Cars, coyotes, other cats: the list of reasons to keep your cat indoors is a long one. She, on the other hand, seems to want nothing more than to spend some time in the great outdoors. How to balance her wanderlust with your desire to keep her safe? Try taking a cue from the canines and train your cat to walk on a on a leash

You may be skeptical at first (and so may your kitty), but leash training a cat can be done. With a few accessories and a lot of patience, you can greatly enrich your cat’s life with the sights, smells and sounds of nature.

What you’ll need:

1. A cat.

2. A leash.

3. An upper-body harness or jacket that is made for cats (neck-only collars should not be used as they can be dangerous for leashed cats).

4. An area that is reasonably free from loud noises, strong smells, and boisterous dogs (or people). A busy city street will probably be too over-stimulating for your cat; a quiet yard or park would be just right.

5. A handful of your cat’s favorite treats.

6. Flea control, if you plan to be out during the warmer months.

Step One: Put the harness on your cat. She will probably be very unhappy with her new accessory and will express her displeasure by huddling up in a ball. This is normal; once she adjusts to going outside on a leash the harness will not bother her as much.

Step Two: Attach the leash to the harness and carry your cat outside.

Step Three: Allow her to get used to the outdoors. Stand near your cat and wait for her to begin investigating her surroundings. For some cats, there will be an adjustment period of days or even weeks before they become more comfortable with the harness and the heightened bustle of the outdoors. Other cats will be bolder and begin exploring immediately.

Step Four: Go for a walk! Of course, the “walks” that you take with your cat will not resemble a walk in the traditional sense. Your goal in walking her should be to stand back while she takes in the world around her. She may travel a few feet only to be distracted by the commotion of some quarreling sparrows or a bug on the sidewalk. This excitement may be followed by several minutes spent lolling in the grass, or claiming every flowerpot within face-rubbing distance. For a cat, going on a walk is not a linear affair!

Step Five: Bribe her with treats. You can lure your cat along the sidewalk by rolling one of her treats in the direction you want to go. The rolling, bouncing treat resembles a tiny prey animal, and she gets a tasty reward for chasing it. Try calling her name or every time you give her a treat, and over time you may be able to train her to follow when you call.

A few other tips:

  • Like many behaviors, it’s easiest to leash-train cats when they’re young. Older cats may show more resistance to the harness in particular.
  • Tugging on your cat’s leash is counterproductive; it will make her less likely to go in the direction you want. It’s best to try calling her, giving her a treat, or simply picking her up and carrying her.
  • Your leashed cat will probably get a lot of attention from passersby. Children in particular are enamored by a cat on a leash. Your cat may or may not cherish this attention! If she’s on the shy side, finding a more secluded spot to walk her would make her experience more relaxing.
  • In a similar vein, try to walk your cat in a location where you’re not likely to encounter unleashed dogs.
  • Your cat may want to sample some of the many delicacies she encounters on the sidewalk or lawn. As some of the plants and substances you encounter may be toxic, however, distract her with a cat treat instead.
  • Above all, be patient. Leash training your cat is not easy, but if you stick with it, it’s well-worth the enrichment it brings to both her life and yours. —Meredith Southard
An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.