01727 821372 (9am - 6pm) Get in touch
Find your local Cat Butler

Should I Walk My Cat On a Lead?

Have you ever wondered if you can train your cat to walk on a lead? With these easy steps you and your feline friend can enjoy outdoor excursions together (as long as your kitty is willing!).
Added on: 22 Jun, 2021 Posted by: Sandra James 8 min read (1347 words)

In this guide:

Many cat owners have taken up walking their cat in recent years, encouraged by the social media cat-walking trend and by the growing range of outdoorsy cat paraphernalia on offer. Indoor cats need exercise and sources of enrichment to prevent obesity, boredom and the development of unwanted behaviours. Some people believe that walking their cat on a lead will provide this, particularly when they have no other access to the outdoors.

But for most cats, the RSPCA has advised cat owners against walking their pets on a lead in case it causes them distress.

A sense of control is very important to cats, and being walked on a collar or harness prevents them having control. It may be more difficult for them to move away or hide from anything which might scare or worry them. An indoor environment with plenty of opportunities to be active and mentally stimulated is likely to be more beneficial for the cat’s welfare than walking them on a lead.

Walking outdoors exposes cats to unfamiliar scents they may find threatening and distressing and to potentially frightening experiences, including dogs and other animals, strange people, loud noises and cars. When alarmed, cats typically attempt to hide somewhere or escape by climbing whatever is available, such as a tree or even up onto their owner. Most cats like to be in control – therefore, new environments can cause stress and agitation. Any cat that is easily stressed is best provided with other opportunities for outdoor exercise and enrichment, such as an escape-proof garden or enclosure.

Not every pet has a garden to roam at home, and if a cat lives in a high-rise apartment block, for instance, then a walk on a lead might be the only way they’ll feel the breeze on their fur.

Kelsey lives in a London home with no garden and two Norwegian Forest cats, which she has taken walking in the Lake District on leads.

Every cat is different,” she says. “Mine are a breed of cat that really wants to go outside. But nobody can force a cat to go on a lead; you can’t force a cat to do anything if they don’t want to.

Dr Samantha Gaines, head of the RSPCA’s companion animals department, says the organisation is not suggesting a blanket ban on cat leads.

All we want cat owners to consider is that every cat is an individual.  For some, walking on a lead may be suitable, but we need to be careful that we’re not just thinking of cats as dogs.

Collar lead & harness

If you do decide to walk your cat on a lead, it is crucial that you attach this to a harness rather than a collar. Cats can easily slip out of collars or may choke if they escape and become entangled. Also, a proper cat harness rather than a dog harness should be used as these are more comfortable and secure. Ideally, training to walk on a lead and harness should start as a kitten.

Getting your cat to accept a lead and harness

Before you can think about taking your cat to walk outside of the home, it is important to make sure that they are comfortable with the lead and harness. Ensure that the harness is comfortable and a good fit for your cat and does not pinch or rub. Get your cat used to wearing their harness within the home for short periods of time, leaving it on for up to half an hour until they are happy with it and readily accept it. Then you can get your cat used to having the lead attached to the harness, which can take rather longer. Many cats will view the lead as a toy and attempt to chase it or fight with it! This is fine, and you should let your cat get to grips with this and get it out of their system before venturing outside.

Before walking your cat outdoors

Before being walked outdoors, cats must be up to date with their annual vaccinations against infectious diseases and with cat-specific treatments to prevent parasites such as fleas, ticks and worms. They must also be identified by a microchip in case of escape. You should ensure that you attach a tag with your contact details to the harness (or to your cat’s collar if they wear a collar as well) to ensure that your cat can be identified if you manage to lose them while outside on the lead.

Where to walk your cat

A good approach is to begin indoors and use treats and praise to slowly introduce the sensation of being restrained. If you have a back garden or other green space attached to your home, this is the best place to use for cat walking. Public parks are unsuitable for cats. Do not walk your cat along public roads or footpaths that are heavily populated, near traffic, or run the risk of your cat coming into contact with dogs and other animals. Similarly, try to avoid areas where other strange cats may be present, as you may run into territorial difficulties by leading your cat into another cat’s “zone.”

During the walk

Unlike dogs, cats do not have the same desire to socialise with others, but they do enjoy smelling and exploring their surroundings. Also, cats do not behave the same as dogs on a leash. Rather than responding to cues such as sit or heel, you will tend to follow your cat’s lead as they wander around. Only apply pressure to the lead or change direction when necessary to avoid going in a direction that may be problematic or when it is time to go back in. Never drag your cat about on the lead, or force them to go outside of their comfort zone or into areas they are unhappy with. Let your cat explore and enjoy the outside on their own terms, with the lead there as security rather than as a way to direct your cat. Walks should be kept brief. Cats should never never be left alone outdoors on a lead  - there is too much danger of them becoming tangled up, with the possibility of choking. 

Reasons not to walk your cat on a lead

Walking your cat on the lead should be seen as a practical endeavour done in the best interests of your cat, who otherwise would not be able to go outside. It is fine to use a lead and harness for a cat that usually goes outside unsupervised if you need to transport them out of their home area, but do not simply walk your cat on the lead because you think it is fun or a novelty. If your cat is willing and able to go outside on its own and it is safe for them to do so, let your cat go outside unsupervised, as this will provide a much greater range of opportunities for play and entertainment.

Do not use the lead and harness to take your cat outside of his comfort zone without good reason, and if your cat simply will not accept the harness and lead or is unhappy when taken outside, accept that it just may not be an appropriate choice for your cat.

Sandra James

Sandra James

Owner & Founder

The Cat Butler was set up by Sandra James in recognition of the fact that a stay in a cattery can be unsettling for many cats and also their owners.

The Cat Butler © 2024