How do I train my cat to walk on a lead?

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A reader asks one of our experts if they can train their cat to walk on a lead...

Q) I’d like to start taking my cat outside on a lead. I think he wants to explore the outdoors, but I want him to be safe as we live near a busy road. How do I go about it?

Hayley Upton

A) Celia says: Most cats do not enjoy walkies on a lead. Indeed, the RSPCA does not recommend leashing your cat, warning that cats may be very frightened by unfamiliar places, unfamiliar people, unfamiliar scents and unfamiliar dogs. What is more, if they are frightened, they are likely to want to run up a tree. A leash may make this impossible. Ideally, a cat should be introduced to a harness when it is a kitten. But if you feel that you have a very bold cat, who is happy with strangers, dogs, and traffic noises, then you could see if your cat will tolerate this. Purchase a proper cat harness (never a collar).

Do not just slap this on. Instead, proceed very slowly. Introduce your cat to the harness, with it just placed on the floor, and give your cat a treat. Do this several times over a day or two so that the cat associates the harness with delicious food.

Next, put the harness on, give a succession of treats, and take it off again after a minute or so. Do this several times for a few days. Finally, put on the harness, give treats, and leave it on for the cat to get used to it. Only when the cat is happy to walk round the house in the harness should you think of adding a leash. The slower you do these steps the more likely they are to be successful. You should practise walkies inside the house at first and only when your cat is relaxed about this, take them out into your back yard or garden.

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Taking your cat out on to a public road or park is always risky. Cats are escape artists. If your cat becomes alarmed and wriggles free from the harness, you may never see them again.

A compromise solution would be to close the cat flap at night. An even better way of giving your cat outside exercise is either to fence your yard or garden, or to build a catio to give them an outdoor room.

If you settle for an indoor-only cat, make his life interesting with food dispensers, lots of play with you, and high shelves or cat trees.