Naturally, the cat is an independent and self-sufficient creature with a specific skill set of an ambush hunter. So, what happens when you put a highly skilled predator on a leash and take it for a walk? Should cats be leash-walked? Or, is the leash more of a “dog thing”?
According to the RSPCA, leash-walking is not recommended for cats because it messes with their innate desire to be in control. On the other hand, the Cat Whisperer, Jackson Galaxy, says that leash-walking is a “great way to change things up” as long as “the cat actually wants to go for a walk.”
In this article, we will focus on the group of cats that “want to go for a walk.” Keep reading as we discuss cat leashes, leash-walking safety considerations, the benefits of spending time outside, and finally give tips on successful leash training.
Is it Safe to Walk a Cat on a Leash?
Yes, leash walking is the only way of providing safe outdoor time. Although both physically and mentally stimulating, the great outdoors is a hazardous place for a free-roaming cat. Therefore, the leash is a must.
However, even leash-walking your cat comes with rules and guidelines. Basically, a safe and successful leash-walk session requires some logistics on your behalf and lots of collaboration efforts from your cat. Here are some things you need to know and consider before leashing your cat.
Manage your “Walking Experience” Expectation
First of all, you need to understand that walking a cat is not the same as walking a dog. This is because, unlike dogs that do not mind being led, cats prefer being the leader.
To be more practical, when walking a cat, you will be making tons of short and not-so-short stops for sniffing, hunting bugs, or simply observing birds on the nearby tree.
Watch Out for Parasites
While parasite protection is critical even for a strictly indoor cat, the chances of getting parasites are much more significant for cats spending time outside – even if it is just for brief walks.
Therefore, before going out for a walk, you need to ensure your cat is up-to-date on parasite preventives. Here are the top three parasitic dangers and how to protect your cat from them:
- Fleas – do not be fooled by their size, fleas can cause an array of problems varying from uncomfortable itches through tapeworm infestations to life-threatening anemia. Luckily, fleas are easily preventable – the market offers various topical and oral anti-flea products (just make sure you are using a cat-specific preventive as dog products are toxic to cats).
- Heartworms – the old-fashioned mosquito comes with a new danger for cats – it transmits parasitic worms that attack the heart and blood vessels. Heartworm in cats is complex to diagnose and even more challenging to manage. Monthly heartworm prevention is critical to protect your cat from mosquito bites.
- Intestinal worms – outdoor surfaces, dirt, and mud are usually covered with microscopic eggs, which, once ingested by your cat, grow into roundworms and hookworms. Intestinal worms cause nutritional deficits, weight loss, diarrhea, and skin issues. Once again, regular use of preventives will keep intestinal worms at bay.
Beware of Other Animals
While it is true that cats are skilled predators, even experienced hunters can fall prey in the hands (fangs) of larger animals like dogs, coyotes, raccoons, or other cats.
To prevent such situations, avoid places where such interactions are more likely – for example, dog parks and woods. Also, avoid retractable leashes as your cat needs to be close to you at all times.
It is also helpful to be equipped with a thick towel. That way, if a danger approaches and kitty gets spooked, you will be able to pick it up without experiencing your cat’s wrath – nail scratches.
Plants and Flowers can be Dangerous Too
Sniffing or nibbling on the wrong plant can result in a dangerous and likely expensive toxicity. The most hazardous plant is the lily, as virtually all flower parts – stems, petals, and pollen are toxic.
In addition to lilies, neighborhoods and public parks are home to many dangerous plants and flowers such as tulips, cyclamen, chrysanthemum, azaleas, sago palms, hyacinths, daffodils, amaryllis, hydrangea, iris, marigolds, gladioli, foxgloves, Widow’s thrill, autumn crocus, etc.
Benefits of Walking Your Cat Outside
She also suggests that allowing your cat to spend some time outside can help with some forms of destructive behavior. Here are the types of cats who would both enjoy and benefit from leash-walking sessions:
- High-spirited and adventurous cats – an adventurous cat is likely to spend most of its time watching natural TV – the window. Cats eager to spend time outside will also show escape efforts like bolting through doors and scratching in front of doors and windows.
- Cats exhibiting signs of stress – exposure to new experiences (sights, smells, noises) is like a desensitizing therapy and will help anxious cats relax. In the long run, this can improve the cat’s socialization status.
- Cats exhibiting signs of boredom – a bored cat is a naughty cat that often reverts to self-destructive (excessive grooming) or generally mischievous (chewing furniture and urinating outside the box) behaviors—spending time outside combats boredom.
- Cats living in small apartments – even with the right amount of environmental entertainment, being confined to small places can be frustrating. Being outside is the perfect form of entertainment – it keeps the body fit and the mind sharp.
- Formerly outdoor cats switching to indoor life – cats transitioning from outdoor to indoor living should be leash-walked to make the switch more natural. As creatures of habit, cats thrive on patterns, and sudden changes can result in stress and anxiety.
How to Leash Train Your Cat
Leash-training can be easy and relatively fast as long as both you and your cat are willing to collaborate and have the right mindset. Of course, being prepared and following specific steps is helpful too. Here are four vital tips for successful leash-training your feline friend.
What You Need:
Before starting the actual training, you should visit the nearest pet store and get equipped. These are the things you will need:
- The right harness – cats are notorious for their squirming skills and can slip out through tiny holes. Therefore, collars are a big no, and you need to focus on finding the right harness. The right harness is designed specifically for cats and checks two boxes – comfort and safety.
- The right leash – finding a good leash is more straightforward than finding a good harness as there is only one leash type that needs to be avoided, and that is the retractable leash.
- Tons of tasty treats – bribery (positive reinforcement) can help you get anywhere. If your cat is food-motivated, throwing a treat or two will make the training process much easier. If kitty is not a fan of treats, find the right type of bribe.
- Tons of patience – last but not least, you have to be patient and let things go naturally. Forcing a cat to do something she does not like is a recipe for disaster. Be patient, and do not expect miracles overnight.
Get Your Cat Used to the Leash
Once equipped, it is time to introduce your cat to the walking gear. First, let your cat get familiar with the harness without putting it on, and then start gearing her up with the harness while offering treats.
Over time as your cat gets used to the harness, you can increase the wearing time and eventually even put the leash on.
Walk Your Cat Indoors
If you think you are prepared, think twice and start practicing in an environment you can actually control, like the living room.
Start by walking your cat without pulling the leash – let your cat roam freely as it would without the gear. After a while, you can start increasing the leash tension but still follow your cat’s lead.
At this point, treats and patience are of the essence. If you do things right, chances are you will be able to successfully leash-walk your cat around the house in a matter of days.
Going outside is the final test. Do not get discouraged if your cat is hesitant to leave the doorstep after days of practicing – just spend a few moments on the patio, allowing it to experience the outside world.
Once your cat feels comfortable leaving the door, it is time to start making actual walks. Keep them short and make sure they end on a positive note. Namely, cut the walk as soon as you notice your cat is getting nervous.
Our Final Thoughts
With cats, things are either black or white – meaning your feline friend can either love or hate the leash. Obviously, even cats that like the leash will need some adjusting time before you can take them for a walk around the neighborhood.
If your cat reacts positively to the whole leash-walking experience, take the time and effort to make it perfect – safe, enjoyable, and comfortable. On the other hand, if your cat does not like “life-on-the-leash,” do not force things – there are plenty of indoor adventures you can both enjoy.