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can you teach a cat to walk on a leash?

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

Can you teach a cat to walk on a leash? Dr. Kim Smyth says yes, and provides the steps for getting started!

Exercise might not be a challenge for dogs who love to chase a ball, but fat cats are a whole different beast. Whereas you can throw a leash on your dog and go for a brisk jaunt around the neighborhood, with most cats, you’d have better luck nailing jello to a tree.


Rest assured, though, that walking your cat on a leash can be done, and it’s great exercise for them. The trick is patience. And determination. And patience. One does not simply tell a cat to go for a walk. Cats require a certain…finesse. You’ll reap the benefits when your fat cat loses a couple of pounds and your veterinarian puts the insulin jar back in the fridge.


It’s important to note that leash walking is not for every cat. Laid-back cats tend to do best on walks, while timid or shy cats will probably prefer to stay indoors and watch from the window. Declawed, deaf and blind cats should also stay indoors – if they became lost, they would be significantly disadvantaged in the wild.


Walking on a leash is not a natural behavior for most cats – they are not used to being told where to go (but may be quite happy to tell you where to go!). Make the transition a little easier by taking it one step at a time. Here’s a step-by-step guide for getting your cat used to a harness and leash and hot footing it into the wild blue yonder.


Step 1: A harness is recommended for leash walking, rather than a collar that could slip off if kitty gets spooked. Buy an appropriately sized harness and leave it by your cat’s food bowl for a few days. Your cat will notice it and associate it with a positive thing (food!).


Step 2: After your cat is used to seeing the harness, it’s time to get her to wear it. Start by simply laying it on her while she’s resting. Pair this activity with a treat so that she again associates the harness with a positive outcome.


Step 3: Once she is acclimated to this activity, put just one loop of the harness over her head and then remove it. Remember to give a treat each time. Eventually, you will be able to get her into the harness stress-free. The end result may be a week or more in coming (this is where the patience comes in), so go slow and follow your cat’s lead. Lengthen the amount of time your cat is in the harness each session.


Step 4: When your cat is used to wearing the harness, add the leash. At first, just let your cat drag the leash around behind her. This might freak her out at first. If it does, remove it and try again later. Make sure she’s in a room where the leash will not snag on anything. When she is used to the leash, you can pick it up and follow her around with it.


Step 5: If your cat is now comfortable with both the leash and harness, you can venture outside. Pick a quiet time of day and a quiet spot and simply sit with your cat. Allow her to dictate your walks in the beginning. If it’s her first time outdoors, she may become easily overwhelmed. Keep your sessions short, go slow and allow her to explore her surroundings on her own time.


Ta-da, you’re walking your cat! While walking, be sure to keep your cat on a tight leash. You’ll want her to remain within reaching distance in case you need to pick her up quickly. Now that your previously indoor kitty is exploring the great outdoors with you, be doubly sure to keep up-to-date on vaccines and parasite prevention. Don’t forget heartworm prevention – if you live in an area that has mosquitoes, ask your veterinarian which one she recommends. 
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Posted by Hilda Fischer
on April 01 2017 10:30

I have regularly trained my cats to leash walk. We used to go camping when the kids were growing up: 1 Shetland Sheepdog and 2 cats [+ kids] all hiking along. In the evening/night the cats slept in the tent and the dog camped on the tent 'doorstep/rug' and made sure the cats didn't wander. worked great for us and the kitties loved it too!

Posted by Eve Donovan
on March 07 2017 12:09

Thank you for the article about taking a cat for a walk. Unfortunately, the harnesses you suggest are easy for a cat slip out of backwards if they become frightened or otherwise decide they want to get away. I have used the thick padded harnesses that are sold for dogs only to have the same thing happen. I would suggest that you caution people about this since a cat who is not used to being outside is in real danger of being hit by cars, eaten by coyotes, etc. Or if you have any ideas for a harness that is quite nearly impossible to escape, I would appreciate it. Cats become frightened by smells, open areas or sudden sounds, to name a few, causing them to become unmanageable and potentially injured. Thanks - Eve Donovan

Posted by Katillac Chi Chi Ferguson Bailey
on August 16 2016 20:53

Most often Dad takes me for walks, usually when my instincts get aroused, at dusk. Truth be told they did not start me on a leash until I was about 5 so the learning took a while longer. Most of my cat friends that leash walk started out at a very young age. They act more like dogs. I have progressed to a long leash as well as a dog-run wire with tether in my front yard. Dad gives me some slack on the leash when the grasshoppers are hoppin'. I have two different colored 'holsters' because I don't like harnesses. These holsters seemed restrictive at first but now I am used to them. I am RV'g across the country with Mom and Dad and have met quite a few traveling cats.

Posted by Antoinette Stewart
on September 08 2015 18:17

I regularly walk both of my cats. If I shake the leash they both come running. They love it!

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