How do I train my cat to walk on a harness and lead?

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Are you thinking about training your cat to walk on a harness or lead? Here's our tips on the best way to get your cat accustomed to wearing a harness or walking jacket...

If you think that dog owners have all the fun when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors with their pets, think again! Many cats can be trained to walk on a lead.

It allows owners and their cats, particularly indoor ones, to have safe, supervised, and fun times outdoors. However, it is not just about the fun side of things — walking a cat on a lead has many other benefits. It can help with weight control, reduce obesity, and provide stimulation for cats affected by boredom-related behaviour problems. However, for the best chance of success, lead training should be started when the cat is young. For older, timid, or nervous cats, the great outdoors might be too much of a challenge.

It is essential that you do your homework and purchase the correct equipment. It is not safe for cats to walk on a traditional collar and lead because, if they try to pull away, a breakaway collar will detach, while a standard collar could strangle them.

There are two types of cat harness to consider:

1. A figure-of-eight design that loops around the cat’s neck and then around the body, just behind the armpits.

2. A ‘H’ design that fits like a sideways letter H on the body.

However, an excellent alternative to a cat harness is a cat-walking jacket. They are generally better tolerated and are virtually impossible for the cat to slip out of when adjusted correctly. They fit snugly and comfortably around the cat’s torso, while still allowing the cat to perform natural movements.

A lightweight leather or nylon lead would be the best for a cat. Avoid using retractable leads, as the cat could stray too far ahead and could suddenly become startled. It’s safer to keep your cat on a short lead, close to your side.

Top tips: How to get your cat accustomed to wearing a harness or walking jacket

1. Place the harness or jacket on the floor and allow your cat to sniff and investigate it.

2. When your cat seems relaxed, gently place the harness on the cat (without fastening), while distracting him with a favourite treat. Carefully take it back off and repeat several times.

3. When your cat is happy and relaxed with the harness placed over their back, try to fasten it gently, but again use a favourite treat as a distraction.

4. Let your cat walk around wearing the harness with no lead attached. Repeat several times during the day, and gradually increase duration.

5. Once your cat is accepting of the harness, the lead should be attached for short periods. Repeat this over several days until they are completely relaxed.

6. Finally, it’s time to take your cat into the garden, but please do not venture too far initially; outside the back door will probably be enough to begin with. Gradually increase the distance if he is confident and happy.