When I became a cat parent I soon realized that cats are not low-maintenance animals. Cats need mental and physical stimulation to be happy. I was jealous of all the dogs getting their energy fix and it made me wonder, can cats walk on a leash?
Today, social media is full of adventure cats enjoying their 9 lives to the fullest. If you haven't been lucky enough to meet one, feel free to visit our Instagram account for daily inspiration: at @outdoorbengal
Can Cats Walk on a Leash?
Cats can and will walk on a leash. Every day more people are taking their cats out on a leash. Cats are both predators and prey and because of it they tend to be more alert and curious about their environment and can get overwhelmed easier than dogs. Preventing these mistakes will probably lead to a better and safer experience for both you and your cat.
When I started taking my bengal cat Mia out I felt a little weird. Today, we've been to 6 different states in the US and visited Spain, France, and the Caribbean.
If you are reading this post, either you are considering it or you have done it and are looking for some additional tips. Walking a cat is not exactly like walking a dog. But I assure you that the possibilities are endless if you train your cat/s.
If you have done your due diligence and you think walking your cat is the right thing to do, the fastest process to train a cat to walk on a leash is:
Picking the Right Harness
Desensitizing the harness presence
Walking your cat on a leash indoors
Walking your cat on a leash outdoors
Let's review it in detail:
Picking The Right Harness to Walk Your Cat
Picking the wrong harness for your cat will limit their mobility, increase your chances of failing at leash training, and in the worst-case scenario, get your cat hurt due to a failed stunt because of a bulky or inadequate harness.
Despite you can use the same harness for everything, using a different harness depending on the activity can make wonders for your cat’s safety and fun.
There are 5 things you should look into a harness, you can read more about it here: Safety, Comfort, Escapability, Easiness to put on / take off, and durability.
My recommendation is to pick a harness that adapts to your and your cat's needs:
- An everyday harness must be light and simple. These kinds of harnesses ensure the most mobility for your cat allowing them to run, jump and fly without noticing they are wearing them.
- A harness you would use for traveling by plane or train, or for a walk around the city where you can find cars and dogs, you want it to be escape-proof. This will prevent your cat from getting in trouble in the worst moment possible (trust me, they can be very good at it)
- Finally, when it’s cold (when talking about cats, cold is below 50ºFarenheit / 10ºC) you will want to equip your cat with a thicker harness that protects them from the cold. Cold isn’t the only concern for cats during the winter months but that’s a topic for another day.
Buying the right harness for your cat but failing on picking the right size is almost as risky as getting the wrong harness. Avoiding unnecessary mistakes when walking your cat on a leash will make the experience more seamless and prevent surprises that could make your cat grow scared of walking outdoors.
Get the right size by measuring the grith and chest and adjust the harness properly (The ideal is 2 to 3 fingers between the harness and the cat’s body).
We analyzed all those harnesses to define how would the best cat harness be like. After our research and 1 year and a half ideating, designing and producing dozens of prototypes, we have put together the best escape proof cat harness in the market. A harnes where safety, comfort, and durability meet.
Desensitizing Your Cat to the Harness
At first, most cats won't like the harness (there are a few cats that won't mind it but it's not common). Most of the times, when we dress our cats with a harness they will freeze. This is why, before putting the harness on, we need to introduce the cat and the harness.
Place the harness near your cats' bed, so that little by little they get familiar with the new garment. After a week or two, once the harness has your cat's smell, you can try to put it on.
How to Put a Harness on a Cat
There´s really only one good way to put a harness on a cat, which is using the comand Sit & Stay.
By using the command sit & stay, you achieve 3 things:
- You prevent door dashing, as your cat will learn that the step prior to going out is to sit and wait for the harness to be on.
- You prevent stressing out your cat by forcing them to do something they don't want to do.
- You avoid getting scratched on the process.
If you can put the harness on, it's already a win! If you can't do it easily, don't force it on your cat. Try it a few hours or days later while your cat is eating or playing with you.
Is it Hard to Get a Cat Used to a Harness
Every cat is different and it will take different amount of time to each individual cat to get used to the harness. Said that, the average kitten should be fine with letting you put the harenss on them after a few days of exposure. For adult cats, the process can take up to 3 or 4 weeks.
Once you put the harness on your cat, get them comfortable in it. It's time to normalize the garment by introducing some play time and treats so that your cat is focus on anything but the harness they are wearing.
Train Your Cat to Leash Walking
When first placing the leash on your cat, they will likely not appreciate the restriction or the extra weight.
Start Walking Your Cat Indoors
Take it easy on them and let them explore indoors on their own, you following their lead and using toys an food to incentivize movement if they are not doing it on their own.
Once they are comfortable, get some treats and start rewarding them for following you, so that you can lead the way. Take a treat on your hand, walk a couple steps and when your cat gets next to you, under your hand, click, then reward.
If you are not familiar with clicker training, you can learn more about it here.
Can a Cat Wear a Harness All The Time?
While a cat can tolerate wearing a harness all the time, it is not adviced to do so. The only exception is during the acclimatation or desensitization phase. During that phase, having your cat forget they are uncomfortable on a harness is important and wearing it all the time will help the cat normalize it.
Let's think about this for a second. What's the first thing that you do when you get home after a day outside? You get comfortable.
Imagine coming back home and leaving your jeans on. Imagine those jeans are tight and kind of annoy you depending on how you sit on the sofa...
Do you see where I'm going?
Sure you can leave your jeans on and get used to them to a point you barely remember you were wearing them but you'd rather change to something more comfortable, right?
Cats have their body covered in hair that not only protects them from the weather, it helps them perceive their surroundings. Cats are also very agile creatures and harnesses will, often, restrict their movement. Make sure you get your cat the best harness for your needs and poket.
The right thing to do is to create a routine to go outdoors with your cat:
- You ask them to sit and stay
- You put the harness on
- You go for a walk and when you come back from the walk
- You ask your cat to sit and sta
- and take your cat's harness off
By using this process you are also going to avoid door dashing because your cat it's going to associate going outdoors with the harness and without it, they are going to understand that it's not their turn to go out.
Walking Your Cat Outdoors on a Leash
Outdoors can be overwhelming for cats, particularly adult cats that have never been exposed to anything beyond the 4 walls of your apartment / home.
Start in quiet places, without cars, dogs or other noises and distractions.
Your cat will build desensitization to new stimulus over time and getting comfortable in heavily loaded envirenments it's going to take a long time and even create trauma.
If you don't have access to outdoor spaces that are quiet near your home, consider desensitizing your cat to your hallway and interior of the building first.
Another good idea is to get your cat comfortable to riding by car and taking them somewhere quiet and sheltered with trees, where cats are most comfortable.
The next steps are easy, start leash walking your cat indoors and once your cat gets comfortable with it, find a quiet and nice place outdoors to take your cat to.
Cats are both predators and prey and outdoors can be dangerous for them. Watch out for dangers and other threats when walking your cat on a leash!
Below the best harnesses I've tried:
- Winter Harness - https://amzn.to/2KrDXTH
- Escape Proof Harness - https://amzn.to/2Hj7G07
- Light Harness for Photography - https://amzn.to/2Kf7lfR
- Long Leash - https://amzn.to/3iLtBeL
- Our Paracord Leash - https://www.outdoorbengal.com/products/green-leash-for-walking-cats-6-10-14ft-stainless-steel-carabiner
There's a lot more you need to take with you if you are going on adventures with your cat. For a complete list, check out this blog post!
STAY WILD & STAY SAFE! See you outdoors!
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Albert & Mia