you want to have extra treats on hand to keep rewarding good behavior.
Don’t harness your cat when they start crying for a walk. This will condition them to expect what they want whenever they cry.
Don’t leave your cat outside unattended, even if only for a few minutes. Leaving your cat’s leashed attached to an object could cause them to get tangled up and injured. And leaving your cat outside not leashed could encourage them to explore a little too far and run away.
Don’t bring your cat around busy roads or barking dogs. Keep the weather in mind, too, as cats prefer drier, milder conditions over cold, wet, and excessive heat. This could cause sensory overload, resulting in a panicked, fleeing response or even injury.
Outdoor Safety for Cats
If leash training has gone well, you probably want to start incorporating the outdoors into more of your routine!
If not, there are other ways to bring your cat outside with you while still keeping them safe and letting them explore, like cat carrier backpacks.
And if your cat has been declawed, it’s probably not a good idea to take them outside, as their claws are the first line of defense against predators — especially in more rural areas.
Note: We do not encourage the declawing of cats, because it is a cruel act and makes them handicapped. But many rescue cats will have been declawed previously, and it’s best to be ready for them!
Make sure your cat is up-to-date on all of their vaccines. Generally, adult cats should be vaccinated every 1-3 years if they already got their booster shots as a kitten. These recurring “core” vaccines include:
- Feline viral rhinotracheitis
- Feline calicivirus
- Feline panleukopenia
Additionally, your veterinarian may identify “non-core” vaccines based on your cat’s health and risk-level, including:
- Feline infectious peritonitis
- Feline leukemia virus
Make sure you know your veterinarian’s contact number and where to find your cat’s medical records in case of an emergency. Also, identify any 24-hour emergency animal clinics nearby in case your veterinarian isn’t open.
Lastly, make sure your cat is properly identified in case you two ever get separated. Identification tags are one of the fastest ways someone can reunite your lost cat with you. Some of the information they should include are:
- Your cat’s name
- Your name
- Your address (with city, state, and zip code)
- A reliable phone number to contact you
You might also consider getting your cat microchipped, especially if it’s legally required in your area.
A microchip is not a GPS tracking device, so you don’t have to worry about an invasion of privacy if your cat goes missing. Instead, the chip contains registry information, much like what you’d find on a pet collar.
The chip comes in handy in case your cat wiggles out of a pet collar. This way, if someone finds your missing cat, a veterinarian can scan it for your registry information.
These small, rice-sized devices are enclosed in a tiny glass canister that’s injected using a hypodermic needle. The chip does not contain a battery; it’s only activated by the radiowaves of a scanner.
And microchips make it more likely for your lost pet to be reunited with you.
A study of more than 7,700 stray animals found that microchipped cats were returned 38.5% of the time — compared to only 1.8% of the time if they didn’t have a microchip.
Time to Bond With Your New Adventure Cat
Leash training your cat is more time-consuming than it is difficult. But with the right training approach and accessories, you’ll have a new adventure cat in no time!
The biggest thing to remember is that your cat calls the shots during this time. Some cats may simply never warm up to the outdoors — and that’s okay. There are still plenty of ways to engage in meaningful activity with your feline companion.
Ready to start training? Look no further than Meowa. We have cat accessories specially designed for the outdoors — from cat leashes, harnesses, and carriers to portable food and water dispensers and window perches.
Browse our shop today and find what’s right for you.