Exercise might not be a challenge for dogs who love to chase a ball, but overweight cats are a whole different beast. Whereas you can throw a leash on your dog and go for a brisk jaunt around the neighborhood, most cats aren't trained to walk on a leash.
Rest assured, though, that walking your cat on a leash can be done, and it’s great exercise for them. The trick is patience. And determination. And more patience.
One does not simply tell a cat to go for a walk. Cats require a certain…finesse. You’ll reap the benefits when your fat cat loses a couple of pounds and your veterinarian puts the insulin jar back in the fridge.
Why to train your cat to walk on a leash
Many feline behavior problems stem from boredom, and supervised outdoor time can go a long way toward enriching your cat’s life. Even more beneficial is the exercise your cat will get on a brisk walk around the neighborhood.
It is important to note, though, that leash walking is not for every cat. Laid-back cats tend to do best on walks, while timid or shy cats will probably prefer to stay indoors and watch from the window. Declawed, deaf and blind cats should also stay indoors – if they became lost, they would be significantly disadvantaged in the wild, so keep them safely indoors.
Walking on a leash is not a natural behavior for most cats, but it can be taught. While your dog likely jumps for joy when he sees the leash come out, your cat might balk at the idea. Make the transition a little easier by taking it one step at a time.
How to leash-train your cat:
Step 1: A harness is recommended for leash walking, rather than a collar that could slip off if kitty gets spooked. Buy an appropriately sized harness and leave it by your cat’s food bowl for a few days. Your cat will notice it and associate it with a positive thing (food!).
Step 2: After your cat is used to seeing the harness, it’s time to get her to wear it. Start by simply laying it on her while she’s resting. Pair this activity with a treat so that she again associates the harness with a positive outcome.
Step 3: Once she is acclimated to this activity, put just one loop of the harness over her head and then remove it. Remember to give a treat each time. Eventually, you will be able to get her into the harness stress-free. The end result may be a week or more in coming (this is where the patience comes in), so go slow and follow your cat’s lead. Lengthen the amount of time your cat is in the harness each session.
Step 4: When your cat is used to wearing the harness, add the leash. At first, just let your cat drag the leash around behind her. This might freak her out at first. If it does, remove it and try again later. Make sure she’s in a room where the leash will not snag on anything. When she is used to the leash, you can pick it up and follow her around with it.
Step 5: If your cat is now comfortable with both the leash and harness, you can venture outside. Pick a quiet time of day and a quiet spot and simply sit with your cat. Allow her to dictate your walks in the beginning. If it’s her first time outdoors, she may become easily overwhelmed. Keep your sessions short, go slow and allow her to explore her surroundings on her own time.
Ta-da, you’re walking your cat! While walking, be sure to keep your cat on a tight leash. You’ll want her to remain within reaching distance in case you need to pick her up quickly. Now that your previously indoor kitty is exploring the great outdoors with you, be doubly sure to keep up-to-date on vaccines and parasite prevention. Don’t forget heartworm prevention – if you live in an area that has mosquitoes, ask your veterinarian which one she recommends.
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