Leash Training a Cat
Leash training a cat or kitten can be a lot of fun. It's not weird to walk a cat at all; it just takes a little time and practice. In fact, your cat will benefit greatly from the outdoor time. He'll get much-needed exercise and mental stimulation from the change of venue, and he won't feel bored when he's back at home later. It only takes a little time and patience to get started.
Leash Train Your Cat with a Harness
The first step to leash training your cat or kitten is to understand that you need to use a harness designed for cats—not a traditional leash and collar. Cats are sneaky little creatures, and, unlike dogs, they are quite adept at slipping out of collars, no matter how snug they are. So you want to use a harness designed specifically for cats, with a leash attached to it.
You won't need a collar on your cat to use the harness. But if you're using a collar anyway for security, use one that releases quickly and not a traditional one.1 A traditional collar can get caught on things when your cat jumps or climbs, which will injure him. A quick-release collar unfastens when your cat pulls on it, helping him stay safe. This is why cats need microchips since a quick-release collar could leave an escaped kitty without any ID.
Give Your Cat Time to Get Used to the Harness
Before taking your cat outside, you want to train her indoors and give her time to get used to the harness.2 First, leave the harness lying on the ground so your cat can smell it. Then put the harness on her, and let her get used to the feel of it. Be sure to reward her with treats, praise, and pets. After she's used to the feel of it, fasten it and make sure you can fit only a finger or two beneath the harness.3 You need it to be snug so she can't wiggle out of it.
Many cats will react at first by freezing or even doing a "belly crawl" because they're not used to the harness's feel. Most cats will eventually get past this stage and walk normally. That's when you can attach the leash and gently lead her around your home. Don't walk your cat outside until she's comfortable with the harness on. If she never gets comfortable, it's okay; some cats just can't get used to the feeling.
Start in Your Yard
Before taking your cat on a walk, train him in your yard. Ideally, you'll start somewhere quiet with little noise and slowly venture from there.
Take him for short outings in your yard and let him wander in the grass and enjoy the sunshine. Just remember to keep an eye on him. If he gets comfortable with his harness, he might try to jump on the fence and escape. If the leash is long enough, this could lead to some awkward moments as you try to get him back down. So keep the leash short enough that he can't reach any escape routes.
Some cat owners are content to keep their cat in the backyard and not attempt longer walks. What you decide is really dependent on your cat's personality. If he's easily spooked, you might want to limit your excursions to the safety of your yard. If he's a "people cat" that doesn't mind unexpected noises and surprises, then a walk outside can be fun for both of you.
Cats Walk on Leashes Differently than Dogs
If you graduate to walking outdoors, remember that it's a very different experience with a cat than with a dog.4 Your cat might want to stop now and then to smell the grass or watch a bug. For her, this is a sensory journey of discovery, not a jogging workout. Keep the leash long enough so she can explore but short enough so she can't wander into any dangerous areas.
If you need to move your cat along, don't use force or tug hard on the leash. Instead, gently pull and say "come." If you've trained your cat to come when you say his name, then this is where that training can come in handy.
Alternatives if Your Cat Doesn't Love the Harness
Some cats don't adjust to a harness. For these situations, you can try an alternative like an enclosed catio or cat tent, where your cat can enjoy the outdoors without escaping. You can also set up window perches in your home like the EZ Mount Penthouse or the Universal Mount Kitty Sill with Cardboard Track, where he can enjoy the sights of the outdoors in safety. You might even see if your cat would prefer a backpack designed for pets to travel in, like the Travel Bike Backpack for Pet.
Taking your cat for a walk outdoors can be lots of fun if he's properly leash- and harness-trained. Just take the process slowly and give him time to adjust. If your cat has an adventurous personality, going for walks can be the highlight of his day.
1. BC SPCA. "Cats and Collars: Why Breakaway Design is so Important." SPCA.BC.Ca, 11 October 2017, https://spca.bc.ca/news/cats-collars-breakaway-design-important/.
2. Bratskeir, Kate. "How to Walk Your Cat on a Leash, And Why You Should." HuffPost, 6 December 2017, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/cat-on-leash-harness-train-cats-walking_n_7656754.
3. Adventure Cats. "Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash." AdventureCats.org, 15 October 2015, https://www.adventurecats.org/backcountry-basics/train-your-cat-to-walk-on-a-leash/.
4. Jackson Galaxy. "Should You Leash Walk Your Cat? Ask the Cat Daddy." JacksonGalaxy.com, https://www.jacksongalaxy.com/blog/leash-walk-my-cat-ask-the-cat-daddy/.