Even if you don’t intend to ever take your cat outside on adventures, get your cat comfortable with the important skill of leash walking. It helps for vet visits so your cat can explore in the exam room while waiting for her appointment, and it makes traveling or relocating easier and safer.
What you’ll need
Before teaching your cat to walk on a leash you’ll need the right supplies. For your cat’s safety, she must learn to walk on a harness and not on a collar. Collars are a choking hazard if your cat were to pull on it. In addition, because of how a cat’s body is shaped, it’s very easy for cats to slip out of a collar. A harness provides a more secure fit.
Don’t use a dog harness, as they aren’t sized properly for cats. Measure your cat’s body to find the right size harness, and choose a thin, lightweight nylon, 6-foot leash. This is usually the easiest leash for most cats to adjust to. Carry a lot of high-value treats that your cat loves — squeezable liquid treats are especially popular with many cats.
Step 1 | Even if your goal is for outside walks, start teaching your cat to walk on a leash inside your home in a quiet area where she feels safe, confident and comfortable. Put the harness and leash on the ground, and let your cat explore it on her own, praising and offering her treats when she chooses to get near the harness. Get your cat comfortable with seeing what the harness and leash are before you try to put them on her.
Step 2 | Next, when your cat is comfortable with the presence of the harness, put it on her, remove it and offer a high-value treat your cat gets excited about. The goal: Help your cat make positive associations with the harness.
Step 3 | Slowly, incrementally start to increase the amount of time your cat wears the harness while in your house. Engage your cat in play with the harness on and offer her favorite treats.
Step 4 | When your cat is comfortably wearing her harness, attach the leash. Use toys and treats to engage your cat while she wears a leash attached to the harness. This helps her make the associations that being next to you is the goal.
Don’t pull your cat around with the leash. Instead, if you want her to go in a certain direction, use treats and toys to lure her to walk that way and reward her as she follows.
Step 5 | When your cat is comfortable walking around inside your house with her harness and leash, start venturing outside. Pick a quiet outdoor location without lots of people or other animals. This helps your cat feel safe and build confidence. As she gets more confident, build up to longer walks and outings.
Balance supervision and exploration
Always supervise your cat when she wears her harness and leash. Supervision is key to making sure your cat doesn’t accidentally get tangled, stuck or even strangled. Keep hold of the leash while your cat walks around and be aware of your surroundings for anything that could be harmful.
With safety in mind, when your cat walks on a leash, give her as much freedom as is safe to explore. Don’t pull or yank your cat’s leash while she walks. Instead, use a high-value cat treat to lure her in the direction you want her to go. Your cat will quickly start to make the association that exploring near you will be rewarded.