training your cat to walk on a leash

Dr. Kim Smyth
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Oct 22 2012
Black kitten walking in field on leash | How to train your cat to walk on a leash

You probably know that walking your dog is good for her health and yours. It burns calories that can contribute to weight gain and also burns energy, curbing unwanted behaviors that may stem from boredom. But did you know those benefits can also be experienced by your feline friends as well?

Why to train your cat to walk on a leash

Many feline behavior problems stem from boredom, and supervised outdoor time can go a long way toward enriching your cat’s life. Even more beneficial is the exercise your cat will get on a brisk walk around the neighborhood.

It is important to note, though, 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, so keep them safely indoors.

Walking on a leash is not a natural behavior for most cats, but it can be taught. While your dog likely jumps for joy when he sees the leash come out, your cat might balk at the idea. Make the transition a little easier by taking it one step at a time.

Here’s a guideline of how you and your cat can make the leap to exercising in the great outdoors:

Because of cats’ amazing wriggling abilities, a harness, rather than a simple collar, is recommended for leash-walking. 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!).

After your cat is used 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 (food!).

Once she is acclimated to this activity, you can 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, so have patience, go slow and follow your cat’s lead. Lengthen the amount of time your cat is in the harness each session.

Once your cat is used to the harness, it’s time to add the leash. At first, just allow your cat to drag the leash around behind her. 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.

If your cat is now comfortable with both 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.

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 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. And for the best protection, protect your kitty with cat insurance to help manage the costs of unexpected accidents and illnesses.

Shedding extra pounds will add to your cat’s lifespan. If leash walking isn’t her thing, look into interactive toys and food bowls to help her burn calories and work for her supper.