I am an animal lover. I trained my cat to walk on a leash, and you can, too.
The Logic Behind Leash-Training a Feline
"Walk a cat? That's crazy! It's not a dog!"
People have all kinds of excuses for not walking their cats, from thinking it is weird to being embarrassed or thinking it is pointless. I get a lot of double-takes from people when I'm out walking my cat and even get people asking me, "Is that a dog?" I used to get a lot of surprised looks until the people in my neighborhood got used to seeing us.
One positive result is that I ended up talking to a lot of my neighbors for the first time! There are a lot of preconceived notions about how cats cannot be trained because they are too independent or stubborn. When using the correct methods, that is far from the truth.
Safety Is Key
Cats can get chased and killed by dogs. They may get into fights with other cats, pick up feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), or become pregnant. Cats can eat poisoned vermin, get lost, shot, stolen, or run over by cars. Statistically, indoor cats live seven years longer than indoor/outdoor cats that free roam. I know, that sounds really scary, but don't worry! Walks can be great bonding experiences. Once she learns to wear a leash and harness, you and your kitty can enjoy the mental and physical stimulation of the great outdoors safely and responsibly!
I have walked my cat for years and have helped several of my friends train their beloved felines. Below I will give you step-by-step instructions and tips for success in leash training your cat!
The Best Cat Harness: Secure and Comfortable
Instructions: How to Walk Your Cat on a Leash
1. Get the Supplies
Your cat will need a harness and a leash. You can go to your local pet store or order online for a more fun variety in colors and patterns. The common sizes are kitten or extra-small (2 lb), small (3–5 lb), medium (6–10 lb), and large (11–15 lb).
The harness will be somewhat adjustable so you can get the perfect fit. The harness needs to be clipped or velcroed on securely but not too tight. You should be able to slip two fingers in between the cat and the harness. Let out the sides for more slack if you have a growing kitten.
If you own an extra-large feline, such as a Savannah cat, then you may have to purchase a small to medium dog harness. In that case, it would be best to measure your special buddy around the chest with a string. Bring the string with you to a pet store to measure against dog harnesses directly.
Some cat harnesses include leashes; some don't. My personal preference for a cat leash is a bungee style, with a length of about 4-feet with some elasticity built-in. I feel that this helps keep the cat within a controllable distance but also gives some slack when the cat changes direction.
2. Don't Stress Your Cat Out
Don't stress your cat out on the first day. Start by just having him or her get used to the harness. Let the cat sniff it, present it as a gift then gently put it on. Give the cat your full attention. The cat may move stiffly, flop awkwardly, or shake its feet. Felix domesticus might meow or whine as well.
Don't worry; as long as all of his limbs are put through the harness holes correctly, and the harness is not too tight, he should not be hurt in any way. Make sure you encourage the cat softly with your calm and pleasant voice and give a savory treat. A bit of chicken or tuna will get any cat excited! This is a form of positive reinforcement. Let the cat only wear the harness for about five minutes or less on the first day. The kitty has to come away feeling like that was a nice, or at least neutral, experience.
3. Rinse and Repeat
Repeat the session from the first day. Now attach the leash and let your cat roam around in the house. The leash may snag on a leg table or some other object, so pay attention and hold the end of the leash the entire time. Do not tug or pull on the leash at this time; it will most likely scare or anger your feline friend, causing it to reject the whole idea.
If your cat is still uncomfortable with its harness, don't move on to adding the leash yet. Do step 3 twice a day for several days until the cat shows that it is calm and walking naturally around while in the harness.
4. Guide Your Cat
Attach the leash and start walking without tugging. This will take patience. If your cat does not come, hold out a treat. If that does not work, then pick them up, move them a foot forward, and step in the direction you would like to go, then give them a very small treat. Repeat the process for 8–10 minutes, then wait an hour. Your precious pussy cat doesn't like rough jerks, so keep it smooth. Guide her gently with the leash, and this will prevent you from getting hissed, growled, or clawed at.
5. Mind Games
You want your cat to think that they are the queen of Egypt when having the harness on. Give lots of praise with verbal cooing and petting. Cats may not understand English per se, but they know you are telling them how handsome or pretty they are in their harness by the tone of your voice. You want cats to associate positive feelings toward the harness so much so that they think putting it on is their idea. A smart cat may even walk over to the harness and meow at their human to let them know it is time for a walk!
6. Take Them Outside
You can practice walking outside in a safe, enclosed space like a patio if that is available. Remember to check for potential distractions. Your cat will be scared of loud noises and dogs and will most likely try to chase another cat, bird, or squirrel! So try to take Mittens out during a quiet time in the day.
If your cat flops to the ground, don't get mad. Be patient and let the cat observe their environment. You may find that they become comfortable enough to get up and explore or wants to go back instead. Let kitty set the pace. Tomorrow, take them outside again. There are lots of sights, scents, and textures for your companion to experience! Your kitty will come to love being outside with you!
- Make sure to use a proper harness. Cats can slip out of a loose harness if not properly secured and run off. Don't attach the leash to the collar because that puts the cat at risk for strangulation.
- Kittens adjust quickly. You can start training them to walk with a holster as soon as they are 8 weeks old. (Which is when they are old enough to be safely separated from Mother.)
- Older cats can be trained! It'll add some variety and exercise to their usual routine. You may find that Fluffy will have a strong opinion about "that thing", but keep at it. Training an older cat may take a month instead of a week or two, but it will be so worth it.
- Watch for bushes, trees, sewer openings, and private property. Basically, don't let kitty wander anywhere you can't retrieve them!
- Use verbal commands so he knows what to expect. I use the phrases "want to go outside?" "no," "come on," "let's go home," and of course, "good kitty."
Last but not least, every time you get a question or a strange look, smile! Your cat is awesome and super smart! You are a responsible and good cat owner. Hold your head high and let people know that this is fun, not a pointless thing, and yes, you can indeed train a cat—now come on, kitty, let's go watch those delicious-looking koi fish in the pond over there.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on January 15, 2017:
This is a very fine article. Great job. Possibly if I lived in the city, I would consider walking my cat. Yes, in fact I'm sure I would. In the country, even though it is dangerous with foxes, coyotes as predators and other mischief to get into, I want my cat to enjoy the freedom that rural life provides. Having said that, you have given a great deal of helpful information here for anyone wanting to take this step with their cat.