Should You Start Walking Your Indoor Cat?

As a child, Susan Bulanda took her Angora mix, Puff, for a walk on a leash. Puff also went along on bike rides and enjoyed exploring the neighborhood from the safety of her little basket. Today, Bulanda, a certified animal behavior consultant, specializes in helping families develop healthy relationships with their feline and canine companions.

ďThereís a misconception out there that cats are aloof,Ē said Bulanda who will teach a course on Understanding Cats at Carroll Community College in Westminster, MD, this fall. ďCats are actually very social and enjoy interacting with humans. I think if a cat enjoys the outdoors, taking him for a walk on a leash is a great idea.”

Itís really healthy for cats to get some sunshine, the behaviorist said, and itís entertaining for them to explore the great outdoors. She offers tips on keeping cats safe in the outdoors on her blog. †Experts at the HSUS say that while cats do not require outdoor access to live full and happy lives, an outdoor enclosure or walk on a harness and leash can provide them with a safe outdoor experience.

Would your cat enjoy the great outdoors?

Whether or not your cat would like to go outside depends on the individual cat. A shy cat who tends to run when the door is opened or hides when something new is introduced is probably not a good candidate for outdoor adventures. However, if you have an easygoing, inquisitive cat who takes things in his or her stride, then you might have a great walking companion. Before taking your cat outside, speak with your veterinarian to make sure your catís vaccinations are current and also make sure your cat is protected against fleas, ticks and other parasites. Itís also essential to update ID tags or have your cat microchipped before going outside.

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It will take time and patience to teach your cat to walk on a leash. Training sessions should be no longer than three or four minutes and can be repeated three times a day. Bulanda highly recommends clicker training and suggests that pet owners refer to Karen Pryorís book Getting Started Clicker Training for Cats. Basically, you will click and reward with a treat the behaviors you want to reinforce as you proceed with each step of the training.

Here are tips from Bulanda on how to train your cat to walk on a leash:

  • Find a special treat that your cat absolutely loves and use that treat only for training sessions. It could be dried chicken or tuna fish or chicken from a can. Experiment until you find something that really gets your catís attention. One of Bulandaís cats responded well to Cheerios so you never know what will work.
  • Introduce your cat to the harness by starting really slow. Let him smell it and touch it Ė clicking and treating as he gets more comfortable being around the harness. Gradually work up to putting the harness on the cat. Then using the clicker and treats encourage him to walk around the house while wearing the harness. Be sure to end each session on a positive note and always remove the harness.
  • The next step is to add the leash to the harness. You wonít be pulling or leading the cat the way you would a dog. Just hold the leash and let the cat get used to that feeling. Once the cat is comfortable with that step you can work on getting the cat to come to you while you are holding the leash. Itís important not to pull on the leash to get the cat to come to you, instead lure the cat with treats.
  • If everything is going smoothly and the cat seems happy, then itís time to go outside. Be sure to choose a quiet non-threatening area. If you live in a heavy trafficked neighborhood, your cat will likely be happier and safer just walking around your backyard.

Walking your cat is not the same as walking a dog. Itís more likely that you will be accompanying your cat as she explores the outdoors. Once outside, itís important to pay close attention and learn to recognize the signs that your cat may not be enjoying the experience. An unhappy or scared cat will often crouch low, wrap her tail around her body, and hold her ears to the side or downwards.

ďCats should never be forced to go outside if they donít enjoy the experience,Ē Bulanda said. ďSome cats never get used to being on a harness and are very happy being indoor-only cats.Ē

If your indoor cat doesnít enjoy the great outdoors, there are other ways to provide enrichment.

5 Simple Ways to Make Your Cat Happier
Aromatherapy for Cats
Is Your Cat Depressed?

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago

Thanks for posting

Melania P
Melania Padillaabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing, and for all the positive feedback/comments!

Mike R
Mike R5 months ago


Mike R
Mike R5 months ago


Aaron F
Past Member 5 months ago

As a veterinarian who sees way too many overweight/obese indoor-only cats I give an unqualified YES!

Jen S
Jen S6 months ago

I walk my Maine Coon cats on a leash and they enjoy it. I use a body harness so they are secure, walk only in areas that I know are safe or on my own property. They enjoy the walks, swear at or try to seduce the birds, and we all may look absurd but the cats cause no mayhem.

Maureen G
Maureen G6 months ago

The family has one very large Bull Arab dog and 2 lovely of which was a stray. The dog owns the outside of the house including the acreage yard and the cats the inside of the house and never the twain shall meet by their mutual consent. Therefore the cats have no inclination to go "walkies".

Debbie F
Debbie F6 months ago

I walk mycats on a leash. They love it. Going out is their treat.

Ian T
Ian T6 months ago

A "Certified Animal Behaviour Consultant" tells us that "It's really healthy for cats to get some sunshine", and "it's entertaining for them to explore the great outdoors." Other "experts" have also found, after extensive research, that the Pope is, indeed, a Catholic and that bears actually do defecate in the forest. There is about as much chance of me putting a harness on my cat, or forcing her to remain indoors, and of her accepting these things, as there is of me meeting Elvis Presley on the banks of Loch Ness at the moment when he finds an unclaimed winning lottery ticket, while the monster swims along casually in the background.

Margie FOURIE6 months ago

Thank you