Updated: Feb 19
Wild cats thrive outside, so why not allow your house cat to have the same opportunities as their ancestors? Especially, when you can safely have control of the situation and in turn share an adventure with your feline.
Perhaps, you no longer want your cat to be an indoor/outdoor cat and you're looking for a transition to bring them back inside but still allow them similar freedoms (but on your terms) - leash walking may be the safe technique. Many cats show a curiosity to go outside, and if you're too nervous to allow them to roam free I'd suggest looking into a cat harness and a light leash. Taking your cat for a walk can be a mental enrichment, physical exercise, and maintain indoor cat life expectancies for them. Before you take your cat outside they absolutely need to be properly vaccinated (rabies, FeLV) and I suggest having them ID'd and microchipped (I use HomeAgain).
The Training Starts Indoors:
As simple as it sounds the first step to success is finding a harness that fits your cat perfectly. You will want a harness that distributes pressure across multiple areas so that the harness does not choke your cat and a harness that prevents them from slipping out. I'd recommend:
SleepyPod Martingale Harness - this harness is well-designed and made for cats who are known to escape their harnesses. It's durable yet lightweight so it does not weigh your cat down (used on all sized cats);
Rabbitgoo Escape-Proof Cat Harness - this harness has security features that will prevent your cat from escaping. This is one of the harnesses that are designed to fit kittens;
PetSafe Come With Me Kitty with Bungee Cat Leash - this harness has an open design and comfortable straps that provide cats with more mobility since less of their body is constrained. This harness comes with a bungee leash that allows you to gently control your pet while on walks (used on slimmer cats);
RC Pets Primary Collection Adventure Kitty Harness - this is durable mesh vest harness that comes with repair/replacement guarantee (used on stockier cats). This harness comes with a 6 foot leash that allows you to give your cat some freedom while maintaining control.
Upon choosing harness you will want to introduce your cat to this training process slowly:
First you will start by setting aside 5-10 minutes to set the harness near or held slightly over the cat - if they do not panic or they interact with the harness you will say "Yes!" and reward them with a treat;
Once your cat is familiar with the harness touching them you will want to set aside 15-20 minutes a day where you will put the harness on the cat;
Some cats will take longer than others to become acclimated to the harness so if you notice extreme distress cut back on the training time and allow your cat to learn with you at their pace;
After cat your becomes acclimated to the harness you will want to introduce the leash. You will want to take 10-15 minutes a day where attach the leash to the harness and attempt to walk your cat indoors;
Some cats struggle the most with the leash portion of the training - so if you notice any distress you will want to cut back the training time again and learn with them at their pace;
During this process you will want to have plenty of small cat treats, cooked chicken or even small amounts of wet food to keep your cat from withdrawing;
Once your cat has mastered steps 1-4 indoors you will want to move the training to a small area outdoors and repeat the same process;
Cats are stubborn so they may walk a few steps, realize they're under the same circumstances, and stop. That is okay - the exposure on the leash and them being outside is an additional reward for them at this point in the training;
With time your cat should feel comfortable walking on leash and you will want to build a consistent routine with them (going for walks at the same time on the same path).
It is essential to take this acclimation and training process slowly and at a pace that allows your cat to retain their confidence. It's easier to start this training when your cat is younger, but you can still teach your adult cats. Patience is the key.
Once you have developed a comfortable routine you will then want to explore further with your cat. At this point you will want to keep in mind that there are dangers plants and flowers (ASPCA’s list of plants and flowers that are toxic to cats) and the possibility of parasites. If you're unsure of your cats health please consult with a veterinarian. Have fun adventuring with your cat and be safe!