Despite popular belief, cats can be trained to do things that dogs often do. Some cats even enjoy doing activities like walking on a leash. Just like a puppy that has never been leash-trained though, a cat that is put on a leash will not know what to do unless you train it to walk on it first.
Choosing a Collar or Harness for Leash Training Your Cat
Collars are good for cats for identification purposes and to hang a bell on, but not great for using with a leash. Cats are built differently than dogs and they can easily slip out of a collar that is attached to a leash. Harnesses are much more secure for walking a cat with, especially when you are first training it.
Choose a harness that fits securely and is snug but not too tight on your cat. You can check to make sure it isn’t too tight by sliding two fingers underneath the harness. If two fingers can slide between the harness and your cat, then it should fit correctly, but if you can fit more fingers or fewer fingers under the harness, it may be too loose or tight.
Harnesses that are specifically designed for cats work best. If a harness is uncomfortable, your cat will only think about how poorly it fits or how difficult it is to walk in. Harnesses that are made from a soft material, cut in a way to allow a cat to walk normally, and that are lightweight are your best options for your cat. Make sure the harness you choose also has a D-ring securely attached to the back of it as well, since this is where you will attach the leash.
Choosing a Leash for Your Cat
Lightweight leashes that are four to six feet long are ideal for leash training cats of all sizes. Retractable leashes and leashes that are longer are okay to use once a cat is trained, but stick to a manageable length and leash weight at first.
Let Your Cat Adjust to the Harness
Once your cat has an appropriately sized harness on, allow it to get used to it. Let your cat sniff it and give them treats while it does so.
Keep in mind that the length of time that it takes for a cat to get used to wearing a harness will vary from cat to cat. A harness may not bother your cat at all or it may take several hours or days for your cat to adjust. Be sure to praise your cat and give it treats while it has the harness on. Do not leave the harness on for more than a few minutes if your cat is frightened by it, but increase the time it spends wearing the harness each time you put it on. Work your way up to leaving the harness on for an hour. If your cat is walking around normally while wearing the harness, then you are ready to take the next step in leash training.
Let Your Cat Adjust to the Leash
If your cat doesn’t mind wearing the harness, go ahead and attach the leash to the D-ring. While still in the safety of your home, allow your cat to drag the leash around to get used to being attached to it. If your cat is easily spooked, you may want to instead attach the leash and hold it while still allowing your cat to move about freely. Some cats are scared of a leash dragging behind them and you wouldn’t want to cause your cat to be immediately frightened of the leash. Once your cat is used to the leash being connected to it, you can advance to the outdoors.
Teach Your Cat to Walk on a Leash
Continue to hold the leash and let your cat walk freely outside. Coax your cat to walk where you want it to walk using treats or toys. Don’t pull your cat by the leash, but a gentle tug to redirect it's attention is okay. You should continuously praise your cat with treats if it is walking in the direction you seek.
Over time your cat will get used to the sights, sounds, smells, and experiences of the outdoors and will be safe in it's harness and leash. This may take several days or weeks for some cats, while others will be more comfortable right away.
Make Sure Your Cat Is Safe
Cats that spend time outdoors are more likely to get fleas, ticks, heartworms, and other parasites. Discuss preventative options with your vet to make sure your cat is safe and protected while enjoying time outside.
Stay away from things that may startle your cat, like busy roads and barking dogs, while outside. Even though a cat may be trained to walk on a leash, different situations may scare it and cause it to be afraid of going on a future walk.