black persian cat on a leash climbing a rock

I took my little kittens to their first cat show last weekend and ended up leash training them.  I‘ve taught two others over the last couple years.  It expands their horizons and keeps them occupied.  My Persian has become an accomplished traveler and tourist cat.  Leash training a cat opens up enrichment opportunities for you both.

If your kitty is hankering to see what’s beyond the front door or fascinated by the birds outside the window, she might be a good candidate for leash training and life as an adventure cat.

Why walk your cat on a leash?

black persian cats among purple flowers
A leash can give your cat a way to adventure safely

Learning to walk on a leash gives your cat a chance to experience the outdoors. It gives them exercise to help prevent obesity. They get mental stimulation and enrichment to prevent boredom and bad behavior. It is another way to bond with your kitty and enjoy an activity together. Outdoor adventuring is not the right choice for every cat. Learning to wear a harness and leash is a life skill most cats should learn for their safety in a disaster if nothing else.

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What to look for in a harness

Look for a cat harness or a walking jacket like the Kitty Holster or the Mynwood Cat Jacket. Most behaviorists seem to recommend the walking jacket style as more comfortable but they aren’t as available in stores. Some cats have issues with the jacket feeling. If your cat prefers a regular harness, look at the Come with Me Kitty harness and leash set. Lupine, RCPet and Coastal all make the traditional Roman or H harnesses as well.

Be careful when buying a harness made for dogs that slips over Kitty’s head. Cats back up when frightened and can slip out of a dog harness. Measure your cat’s girth right behind his front paws snug against his fur. Read the directions on the harness you buy for exact instructions. You want to be able to just put 1-2 fingers under the harness. Test Kitty on his new harness inside before taking him outside to make sure he can not slip out of the harness.

black persian cat in red walking jacket on rocky beach

Train your cat to wear a harness and walk on leash

Teaching leash skills is easier with kittens but most cats that are not fearful can learn to walk on a leash.  My little girls fall into three categories.  Betsy wore her harness and was a superstar pet me kitten.  Mocha was okay walking up and down the hall with practice.  I never got Caramel‘s harness on, I might as well have touched her with a live wire.  We‘ll be taking the long process with her.

  • Begin by getting Kitty used to the harness. Let him explore it by just leaving it in his space.
  • Put it on or over him without clipping it. The best time to practice is when he’s hungry.  Let him eat while he wears it. The food will help distract him.
  • Fit the harness and let him wear that until it is no problem for him.
  • Add the leash. Hold it while he walks around. You can let him drag the leash but some cats panic when the leash follows them around.
  • Encourage him to walk to you with his favorite treats.

Generally, cats walk you. Let him take the lead, sniff around and explore the area.  It is best to start in his own backyard, a quiet park, or somewhere like a pet store.  Don’t start him off on a city block where the noise of cars is likely to scare him.

Black Persian cat walking on leash

Watch how Kitty reacts when you take her outside. Is she excited and ready go and explore? Is her tail up and her ears forward? Or is he slinking along with his tail down and his eyes dilated? Not every cat will be successful as an adventure cat. Don’t give up after one try though, he may just be reacting to the newness of it all.

It is possible to teach a cat to heal or walk with you. Clicker training is one method that works well.

It is common for Kitty to just flop over, or freeze, when first wearing a harness. Try distracting him with a favorite treat or toy to encourage him to move. Once they figure out they can move the process goes along quicker.

My Treeno didn‘t appreciate his first time training to walk on his leash but he was too adventurous as a pet me cat at a show.  He wanted to go visit all the people and climb in the photographers’ studio.  At first he refused to take part in the experience, but he’s food motivated and the treats and toys method soon had him running laps around the show hall.

Once you have a leashed trained cat be sure you don’t let him be the boss of you. Don’t let the cat decide when he’s going for a walk. If he’s pestering you to go out, don’t reward the begging. Don’t let him walk out the door. Put his harness on inside and carry him out, then put him down. It will teach him he goes out when you take him and discourage door darting. Never leave your kitty outside unattended.

If your cat is adventurous and shows interest in the outdoors leash training and an out-and-about experience might be just what he needs.

Prepare in Advance

Be sure your kitty is neutered, up to date on his vaccinations, current on flea and tick prevention, and microchipped before you take him outside on his new harness and leash. Have an ID on your kitty. Make sure you identify him as an indoor cat. If he escapes whoever finds him will know he is not street smart.

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Strollers and Backpacks

Not every cat is a candidate to be your hiking or touring buddy. Some cats, like my Caramel, will not wear a harness. Others become overstimulated by the unfamiliar smells, sights and sounds.

woman with a black cat in a backpack

A pet stroller or a pet backpack can be a safe way to enlarge the territory of a kitty that won’t tolerate a leash or harness. It also gives you an easy out if you need to shield kitty from an off leash dog while you are enjoying a walk around the neighborhood (or to give your back a break from carrying kitty from place to place.)

If your cat is an adventurous kitty that shows interest in the outdoors, lives in a small space, or is exhibiting signs of boredom then leash training and an out-and-about experience might be just what he needs to burn off extra energy. Outdoor adventuring on his new leash and harness might be just the enrichment he needs.

Have you taken your cat on any adventures? Or trained him to the leash in the backyard? Jump over to our Facebook page and tell us about it or drop a comment below.  You can check out our Instagram to see Plush’s latest adventures. Let us know your handle so we can follow your adventure cats too!
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26 thoughts on “Go Walking: Leash Training a Cat”

  1. My cats Precious and Dusty never had a desire to go outside beyond the hallways. They were too scared. However you make an excellent point about leash walked cats being able to get more exercise and stimulation which helps fend off obesity and boredom. I’m going to Pin this post to share too.

    1. Even walking in the hallway is something – they see different people, maybe other animals, they know the world is bigger than their apartment. Over time they might be willing to extend their boundaries more. I have some that won’t go out – my former feral doesn’t even want to leave his room and a cat that was dumped on the streets is terrified. I think he remembers. I call him my ptsd cat.

  2. I never really thought about training a cat to wear a leash, but I don’t see why this wouldn’t be possible. They can be trained and are as just as intelligent as dogs. I just wonder whether it’s something they’d take to as well as dogs do. Just seems more of natural thing for dogs.

    1. The key to walking with a cat is to remember the cat walks you ;). They wear a leash and harness to go out and safely explore not to “go for a walk” like dogs do. Although they can, I have a friend who goes hiking with 3 dogs and a cat.

  3. Our cat was a former stray. He had to be quarantined for 6 months in our house because of medical issues. After that, we let him outside on a leash, but he never seemed comfortable. So he became an indoor only cat. My sister just adopted a stray kitten and I think she’s going to train him to walk on a leash. I’ll share this with her!

  4. The Dash Kitten Crew

    Our cats are outdoor cats so we don’t need to use a lead, but we have seen little sots for cats where you can add a harness sort of thing to a jacket. Some of them look so cute it fabulous!

  5. You hardly ever see anybody outside with their cat. Until recently I’d never think that walking a cat on the leash would not even be possible. But thinking about it, there isn’t really a reason why one couldn’t do this.

    1. Most cats can learn- starting young makes it easier though. It’s fun as long as your not expecting exercise- cats walk you and they’d rather explore. Sometimes I have to run to keep up with Treeno though. He has two speeds, snuffle around and check out the area, or hauling it at top speed to wherever he next wants to snuffle.

  6. My cat is trained to wear a leash and harness but I didn’t train him to go on actual walks. I have taken him to a park a few times or to explore the yard and he likes that. For an indoor kitty, he thinks this is quite the adventure! He wears his leash and harness at the vet too.

  7. Super helpful post! We trained both our cats to go outside on a harness (I actually double them up… a jacket plus a small-dog harness on top with the leash clipped through both because I’m a nervous nelly…). They each go on a long 20-foot dog training line in our backyard so they can see and explore, scratch at trees, watch birds, do whatever they please. They love it and are always so happy and tired after a jaunt around the backyard! Maybe I need to start them on a shorter leash and leave the confines of our yard next spring!

  8. Ruby, Rosie, and Teddy

    We just adopted another cat. He’s a big friendly boy and I think will adjust to walking – I hope. He seems very interested in the outdoors. I have a kitty holster for our smaller cat Rosie, but Teddy will definitely need a bigger size.

    Teddy is a big guy and I do worry about his putting on weight so I think walking will be helpful. What temperatures do you recommend for cats? We live in IL and do have very cold and snowy winters so my thought is to wait until spring for leash training. Though as you suggested, we will practice inside this winter.

    1. Take him out and about with you in the meantime- errands and stuff. Get him walking around pet stores. Then he’ll be used to the process and people when the weather gets better. I did buy Plush a coat and I’m going to bring him out to community Christmas things if it isn’t too cold, just for short photo opp type things. And I’ll carry him rather than let his paws get in the ice and snow. I won’t keep him out long either. Some cats are more tolerant than others. My big Norwegian Forest is built for the cold but hates it.

  9. This is great. I had a cat back in high school that I’d take out on a leash, it was so much fun being able to take her outside with us.

  10. Great post and am still giggling over my Mom trying to do this with my cat and how they both stood at the bottom of the stairs for a half hour doing nothing as he refused to walk MOL.

    I am seeing more and more people though doing it lately including bringing them to the park

  11. These are great instructions to start training your cat to walk on a leash. I’m a big believer that dogs and cats don’t have to sit home in the house all day – they should be out exploring the world with you! The mental stimulation adds an exciting element to life for them.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  12. Very helpful tips, and why shouldn’t cats be able to get out on a walk…safely! It always makes me so nervous when I see cats outside. Of course they love the freedom, and where I live it’s quite common, but when I see them next to a busy road, or have friends whose cats were killed by traffic, it is worrying.

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