How to Walk Your Cat

Ever seen a cat out walking on a leash? Most people who have seen one react with astonishment that a cat would be domesticated enough to willingly allow itself to be tethered to a leash and guided around by — of all things! — a human companion. But it can, and does, happen. After all, why should dogs have all the fun? Everyone knows cats like the outdoors, too. Shouldnít they get the opportunity to explore the great outdoors along with the rest of us? Shouldnít they be allowed to maintain their youthful figures with some regular exercise? With proper supervision, patience and consistency, you too can train your cat to walk on a leash.

Does Age Matter?

Once a cat has reached the age when she has been fully vaccinated, it is safe for her to go outside. Remember that this is not so much to protect other animals from what she might be carrying, but to protect her from what they might be carrying. It is best to start as early as possible, before your cat has developed a fear of the outdoors or a fear of unusual noises. Older cats are often more reluctant to go outside on a leash — or to be on a leash at all. It may take months to get her used to accepting a harness, and to being led, but with diligence and a wish to succeed, you can do it.

It will help a lot of your cat is already responsive to you. If you can call your cat and she consistently comes to you, you are already on a good track. If you do not have this type of relationship, you will need to start there. Using treats and lots of praise, call your cat to come to you. After some time, your cat will learn that coming when called will be rewarding.

Image Credit: juhansonin via Flickr

See Also: Should I Keep My Cat Indoors?


Introducing the Harness

It may take some time before your cat gets used to wearing a harness, so start slowly. Set the new harness near your catís favorite area and allow her to see it, smell it and even play with it at first. Offer her some treats and praise if he shows interest in the harness.

After a few days of this, hold your cat securely and give her a treat. As sheís eating the treat, drape the harness loosely over her and leave it for a few minutes. You may need to repeat this several times before actually adjusting it, just to get your cat used to the feel of the harness. Once she appears to be comfortable with having the harness on his body, put the harness on and tighten the straps so they fit snugly. Again, offer positive reinforcement and treats for allowing you to put the harness on her. Leave the harness on for a short period of time, a few minutes to start, with gradually more time.

Do not force the fitting. If your cat struggles too much, remove the harness and try again later. When she does accept the harness without struggle, give him lots of attention so that he associates wearing the harness with good times.

Selecting the Proper Harness

Because cats are so agile, a simple collar around the neck is not enough to hold them — they can easily pull out of the neck collar, even a well fitted one (and you do not want to make the collar so tight that there is a potential of cutting off air flow). Instead, use a good-quality harness that has been designed especially for cats.

A cat harness is typically made with an adjustable neck collar, which is attached to an adjustable body wrap. The harness should fit snug to the body, but not be so tight that air flow will be constricted. You should be able to fit two fingers under the harness at the neck and under the chest.

Depending on the harness, the leash should attach at the body strap or between the shoulders instead of at the neck. The clips holding the harness should snap securely — they should not be the break away type that is commonly found in cat collars.

Related: Cat Behavior 101


Add a Leash

Once your cat is accepting the harness, let her wear it around the house while doing her normal activities. Gradually increase the amount of time your cat is left in the harness. You can even feeding her while sheís wearing the harness. Next, attach the leash to the harness, allowing her to drag the leash around. This is to get her used to the weight of the leash, but remember to keep an eye on her while she is dragging the leash. You donít want her to get it tangled up on anything.

You can then graduate to walking around inside while holding the leash. Donít pull on the leash and donít try to force her to follow you at first — follow her lead instead. Every now and then stop and call her to you, giving her a treat and praise when she comes.

Finally, when she seems comfortable on the leash indoors, it is time to go outdoors. Begin with a short trip outside, maybe just as far as outside the door where your cat can sniff around and start getting used to the sounds and scents. After doing this a few times, you might take a short stroll around the block. Before you go any farther than the immediate area, get to know your neighborhood to make sure that your neighbors do not allow their dogs to roam freely — or so that you know which areas to avoid because of roaming dogs. Choose the quietest and safest areas for your cat to walk in, so that the experience is pleasurable for both of you.

Image Credit: Krikit via Flickr

Tips for Safe Walking

Although your catís usual collar does not need to be removed, it is not part of the harness system. However, you should leave the collar on, with its ID in place, just in case your cat gets loose while you are out.

For the first few walks, as your cat is getting used to being outside, you might want to take along a soft (or hard) carrier, just in case your cat panics or in case you unexpectedly come up against a free roaming dog. A panicked or threatened cat is not going to want to be held in arms until it gets home.

This will work best if your cat has been spayed or neutered. An unneutered male cat may be more likely to try to escape the harness or get out of control while outside, and an unspayed female cat may be attacked by feral male cats.

Setting a regular time to walk each day will give your cat something to look forward to. Try to stay consistent.

Unlike dogs, cats cannot be tethered to a pole while you step into a shop, even for just a few minutes. Your cat might panic and get herelf tangled in the leash or she may be attacked by a dog and not be able to escape.

Related:
Cat Trivia: True or False?
3 Quick Fixes to Stop Cat Scratching
Top 10 Ways to Help Cats that Donít Like the Litter Box
For Cats: How to Walk Your Human

How to Walk Your Cat (and Live to Tell About It) originally appeared on petMD.com

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225 comments

l turnbull
l turnbull2 months ago

I don't know. My Kaykay has always gone on walks with me sans leash. I think he is part dog anyway from his behavior sometimes. But my others? Probably would take lots of work.

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Diane T.
Diane T.3 years ago

Thank you for this informative article. I'll start today!

Michael Berry
Michael Berry3 years ago

If I tried to put a leash on my cat, I think I would end up wearing it and of a get a couple of scratches to go with it. (Well deserved)

Mansi J.
Mansi J.3 years ago

Monitoring and letting out your indoor cat into an enclosed backyard might also be an ok way to let your cat stretch it's legs....?

Laurie R.
Laurie R.3 years ago

When it comes to cat behavior, it's our own assumptions that limit them. I have a short cut to walking a cat based on over 30 years of working with cats and dogs. First, get the cat accustomed to wearing stuff -- collars, harnesses, hats... (well, OK -- hats are optional.) The easiest is to cut two pieces of elastic to go around the neck and the rib cage behind the front legs. It should not be tight, but not too loose. You want it to fit without moving around on its own. Put on the body loop first, then immediately reward the cat by taking up her favorite active game. (if she doesn't have a favorite active game, start there, with a feather on a string. Tease the cat into stalking, chasing and capturing the feather. Always halt the chase phase before the cat loses interest, then feed a small (1 tsp) yummy wet food on or close to the feather. This sequence is very innately satisfying to all cats. Following the putting on of stuff with the game takes the cat's focus away from the annoying foreign object, and they get used to moving freely while wearing something, and also to anticipating fun following the donning of stuff. Graduate to a harness, then to a harness with an inert leash, then to a leash dragging a small weight, then to a leash attached to a person. Play the game with the door open and let the cat spill outdoors for the finish. A cat whose brain is engaged in a strategy game is not primed for fear and hiding. Cats who get socialized and accustomed to n

Dale Overall

Ten Tips On How To Walk Your Human

1. Get them up early, five is the best hour in the morning.

2. Push them gently out of bed and insist that they feed you immediately.

3. Give encouraging kisses.

4. Purrs for attitude.

5. Instruct them to wear shoes as human feet are not as tough as a cat's paw pads.

6. Have them open the door.

7. Lead as is the Cat-titude of The Cat.

8. Keep humans safely on the sidewalk, their minds wander.

9. Stop at the local organic butcher.

10. Purrchase with the human's debit card all choice cuts of organic meat to fill the entire chest
freezer, mark "CAT FOOD" in black marker as humans can be forgetful.

Some of the cats owning me would go for walks on the harness around the neighbourhood, when living on the farm there would be several who would follow us and stay with us for well over an hour. Each cat is unique but many certainly can be harness trained.

Kynthia R.
Kynthia R.3 years ago

All I can think of is that old saying "Its as easy as herding cats" meaning something is very difficult.

But it was nice when one kitty friend used to walk beside me any time I went out walking in the evening, would follow me all the way out and back and come in and sit with me. No leash, just two companions enjoying a pleasant walk.

Carrie Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola3 years ago

very interesting, thanks for sharing this