Train your cat to walk on a leash
- How to leash train a cat
Cats are often associated with independence and a love for lounging around the house. But many cats crave the outdoors, leaving owners looking for ways to safely explore the outdoors together. Cat leash training is an increasingly popular option that gives cats and owners a safe and fun opportunity to get outside and get moving together.
What is cat leash training?
Cat leash training is working with your cat slowly to feel comfortable wearing a harness and walking on a leash. While cats are known for their independent nature many can be trained to accompany you on a daily walk.
What age can you leash train a cat?
Cats can be leash trained at most ages, but it may be easier to start when they are still a kitten. You can start leash training your kitten as soon as they fit in the smallest size harness.
How long does it take to leash train a cat?
Some cats may adapt to leash training relatively quickly, while others may take months to become comfortable with wearing a harness and leash – and some may never tolerate it.
Each cat is an individual and will have their own unique experience with leash training. Factors that impact training include your cat’s temperament, age, previous experiences, and your training methods.
Why leash training a cat is beneficial
Walking your cat provides them with both physical and mental exercise.
Many indoor cats suffer from obesity and health issues because they don’t get enough physical activity lounging around the house. Taking your cat for walks can help them burn calories, maintain a healthy weight, and stay healthier.
Cats are curious creatures that also require mental stimulation. Going for walks allows them to explore new environments. This mental enrichment can help prevent boredom and even reduce destructive behaviors in your cat.
Training and walking your cat also strengthens your bond. It's an opportunity to spend quality time together and deepen your trust and your relationship.
Challenges of walking your cat on a leash and harness
While the benefits of leash training are enticing, cat owners should also recognize and address the challenges that can come with it.
No harness is 100% escape-proof
Even with the best-fitting harness, there's always a chance that your cat might slip out of it. Cat owners know the impressive ability cats possess to squirm and wrangle out of most situations.
This is why microchipping your cat is the best defense against a lost cat. A microchip provides a means of identification even if your cat escapes their harness and ID tags. Microchipped cats are twenty times as likely to be reunited with their families if lost.
- Lost Pet Recovery Specialists
- MyPetHealth Portal
- 24/7 Vet Helpline provided by whiskerDocs®
- DirectConnect: Connect with your pet's finder and arrange a quick, safe reunion.
- Plus a $25 Petco and $30 Rover discount.
Walking your cat outside exposes them to various physical dangers. Cars, chemicals, hot pavement, and conflicts with other animals all pose serious risks. Always be vigilant and choose the safest walking environments.
Fleas and other pests
When you take your cat outdoors, they may come into contact with fleas and ticks. Use a vet-recommended flea and tick prevention and schedule regular check-ups.
What you need for leash training a cat
Before embarking on your cat's leash training journey, gather the necessary supplies:
A well-fitting harness: Choose a harness specifically designed for cats, and ensure it fits snugly but comfortably. Avoid using a collar, as it can cause injury to your cat's neck when they pull.
A standard leash with some slack: Opt for a shorter, lightweight leash with enough slack to allow your cat to move around comfortably. Avoid retractable leashes, as they can cause confusion and may encourage pulling.
Waste bags: Be responsible and considerate in carrying waste bags to clean up after your cat.
Cat carrier or backpack: Carry a cat carrier or a suitable alternative for emergencies or when your cat needs a break. This provides a secure space for your cat to retreat to if they become overwhelmed.
How to train a cat to walk on a leash
Now that you have the necessary supplies, here are the steps to train your cat to walk on a leash:
1. Rewards that appeal to your unique cat
Every cat is unique, so find treats or rewards that your cat loves. Use special high-value treats only for training. These will serve as motivation and a way to communicate during the training process.
2. Gear up
Slowly introduce your cat to the harness. Allow them to investigate and become familiar with it before putting it on. Wearing a harness is a big step for many cats and can take several weeks to achieve. Reward them with treats, pets, and praise for positive associations.
3. Patience is key
Leash training requires a lot of patience. Start indoors, letting your cat wear the harness for short periods. Gradually increase the time and adjust as needed. Working at your cat’s pace is the best way to keep the process tolerable for them rather than stressful.
4. Practice indoors
Once your cat is comfortable wearing their harness for the time you would typically spend on a walk, attach their leash and allow them to drag it around indoors. This helps them get used to the feeling of being connected to a leash. Once your cat is comfortable with the feeling of a leash, start walking with them holding the leash loosely.
5. Practice outdoors in a safe space
Choose a quiet, safe outdoor location for your first outdoor adventure. Keep the leash loose letting your cat lead while they explore this new environment at their own pace. Avoid crowded areas and noisy environments that can be overstimulating. A quiet backyard is the perfect starting point.
6. Read your cat's body language
When training your cat and especially when walking your cat, pay close attention to their body language. If they show signs of stress or discomfort, like flattened ears or a puffed-up tail, it's time to head back inside. Always prioritize your cat's comfort and well-being and don’t push them outside of their limits.
7. Be prepared
Carry several poop bags to clean up after your cat and have a cat carrier or backpack on hand for breaks or emergencies.
8. Take your time
Walking a cat is not like walking a dog. Cats move at their own pace and will likely stop frequently to investigate their surroundings. Be patient and let your cat dictate the speed of your walks. Cats are ambush predators and may need frequent breaks.
9. Stick to a routine
Consistency is key in both when and where you walk your cat. Establish a routine for walks so that your cat knows when to expect outdoor adventures.
10. Slowly work your way up
As your cat becomes more comfortable, you can gradually increase the walk duration and explore new locations. However, always prioritize safety and your cat's comfort.
Signs your cat is uncomfortable or afraid
It's essential to be aware of your cat’s tolerance and comfort level when working on leash training. If your cat exhibits any of the following signs of stress, stop the walk and return to a more comfortable environment for your cat’s well-being:
- Hiding or crouching: If your cat tries to hide or crouch low to the ground, they may feel overwhelmed.
- Excessive pulling or resistance: If your cat continuously pulls against their leash or tries to escape the harness, it's a sign of discomfort.
- Vocalization: Unusual vocalizations like meowing or hissing, likely indicate distress.
- Tense body posture: A rigid or tense body posture is a clear sign of discomfort.
Never pull or force your cat to walk on a leash if they're not comfortable. It's essential to make leash training a positive and safe experience.
Alternatives to walking your cat on a leash
If your cat is not interested in walking on a leash, but you want them to enjoy the outdoors, you have options. These alternatives can provide your cat with exercise and enrichment:
- Catios are an enclosed outdoor space designed specifically for your cats. They can range from just a small space to entire rooms. A catio allows your cat to enjoy the outdoors safely while still being protected from many potential hazards.
- Cat strollers are a fantastic option for cats who prefer a cozy and secure space. They can still enjoy outdoor views and fresh air without the need to walk on a leash.
- Cat backpacks with clear viewing windows provide a unique way for your cat to experience the outdoors. You can carry them comfortably while they observe the world.
Also worth noting, indoor activities like interactive toys, puzzle feeders, cat grass, and climbing structures can help satisfy your cat’s need for mental and physical stimulation without going outdoors.
Leash training a cat
Walking your cat is a unique opportunity for both cat owners and their feline companions to enjoy the great outdoors together. Work together with your cat, at their comfort level to make leash training a positive experience so that you can enjoy the outdoors together safely.