Behaviour

A Walk on the Wild Side


The benefits of taking your cat for a walk

Walking a cat on a leash? As a cat owner, you’ve probably heard of this phenomenon by now. To some it may seem absurd, but to others, exploring the great outdoors with their leashed feline is a normal part of their daily lives. And it turns out there are some very good reasons to consider it.

Cats usually do quite well living inside our homes and never setting a paw outside, but if you think about it, the cat is not designed to be stuck in “captivity.” Our cats’ wild ancestors lived outdoors for thousands of years, exploring and hunting—but there were also many dangers they encountered that our inside cats will never experience. Letting our domesticated cats run amok throughout the neighbourhood unsupervised can provide extra exercise and enrichment, but because of serious outdoor hazards, I do not recommend it. Instead, I promote keeping cats safely inside to help them live healthier and longer lives. Yet there is still an occasional twinge of guilt that many cat owners feel for not letting their cat outside to experience all that nature has to offer. This is where walking a cat on a leash comes in. It may not be suitable for certain cats, but for many, walking outside on a leash is a great way to provide the enrichment that only outside can provide, while at the same time keeping your cat out of harm’s way.

How to Walk Your Cat on a Leash

#1. Have the right gear
You will need a harness specifically designed for a cat, and a leash. Do not use anything other than a cat harness or your cat can easily maneuver out of it in an instant. {Editor’s Pick: We like Sturdi Products Walking Vest. Sturdiproducts.com}

#2. Start indoors
For safety, help your cat get used to the cat harness and leash inside the home before venturing outside. Under direct supervision, place the cat harness on your cat making sure it fits snugly. Once your cat has become accustomed to wearing the harness, attach the leash and hold onto it while he meanders throughout the home. Give him cat treats, canned food, or his favourite catnip toys to help keep the experience pleasant.

#3. Moving outdoors
Once he’s accustomed to the harness and leash, it’s time to move outdoors.  Make sure you always place the harness and leash on your cat inside the home before moving outside. It’s best to start in an area outside that is the safest and quietest. Ideal is a yard enclosed with a fence and free of noises that can cause your cat to become fearful. Let your cat move at his own pace and decide where to explore.

#4. Keep fear out of the equation
Help your cat feel in control and confident by maneuvering a wand toy for him to play with while outside. Cats cannot feel fear while they are in hunting mode. The more confidently he behaves on his outings, the more confident he will become over time. I always have the leash in my left hand and the wand toy in my right hand.

#5. Adjust expectations
Do not expect your cat to walk on a leash like a dog. This is all about exposing your cat safely to the outdoors to enrich his life; not a lesson in “obedience” training.  Expect your cat to be meandering and exploring while you hang onto the leash instead of him walking perfectly by your side. This is a chance for your cat to experience the birds flying overhead, smell all the new scents, and even roll around in the dirt for the first time! Let your cat dictate the direction and pace.

Many cat owners tell me that their once timid cat is now more confident following the addition of outdoor treks to their routine. They notice their cat’s behaviour is elevated, with the cat showing a new level of thinking and engagement with their environment.  Some of my clients even tell me their own lives have changed for the better by strolling through their neighbourhood for the very first time, and, like their cat, their lives have become enriched too!

Mieshelle Nagelschneider performs phone and video cat behaviour consultations nationally and internationally.
You can contact her at thecatbehaviorclinic.com.

Add A Comment

12 Comments

  • Deb Korhonen

    I would really love to take my Rocky outside for walks. I even purchased a nice secure a harness for him, but have yet to begin his indoor acclimation to it. Here are my fears: one- he will think it is OK to go outside and sneak out and open door. Two – I am afraid he will pick up please and ticks. I live in Florida. Can anyone reassure me?

  • Marie

    When I put a harness on my cat, she lays down and doesn’t want to walk. I never can get her to stand.

  • Lin Holbk

    My cat has been harness trainedsince he was about 2 yrs old. He’s about 7yrs old now. Your advice as spot on. He loves to take me on walks.❤️

  • abinico warez

    Tried it. Was a total disaster. My cat ran up a tree next to the pond – then walked out too far on the branch and fell into the pond – what a mess. From now on he gets his fun in the garage (a huge, 3 car, two story garage with lots of nooks and crannies to explore).

  • jak

    Thank you,i have been looking for an excuse to get a’cat harness’& take my Pudding out, having had feelings of guilt because she’s an indoors cat & living in a block of flats it is/was impossible to have a system where she could go outside,but i will now try the cat harness, I’m looking forward to this i hope she does too!

  • jak

    good ides

  • Linzy

    My cat @bizzibabs_pra_siamese walks every day on leash. He loves it (by the way – he is blind and that doesn’t stop him from wanting walks)

  • Cynthia McNair

    I walk Patch on a leash several times a day. He had toxoplasmosis so his head is tilted and I’m not sure about his balance sometimes. He is ok with it having been a stray fending for himself, and a lover of the outdoors, he stays pretty close to me now though. Must dash, its time for our pre treat walk.

  • Ann Marie Hoff

    I started my cat Samson in his harness when he was 3 weeks old. He is fine with it, but likes to ride in his stroller instead of walk on the ground. When I put him down on the ground, he growls at me! He will also ride on my shoulder, and since he wears sunglasses and does everything else I ask, I don’t make him walk. He is on instagram : @Samson_speaks

  • Joel

    We used to tie a long leash to the back door and let them in the yard. When we would take them for walks, people made fun of it. Most of our cats were strays.

  • Jenny Williams

    My Hawkeye is 13 and I have been taking him for walks on a leash for at least the last 12 years. We are the talk of the neighbourhood and have received nothing but positive and envious comments from those as we walk by. Used your methods even before I read it was the right way to do it!

  • Carl

    @posi_and_ravi love to go outdoors but because of coyotes we dont let them but through the use of a leash and very similar practices mentioned in the article, they get their fix of the outdoors and they love it. When feeling lazy, a kitty cart is also something they enjoy!

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