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Walking a Cat on a Leash - Is It a Good Idea?

 
By Matthew Nesbitt, Journalist specialized in animal research. December 3, 2019
Walking a Cat on a Leash - Is It a Good Idea?

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Cats like to explore. Their curiosity leads them to running around the house and investigating every nook and cranny. You can also see it in evidence when they stare out the window for long stretches at a time. The interior world holds much interest, but going outside can become a deep fascination for many cats. Some may even begin to develop behavioral problems, trying to escape every time the front door is opened. This is particularly the case with cats which have not been sterilized.

One solution to this problematic behavior may be to take the cat for a walk outside. In this AnimalWised article, we discuss walking a cat on a leash - is it a good idea? We see what advantages and disadvantages this may have for the feline so you can decide if it is something which might benefit your cat.

You may also be interested in: Do Cats Have a Good Memory?

Why walk a cat on a leash?

As we state in the introduction, cats are curious creatures. Some will have more energy and eagerness to explore than others. The reasons for this are down to many factors. While there is still further research needing to be carried out, some cat behaviorists have determined there to be five general personalities for domestic cats[1]. These are:

  • Neuroticism
  • Extraversion
  • Dominance
  • Impulsiveness
  • Agreeableness

We cannot know exactly how these factors will affect a cat's desire to explore outdoors, but there are certain traits which might make them more likely. For example, extraversion in cats is linked to activeness and inquisitiveness. This may make them more likely to want to explore outside. Impulsiveness is linked with being erratic and reckless, meaning they may be more likely to escape outside.

Another factor to do with a cat wanting to go outside is related to their innate hunting behavior. Cats will hunt, even if they have enough food to satisfy nutritional needs provided for them. Unfortunately, providing a cat access to the outdoors is detrimental to local wildlife due to high populations of domestic cats. Many researchers consider letting your cat have unfettered outside access to be a practice of irresponsible ownership[2].

Walking a cat on a leash has gained recent popularity as videos on YouTube and other platforms can attest. It allows the cat to indulge in exploratory behavior without risking becoming lost or attacking local fauna. With a leash, we can guide their direction and supervise them to maintain their security. However, not all cats may be predisposed to using a leash or a harness. You may need help to get your cat to walk on a leash, but first we should look at whether this is a good idea.

Advantages of walking a cat on a leash

As we have seen, most cats will want to have the freedom to go outside, even if they enjoy spending a lot of time indoors. Cat guardians need to work with the cat's nature and not against it, so it may be there are some positive reasons to walk a cat on a leash. If so, they include:

  • Provides positive experiences: the act of taking a cat for a walk can be a positive and enriching one. The cat will come into contact with a lot of new stimuli to their visual, tactile and olfactory senses. These include feeling grass under their paws, smelling local flora and indulging their curiosity. Such positive experiences may also improve the bond between cat and guardian.

  • Reduce escape behavior: some experts recommend that walking a cat on a leash might be a good way to help those with a tendency toward escapism. If a cat has such an interest and desire to go outside, then taking them for a walk with a harness can help them to exorcise these impulses. You will need to be particularly careful with these types of cat.

  • Exercise: some cats are prone to obesity and some may have already become overweight. In these instances, changing their diet is imperative. However, providing exercise can also help them to lose weight. Doing this in the limited spaces of the indoors can be tricky. Going outside allows the cat space to exercise their limbs and helps to reduce their weight.

  • Balances behavior: there are various reason why a cat may be hyperactive or engage in certain difficult behaviors. These are down to the individual cat, but whether they are neutered, their socialization process and breed type are influential. A cat which wants to go outside will look out the window regularly and may make attempts to exit the home. They may also show their frustration by causing unrest in the home or even destroying property. Taking cats like these for regular walks may satiate this desire and help them to balance their behavior when they return home.
Walking a Cat on a Leash - Is It a Good Idea? - Advantages of walking a cat on a leash

Disadvantages of walking a cat on a leash

While walking a cat on a leash may help redress their behavior or simply provide positive experiences for them, it is not an activity for all cats. While dogs are eager to go for walks and can be trained to behave appropriately when outdoors, a cat's nature provides greater difficulty. Whether a cat should or shouldn't be taken for a walk will depend on the individual, be here are some of the problems which may be faced:

  • Cats are not dogs: as much as we may want to walk our cat like a dog, the chances of this happening are slim. Cats are unlikely to have the security and confidence to walk by our side. We will certainly not be able to release them from their harness, otherwise the risk of indoor cats being hurt is great. Cats also do not have the same needs as dogs. Walking is a vital part of a canine's daily routine, allowing them the opportunity to defecate, interact with other animals and provide their bodies the exercise they need. An indoor cat can have all of their needs met within the home and still live a happy and healthy life. However, this does not take away from the importance of well-socializing your cat.

  • It can be stressful: being solitary and territorial animals, walking a cat in the outdoors can be stressful. If encountering another cat, they may try to either defend themselves or run away from a potential aggressor. If the cat is tethered by a harness and leash, they may not be able to do either of these. having their movement limited in such a way can be extremely stressful and cause acute anxiety. Unlike dogs, cats do not generally see other cats as possible partners to play with. They see them as threats to their security.

  • You have to be vigilant: with dogs, once well-trained and socialized, you may be able to let them run off the leash. You cannot do this with cats. They will not necessarily come when called, they may run off at the slightest trouble and an indoor cat may not know enough the dangers of the outdoors to stay safe. As their guardian, you will have to be incredibly vigilant, not only of the cat's behavior, but of all stimuli in this environment.

  • It can endanger their health: cats need to be properly vaccinated and dewormed to prevent the possibility of disease and parasitical infestation. However, even with these precautions in place, an indoor cat going outside can provide threats to their health and well-being. These threats would not incur if they were to remain indoors.

  • It can exacerbate bad behaviors: although taking a cat outdoors might help to reduce a cat's desire to escape, this is not a given. Since a cat likes to stay in control of their own actions, once they go outside they may not enjoy being kept inside afterwards. One factor is to do with the influence of smell on a cat's desire to explore. When you have a window open or smells from the outside come in the home, it is possible this can cause the cats to want to explore more. This, again, will depend on the personality and preference of the cat.

While there are advantages and disadvantages of walking a cat on a leash, it is important look at our individual cat and its well-being. We look further into whether you should walk your cat outside in the next section.

Should you walk your cat on a leash?

While many blogs and articles may suggest walking your cat is a great idea, not everyone agrees with this hypothesis. The Australian RSPCA is one such organization which highlights certain problems with walking a cat outside[4]. They point out that the main problem is a cat's desire to have control over their own actions. Putting a cat in a harness and on a leash takes away this control and, therefore, their security.

They highlight the stressors and dangers which can be found in the outdoors. These include loud noises, dogs, cars and strange people. Stress and agitation should be avoided at all costs, but the RSPCA argues walking a cat outside is likely to cause them harm. Their preference is to let the cat walk in an escape proof garden or covered area.

However, the organization also recognizes there may be some exceptions where a cat will enjoy going for a walk on a leash. Every cat is an individual with their own boundaries and preferences, so it is possible some may enjoy going outside without fear. If this is the case, they point out how important it is for the cat to wear a harness and not to simply attach the leash to a collar. This is because not only can this lead to choking, but the cat can get free of the collar and escape.

Can I walk a kitten on a leash?

While caution needs to be implemented when taking any cat outside, this is especially so with kittens. They will need to have all of their vaccinations and deworming up to date and be given the OK by the veterinarian. They will also be more vulnerable to certain stimuli, so be extra careful. In saying this, once the kitten has been given the all clear, it is possible going outside will help with their socialization. Again, what happens will depend on the individual cat.

Walking a Cat on a Leash - Is It a Good Idea? - Should you walk your cat on a leash?

How to walk a cat on a leash

Whenever you weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of walking a cat and looked at your individual cat's needs, you may still decide to try walking your cat on a leash. If this is the case, it is imperative you follow certain guidelines to ensure the safety of the cat. If not, you can traumatize them and prevent the cat from ever wanting to go outside again.

  • Ensure the cat is completely vaccinated and dewormed. You should also invest in an antiparasitic collar to help further avoid any infestation.
  • Ensure you buy a harness for cats which is of good quality and does not dig into them at all. If you are unsure of how to put on a cat harness, you have to be very careful. Put their legs through the loops of the harness without harming them.
  • Not only will you need to choose a harness for cats with a leash attached, but you will need to ensure the cat is comfortable with the apparatus. Put the cat in the harness while still indoors and given them a day or two to get used to wearing it. If they are very uncomfortable, they will let you know. This may affect your decision as to whether or not they should be taken outside.
  • Choose a quiet place without any other animals and as little distraction as possible. This may be on your property to start off with. However, if you live near a busy road or similar congested area, you may need to take them somewhere further in the car first.
  • Start by taking your cat out for only very short walks. You can incrementally increase the length of the walk as their begin to feel more comfortable.
  • You must constantly monitor your cat to ensure they avoid danger and do not come into contact with any harmful substances.

If you follow these guidelines and monitor your cat's response, it is possible you can walk your cat without any hassle. Always be responsive to their body language and remove them immediately if you sense trouble. If the worst is the happen and the cat manages to run away while out walking, our video below might be able to help.

If you want to read similar articles to Walking a Cat on a Leash - Is It a Good Idea?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

References

1. Litchfield, C. A, et al. (2017). The ‘Feline Five’: An Exploration of Personality in Pet Cats (Felis catus). PLOS ONE, 12(8), e0183455.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183455

2. Escobar-Aguirre, S., et al. (2019). Can Responsible Ownership Practices Influence Hunting Behavior of Owned Cats?: Results from a Survey of Cat Owners in Chile. Animals, 9(10), 745.
https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100745

3. Machado, J. C, & Genaro, G. (2014). Influence of Olfactory Enrichment on the Exploratory Behaviour of Captive-Housed Domestic Cats. Australian Veterinary Journal, 92(12), 492-498.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25424764

4. RSPCA. (2019). Should I Walk My Cat on a Lead? Retrieved on November 4, 2019, from
https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/should-i-walk-my-cat-on-a-lead/

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