Is walking a cat on a leash cruel? A vet weighs in
Thinking about walking a cat on a leash? Head vet Dr Sarah-Jane Molier reveals all on taking a cat for a walk
Perhaps you’ve seen people out in public walking a cat on a leash or you’ve considered taking your own moggy out for a walk and want to know if it’s perfectly ok or if it’s unfair to take your feline friend out.
Some owners may fear that their indoor cat isn’t getting enough stimulation or exercise from the best cat toys and decide outdoor walks with a leash could solve this problem. Meanwhile, others may just want to share their own time outdoors with their pet and find that walking a cat on a leash is the perfect activity for this. We don’t blame you.
However, various vets and charities like RSPCA Australia and Cats Protection are against advising pet owners to walk their cats on a leash. This is conflicting for many owners who understand that cats love to explore and some appear to really enjoy leash walking outside. Fortunately, Dr Sarah-Jane Molier a vet with nearly 15 years of experience has weighed in with her verdict. Read everything she has to say on the matter below…
Is it cruel to walk a cat on a leash?
Opinions are divided on this one! There are some situations where it could be considered cruel. For example, you should never force your cat to go for a walk if they seem stressed by it. In fact, you should never force a cat to do anything outside of their comfort zone. If your cat enjoys being walked on a leash, and you are walking them in a safe and responsible manner, then it would not be considered cruel.
Are there any reasons why you shouldn't walk a cat? Well, a cat’s natural instinct when stressed is to flee, and by walking them on a leash you are depriving them of the ability to do so. Walking your cat in the garden is likely to be pretty stress-free and safeif done correctly. However, walking them at a local park is likely to present many stressors, such as roaming dogs and traffic noise, so is not advisable.
Can you take an indoor cat for a walk?
Some indoor cats can become accustomed to, and enjoy, going for a walk, while others would find it very stressful. In part this will depend on age; older cats who have never been outside may find the experience too overwhelming, whereas kittens are more likely to enjoy the adventure.
It’s important to note that outdoor cats who usually have the freedom to roam may also find the experience stressful. Cats tend to like to explore at their own pace and on their own terms, in areas where they feel safe.
Should you walk your cat on a leash?
There are many people, some vets and animal charities included, who think you shouldn’t walk your cat on a leash. Others, such as adventure cat owners, thinks it’s a great idea. Then there are many in between, including some vets, who believe it has its benefits in certain situations. So, let’s look at the pros and cons.
Pros and cons of walking a cat on a leash
- Leash walking could have potential benefits for indoor cats who would otherwise have no outdoor access, people traveling with their cats, getting your cat accustomed to a new area following a house move, or cats in rescue centres.
- It can provide mental stimulation and prevent boredom.
- It provides exercise.
- If your cat enjoys it, it can be a great bonding exercise.
- You are exposing them to potential dangers, such as off-lead dogs.
- There is a risk of your cat slipping their harness, in which case they will likely flee or hide.
- There is a risk that they may become scared and try to use you as a means of escape, much like a tree, resulting in injury to you.
- Cats are territorial. If you take them somewhere unfamiliar outside, they may feel vulnerable and stressed.
- Many cats do not like wearing a harness and feel restrained, causing stress.
Whether you walk your cat on a leash comes down to personal preference and your individual cat’s personality. Cats who walk on a leash as a kitten are more likely to tolerate and enjoy the experience than older cats being walked for the first time. If you do decide to try taking your cat for a walk, there are a few rules to follow and safety issues to consider first.
How to walk your cat on a leash correctly
Firstly, you need to make sure your cat will be as safe as possible outside. This means ensuring they are up to date with their vaccines, as well as their flea and worm preventatives. Your cat needs to be microchipped if you are taking them out, in case they manage to escape.
You should never take a nervous or timid cat for a walk. Never force your cat to go for a walk. If they show signs of stress such as a rigid body, ears back, hissing or lying down, stop and take them home.
Make sure you know your dangers outdoors. For example, research toxic plants to avoid, such as lilies. You should never use a collar with a lead, since this puts too much pressure on the cat’s throat and there is a high risk that your cat could slip out of it.
So, if you’ve decided you’d like to give it a try and are wondering “how do I take my cat for a walk?”, here are our top tips:
- Choose a comfortable, safely fitting harness that your cat can’t slip out of.
- Never use a retractable leash. If a dog approached, for example, you may be too far away to intervene. There is also the risk that your cat may become tangled around something if they try to flee.
- Start slowly. Allow your cat to see and smell the harness, while giving them treats. Gradually start putting it on, giving them their favourite treats at the same time. Once they are used to it being put on, allow them to wear it in the house for periods of time. Next, attach the leash, follow your cat a few steps, offer them a treat and then remove the leash. Gradually increase the time doing this indoors. Only venture outside when you both feel confident.
- Consider using cat pheromone sprays or plug-ins while teaching indoors.
- If your cat seems stressed or distressed at any point, stop straight away.
- Keep the walks short and sweet.
- We don’t advise walking your cat in busy, built up, or public areas. Best to stick to the garden.
If you decide that walking on a leash is not for you and your cat, there are plenty of other options available to you. You could use an escape-proof enclosure to allow your cat space to explore outdoors, or escape-proof your garden. There are plenty of indoor activities and games to provide exercise and stimulation to your cat too.
Walking a cat on a leash is not without risk. Some cats love it, others hate it, so be guided by your cat. If your cat isn’t keen, or you decide against it, there are other ways of ensuring they have plenty of mental and physical activity!
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Sarah-Jane Molier graduated in 2009 and has been enjoying life as a vet ever since. She currently works as Head Veterinarian in a small animal practice. Sarah-Jane particular enjoys internal medicine, alongside her managerial role. When not working in practice Sarah-Jane enjoys sharing her knowledge and helping pet parents by writing on a wide variety of animal health and medicine topics. In her spare time Sarah-Jane loves walking Nero (her rescue dog), gardening with her two young children and reading.