#catwalking – American movement to treat cats like dogs

Cat on leash
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Cat on leash – Instagram account #catwalking

There may be a bit of a trend developing amongst cat owners (cat guardians) regarding walking your cat on a leash. The Times newspaper says that the champion of a growing American movement with the hashtag #catwalking has called on cat owners to treat their pets more like dogs.

Finn Frode walking his cat - Success!

Finn Frode (Denmark) walking his cat – Success!

This person, the champion of the catwalking movement, is David Grimm. He is the deputy editor of Science magazine and author of Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs.

David has been walking his cats Jasper and Jezebel on a leash for 13 years. He is very keen on giving his cats the best possible experience. As he lives in an 800 ft.² apartment in the heart of Baltimore he decided to walk them on a leash which gets them outside safely.

He said, writing in The New York Times:

“We need to start walking cats. I’m not saying that you should put your cat on a leash like we did. They don’t like you telling them where to go. But we should let our cats outside for 30 to 60 minutes a day to rove yards, stroll sidewalks and disappear into shrubbery. We should pick them up when they head for the street. We should whistle or clap when they begin stalking a bird. And we should have a bag of treats ready when it’s time to call them back indoors.”

It does not work – normally

Mr Graham’s objectives are laudable. I love his attitude. The problem, and I know that he understands this, is that it is almost impossible with respect to 99% of domestic cats to train them to walk on a leash. They are not built for the task. It is not in their DNA because they are individuals and solitary animals and they are not pack animals. And humans are just as resistant! I mean they are unwilling to walk their cat on a leash.

There are cats who could be trained to walk on a leash for a reasonably short distance or perhaps even a long distance. I have seen trekkers with their cats on a leash walking through mountain ranges. However, we see images of this but we don’t know exactly what is going on on these mountain hikes. I suspect that their cat wanders and stops and generally interrupts the flow of the walk quite dramatically.

In short, although I see the massive advantages of walking your cat on a leash, it is sadly impractical. This trend, if there is one, will not develop into a viral movement. Perhaps cat guardians should be obliged to train their cat from kitten hood to walk on a leash. But that won’t happen either. I don’t want to be too negative but I have to be practical.

F1 Savannah

Take a look at this (it can work but rarely):

Titan F1 Savannah Cat on Leash

Titan F1 Savannah Cat on Leash. Copyright A1 Savannahs.

The next cat is a Chausie:

Bushwah an F1 male Chausie on a leash

Bushwah an F1 male Chausie on a leash. Photo: Helmi Flick.


The RSPCA have made a comment on this movement as well. A spokeswoman said:

“Some cats may be frightened by the experience of being on a lead. A sense of control is very important to cats and being walked on a collar or harness prevents that. If an owner feels that putting their cat on a lead would not be stressful for their pet they should introduce the experience in a slow, gradual and positive manner.”

Looks like success

Type of harness

If you want to give it a try, I would suggest that you purchase a harness which covers a minimum amount of the body of the cat. When a harness covers the torso of a cat it acts like a Thundershirt, which is a device which is designed to calm cats and dogs. It certainly works because if you put such a harness on a cat he or she will tend to fall over! He won’t walk but he may stagger a few yards. It is not that he is hurt or upset, it is simply that a ‘kitten response’ has been instigated in his brain and he becomes passive and inert.

You will certainly need a harness as opposed to a cat collar attached to a lead. This is because cats can get out of cat collars and if you take your cat outside he or she is liable to become agitated or try to escape. In fact a cat may be able to escape a harness if she panics so it should be bought wisely and of decent quality.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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4 Responses

  1. Albert Schepis says:

    I agree that cats aren’t dogs, and I love that about them. Some cats can walk on a leash which if that’s the only way they can get out, then fine. A neighbor of mine walked his daughter’s Bengal for a year, every day, and they had few incidents. The cat never fought the harness and loved her walks, but occasionally if she got out without it on, she’d be a little adventurous, but once picked up she was fine. Hey, she’s a cat.

  2. Jane says:

    Not so sure Mr Grimm/Graham actually has cats.

    You cannot treat cats like dogs, they are different species, have 100% different psychologies, their only shared aspect is domestication

    He seems not to understand how cats behave when allowed free, off leash time outdoors. Yeah right, clap your hands, make a big noise when your cat stalks. He will either be ignored by the cat or his cat will run away, possibly under a vehicle. *eye roll*

    I’m with Sandra about harnesses. The velcro ones often have a second broad clasp strap for extra security. A cat does not have the relative muscle mass on neck or chest to be comfortable in a thin harness, even dogs prefer thicker padded harnesses and collars. There are cat harnesses that have large chest areas, soft, wide, padded side and back areas and are absolutely nothing like a Thundershirt.

    A Thundershirt is based on active, whole body compression. This is what can calm them. It is not based on any submissive kitten response. Cats lie down often when they are first wearing one as they are confused. They have to learn to walk in them, whole trunk compression is psychologically and physically quite powerful.

    If a cat does not learn or is not happy to move about wearing one, indoors, then you should remove them immediately. Not all cats find them helpful. Harnesses for walking are different and neither should hinder movement.

    I’ve rehabbed injured outdoor cats using padded cat harnesses. It is essential to have a long (min 6ft long, not retractable) tape line or leash, and never allow the cat to be further away from you than you can reach upwards. A cat who jumps eight feet up a tree whilst attached to a leash, is in danger if you cannot retrieve it.

    Cats need to be aclimatised to wearing and walking on a harness, it is a slow gentle process.

    It is also essential to take them out somewhere quiet where they won’t be confronted by dogs, people, vehicles, lots of noise.

    I think Mr G needs to visit a veterinary practice where someone can identify exactly which species he has.

  3. Michael, I disagree that the halter should cover a “minimum” amount of the body of a cat. Dog halters made with straps are easy for a cat to escape from, whereas the fabric halters with Velcro fasteners are more comfortable, and not easy to escape from.

    It would be great to hear personal stories from cat guardians, and the kind of halter they’ve used that worked, and those that didn’t work. I just emailed you my personal experience with Mitzy, with pictures.

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