A cat in a pink harness and leash

Should you walk your cat on a leash?

Society is used to dogs being walked, but cats don’t enjoy the same reputation. Walking a feline on a leash is altogether a different experience, because cats belong to a different family of mammals and have a very different set of behaviors. In fact, some people may even feel embarrassed at the idea of taking their cat out for a walk.

Possible embarrassments aside, is it a good idea to walk your cat? Should you break out the old harness?

The short answer is yes, you can walk your cat with a leash and harness. The outdoor stroll has many potential benefits, in particular for cats kept indoors all the time. But there are things to consider before taking your cat on a hike.

Not all cats will adapt to leash walking

While dogs are always eager to go on long walks, not every cat will be able to enjoy themselves on such an adventure. One of the first things you should ask yourself is whether your cat is typically fearful of the outdoors.

Not all cats can adapt to leash walking - but this brown cat seems to be fine

In the kingdom of cats, there are many personalities. So-called “door-dasher” cats seem to love roaming outside and won’t think twice about taking the opportunity to enjoy their freedom. Such a cat can easily be walked.

On the other hand, more shy and introverted cats will be perfectly content enjoying the cool breeze and their view from behind a window.

Still not sure? Take your cat outdoors and observe her behavior. Does she seem fearful? Then there’s your answer. These types of cats will stay close to your front door, and may even panic or try to claw their way back inside. If this is your cat, she’s not a great candidate for walking on a leash.

It’s not the same as walking a dog

If you’re used to walking dogs, prepare for an altogether different experience. You don’t walk your cat… but your cat walks you! To put things into perspective, walking a dog is akin to steady aerobic exercise, whereas walking a cat is better compared to taking a leisurely stroll in nature.

Since most cats are strollers, they constantly want to stop and sniff around, examine some leaves and bugs, and dart to play with them. Then they might move a few yards, only to stop again for another biology course. This will be an exercise in patience for many people, especially those who are used to walking dogs.

Tips for leash walking

Familiarity

When you take your cat for a walk, ensure that the area is familiar to you so that you can act faster in case of an emergency. If there are any narrow holes around, block them off beforehand, since cats have a tendency to want to explore and hide in them.

To avoid sticky situations, opt to go into an open area or a garden where there are no other animals present. Keep in mind the proximity and only allow your cat to explore in that radius. If you think your cat is leading you to an area that could spell trouble, don’t just give in. Steer her in a different direction and follow.

Sphynx cat in a leash and harness, looking up at a tree
Taking your cat to a large open area for their first walk will prevent them from crawling into tight spaces. This beautiful Abyssinian cat is thinking about ascending a tree.

Positive reinforcement

Reward training works by associating positive feelings with a certain action or sound. As a cat parent, one of the best things you can possibly do is embrace the power of positive reinforcement early on. Conditioning your cat to feel comfortable in a harness is a lot easier if you provide plenty of positive stimuli by using a clicker and her favorite treats.

A black clicker used for training cats and dogs

Clicker training

The basic concept of clicker training is to make your cat do things you want them to, and immediately reward a positive outcome with treats and a clicking sound. Over time, the brain will associate the sound of the click with positive emotions.

Build comfort and confidence

The first step is to make your cat feel comfortable wearing a harness in the safety of their own domain, which is probably your house. This can take time, as most cats will feel severely anxious in their harness at first. But over time, and with enough positive reinforcement, the harness will be viewed as an opportunity for fun and exploring. You may then go one step further and gradually increase the time interval between putting the harness on and taking it off.

Attach the leash

Once your cat reaches a level of comfort where it doesn’t matter whether the harness is on or off, you can move to the next step by attaching the leach. The leash-harness system as a whole can make your cat uneasy again, so have patience and use the same cycle of positive reinforcement.

You can use a dog leash as well for walking your kitty. Or, if you don’t want to purchase a new leash, you can make a simple DIY paracord leash using cobra stitch at home.

Once your cat is comfortable walking in a harness and leash around the house, it’s time for another big step! You can now go outdoors for the first time. Again, take the time to give your cat plenty of opportunities to sniff and explore outside! Rushing things now will likely end up making matters more difficult later on.

Be mindful about leash correction

Cats are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They are some of the best hunters that nature has to offer. You don’t have to drag your pet with a leash to direct it in your desired direction.

Simply, hold the leash firmly and give soft correction through it. Your cat will understand that he is not allowed to go in that direction. Always remember, your energy and emotions pass through the leash.

All in all, when you walk your cat, you’re a follower but you always have control over where your cat takes you.

Image by Piotr Musioł

Develop a routine

Walking your cat on a leash provides necessary enrichment. It lets your kitty exhibit his species-specific raw behaviors. But be warned: once you get your cat into the habit of walking, she may want to go outside every time you open your front door.

You can avoid false hopes by establishing a routine. For instance, pick a set time for your daily walk. You may also consider using signs like taking out the harness, jiggling it, and saying out loud, “Let’s go, it’s time for a walk”.

By developing such a routine, your cat will learn to manage her expectations. Be consistent; this also means taking out the harness only when it’s time to go for a walk!

Conclusion

There’s no shame in walking your cat outdoors on a leash. However, it’s not the same as walking a dog, and not all cats will be able to adapt. I hope the points we have discussed here in this article will be quite helpful to you. If you have any questions or want to share your experience of walking your cat with us, do let us know about it in the comment section below.

 Author bio: Debbie Grice
  - Writer & Pet Groomer

Debbie is a part-time pet groomer who provides at-home grooming services for pets. Being a groomer, she knows all aspects of how to take care of dogs and cats. She is also a full-time contributor at DogNeedsBest and shares her knowledge & insights in the form of blogs and product reviews. 

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