Don’t have the space or budget for an outdoor enclosure? Follow these suggestions to adapting your kitty to a harness and lead.

Mr. Wings lived at a breeding farm for 13 years. He lay in a smelly cat cage stacked on top of other cages. Lack of movement had atrophied the Persian’s muscles, he had trouble walking and limped painfully. After we rescued him, we wondered how we could lift his spirits and help him regain his health. We knew fresh air and watching butterflies are wonderful cat medicine, so decided to take him for walks on a harness and leash.

The first time we put Mr. Wings into a harness, he was leery. But once he learned what it meant, he came to love his new walking experiences and ran to us every time he heard the harness and leash come out of the closet. He loved the freedom, the sun, and the fresh air, and he explored everything. Even the grass under his feet was an oddity; all he’d known before was a wire cage floor.

Soon, Mr. Wings moved on the leash like a prize show horse. One slight movement from my finger on his lead and he went in the required direction. He became stronger, healthier, and much happier. Although Mr. Wings’ situation was extreme, a lot of people worry that their indoor cats are becoming couch potatoes. Yet in today’s busy world, outdoor cats can easily get into danger. A cat enclosure is one way to give your kitty quality time outside in a safe environment, but what if you don’t have the room for one, or the budget?

Walking your cat on a harness is an alternative you may not have considered. Cats love exploring, and with patience can be trained to walk on a leash and enjoy it. Even cats who have enclosures relish going for walks to relieve boredom and explore new territory.

Be patient – it can take a little while for your cat to adapt to wearing and walking with a harness.

How to walk a cat

  1. Buy a harness specifically designed for cats. A cat can more easily slip out of a collar. Dog collars are especially dangerous for cats. When frightened, cats may bolt and their fragile necks can be harmed by a heavy collar.
  2. Measure your cat before buying a harness. Make sure you’re getting one that won’t be too loose, or uncomfortably tight. Buy two in case one gets wet or damaged.
  3. Many harnesses are made from a slippery material that a cat might wriggle or back out of. Test the harness before leaving the house. Have him wear it on and off for a few days inside, and monitor his wiggle-behavior.
  4. The first time you put the harness on your cat, don’t be surprised if he flips on his side and lies there like a casualty from an old western gun fight. Leave the harness on briefly, then remove it so he becomes gradually comfortable with the process.
  5. Put the harness on and off over the next few days, leaving it on longer each time. Soon your cat will not even notice it. Leave the harness out so he becomes accustomed to it. In time, he will soon step into it to help you put it on!
  6. Once your cat is comfortable with wearing his harness inside, take him out. Remember you are walking a cat, not a dog. Cats have their own minds and goals. Make the first walk short, so it’s a pleasurable experience for him.
  7. Now, here’s the secret to success! Let your cat walk anywhere he wants. Allow him to choose the speed and direction, and watch his body language so you know when he wants to go back inside. Be patient; this is an important part in charge, so let him think he is leading you.
  8. For the first few times, you may feel more comfortable carrying a soft mesh cat carrier in case he gets tired of walking, frightened, or an unleashed dog appears. Trying to carry a scared or wriggly cat isn’t easy. Putting him in the carrier guarantees you’ll both make it home safely. Any outdoor cat, whether on a leash or not, should be microchipped and have ID on his harness.
  9. The more your cat understands the walk is for him, the more excited he will be for the next one. After walking several times, try tugging very gently on the leash when you want him to move in another direction. He will easily comply, as up to this point you have not demanded anything from him.
  10. Inspect the harness regularly for fraying or any other weaknesses that could cause it to break or slip.

The secret to success is to let your cat walk anywhere he wants.

Play it safe

Our family has comfortably walked with cats on harnesses for years. But always consider your kitty’s safety. One day, I was inside the house and my cat was on her harness outside watching the birds from under her favorite bush. Her leash was securely tied to a stake. I heard a little boy laughing and went outside to see where he had come from. He had ridden his tricycle into our yard and was peddling into my helpless cat! She had climbed the bush and was hanging from a branch, all four paws off the ground, unable to dislodge herself. Luckily, this had only just taken place, and I lifted her safely down.

I never left her unattended after that and have never again tied a cat to any object. It became obvious that day that a cat tied outside alone is at the mercy of anything and everything that comes along. Always stay with your cat when he’s outside on a harness and leash.

By purchasing the right harness, being patient and thinking safety, you and your feline friend will quickly discover the pleasures of taking long, leisurely walks together!

Off the fence

Don’t have time to walk your cat? Cat fencing gives him the freedom to safely explore the yard without a leash, and prevents other animals from climbing in. Some systems require a yard with an existing fence, while other companies, such as Purrfect Fence, also offer free-standing cat fencing kits. The fencing is made from a strong but flexible mesh that’s hard to climb. The top of the fence is equipped with extender arms that cause the whole upper section of the fence to pivot downward under the cat’s weight, safely depositing him back in the yard before returning to its original position.

Taking your cat for supervised walks on a harness lets him explore in safety. Here, Renny enjoys a bird’s eye view from atop a backyard woodpile.

Be sure your yard and garden are free of anything that could potentially harm your cat – for example, daylilies are poisonous to felines. And if you’re inside while your cat is out, make sure to check on him at regular intervals.