Taking a cat on a walk might sound silly, but it has become extremely popular! Leash trained cats are everywhere in big cities, and on social media you have probably seen many cats with leashes attached enjoying the chance to get some fresh air. Here are some benefits and considerations about leash training your cat.
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The primary reason to consider leash training your cat is to increase the amount of enrichment in their life. If you think your cat is bored, the chance to engage with fresh air, grass and the outside world can be appealing. In particular, if you have indoor cats who used to go outside and seem to miss being able to go outside, leash training can help to give your cat an outlet and opportunity to explore the world outside of your home.
Another reason to consider leash training your cat is to help your cat be prepared for emergencies. Just like you want to make sure that your cat is comfortable and happy going into a carrier, teaching your cat to comfortably walk on a cat harness and leash can be a helpful way to keep your cat safe in the event of an emergency. In case of natural disaster or other emergency, you may need to transport your cat quickly out of your home, and having your cat leashed can provide an extra bit of protection to prevent your cat from getting lost.
Cats on the go!
Similarly, if you plan to travel with your cat, getting your cat used to walking on a leash can help make that process safer. Although you want to make sure your cat is always safely confined to a cat carrier or crate when in the car for safety, when you get to your destination, allowing your cat to explore new surroundings in a hotel or vacation rental on a leash can be helpful. If you are traveling or moving by plane although your cat will be in an airline approved carrier while on the plane to get through airport security your cat will need to be carried through metal detectors. This is a time when your cat could get scared and wiggle out of your arms and get lost in the airport. Having your cat comfortable with being leashed can provide an extra layer of protection to keep your cat safe while flying.
Getting the right equipment
If you are wanting to take your cat on a walk, it's important to make sure that they have the right equipment. For your cat's safety and comfort, you'll want to have your cat wearing a well-fitted cat harness. (Check out our list of top recommended cat harnesses.)
Make sure that the cat harness is the correct size for your cat, and that your cat can't back out or maneuver out of the harness. For a cat leash, you'll want something that is lightweight to make it comfortable for your cat. A standard 6-foot leash is a good length, and you'll want to avoid retractable or extra-long leashes so that you can stay close to your cat in case they get scared or uncomfortable. If you are wanting to take cat walks on leash, make sure that your cat is fully vaccinated, is wearing a collar with a tag with updated contact information for you, and that your cat is microchipped.
Teaching your cat to walk on a leash
Before taking your cat on a walk, you'll want to start by introducing your cat to their harness and leash while you are in the house. Allow your cat to investigate the harness and leash before putting it on. When you put the leash and harness onto your cat, give your cat treats and/or play with toys to help your cat make a positive association with the leash. While in the house use toys and treats to encourage your cat to walk the direction you want them to go. By using positive reinforcement approaches and encouraging/luring your cat with toys and treats instead of tugging or dragging your cat's leash, you'll help your cat to develop positive associations with the leash. Watch your cat's body language to make sure they are happy and comfortable on the leash inside before going outside. When you start to walk your cat outside, start in a quiet area like your yard or front porch and let your cat adjust to being on leash there before attempting a cat walk in a more populated, busy or distracting area.
Are there any downsides to leash training?
Although leash training can be a great source of enrichment for your cat, and help keep your cat safe, not all cats will enjoy leash training. If you have a cat that tends to be nervous with new situations, they may find going for walks more stressful than enjoyable. Cats who are regularly walked on a leash may also start to anticipate and request the opportunity to go out on leash. This can potentially increase the likelihood that your cat will choose to spend more time near your door and could increase the risk that your cat could dart out the door and become injured or lost.
Many indoor cats are curious about the outside world, and a safe way to give cats the opportunity to explore it is to teach your cat to walk on a leash. Leash training your cat is a great way to reduce your cat's boredom and to add enrichment into their day. In addition, leash training your cat can be an important component of your family's emergency plans allowing you to transport your cat safely to the vet, when traveling, or moving. Many cats enjoy the freedom and new experiences that can come with leash training but be warned leash walks may increase your cat's curiosity about the outside world.