How to Leash Train a Cat in 3 Easy StepsLast updated: by Jessi Larson Affiliate Disclosure: We hope you love the products we've recommended! As an Amazon Associate we earn a small share from qualifying purchases.
Figuring out how to leash train a cat can seem like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be. We’ll show you everything you need to know.
If you’ve ever had a dog, you know that most pups get super-excited when someone picks up a leash. Just calling out “Walk?” will cause most dogs to come bounding from any corner of the house.
That same level of enthusiasm isn’t quite there for a typical cat when it comes to going on a leash. In fact, it’s more likely that a cat who’s been exposed to a leash before will run and hide at the sight of the leash. Or collapse, feeling robbed of all dignity, if you actually put the leash on!
With that in mind, taking a cat for a walk might sound more like taking a cat for a drag. Since we would never recommend such a thing, though, let’s talk about how to leash train a cat (yes, it’s possible!) and why it’s a good idea.
How to Leash Train a Cat: Why It’s a Good Idea
Most cats have free reign when they’re allowed outdoors. But more and more these days, veterinarians and other animal experts are recommending restraints even if you’re just hanging out in the yard and you’d like your cat to keep you company.
There are three principal reasons why.
First, cats, like other animals, tend to run when startled. For millions of years, that flight response has served animals well in the wild.
For domesticated animals, though, fleeing can be disastrous. A frightened cat may run off into unfamiliar territory and become lost.
Even worse, it can be struck by a car. This risk increases when you’re away from your home, like walking in the neighborhood or in a park, for example.
The second reason, closely related to the first, is for restraint when traveling in a car and at another destination. If a cat is on a leash for a visit to the vet, for example, it’s easier to safely remove the cat from its carrier.
Finally, cats are hunters. A good mouser cat can be a great asset inside the home, but you might not like it so much if the cat is killing some of the wildlife visiting your garden.
Keeping the cat under some kind of restraint outside makes it harder for it to capture prey and easier for prey to escape.
We’ll show you everything you need to know about how to leash train a cat, which as you can see, is so important for their health and safety.
Getting Started: Introducing the Harness
First, let’s just say this whole process is easier if you start it during kittenhood. That’s not always going to be the case, though, so just muster up all your patience. You might need it!
It’s much better to use a leash and harness than it is to use a leash and neck collar. Cats can slip out of their collars, and the collars can hurt them if you pull on the leash even gently.
After you’ve gotten a leash and a harness that fits your cat well, it’s time to let the cat check out the harness.
Place it by its food and let it sniff, poke and bat the harness as it pleases. Having the harness by the food makes it more likely the cat will associate the harness with something positive.
You can also hold the harness out, allow the cat to sniff it, and then give treats. (Here are treats your cat will love.)
Next, it’s time to put the harness on your cat inside. (If you happen to have a spare suit of armor sitting around, it’s a good idea to put it on the first time you do this!)
More seriously, though, this is part of getting the cat used to the harness. Again, do it with treats or around the food dish. At first, leave it unfastened or only very loosely fastened. Take it off after a few minutes.
Over several days, fasten the harness more and leave it on longer.
Remember that we’re dealing with cats here. They believe they dominate homes filled with people and other animals several times larger than they are, so be ready to face rejection and scorn, and be prepared to spend more time than expected. Again, be patient!
Next: Attach the Leash
Once your cat seems comfortable having the harness on, whether it takes days or weeks, it’s time to attach the leash. At first, just let the cat wander in a room.
When it seems okay to move to the next step, hold the leash and follow the cat around without any tension. (This part may be easy since they expect us to follow their lead, anyway!)
Once that is going well, start gently guiding with light pressure.
Throughout all of this, keep using praise and treats as rewards. You’re not actually changing the way the cat thinks, you’re just convincing it that going along is worth it. That’s the secret to figuring out how to leash train a cat.
Let the cat think it’s calling the shots. With cats, you have to take any small victory you can get!
Finally: Time to Go Outside
If by this point your cat is still acknowledging your existence, albeit reluctantly, and doing okay with the leash and harness, it’s time to take things outside.
Once again, start slowly. The first time out, your cat might just stand there and go nowhere. That’s okay.
As time goes by and your cat starts to explore its surroundings, move along and keep the leash loose.
Don’t push your cat’s comfort level when it comes to distance or time outside. When your feline friend signals it’s time to go back in, go back in.
Keep using treats, and keep being patient. If you’re looking for your cat to accompany you on your daily walk, adjust your expectations, at least for now.
How to Leash Train a Cat: Other Tips
Another important tip as you learn how to leash train a cat: Always harness and leash up inside and then carry the cat outside. Otherwise, you create an incentive to go outside first once you open the door.
Go outside on your schedule, not your cat’s. A cat meowing by the door who gets instant gratification will just meow by the door even more.
Also, don’t tether your cat outside and leave it unattended. Remember how we earlier said a restrained cat has a harder time catching and killing prey? Well, it also has a harder time escaping animals that could attack.
Depending on where you live, coyotes, foxes, loose dogs, owls, raccoons and other animals can be a mortal threat to a cat or kitten.
Final Thoughts: How to Leash Train a Cat
Although we’ve often taken a lighthearted approach here, our bottom line is that training your cat to accept a leash is a great way to ensure a longer, happier life for that precious feline.
When the process gets slow and frustrating, just remember that ancient kings had leash-trained Cheetahs at their sides. If they were able to train cheetahs, you can learn how to leash train a cat!
Good luck – it can really work, and in the end, your cat will be grateful for it.
How to Leash Train a Cat Bonus Tip: Picking The Best Harness for Your Cat
As you’ve gathered from our instructions on how to leash train a cat, a harness and leash are crucial for this process.
Picking which harness is right for your cat can feel overwhelming. There are multiple types of harnesses and they all have their pros and cons.
To help you fit the right one for your feline, here are some things to consider:
First and foremost, the harness needs to fit your cat well. It shouldn’t be too tight or too loose.
Keep in mind the size of your cat – the smaller the cat, the more you will need to adjust the harness.
Always measure your cat first before going harness shopping.
Keeping your cat comfortable on their adventures will improve the experience for them and for you.
Be sure that you can fit at least one finger between your cat and the harness without it being so loose that more than two fingers will fit.
You should also keep in mind the activities you are planning on.
For a casual stroll around the neighborhood, this may not be too important, but if you plan on visiting other locations, material can quickly play a big factor. Will it be cold or hot? Will there be dirt and sand?
The right material can help your cat maintain a comfortable temperature and avoid matting their fur.
All cat owners know how picky cats can be. Whether it’s their food and treats or their favorite spot for a nap, cats are opinionated.
Your cat may not be willing to cooperate with something being slipped over their head. Others may not like the full coverage of some harnesses.
Pay attention to what your cat is telling you and be willing to try a couple different styles.
Things like asthma and arthritis are common for house cats and can be something to take into consideration when picking a harness.
For example, if your cat has asthma, they may be more comfortable with less coverage and pressure on their neck. And an arthritic cat may want to move as little as possible when putting on a harness.
Keep your cat’s health history in mind when browsing your options.
How to Leash Train a Cat: Types of Cat Harnesses
With these factors taken into consideration, you now have to choose between the various harness options out there. Most harnesses will fall in one of these three main categories:
As the name would suggest, these are shaped like an “H” and are designed so that your cat can simply step into them.
They are the most popular choice for kittens and smaller cats because they can be easily adjusted and cinch up when your cat starts pulling on their leash.
They also focus pressure on limited areas of the cat, so many cats prefer them.
These have the least amount of contact area, so they would be better for outdoor activities in climates that stay fairly warm.
One huge benefit of an H-harness is that you don’t have to slip it over your cat’s head and risk a bite.
If you are just starting out with cat harnesses, this is a good first option.
Designed to fit like a vest, these vest harnesses provide more contact with your cat and the pressure from the tension of the leash is spread over a much greater area. This is especially good for cats who might make sudden movements when spooked.
It’s important to be aware that most vest harnesses are worn by sliding it over your cat’s head, so if your cat is at all hesitant with things touching their head, they may not enjoy this style of harness.
However, if you have a larger or stronger cat, this may be the option for you. (That’s why we picked this vest style for when deciding on the best cat harness for large cats!)
Also known as a butterfly harness, these harnesses cover the most area on the cat’s body and will typically fit better.
Does your cat know how to get out of anything? Could they pass for an escape artist?
You may want to opt for this harness option.