Happy 2017, fellow cat lovers! January is when people make healthy resolutions, but it's also National Walk Your Pet Month. That's right. You can teach your indoor-only cat to go for a leashed walk.
Note: Not all cats should be walked outside. Some don't have the temperament (or health) to do it safely. Also, take a look around your neighborhood. If you live on a busy street with a lot of noise, consider investing in a cat stroller instead. Or simply place a cat tree beside a window so Kitty can observe the great outdoors while remaining safely inside.
In 2015, research conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention stated that about 58% of cats are overweight or obese. Yikes! Too much food and not enough exercise is a bad recipe for humans and cats alike. In addition to feeding a high-quality diet and introducing more playtime into your cat's routine, consider taking him or her out for a walk.
To help make the process as stress free as possible, remember to go slow and be patient. Since January is National Walk Your Pet Month, we're releasing a two-part blog post on how to walk your cat. The second post will be published in about two weeks since it may take at least that long to get to the latter half of the training.
Step 1: Safety's first! Check in with us to make sure your cat's vaccines are up to date. Does your cat have a breakaway collar? Is he or she microchipped and fixed? We want to make sure Kitty is as safe as can be before he embarks on his great adventure.
Step 2: Invest in a harness designed for cats. You'll want one that looks more like a vest or jacket (instead of thin straps) so kitty is secure and comfortable. Avoid retractable leashes. Once you find the right one and it's sized correctly for your cat, you're ready to move on.
Step 3: Leave the harness near your cat and let him or her get used to it for several days. You can even drape the harness over his back without attaching any of the buckles. Wait until mealtime (when he or she is getting hungry) then slip the harness on. Your cat may act like you've just placed the weight of the entire world on his shoulders or he'll tear through the house in a blind panic. Stay calm. Give lots of treats. If Kitty continues to struggle and remains scared, take the harness off and try again later. You'll just have to go even slower next time.
Step 4: For the first several training session, keep the harness on for only a short while. If your cat will eat his dinner while wearing his harness, great! If not, take it off then feed immediately after. Repeat every day. Since most cats are food motivated, your job is to convince Kitty that Harness = Delicious Treats. Your goals are to: One, get your cat to comfortably walk around while wearing a harness. Two, get your cat to come running whenever you hold up the harness.
Step 5: If you're lucky enough to have a cat who takes to wearing a harness right away, try attaching the leash to acclimatize Kitty to the extra weight. Don't just drop the leash, hold it in your hand first. You can let Kitty drag the leash around but only when you're around to supervise. Just like the above steps with the harness, the point is get Kitty to start associating leash + harness with yummy treats and praise.
Remember: Training sessions should be short and positive. Keep it up for a couple of weeks until you're both comfortable with the whole process of putting on, wearing, and taking off the harness (and leash). Don't go outside just yet! Our next post will talk about how to get your cat to take his or her first step into the outside world.