If you thought dogs were the only pets that could be taught to walk on a leash, prepare to be enlightened. It’s possible to train most domestic cats to walk on a leash. However, some feline temperaments will be more receptive to the experience of being walked by their owners. Although you’ll have the most success training your cat to walk on a leash if you introduce your pet to a harness while they’re still a kitten, older cats can also be leash trained with a little patience.
Some animal behavior specialists believe that leash training is beneficial for cats. Walking a cat is an excellent way to make sure they get enough exercise and can prevent bad behaviors related to indoor boredom or cat spraying. Despite common belief, cats can be taught discipline and respond well to positive reinforcement. Leash training your pet cat will also be useful for taking walks outside as well as trips to the vet and traveling. Now that you know it can be done, you may be wondering how to train a cat to walk on a leash.
Leash Training a Cat
Before getting started with leash training your pet, it’s important to remember that this practice isn’t suited for every cat. Some felines won’t be comfortable being outdoors on a leash due to several possible factors including age, personality, or health condition. Cats should not be forced to walk on a leash if it’s outside their comfort zone. Just remember, it is definitely possible to keep your pet stimulated and active indoors.
Cats who aren’t overly skittish and don’t mind being handled are usually good candidates for leash training. If you think your kitty may take to the training, keep reading for step-by-step instructions on how to train a cat on a leash.
Step 1: Select the Right Harness
A proper harness is required for taking your cat on any outdoor adventure. To teach a cat to walk on a leash, you’ll need to find a harness that fits him comfortably. Keep in mind that it’s not safe to walk pet felines with traditional collars. Breakaway collars will detach from a leash if your cat escapes up a tree, and standard collars may strangle your kitty and damage his windpipe. Luckily, most pet stores carry harnesses that are designed specifically for cats.
Start by taking your pet’s measurements. Using a soft measuring tape, measure the circumference of your cat’s chest which should be just behind their front legs. This measurement will be used when purchasing a harness. A properly fitted harness will evenly distribute the force of your leash grip between your cat’s chest, shoulders, and stomach. This will be the most comfortable for your kitty and is necessary to prevent injury during leash training.
Most feline harnesses are manufactured with nylon or neoprene adjustable straps. They are designed to fit all sizes of domestic cats including kittens and adults, and some will come in more specific sizing to match a cat’s measurements. A properly fitted harness should not cut into your cat’s body or hang loosely. When it’s on, you should be able to slip two fingers under the material, and your pet should be comfortable sitting and walking around.
Step 2: Choose a Proper Leash
Cats and dogs require different kinds of leashes, and it’s vital that you select the proper type if you plan to leash train your cat. Leashes designed specifically for cats are available from most pet suppliers. They are lightweight and typically less forceful than those intended for canines. Bungee leashes are great for walking cats because the stretchy material allows your pet to safely wander. Retractable leashes should be avoided for felines. They are designed for dogs and may lead to injury for a cat.
Step 3: Introduce Your Cat to the Harness
When you introduce your cat to the harness, you’ll want to make it a positive experience. The best way to do this is to reward your kitty with some food. Try setting the harness next to your pet’s food dish. You may also want to hold it up to your cat’s nose so they can get a good sniff and offer the treats right after. Some harnesses make noises when they snap or velcro into place. As new sounds can be alarming to a cat, it’s a good idea to fasten or attach the harness together near your pet so they can get used to the noise before trying it on.
Step 4: Try the Harness On
Once your pet is familiar with the presence, smell, and sounds of the harness, slip it onto your cat’s body without fastening it. Before they have time to react to wearing the material, provide your kitty with a treat. This will distract from any initial discomfort and make your pet associate the harness with a positive experience. You might also want to try putting the harness on your cat before they eat a meal so they can focus on food instead of the new sensation.
Try the harness on your cat without fastening it for several days in a row until they seem unphased by the process. Next, you can try attaching the harness and adjusting the fit. Remember that ensuring a proper fit is a vital part of training a cat to walk on a leash. Cats can back out of their harnesses when they become afraid, and you’ll want to avoid this when you take your pet outdoors. When the harness is fastened and adjusted to fit your cat, leave it on for a few minutes and then offer another small treat. Repeat this process for several more days and pay attention to how your pet reacts each time. If they seem comfortable wearing the harness, try leaving it on for a little bit longer. If your cat is visibly uncomfortable or upset, offer a food distraction and carefully slip the harness off. You can always try again at a later time with a different, better treat such as wet cat food. Just remember to remove the harness promptly if your pet has a negative reaction.
During the harness introduction stage of training a cat to walk on a leash, it’s important to only keep it on your pet for short periods of time. Begin with just a couple minutes with the harness, and when you work your way up, don’t go above 15 minutes at a time.
The first few times you put a harness on your cat, he may freeze up or walk in a strange manner. This is completely normal. Your kitty has never experienced the feeling of wearing something on their back, and it’ll take a little time to adjust. The goal during this stage is for your cat to get used to walking around your home wearing the harness without reacting to you putting it on. Eventually, your cat will be comfortable enough with the harness to go outside, but you must first get them accustomed to wearing the device.
Step 5: Attach the Leash to the Harness
It may take a few weeks to get your cat comfortable wearing the harness around the house, but when this is accomplished, it’s time to attach the leash. The first time you hook the leash to the harness, let go and allow it to trail behind your cat. Encourage your pet to move about your home with the leash attached and provide lots of tasty treats so they associate the activity with a reward. You may want to take your cat into a room where the leash won’t get caught on any furniture. Set treats on the floor around the room so your pet moves around with the leash to get the snack. Your cat’s favorite toy may also work for encouraging movement. At this step, let your pet move around as he chooses and try not to yank at the leash.
Step 6: Pick Up the Leash
Once your feline has gotten used to the feeling of dragging the leash around your home, you can start picking it up. Practice following your pet throughout your house with the leash held loose in your hand. Make sure to keep giving your cat treats and praise during this step.
After a few days of practice holding the leash while your cat walks around your home, you can try gently guiding your pet. While holding the leash in your hand, pull with very light pressure and beckon your cat over to you. When your pet comes to you, give them a treat as a reward. Some cats may not take to their owners pulling on the leash. They might become alarmed and attempt to wiggle their way out of the harness or run away. If it doesn’t work the first time, try again the next day or go back to the previous step of holding the leash while your cat walks through your home.
Step 7: Take Your Cat Outside
If your cat hasn’t experienced the outdoors before, they will most likely react with confused alertness the first time you go outside. It’s vital to take things slowly for felines who live primarily indoors. The good news is that you don’t have to take your cat very far from home to get them used to the outdoors. You can begin by bringing them to your backyard and letting them walk around to check things out. Leave the door to your home open during the first few times outside so your cat knows they can head back to indoor safety if they get overwhelmed.
Before heading outside, fasten the harness to your cat and attach the leash. Next, pick up your pet and carry them out to a quiet area. Gently set your kitty down and let them begin to explore at their own pace. With the leash held loosely in your hand, follow your cat around. Owners should be prepared for their cat to become skittish during the first few trips into nature. Bring a towel with you so you can quickly wrap up your cat without getting scratched in the event they begin to panic.
Pay close attention to your pet’s comfort levels during the entire training process and don’t force them outside their comfort zone. With some patience and strategy, you’ll eventually be able to walk your cat on a leash around your neighborhood.
Additional Tips for Training a Cat to Walk on a Leash
A hungry cat will be easier to train than a satiated pet because you’ll be able to use treats as bribery. Cut the treats into small pieces so you can provide several food rewards during each training session. Also, if you only give your cat treats during leash training, they will be more inclined to participate.
Feline owners should not let their leashed pets walk outside on their own. Cats should be carried out each time. This will train your cat to know that when they wear the leash, it’s time to be walked by their owner. If your cat is crying to go outside, don’t put the harness and leash on. This will only reward your pet for crying behavior and teach them that they are in charge of the walking schedule.
It’s also important to never leave your kitty outside unattended. In addition, don’t tie the leash to anything outdoors and walk away, even just for a minute. Your cat might become tangled in the leash and get hurt. This will scare your pet and reverse the work you’ve put in with leash training.
Keep in mind that cat walking is quite different than dog walking on a leash. While some cats may be happy to take walks with their owners, many will prefer to explore your yard on their own and take long naps in the sun.
Training your cat to walk on a leash is a great way to allow them to safely get some outdoor exercise. While leash training a feline, remember that going outside can overwhelm them at first. Be patient and understanding with your pet if they begin to panic. It will take time for your cat to feel completely comfortable wearing a harness and going outside to be walked on a leash. Take things slowly and provide lots of treats!