We would do anything for our feline friends — groom them regularly and take them to the vet when they aren’t feeling well. We install cat trees and scatter toys in our homes to keep them entertained and occupied. But did you know one of the best ways to stimulate your cat and promote good health is through exercise?
Letting your cat explore the great outdoors may seem nerve-wracking at first, but it’s also one of the best ways for them to get exercise and mental stimulation. Luckily, there’s a safe way to accomplish this: leash-train your cat! It might sound odd at first, but leash training isn’t all that unusual. In fact, it’s an exciting way to provide enrichment and exercise for an indoor cat.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about leash training your kitty below.
Why Should I Leash Train My Cat?
Leash training your cat can be beneficial for a number of reasons. For one, it allows your feline friend to safely explore the great outdoors. Both cats and dogs need mental and physical stimulation, which helps to prevent boredom and the destructive behaviors that can come along with it. Even just ten to 15 minutes of mental stimulation a day can help keep your kitty happy and healthy.
Plus, leash training can also come in handy in emergency situations, allowing you to quickly and easily evacuate your cat from a potentially dangerous situation. And let’s be real, there’s nothing quite as adorable as seeing a kitty strutting around on a leash.
Depending on the personality of your pet, though, leash training might not be the easiest thing to accomplish. Before we walk you through a step-by-step guide for leash training even the most stubborn kitty, note that not all cats will want to go for a stroll on a leash. That’s ok — we have other ways to get creative with your pets below!
But in the meantime, why not give leash training a try and give your cat the gift of adventure? Let’s go!
Cat Leash Training: Simple Steps
Leash training your cat may seem like a daunting task — after all, most cats don’t exactly enjoy being strapped into even the best cat harness. But with some patience and positive reinforcement, you can have your furry friend strutting around on a leash in no time.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:
Start by introducing your cat to the leash and collar for the first time. Let them sniff and investigate the equipment, and offer plenty of treats to help them form positive associations with the collar and leash.
According to animal behaviorists, positive reinforcement is your best friend when it comes to getting your kitty to look forward to, rather than fearing, the sight of the leash and harness.
Once your cat is comfortable with the leash and collar, it’s time to start practicing. Be prepared to have your cat lay down or roll around with the harness on. Give them time, space, and plenty of treats to help them acclimate. This may be a slow process, be patient!
Starting off with walking in your home is wise. Your cat is familiar with your home, naturally, and will feel safer and more comfortable there. This will make it that much easier for them to wear the leash in the outside world.
Once your cat is at-ease walking on the leash in your home, it’s time to take things outside. Start in a quiet, enclosed area, such as your backyard or large patio. Allow your cat to explore and get used to their new surroundings.
Release any expectation of walking your cat like you would a dog. They are much slower and prefer to take their time sniffing and exploring. Plan to do a lot of standing around while your cat explores!
This shouldn’t be a long journey. Just like with training dogs, short sessions are far more preferable.
Go Forth and Adventure
As your cat becomes more confident on the leash, consider venturing further and exploring new areas and environments together. Be patient and consistent with your leash training efforts. Reward your cat with cat treats and praise whenever they do something right.
One thing you should be cautious of when leash training your cat is to not let them explore the outside world until they’ve had all of their vaccines. Cats are curious animals, and exposure to different surfaces and other animals without the necessary vaccines can pose a risk to them.
Only once they’ve gotten all their shots and been cleared by a vet to walk on a leash should you begin leash training. And with time, patience, and plenty of positive reinforcement, your cat will soon be a pro at leash walking, ready to explore the world by your side!
What Should Pet Parents Use for Harness Training?
One of the most important steps to successfully leash training your kitty is choosing a well-fitting harness and sturdy leash.
Select equipment that was specifically designed for cats, not dogs. Simply using a small dog harness is not a good idea. You’ll want to avoid any type of chain leash; opt for a lightweight cloth or nylon harness and leash instead.
If you aren’t quite sure which leash or harness is best for your kitty, reach out to your friendly animal behavioral expert or your local vet. A harness that is too small or ill-fitting can be uncomfortable or even harmful to your pet.
When it comes to the collar vs. harness debate, both dog and cat parents have differing opinions. It’s worth noting that collars can prove a tad more dangerous: Cats could potentially become tangled or slip out of a collar. Harnesses also support neck and thyroid health, especially if your pet is prone to pulling.
That’s not to say that collars don’t have a purpose. Collars with a tag identifying your cat and listing your contact information are critical if your cat slips away. Additionally, indoor and outdoor cats can benefit from the One Pet ID from AskVet. The One Pet ID can be updated with your smartphone and alert you if your lost pet is located.
Other Ways To Provide Mental Stimulation for Your Cat
Mental stimulation is essential for the well-being of young and adult cats and dogs, just like it is for us. Bored and frustrated animals can resort to obsessive behaviors like chewing, digging, and generally destroying things, which can frustrate you and your pet.
On the flip side, even just a few minutes of mental stimulation and enrichment each day can wear out your kitten or adult cat and vastly improve their overall quality of life.
Puzzles and Toys
Leash training your kitty and letting them explore the outside world is one way to provide enrichment, but there are plenty of other options as well.
Providing plenty of toys and games for your cat to play with is a good start. Anything from simple cardboard boxes and paper bags to more advanced puzzle toys and interactive laser pointers can be entertaining for your pet.
Encouraging your cat to use their natural hunting instincts can challenge them. You might try hiding treats or cat food around the house, which playful, adventurous cats love to root out, or providing puzzle feeders to mentally wear them out while they retrieve their kibble.
You can incorporate cat furniture to build a stimulating environment for your cat to explore. This might include things like cat trees, scratching posts, and cat tunnels for them to investigate and play in.
Alongside investing in cat toys and furniture, provide your cat with regular opportunities for exercise and physical activity. Set aside a dedicated time each day to play with your kitty using a laser pointer or cat toy.
- Note: Be wary of introducing household items like string or yarn that can prove dangerous if swallowed. Instead of yarn, opt for toys made specifically for your feline.
Teach New Tricks
Another way to engage your cat is by engaging in regular training sessions. Teaching a cat new tricks and commands provides a mental challenge that can help keep their minds sharp. It’s also a wonderful bonding opportunity for you and your furry friend.
Leash Training: Worth the Struggle
Wearing a harness and leash might not come naturally to your kitty, but once they get used to the sensation, it can be a fun way to let your cat explore the outdoor world, get exercise, and enjoy some mental stimulation and enrichment. A stimulated cat is a happy cat, and a happy cat means a happy pet parent!
If you have any questions or concerns about exploring Mother Nature with your feline friend, we can help. When you sign up for AskVet, you can schedule a virtual appointment with a Certified Pet Lifestyle Coach™ for info on cat training, behavior, routines, and more. Whether you’re looking for assistance providing a well-balanced life for your cat, dog, fish, reptile, or any other pet, the CPLCs™ at AskVet are only a click away.