Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: November 1, 2022 by Crystal Uys


There is no question that indoor cats live longer and healthier lives. The average life expectancy for an indoor cat is 12 to 15 years vs. 4 to 5 years for an outdoor cat. To ensure that they also live happy lives, it is imperative that cat guardians provide a stimulating environment. If you feel strongly that your cat should have access to the great outdoors, leash training is a way to allow her to safely enjoy being outside. For some cats, safe outdoor excursions can help prevent behavior problems by stimulating them and helping them burn off excess energy. Leash training can also come in handy during trips to the veterinarian, or during emergency situations.

Get a harness made for cats

The harness should be lightweight, fit comfortably and come with a clip attached to the back of the harness. The leash should pull from the chest, not the neck. Never attach a leash to a cat’s collar. Cats can easily slip out of traditional collars. The best harnesses are those that look like a little jacket.

Allow your cat to get used to the harness

Leave the harness out for several days so your cat can sniff it and get used to it. Once he’s used to it, gently drape it over his body while giving him treats and praise. Slowly get him used to the feel of the harness’ straps around his torso. If your cat starts fussing, stop, back up a step, and go more slowly. Always reward good behavior with treats.

Once your cat tolerates the harness, ensure that it fits well. You should be able to slip two fingers between the harness and your cat’s body.

Allow our cat to wear the harness for a few minutes at a time, and gradually increase the time. Do not attach the leash yet.

Get your cat used to the leash

Once your cat is comfortable with the harness, attach the leash. Let your cat get used to the leash by dragging it behind him, and reward him with treats. Never leave your cat unsupervised while the leash is attached so he can’t snag it on anything.

Once he is used to the leash, pick up the leash and follow your cat around the house. Keep the leash loose and reward him with praise and treats as he walks.

Practice directing your cat with the leash by encouraging him with a soft voice or treats to follow you. Tug gently on the leash if your cat goes into the opposite direction, but never yank the leash hard. Reward your cat if he corrects his direction. If your cat tugs on the leash, simply stop and wait until relaxes, them continue to move.

Heading outdoors

When you’re ready to head outdoors, find a quiet, secluded area. Cats who are not used to being outside will easily get overwhelmed and may be nervous or startle easily. Let your cat explore at his own pace. Keep your first outings short. As your gets more used to being outside, you can increase the time and distance you walk with him.

This article was previously published on with the title Leash Training Cats, and is republished with permission.

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17 Comments on How to Leash Train Your Cat

  1. I have a gang and they all have learned to walk outside on the leash. Any kittens I foster and raise will learn to walk on the leash prior to being adopted. Whenever we have an adoption show, be it in a store or at the antique car show, I take some of the cats on the leash to give them training.

    When you put the harness on for the first time indoors, I have found many cats will lay down and roll over as though the harness is far too heavy for them. When they do this I just pick them up, attach the leash to the harness and walk them outside. Then put them on the ground, hold the leash straight up so there is no slack and so that they don’t see it, and wala! Kitty is now focused on the outside and no longer cares about the harness or how heavy it was a few minutes ago! The outdoors will attract their attention. Be sure to do this during a quiet time, not when the airplanes are flying low overhead or when the kiddie lot is full of screaming youngsters.

    Also for those considering putting kitty on a leash that is attached to some structure, I would not recommend this. Be with kitty and let it be your time together. Also all kitty has to do is back out of that harness and be gone. No harness can completely contain a cat. They learn quickly that if they turn around and get that leash going up over their head, the harness will follow right along. Just the way the cat’s body is made. So stay with kitty and keep your hands on the leash. That way if kitty does turn around to attempt to back out of it, you can simply position yourself to prevent the maneuver or pick kitty up with some TLC and prevent the maneuver. Enjoy walking your cat as I enjoy and have enjoyed walking my cat for years! It is a privilege to walk next to kitty! 😉

  2. I do not have a screened-in front deck/porch yet and wanted to let my indoor cat-boy come out front with me, on a leash… tied to the 4″x6″ upright near me. I wouldn’t need to train him for that, would I? That would be instead of him sitting behind the
    front door waiting for me to come back in… he does that. Must not trust me to come back, but I always do.

  3. we are working on this with Chanel. she doesn’t seem to mind the harness and leash, but she has made certain there is a “no walking” policy. she prefers to lay around or ride in a cart MOL

  4. My current kitty, Aryana, was on the streets for at least six months before she was rescued. There was —no way— I was going to be able to keep her 100% indoors. We got a proper cat harness, and I made a 25 ft. “Long line” leash out of 1/2 inch nylon webbing. She LOVES her kittywalks! Spends hours hanging by the door imploring me to take her out again (usually 2-3 a day). A side benefit is that she’s introduced me to all my neighbors who also keep an eye on her when we’re sitting out together. I’m disabled so the actual walking is short (although she does stay right with me). The rest of the time her leash is on my wrist and she has ample room to explore the garden and hunt. She’s caught a chipmunk and 5(!!) voles dragging clumsy old me behind her! Since they plague our neighborhood, I think “thinning the ranks” is okay as long as she doesn’t eat them although I know some don’t like cats hunting.

    Ppl are amazed to see her walk with me and often stop and ask (with some credulity) “is that Cat actually walking on a leash???” It’s a great compromise between all indoor and free range kitties but getting the proper harness is key!

  5. OMG, this article just gave me a heart attack. I am a pet detective and I can tell you many horror stories of cats who were leashed and who easily escaped them at places like rest stops on major roadways never to be seen again. I have yet to find one that works on a cat. PLEASE reconsider advising people to trust leashes! Thank you!

  6. Our kitty wore his harness for a few times inside while he was playing, to get him understand that he can have fun while wearing it. He got used to it very quickly. Now, at 2 and half years old, he gets out every day. We have an 8-meter leash. I let him wander as he wants and just follow him to make sure that it’s safe. This means mostly watching what he’s eating and where he’s stepping. We go in forests, fields and river banks – he loves to play with water. He’s such a good hunter, he hunts locusts (apparently they taste good) and gets occasionally a lizard, a bird, or a rodent, even when he has to drag the clumsy, noisy me with him! 😀
    I do believe that by letting the cat wander and hunt as he pleases we improve his mental health and the quality of his life. He gets to do what he wants and what cats are made to do – they have such strong instincts. Ours is a bengal cat and I can hardly imagine how we could provide him with enough activity indoors. But I would never ever let him go out unsupervised – I watch his every step and do everything to protect him. For example, I do not let him eat rodents, because they may have eaten rodenticides. I don’t let him eat any other plants than grasses I know to be safe. For us, going out in a leash is a good compromise between adventure and safety.

  7. One of my cats used to love getting on a leash and going for walks when he was younger. Then he got lazy. he still wanted to go, but would stop and lay down wanting to be carried the rest of the way.

  8. I have never seen a harness where the leash pulls from the chest. I’ve checked your product listing and done my own research. Can you suggest such a harness?

    • I’m not sure what you’re asking, Barbara? Do you mean a harness where the leash attaches at the chest, rather than on the back?

      • Yes, in your article, the second sentence of the section entitled “Get a harness made for cats,” it says this. Again, I’ve never seen such a harness, thus, my question. We have a cat who is an escape artist. We’ve tried the jacket-style harness on her, and she was out of it in seconds. Also, to the person who thinks you can simply pick up your cat if they try to back out of the harness…no such luck. Our cat bucked like a bucking bronco. It happened so quickly, there was no way we could get hands on her before she was out of the harness and gone. I have had several cats I’ve walked with a leash, but we’ve given up with our female. She slips every harness we’ve ever tried…in seconds.

        • Oh, okay – sorry I didn’t realize that’s what you were asking. I guess it is a little confusing – it means that with a harness, since the leash is attached to the back (top) of the harness, the pressure will be on the cat’s chest when he/she pulls against the leash, as opposed to the neck, which would be the case if you attached the leash to a collar. Does that make sense?

  9. I will tell you a secret: when I was learning how to be on the leash, my human did pretty much all the steps you listed. BUT Binga watched me for a year or so and she was very jealous that I got extra attention and I got to go outside. So after the 132th time Binga stormed the door when I was going out, my human said, “Okay, let’s put the leash on you and see how you feel about it!” She was expecting a complete FAIL, but you know what? It was like Binga had been walking on a leash her whole life! She got it the very first time! Just from watching me! Isn’t that wild?

  10. These are great tips, and I plan to use them. I am hoping to leash and harness train Carmine so he can get a little more mental stimulation. I’ll also check out your article on environmental stimulation. Our new place is great, but it’s so much smaller than he is used to, and he gets bored.

    Do you have any suggestions for good treats for kitties?

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