When one thinks of walking on the lead, the image that most readily springs to mind is of course, that of the dog. However, it is sometimes possible to walk a cat on a lead as well, depending of course on the personality and temperament of the cat in question! While you will never be able to train a cat in the same way that you can a dog, and you are unlikely to be able to teach your cat to walk to heel or sit, it should not be regarded as an impossibility to teach your cat to accept a lead. This can provide a valuable opportunity for cats that otherwise might not be able to go outside for any reason to take a stroll around the outside world, or even provide an alternative to restrictive cat carriers when transporting your cat to and from the vet or other places.
The vast majority of pet cats in the UK have the free roam of their surrounding area, and are able to go outside unsupervised and come and go as they please. But this may not be possible for all cats, for instance if your cat has a health condition that means they are not well equipped for the outside world, or if your cat’s breed traits mean that the outside world might be particularly risky for them. If you live in an apartment without free access to outside, or if you live near to a busy road or other hazards, the outside world might simply be inaccessible for your cat, unless you are able to personally supervise their activities and bring them back inside when necessary. Walking your cat outside on a lead can be a viable alternative if this is the case.
Larger pet shops and many online retailers sell a wide range of different products for cats, including harnesses and leads for walking. You should not simply attach a lead to your cat’s collar, as they could easily slip their collar when outside, or have it pulled off. Also, the pressure on the neck produced by a collar attached to a lead can be problematic, and so choosing a well fitting, comfortable and secure harness for your cat is the best choice for walking on a lead. You should ensure that you attach a tag with your contact details to the harness (or to your cat’s collar if they wear a collar as well), in order to ensure that your cat can be identified in the unlikely event that you manage to lose them while outside on the lead.
Before you can think about taking your cat to walk outside of the home, it is important to make sure that they are comfortable with the lead and harness itself. Make sure that the harness is comfortable and a good fit for your cat, and does not pinch or rub. Get your cat used to wearing their harness within the home for short periods of time, leaving it on for up to half an hour until they are happy with it and readily accept it. Then you can get your cat used to having the lead attached to the harness, which can take rather longer. Many cats will view the lead as a toy, and attempt to chase it or fight with it! This is fine, and you should let your cat get to grips with this and get it out of their system before venturing outside.
When walking a cat on the lead, you will need to approach this rather differently than you would do with a dog. Whereas you would expect a dog to take your direction and follow you, with the cat, you will generally need to let your cat take the lead and dictate where they would like to go. Only apply pressure to the lead or change direction when this is necessary to avoid going in a direction that may be problematic, or when it is time to go back in. Never drag your cat about on the lead, or force them to go outside of their comfort zone or into areas that they are unhappy with. Let your cat explore and enjoy the outside on their own terms, with the lead there as security, rather than as a way to direct your cat.
If you have a back garden or other green space attached to your house, this is the obvious place to use for your cat’s walks. Do not walk your cat along public roads or footpaths that are either heavily populated, near to traffic, or run the risk of your cat coming into contact with dogs. Similarly, try to avoid areas where other strange cats may be present, as you may run into territorial difficulties by leading your cat into another cat’s “zone.”
Walking your cat on the lead should be seen as a practical endeavour that is done in the best interests of your cat, who otherwise would not be able to go outside. It is fine to use a lead and harness for a cat that usually goes outside unsupervised if you need to transport them out of their home area, but do not simply walk your cat on the lead because you think it is fun or a novelty. If your cat is willing and able to go outside on their own and it is safe for them to do so, let your cat go outside unsupervised, as this will provide a much greater range of opportunities for play and entertainment.
Do not use the lead and harness to take your cat outside of his comfort zone without good reason, and if your cat simply will not accept the harness and lead or is unhappy when taken outside, accept that it just may not be an appropriate choice for your cat.