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

Written by: Misty Layne

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

bengal cat walking on a leash, exercise

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.

Learn more »

Our feline friends love to explore, and some inside kitties yearn to explore the great outdoors. However, it’s not always wise to open the door and let them 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, how can we do it safely?

Many owners have started putting their cats on leashes to provide an outdoor experience. 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?

There’s a debate, not only among pet parents but also among cat welfare organizations and vets, about whether leashes on cats are cruel. There’s nothing inherently cruel about putting a leash on a kitty, but some get stressed out 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, 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 they can’t enjoy being outdoors in the way they want. Our feline companions are independent creatures, and putting a tether on them limits that independence, which can make them unhappy. Plus, a leash limits how 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 can become distressed while walking on a leash is that they’re frightened. Being outside (especially for cats that spend most of their time indoors) exposes a cat to new smells, sounds, people, and animals. The new experiences can be stressful or frightening to your pet. Because cats run and hide when they get scared or anxious, being leashed could cause significant distress for your pet due to the inability to escape the stressor.

Frustrated

At other times, a leash may frustrate your kitty if they’re not used to walking in one. Having a leash suddenly placed on their body might cause some to panic.

So, whether a leash is a good idea for your cat depends on how easily stressed your pet gets and their ability to be tolerate 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 the pros and cons.

Pros
  • 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.
  • Your cat can explore in a controlled environment and enjoy fresh air and new things.
Cons
  • Leashes limit independence, which some cats don’t enjoy.
  • Felines can become distressed if they encounter something stressful on a leash since they can’t run and hide.
  • They might try to run and hide (like attempting to go straight up a tree), which could injure them.
  • Kitties that are outdoors (even while on a leash) are more exposed to 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, most owners and organizations advise getting a harness rather than a collar. However, if you go with a collar, a breakaway collar is the best since it allows your cat to escape if the collar gets stuck on something.

After you have a harness or breakaway collar, train your cat to wear it indoors first. Attach the harness or collar without a leash, and give your cat a few treats. Keep the harness or collar on for short periods, 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!). 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.

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 them.
  • 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, go back inside and remove the leash!

A Note About Outdoor Cats

Outside cats (on or off leash) are vulnerable to predators like foxes, coyotes, pumas, and birds of prey. However, a full-grown cat is less likely to be attacked by a large bird than a kitten, and even an Eagle can’t hold a 20-pound cat and fly away. Many vets discourage allowing cats outdoors, even on a leash, since it exposes them to predation and more diseases.

Some diseases are lethal, like rabies. Furthermore, cats that roam leash-free are more prone to physical injuries from vehicles and wildlife. They can also be poisoned by chemicals like rodenticides.

Please be mindful that allowing your cat outdoors may be against the law in some jurisdictions. The laws are in place because 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 cruel to do so. However, if your cat is distressed by the idea of a leash, don’t force them to wear it. While leashes allow your pet to enjoy 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 calm your cat is with the leash, but eventually, you should be able to have outdoor adventures with kitty! However, you must be cautious when walking your cat since you may encounter others walking their dogs.


Featured Image Credit: Amerigo_images, Shutterstock

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