How to train your cat to walk on a lead. Pros, cons, and safety tips

26 October 2023 - 4 min read
black cat with green eyes in black harness and leash, laying on deck

So, you're thinking about taking your feline friend on a lead-walking adventure? You're in good company.

This isn't just some quirky fad; it's a real opportunity to enrich your cat's life in a safe and controlled way. Let's dive into the kitty-gritty of why you might actually want to do this, what to watch out for, and how to get started.

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Benefits of lead-training your cat

You might be wondering: "Is lead-walking my cat really worth the effort - and the confused looks from dog-walkers?" But it's not just a walk in the park — it could be a game-changer for your cat's well-being.

  • The feline fitness club: Let's face it, indoor cats sometimes get the short end of the stick when it comes to exercise. Lead walking is like a mini-gym session for them.

  • Goodbye, bad habits: A mentally and physically stimulated cat is less likely to redecorate your sofa with their claws or vocalise at the top of their lungs at 3 a.m.

  • A taste of outdoor catdom: A lead walk is a safe guided tour without the life-shortening risks of living outside. You can control the itinerary and keep your cat away from danger.

  • Bonding over shared adventures: Think of it as a buddy road trip, but on foot and in your neighbourhood. It's quality time spent discovering new things together.

  • Social butterfly training: Meeting new people or animals during walks can help your cat become the life of the party, or at least less anxious in new situations.

  • Vet-visit prep: If your cat is already used to a harness and leash, then popping them into a carrier for vet visits may become a whole lot easier.

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Risks of walking your cat outside

OK, so we've hopefully convinced you it could actually be beneficial to walk outside with your cat. But before you grab that lead, let's paws for a moment and consider some of the risks so you can be prepared.

  • The bug factor: The great outdoors is also home to less-welcome critters like fleas and ticks.

  • The "other animals" dilemma: Even on a lead, confrontations with other animals can happen, and they're not always friendly.

  • Toxic tour: Plants, chemicals, and even some human foods found outdoors can be harmful to cats.

  • Stress alert: For some cats, the big, wide world is more overwhelming than exciting.

  • The great escape: Harnesses are pretty secure, but a spooked cat can become a mini-Houdini.

  • Weather woes: Too hot? Too cold? Cats can be sensitive to extreme temperatures.

  • Time commitment: Proper lead training doesn't happen overnight. It's a commitment.

  • Legal loopholes: Check your local bylaws; some places have restrictions on cats in public spaces.

How to pick the right cat harness and lead

The right gear can make or break your outdoor escapades. Let's talk leads and harnesses!

The harness: Your cat's second skin

Choosing the right cat harness is like finding the perfect outfit — it has to be comfortable, functional, and, let's be honest, a little stylish. Here's how to make sure your cat is runway-ready for their outdoor debut.

  • Material matters: Look for a harness made from a breathable, lightweight material like mesh or nylon. This ensures your cat stays cool and comfortable.

  • The fit: A good harness should be snug enough to keep your cat secure but not so tight that it restricts movement or breathing. Many harnesses come with adjustable straps for a custom fit.

  • Style points: Harnesses come in various styles, from the standard H-style to the more secure vest or jacket types. The choice often depends on your cat's comfort and your level of control.

  • Test drive: Before making a purchase, see if you can try the harness on your cat. Some pet stores are amenable to this, or you could buy a couple of different styles and return the one that doesn't fit well.

The lead: Your cat's ticket to the world

Think of the lead as your cat's passport to adventure. It needs to be reliable, secure, and give your cat the freedom to explore while keeping them safely by your side. Here's what to look for.

Length and weight: Opt for a lightweight lead that gives your cat enough room to explore but not so much that you lose control. Retractable leads can offer the best of both worlds, but use them with caution.

  • Material: Like the harness, the lead material should be durable yet lightweight. Nylon is often a good choice.

  • Clip and go: Ensure the lead clip is easy to attach and detach but also secure enough to withstand any sudden movements from your cat.

The cat backpack: A cosy compromise

Not quite ready for a full-on walk but still want to give your cat a taste of the outdoors? A cat backpack could be your perfect middle ground.

Here's how to pick one that's comfortable for both of you.

  • Ventilation: Make sure the backpack has adequate ventilation to keep your cat comfortable.

  • Weight limit: Check the weight specifications to ensure it's suitable for your cat.

  • Comfort for you: Adjustable, padded shoulder straps can make carrying your cat more comfortable for you.

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Lead-training your cat: Step by step

Training your cat to walk on a leash is a journey, and like any journey, it's best tackled one step at a time. Here's a more detailed roadmap to get you and your feline friend started on this exciting adventure.

1. The indoor introduction: Harness first, lead later

Before you even think about stepping outside, let your cat get acquainted with their new gear in a familiar environment. Place the harness near their favourite spots, and even let them sniff it during playtime.

Once they seem comfortable around it, try putting it on them for short periods. Use treats and positive reinforcement to make this a rewarding experience.

2. The lead comes into play

After your cat is comfortable wearing the harness indoors, it's time to introduce the lead.

Attach it to the harness and let your cat roam around the house, dragging it behind them. This helps them get used to the weight and feel of the lead without the distractions of the great outdoors.

3. Start with indoor "dry runs"

Before venturing outside, practice walking your cat on a lead indoors.

Use treats to encourage them to follow you, and use a clicker or vocal cues to reinforce good behaviour. Keep these indoor sessions short and positive.

4. The big day: Venture outside

Choosing the right moment for your first outdoor excursion is crucial. Opt for a quiet time when there's less traffic and fewer distractions.

Start by stepping just outside your door and allowing your cat to explore a small, controlled area. Keep the first few outings brief—about 5 to 10 minutes—to prevent overwhelming your cat.

5. Take it slow

As your cat becomes more comfortable, you can gradually extend the length and range of your walks. Always pay attention to your cat's body language and comfort level, adjusting the duration and distance accordingly.

6. Don't forget your safety checks

Before each walk, double-check the harness and lead to ensure they're secure.

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Safety tips for outdoor adventures with your cat

First off, always make sure your cat is up-to-date on vaccinations and protected against fleas and ticks.

Secondly, remember that people don't always expect to see a cat on a lead, particularly when they're behind the wheel. Always be vigilant about potential hazards, from fast cars to unfriendly animals.

A note about dogs: they're not used to seeing cats on leads, at least, most of them aren't. Steer clear of dogs of all kinds, even if it means crossing the street to avoid them. Even the kindest dogs may be overly excited at the prospect of meeting a feline friend, and things could get hairy. If a dog does manage to lunge at your cat, they could inflict some serious damage in a matter of moments, presuming your cat doesn't get the upper claw. Here are some first aid tips to know just in case cuts and scrapes ensue.

Finally, don't force it. If your cat seems hesitant or fearful, it could do more harm than good. You might need to spend more time on indoor training or even consult with a professional cat behaviourist before you proceed.

By taking a gradual, positive approach and being attuned to your cat's comfort and signals, lead training can become a rewarding experience for both of you. Happy adventuring!

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Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.