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Can You Put a Cat on a Leash? Is It Cruel? Vet Approved Facts, Pros & Cons

Vet approved

	Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Our feline friends love to explore, and often our inside kitties will get a hankering to explore the great outdoors. However, it’s not always wise to open the door and let them out to roam (unless you have an enclosed outdoor space). We want our cats to be happy and fulfilled, so if they desperately want to go outside, we want to let them; but how can we do that safely?

Many people have started putting their cats on leashes to let them get that outdoor experience. But is putting a leash on your cat cruel? Or is it a perfectly viable option for outdoor adventures? The simple answer is no, putting a leash on your cat is not cruel, but it does come with caveats. Here’s what you need to know.

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Is Putting My Cat on a Leash Cruel?

In all honesty, there’s a lot of debate—not only among pet parents but also among cat welfare organizations and vets—about whether leashes on cats are cruel or not. There’s nothing inherently cruel about putting a leash on a kitty, but there are many felines who will become greatly distressed on a leash for various reasons.

If your pet is unhappy being on a leash or looks uncomfortable, yet you still keep putting one on them, that’s where it veers into cruelty.

Mekong bobtaile cat on a leash in the sand
Image Credit: watcher fox, Shutterstock

Leashes & Unhappy Felines

Why would felines be unhappy being on a leash? After all, leashes let them enjoy the outside world, just like they wanted. Not exactly.

  • Lost Independence: One reason a cat may become distressed on a leash is that it can’t enjoy being outdoors in the way they wish. Our feline companions are wildly independent creatures, and putting a tether on them limits that independence, which can make a kitty unhappy. Plus, a leash stymies the way a cat interacts with the world; cats are big on climbing and jumping, neither of which they can do on a leash.
  • Scared: Another reason a cat could become distressed while walking on a leash is that they’re frightened. Being outside (especially for kitties that spend most of their time indoors) exposes a cat to new smells, sounds, people, and animals. And those new experiences can be stressful or frightening to your pet. Because cats tend to run and hide when they get scared or anxious, being leashed could cause great distress for your pet due to the inability to get away from the stressor.
  • Frustrated: At other times, a leash may frustrate your kitty if they’re not used to being walked in one. Having a leash suddenly placed on their body might cause some individuals to panic.

So, whether a leash is a good idea for your cat or not really depends on how easily stressed your pet gets and their ability to be okay with limited independence for a brief period.

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Pros & Cons of Walking Kitty on a Leash

Everything in life has pros and cons, and leash walking your cat is no different. Here’s a quick look at a few of these pros and cons.

  • Indoor kitties get more exercise while outdoors.
  • Going on walks with your cat is a great bonding experience.
  • Leashes keep your cat safer while outdoors.
  • Kitty is able to explore in a controlled environment and enjoy fresh air and new things.
  • Leashes limit independence, which some cats won’t enjoy.
  • Felines can become distressed if they encounter something stressful while on a leash since they can’t run and hide.
  • Kitty might still try to run and hide (like attempting to go straight up a tree), which could injure them or you in the process.
  • Kitties that are outdoors (even while on a leash) are more exposed to certain pathogens and parasites than those that are indoors-only.
  • A traumatizing experience while on a leash might make future walks impossible, as your cat may associate their leash with an unpleasant experience. Attempt to walk with your cat during quiet hours with minimal distractions.
cat with leash and harness
Image Credit: g3gg0, Pixabay

Leash Training Your Cat

There are a handful of things to keep in mind when leash training a feline. The first is that despite the debate on whether walking a feline on a leash is cruel or not, the majority of people and organizations advise getting a harness rather than a collar if you’re doing this. However, if you go with a collar, a breakaway collar would be best since it allows your kitty to escape if the collar gets stuck on something.

After you have your harness or breakaway collar, you’ll want to get your pet used to wearing it indoors first. That means putting the harness or collar on without a leash and giving the kitty a few treats when you do so. You’ll want to keep the harness or collar on for short periods at first, then gradually increase how long your cat wears it.

Once your pet is used to the harness or collar, you can attach the leash (still indoors only!). Attach the leash, then allow your cat to move around as they like while keeping the leash short and loose in your hand. Once your kitty has gotten used to this, you can attempt an actual walk indoors. Do this a few times, then you should be ready to move outside.

Other things to remember are:

  • Walking a cat isn’t like walking a dog; most cats won’t respond to commands such as “sit” or “heel” (unless you trained them).
  • Don’t use a retractable leash! If your feline runs into trouble, you might be too far away to help with one of these leashes.
  • Keep walks on the short side.
  • You may find it best not to stray too far from home while walking your cat.
  • If your cat seems distressed at any point, go back inside and remove the leash!

A Note About Outdoor Cats

Cats that are outdoors (on or off leash) are vulnerable to ground predators like foxes, pumas, etc. and even aerial predators in the form of birds of prey. Please keep an eye on your kitty while outdoors as many of these predators prefer a stealth approach and may injure you or your kitty if they do attack.

Many vets discourage allowing cats outdoors, even when on a leash as this exposes to predation and more diseases. Some of these diseases are potentially lethal (example: rabies from a rabid racoon’s bite). Furthermore, cats that roam leash-free are more prone to physical injuries, such as a vehicle accident or poisonings, such as those caused by rodenticides.

Please be mindful that in some jurisdictions, allowing your cat outdoors may be against the law, as cats are notorious for disrupting local fauna with their hunting antics.

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Final Thoughts

You can put a cat on a leash, and it isn’t inherently cruel to do so (though there is plenty of debate about this). However, if your cat is distressed by the idea of a leash, then stop trying to put one on them. While leashes allow your pet to enjoy some outside time, they can also be frightening for some cats.

If your cat seems okay with having a leash on, you’ll need to leash-train them before going outside. It may be a slow process depending on how chill your cat is with the leash, but eventually, you should be able to have outdoor adventures with kitty! But remember, there are still cons to walking a cat on a leash, even if they’re okay with it—so be careful out there!

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Featured Image Credit: Amerigo_images, Shutterstock