What are the pros and cons of walking your cat?

cat walking on a leash

A year ago, if we’d have seen someone walking their cat on the end of a leash, we’d have rolled our eyes and laughed.

But more owners than ever are taking their cats outside on harnesses for exercise, companionship, and fresh air.  

We’ve seen a few people doing it now and the cat has always looked happy and relaxed yet engaged with its environment. 

And with so many of us now living in apartments and urban areas, it makes sense that this is a good thing for our pet’s welfare, right?

But with some veterinarians and animal welfare charities actively advising against it, we wanted to ask what are the pros and cons of walking your cat and should owners be encouraged or discouraged to do it? 

woman walking a cat through a town square

There are several reasons why someone might choose to walk a cat.  

  • It could be because they have an indoor cat who would otherwise be unable to go outside. This is quite common in cities or in urban areas where it might be dangerous for a cat to wander outside alone. Someone might also live in an area where predators such as coyotes pose a danger.

     

  • Cats with disabilities, chronic illnesses or who are recovering from an operation might benefit from being allowed outside whilst supervised.

  • Owners might just want companionship when they’re out walking or they could be traveling with the cat and unable to let the cat go off alone. Some people
    take their cats with them when they’re RVing, for example.
     
  • Walking a cat around a new neighborhood can also be helpful in allowing the pet to get used to its surroundings before it’s let out on its own.

What are the pros of walking a cat?

There can be some real benefits to walking a cat outside. 

 

  • It’s mentally stimulating for cats that aren’t able to go outside and helps encourage curiosity.

     

  • It’s good exercise and a great way to burn off some excess energy.

     

  • You can get your cat used to being outside before you take the leap and let them outdoors unsupervised.

     

  • It can be great for the owner, too, and a way for you to bond with your cat whilst getting in some exercise.

     

  • It can also help cats nervous about heading outside.  By allowing them to explore the local area in a structured manner, you’re improving their confidence and getting them used to the sights and sounds of the outside world. 

What are the cons of walking a cat?

  • You’re exposing your cat to potential dangers outside the home which can be very stressful for them.  If they’re not used to road noises, dogs barking or the smells of the outside world then it can quickly become overwhelming.  Cats that are overwhelmed may slip the leash and dart away.  This will be very distressing for an owner, too.

     

  • You’ll need to make sure that your cat is vaccinated and up-to-date with its flea and worm treatments.  If you have an indoor cat, it’s easy to let these things slide but in taking them outside you’re exposing them to potential infections and infestations.  We’d recommend making sure your cat is microchipped, too.

  • Not all cats will take to being walked outside.  You may find that your cat hates it and never adjusts to being walked.  You’ll probably have more luck with kittens but even that’s not guaranteed.  It doesn’t matter how fancy the leash is or how expensive the harness was, a cat won’t go if it doesn’t want to and you shouldn’t force it to. 
  • You’re going to get some strange looks and people may laugh or pass comments.  This may not bother you but it can become irritating.

  • Cats are territorial animals and whilst taking them outside can be seen as expanding that territory, it can be stressful for some cats especially when they can see or smell other pets. 

  • You can’t walk most cats the same way you’d walk a dog.  Cats will often be slower and may stop to sniff and explore.  It means you may not get very far or cover much ground.

  • You’re going to have to pick out a good and reliable harness or leash. If a cat slips its harness, then it could be in real danger of being hurt or getting lost. 
cat walking on a leash

Is it weird to walk a cat?

Some people think it’s very weird to walk a cat whilst others don’t.  It’s still pretty uncommon in most places but with so many of us now living in apartments, it’s going to become more common.  And honestly, if your cat is happy to go and your comfortable taking them, then who cares if it looks a little odd.  If it’s not weird to you, then what’s the problem? 

Is it cruel to walk a cat on a lead?

Not necessarily, but you should make sure the lead fits correctly. You should also consider a harness over a leash which is more secure. Leads which are ill-fitting or unsecured could release when unexpectedly, and your cat get loose and run off.

As with collars, the general rule of thumb is two fingers under the harness for a comfortable fit — any more or less and you’ll need to tighten or loosen it.

If your cat does not enjoy being put in a harness or on a leash or displays any anxiety or aggression, then you should stop immediately.

How often should you walk your cat?

It depends on how often your cat wants to go for a walk and how regularly you want to take them.

You can walk your cat as often as they want to. You should try and keep walks short though especially in the beginning, and pay attention to the weather — cats are unlikely to want to be out in the rain and during the heat they may become exhausted.

Having a walking schedule can be helpful.  Cats who enjoy going out may become demanding throughout the day.  You don’t want your cat calling the shots on walkies. 

What cat breeds can you walk on a leash?

You can try and encourage any cat to walk on a leash but there are some breeds which are more open to the idea than others. Abyssinian cats because they’re energetic, for example, also Bengals, Burmese, Siamese, and Savannah cats.

Where possible encourage them to walk from a kitten as you may have more look with other breeds when they’re younger. 

Can you train a cat to walk on a leash?

  • Some cats will take to walking on a leash better than others but forcing a cat to try and walk is like shouting at the sun because it’s too hot — you’ll get nowhere.  If they’re not interested, give it up.

  • Kittens will be more open to walking on a harness but it’s worth trying with adult cats, too.

  • You should introduce the cat to its leash or harness before you try and use it.  Ideally, it should be done days before you intend to put it on them.

  • Cats that are chilled out may let you put it on them straight away but other cats will prefer to have a smell and inspection first.

  • You might want to use treats during these first few steps so that your cat associates the harness with something positive.

  • You might like to rest the harness on the cat when they’re distracted or sitting in your lap so they get a feel for it on their fur.

  • When you’re ready to put them in it then do it smoothly and quickly and let the cat wander about with it on.  You should keep it slack at this point and let them get a feel for wearing it.
     
  • After a while start adding a little tension and direct the cat if you need to but gently.  Let the cat explore the house and the garden and then when it’s comfortable head off your property.

  • It might be slow going especially if they’ve never been outside before.  For the first time, go when the neighborhood and sidewalks are quiet.

  • Don’t venture too far but get a feel for the type of cat you have.  Some will love to wander whilst others might be happier sticking closer to the house.

 

There are pros and cons of walking your cat but ultimately, it’s down to your discretion as the owner.  Cats can thrive outdoors even when they’re in a harness or they can quickly become overwhelmed. 

You know your cat’s personality better than anyone but it could be worth trying if you’re worried that your cat needs some fresh air and exercise but there are other ways of encouraging your cat to enjoy the outdoors.

We’ve recently written some posts that you may find useful if your cat doesn’t take to walking outdoors. You can find out more about buying an outdoor cat enclosure which allows a cat to enjoy the outdoors but in a confined area.

You can also use a cage or crate to take a cat outside.   

If you really want to get out into your neighborhood with your pet, you might like to find out more about using a cat stroller.  

If you want to carry them on the back, you can wear a cat backpack. Finally, you can also buy carriers that you can wheel along.  Extra-large pet carriers on wheels can be a great way of getting your cat from A to B. 

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