There was once a time when if you saw a cat on a leash, it was being walked by that odd “cat person” in your neighborhood. And the cat itself had to have been a bit odd too, right–because what self respecting feline would allow itself to be led around on a leash? That funny pair was actually on to something that many pet owners did not know: cats are not as stubborn as you think and they can be leash trained. Read on to learn about how your cat can start joining you for walks.

Why would I want to leash train my cat?

Domestic cats are often divided into two personality groups: outdoor and indoor. However, most cat owners know the division is not that simple. Outdoor cats love to warm themselves in front of the fireplace on cold days, and many indoor cats try to make a run to the outdoors every time you open the door.

Indoor cats don’t have the experience and skills to navigate neighborhoods and public spaces as well as their outdoor counterparts. This is why harness and leash training is so useful. With them, you give your cat the opportunity to lead a more fulfilling and exciting life. They get to experience new smells and textures–things that are typically unavailable to them when they sit inside the house looking out the window.

Leash training your cat also allows you to build a deeper relationship with your pet. Why should dog owners be the only ones who get to enjoy trips to the parks or walks around town with their pets? You’ll enjoy being able to spend time outside of the home with your cat when you leash train it.

What kind of leash and collar do I need?

Harness Options for Cats

First things first–cats are not small dogs, and you should not use walking equipment made for dogs on cats. While collars are useful for holding tags or bells, they should not be used for walking, as cats can easily slip out of them.

You should pick a harness that is made specifically for cats. It should be made out of a sturdy, but comfortable material that will allow your cat to move naturally. Your cat may refuse to walk around in a harness that is too tight, so make sure it is the right size. The harness should preferably have a leash attachment in the back, as opposed to close to the neck to prevent discomfort if your cat pulls too much.

When you’re first starting out, you’ll want to use a shorter leash (around 6 feet). The leash should also be lightweight (not a metal chain), so you are not placing excessive strain on your cat’s body. Retractable or flexible leashes are unsafe for cats who are new to being walked because your cat may get too far away from you or get wrapped around a tree or pole.

How do I leash train my cat?

Here are the basic steps to getting your cat to learn to walk on a leash:

  • Step 1: Start indoors – First you want make sure that your cat is comfortable simply wearing the harness. Start putting the harness on the cat for a few minutes at a time and see how it reacts. If your cat seems comfortable wearing the harness, then attach the leash. Start taking short walks around your home. Be sure to let your cat take the lead and do not try to pull them in any direction.
  • Step 2: Take short trips outside – Your first outdoor walks should only be for a few minutes. Go outside on days when the weather is good. Also stay in areas that are quiet and have very little foot traffic.
  • Step 3: Make gradual progress – If it seems like your cat truly enjoys the short trips outside, then it’s time to develop a long-term plan. Set weekly time and distance goals for you and your cat. When your pet shows more comfort, it’s time to do something more challenging. You may also want to try walks in busier areas.

Cat leash training tips

  • Use treats – Be sure to reward you cat for wearing its harness and behaving during early trips outside. Cut back on the treats as your cat becomes more willing to go on walks.
  • Build confidence – If your cat suddenly becomes fearful or sees something scary during a walk, resist the urge to pick up your cat and carry them home. Instead, walk in the opposite direction of the distracting object. It may be a good idea to walk back to the last area where your cat felt safe.
  • Be safe – The more cats are outdoors, they more they are exposed disease and risks to their health. If you plan on going on walks with your cat, make sure it has all of its vaccinations. Also inform your vet of your plans so they can provide additional recommendations about safety.

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