We get it, you’re a curious. You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers. For this series, we send your burning kitty q’s to our panel of experts who can help you get inside your cat’s high-held head.
We consulted Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. Mikel has worked professionally with cats for almost twenty years, starting in the Cat Behavior Program of the San Francisco SPCA, and more recently through her cat behavior consulting partnership, Feline Minds. She’s also co-author with Jackson Galaxy of the 2017 book “Total Cat Mojo,” and has published her research in several academic journals.
My cat loves birdwatching from the window, and I've been curious about how I could maybe take her outside on a harness and leash so she could get some more outdoor time. I want to make sure she's comfortable and enjoys it, so are there ways I can reduce potential stress or anxiety from taking on a new environment? How can I make outdoor time enjoyable (and safe) for her?
A great way to give your cat outdoor time in a safe and controlled way is to take them out for walks on a harness and lead. It’s important to recognize that this isn’t really like walking a dog - in this case, the cat often leads the way and may be happy just to roll around and sniff some grass! I also strongly recommend limiting where you take your cat to places that are safe, enclosed, and predictable. This means staying close to home, or even to your secured yard. Why? The streets and parks are full of people, animals and noises that may present a hazard, even if your cat is comfortable being outside.
- So how to get started? Here’s a quick guide to introducing your cat to enjoying some time on a harness!
- First things first: make sure your cat has a microchip and a collar with an ID tag! Identification increases the chance of being reunited with your cat if your cat is lost outdoors.
- Next, get the right type of harness and lead for a cat. Cats should NEVER be walked strictly on a collar with a leash attached. They need a harness that provides full-body support and does not put pressure on their neck. I recommend the Kitty Holster, which uses velcro to provide security, or the Travel Cat True Adventurer, which can be a nice alternative for cats who don’t like pressure on the back of their necks. A six foot lead will be plenty to keep you close but give your cat a little freedom to move.
- Let your cat check out the harness at their own pace. Place it on the ground and place treats nearby -- let your cat sniff the harness, but don’t force them to get close to it if they aren’t ready. They will eat the treats when they are good and ready!
- Now it’s time to start getting your cat used to wearing the harness. At first, you can drape the harness across their body and let them get used to the sensation while eating their favorite treats, then stop. Next time try for a longer period of time, or affixing some (but not all) of the straps/velcro attachments. Build up to having the harness fully on.
- Take your first (safe) outing: Keep it short and sweet as your cat may be a little overwhelmed or frightened at first. Watch for panting, dilated pupils, straining on the lead, looking for a place to hide. Those are all signs that your cat needs to go back indoors. Most cats may be a little nervous, but you can gradually increase their time outdoors with your next visits.
- Once they have had a taste of the outdoors, many cats will be eager to go out again! Train your cat how and when they get to go outside! Pick a schedule for going outside that you can stick to on most days so your cat knows when to expect outside time. You can ask your cat to sit quietly before you place the harness so they learn that being quiet, NOT meowing, is what allows them to enjoy some outside time. Put on the harness in a room away from the door and always carry your cat outside so she learns that YOU take her out. Give your cats a meal or treats when you come inside so your cat has a good experience for coming in.
Many cats really enjoy this type of safe time outdoors - and hopefully, you will enjoy it with them!!