Could a Leash Save Your Cat’s Life?
While a leash is an important way of stopping your cat from running into the road, it can also save lives in a different way. Nearly one-third of cats in shelters are there because of behavioral problems. This might be soiling carpets or fighting with housemates, but the upshot is their bad behavior means they are shown the door, end up in a shelter, and risk euthanasia.
The problem is indoor cats often don’t get to act out a full range of natural behaviors such as climbing and scratching. This results in frustration and venting excess energy in unwanted ways, such as bullying other housemates. Training your cat on a harness and leash allows you to take them outside, expand their horizons, and satisfy the basic need to explore.
Can You Walk Your Cat On a Leash?
Some cats take to a harness and leash better than others. These include outgoing breeds such as:
- American shorthair
These cats are so inquisitive they’re likely to sit poised by the door waiting to dash out past you, and they’re likely to take readily to walks in the great outdoors.
If your cat shows an interest in the outside world, such as sitting on window ledges and barking at the birds, then the chances are they’re up for the adventure. However, if you kitty is shy and prefers a sanctuary under the bed to wide open spaces, then it’s probably not for her.
But this isn’t a matter of opening the door and out you both go: You need to prepare your cat. This means getting proper health provisions in place, and getting the cat used to the harness.
- Vaccinations: Cats don’t need direct cat-to-cat contact to pick up some diseases such as feline infectious enteritis (distemper). Make sure her vaccinations are current and boosters are done.
- Parasite Prevention: Protect you cat against heartworm, fleas and ticks. Talk to your vet about which product is best for your cat.
- ID Chip: Get your cat microchipped just in case disaster happens and she runs off. The ID chip is a permanent means of identifying her, and all shelters, animal control officers, and vets carry the scanners.
The Right Equipment
Choose the right equipment so your cat is safe and comfortable. Never attach a leash to a collar (the reasons are too numerous to list but involve strangulation!). Instead fit her with a comfortable harness, such as a Walking Jacket or a Kitty Holster.
Leave the harness around the place so your cat can sniff and get used to it. Next, pop it on immediately before a meal, so she gets food as a reward for wearing it. Then make a huge fuss of her and remove it.
It helps if you do harness training when the cat is hungry, then you can give her food rewards for being so terribly clever. Make the sessions short but fun, and build up to her to following you around on a loose leash, tagging along for a tasty treat.
When you do take her out for the first time, make sure it’s a quiet time of day. That means avoiding the afternoon rush when kids get out of school. Take a thick towel over your shoulder so if she does panic, you can wrap her in the towel and protect yourself from flailing claws.
Don’t go far those first outings. You want to be able to quickly backtrack if the neighbor’s dog appears. But as you both grow in confidence, try taking in a tour of the block…and make new friends in the process.
The Benefits of Leash Walking
If you’re not convinced about leash walking and wondering why you should go to all this bother, here are some of the benefits:
- Vitamin D: Taking your cat outside exposes her to lots of lovely sunshine, which encourages her body to make Vitamin D for healthy bones and teeth.
- Fresh Air and Exercise: It does you both good to take a walk around in the fresh air and stretch those muscles.
- Relieve Boredom: Getting out there to smell the roses is a tremendous source of mental stimulation for a cat. They love discovering their world through scent, so having a whole new neighborhood to explore is super stimulating.
- Inspect Territory: Again, it’s a cat thing. Exploring the world beyond the window pane is a huge thrill for a cat, which helps build confidence and reduce anxiety (when done in the right way).
So remember, your cat might be trying to tell you they want to learn to leash walk if they do the following:
- Door dart
- Window watch
- Shred furniture
- Ambush your other cats
Excess energy and behavioral problems may be helped by taking your cat outdoors on a leash, and it will do their health good, too. So why not give it a go!