Hello again! Now that you’ve established that your kitty might enjoy an outing or at least you’re prepared to try, you can start getting them ready. Preparing your cat properly and getting them used to a harness is incredibly important to their enjoyment of the outdoors. If the steps are rushed or not done properly, your cat could have a bad experience, which will make trying again even harder.
But don’t be discouraged, just know that it’ll take a lot of patience and listening to what your cat wants, even though you’re probably itching to go adventuring with your buddy immediately.
STEP 1: Harness training
Start harness training your cat as soon as you can, the older your cat gets, the harder it’ll be to get them used to having something on their body. If you’re still figuring out whether your cat is the adventuring type or not, you don’t have to commit to buying a harness immediately. You can use some thick ribbon or a strip of fabric at first. Your cat might already be used to wearing a collar, which will make it a lot easier.
Always reward them with treats or food when harness training for the first time. Start by tying some ribbon around their neck like a collar (not too tight) or around their chest where a harness would sit. If you already have a harness you can put it on them and leave it unclipped. Give them a treat or feed them while they’re wearing it and gauge their reaction. If they go about their business as usual without falling over, you’re already halfway there! A lot of cats, especially if they’re older will freak out and fall over, which means you just have to try a few times a week and see if they start getting used to it.
Once you’ve purchased a harness, make sure you’re putting it on them at least once a week, leaving it on for a while. Put it on before you feed them to speed the process. Make it a positive experience, give them treats while they have it on or distract them with their favourite toy. Once they’re walking around your house comfortably with it on, you can start the leash training.
N.B. Never walk your cat on a collar, their bodies are not the same as dogs and you could injure them. A harness is important for all cats when going outside, even if you trust that your cat will stay by your side, you cannot foresee what potential dangers (mostly dogs) you could come across.
STEP 2: Leash training
From here onwards, please note… YOUR CAT IS NOT A DOG. Walking a cat is an entirely different experience so do not expect them to walk as a dog would. Cats are definitely more wandering adventurers and won’t always stick to your plans outdoors, allow your cat to walk you in the beginning.
Kitten harnesses often come with a leash, which is fine for training but in the long run, an extendable leash is a must. All major pet stores stock them and they’ll restrict your cat less.
Clip your cat in and allow them to walk you around your home (adventuring indoors!). At first don’t try to lead them anywhere or they will resist. Hook them onto a leash at least once per week and see if they become more comfortable with the pulling on their harness. You can gradually lead them with treats and have a sound that you make when you want them to follow you.
STEP 3: Take them outside
Taking your adventure buddy to your backyard first or somewhere very quiet and secluded in nature will help them gradually feel more comfortable. If your cat is an indoor cat, this may be a sensory overload at first so allow them time to take it all in. Carry on with the leash training outside. Put it on and let them lead you around, you can even get them to follow a toy or a treat. You’ll find that they might immediately shoot up a tree or into a bush and this is a good sign that they’re comfortable exploring with a harness and a leash on.
STEP 4: Make the carrier comfortable
A carrier is an important part of outdoor adventuring (and we’re not just saying that because we sell them). It can provide a safe space if your cat is tired or hot and especially if they panic when encountering a dog or too many people. Interacting with a dog can be a stressful experience and you don’t want your shoulder clawed to shreds.
Make the carrier part of their life at home, put some catnip in it and allow them to use it as a house or play den.
If your cat enjoys the outdoors but isn’t the best at walking on a leash, the carrier can also be an amazing way for them to see the sights with you without having to hike all the way.
STEP 5: Nearly ready!
Once your kitty is feeling confident with a leash and harness on, chances are you’ll have to take them in a car to an adventuring location. If your cat isn’t already comfortable in the car, you should take them for a few drives before driving anywhere far away for their first walk. Part of familiarizing them with the process is making sure they are comfortable travelling in the car. Strap your carrier in and you’re on your way to your first trip in the great outdoors.
On your cat’s first trip, it’s recommended that you take them to a quiet place that is preferably surrounded by vegetation or trees. Generally cats don’t like large open spaces and for a first time trip it’s not recommended. Choose somewhere or a time of day where there’ll be fewer dogs and people. A place that has a path with bushes/ trees on either side, rocks or a forest is perfect. Hook their leash on and let them lead you for the first 2 or 3 trips. A nice trick is to get a friend or partner to walk in front of you for your kitty to follow.
Before you leave make sure you have some treats, food and water on hand. If your cat feels comfortable enough they’ll dig a hole to do their business outdoors, so no litter box is needed unless the area requires it. Make sure your cat is microchipped and you can even put an ID tag on their harness. Always keep the carrier on your back and put them inside as soon as you spot a dog or potential stress.
The real trick to adventuring with your cat buddy is learning to listen to them and what they want. You’ll quickly be able to tell when they’re tired or want to head back, they might feel comfortable to sit in the carrier and look out while you walk but in the beginning shorter walks are better until they’re confident.
In Part 3, we’ll look at the best places to take your fellow adventurer and tips for the trail.