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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Hello guys! I recently adopted an adorable kitty that a friend of mine found abandoned in a box in the middle of the street and I think he might have PTSD. He hates going outside, he gets all terrified and aggressive (bites and scratches) every time I take him outside, just by hearing street noises really, and he won’t calm down until we get back home or we get away from the noise. I wouldn’t force him to go outside if it wasn’t necessary, but we have to go outside to go to the vet and I live in a really small apartment so I need to take him outside to do some exercise. Do you have any idea of how to deal with this? What can I do to make him more comfortable with going out? Thank you guys! Amazing blog, keep rocking it!

~ Anto

Thomas: Oh, purr, thank you for the compliments! We’re all making “starfish paws” because we’re so happy you like our blog!

Bella: Now, as for the issue at hand: Yes, going outside is scary for a lot of cats. There’s tons of noise, and we’re really small creatures in a really big world!

Tara: Yes, we cats know we’re prey as well as predators, so we definitely need some confidence-building when it comes to outdoor adventures.

Thomas: We’re glad to hear the only reasons you’re taking your kitty outside are for exercise and trips to the vet, and we think we have some tips for helping you help your cat get used to going outdoors with you.

Bella: The most important thing to do is take it slow. Sudden introductions are terrifying for any cat.

Thomas: I remember Sinéad told me once about how Mama tried to take her outside for the first time on a lead and harness, and she completely freaked out because of all the noise and stimulation! Mama waited a long time to take Sinéad and Siouxsie outside again, by which time she’d learned how to do outdoors right. But even when she did know how to do it right, my poor little Dahlia got so scared by going outside that she flapped around like a fish on the concrete patio and Mama had to grab her and take her inside before she hurt herself!

Bella: Wow, that must have been awful. Poor Thomas — let me give you a lick to ease that painful memory!

Thomas: *purrrrrrrrr*

Tara: So, Anto, what we’d recommend is the one-step-at-a-time approach. If your cat likes treats, you can help motivate him to go outside by rewarding him with treats every time he successfully completes a stage in getting used to outdoors.

Thomas: The first thing to do is get him used to a leash and harness. You’ll want to do this step inside. First, put the harness on him and give him lots of love and a treat or two. Then take the harness off.

Bella: Do this every day, gradually increasing the time you leave him in the harness until he’s comfortably in the harness for an hour or so.

Tara: Then get him used to the weight of the leash — once again, indoors only — by attaching the leash to the harness for a few minutes at a time until he’s used to having it on for 10 minutes or so.

Thomas: Then, after he’s comfortable in the leash and harness, coax him to the door of your apartment while he’s in the leash and harness. Give him treats when he goes outside your door and get him used to going down the hall and back to your apartment. Do this several times until he shows signs of being comfortable like walking normally and holding his head and ears in a relaxed manner.

A confident cat walks across a grass lawn with two orange cats in the background.

This calico cat is confident. She’s walking with her ears up and her tail in a normal position. Photo CC-BY Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue

Bella: Then, after that, you’ll want to get him down the stairs (or wherever you need to go to get to the main exit of your building). Do this a number of times, too.

Tara: When it’s time to go outside, take him to a quieter place like a back yard or courtyard so he won’t be so overwhelmed by street noise. Take him out for just a minute or two at a time: you want to make sure you finish this exercise before he gets scared because you want him to have good feelings about being out with you. As he gets more confident, bring him outside for longer periods of time.

Thomas: Once he gets comfortable in the courtyard for 20 minutes or so, then you can try taking him out on the street side of your building. You’re going to have to gradually build up his tolerance, following the steps we gave you for getting him used to the courtyard.

Bella: It’s going to be a long process and it’ll require patience, but we think that if you can get him comfortable by taking just one step at a time, you’ll eventually be able to take him outside for walks and to the vet.

Tara: How about you other readers? Have you gotten a cat used to going outside on a leash and harness? Do you have any other tips for Anto? Please share them in the comments.