The RSPCA say that cats on leads are a bad idea

Ash - a cat on a leash in Snowdonia NP. Photo: Marleen Maathius and Tim Van Cromcoirt
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Ash – a cat on a leash in Snowdonia NP. Photo: Marleen Maathius and Tim Van Cromcoirt.

The RSPCA say that when a domestic cat is on a lead he loses control which makes him agitated and also he is being taken to places which are outside his territory which adds to his agitation.

A number of cat behaviour specialists disagree with the RSPCA and say that cats can learn to walk on a leash and it makes their lives more interesting. This is important in urban environments particularly in apartments where it is difficult to enrich the environment sufficiently to entertain the cat. I’d say a cat can learn to walk on a leash and be relatively content walking outside his territory but it will take time and there are dangers.

Thanks to social media and the Internet generally more and more people are taking their cats out on a lead in urban environments. Apparently, the hashtag ≠catwalking on Instagram has been viewed more than 14,000 times alongside pictures of cat owners taking their cats through city centres and even onto public transport.

There’s a brilliant picture of a Maine Coon cat, Ash, walking on a lead through Snowdonia National Park. His human companions are the actress Marleen Maathius and interior designer Tim Van Cromcoirt.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Marleen says:

Just because we live in a flat and haven’t got a garden, we didn’t want him to miss out on the beauty of life… Cats are curious animals, they like exploring. It would be a shame if he just stayed indoors because of the busy roads… Some people didn’t notice, while others were amazed and struggled to grasp the idea that we were walking the cat. Other people walked by with their dogs and the dogs looked more surprised than they did… In London, we see it often, people walking ferrets, rabbits-we even saw a guinea pig on a leash in the park recently.”

The RSPCA appear to be adamant that this well-meaning trend is undesirable for the cat. Cats are forced to walk with a collar or harness which removes their sense of control.

Cats are too territorial to enjoy this form of activity. They’re being forced into new environments which unsettles them. A sense of control, the RSPCA says, is very important to domestic cats. They recommend enriching their environment rather than leash training.

Personally, I have found more than one difficulty with walking a cat on a leash. If the cat becomes agitated because he/she is being controlled by the leash and the harness he may become aggressive and difficult. You may try to release himself from the harness. You may escape in fact. Or he may become aggressive towards his owner. These are difficult situations to deal with. Also a harness (the thick ones) can make a cat passive and behave in a strang manner. Although cats can be leash trained with a lot of patience.

I, personally, would not try to walk my cat down a street in an urban environment. There are too many distractions. The cat might wriggle free or do something unexpected which could put his safety in jeopardy.

I think that leads or leashes are not bad but not ideal for cats. They are a big compromise. Cats are not really suited to them at this time. Perhaps in 1000 years they might be.

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.

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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6 Responses

  1. D says:

    My dumped declawed cat likes going out on a lead, and stroller too! Can you imagine what would happen to her if I let her out on her own, without claws?

  2. Heather Larson says:

    Here’s the Bugster at the local outdoor mall, early morning when nothing is open and few folks are out walking….they all love to see him! When we started this journey, it was maybe 3 or 4 blocks in the vehicle…adding distance slowly…when I added a walk to the ride he began settling right away in the vehicle. The leash never seemed to bother him. He was a year old when we got him, previous human partner had died…so perhaps he’d been on leash before.

    • Michael Broad says:

      He looks superb. Handsome and relaxed. The photo is worth a thousand words of counter-argument to the RSPCA’s statement. Thanks Heather.

  3. As usual, blanket statements are seldom true. Each of us has different circumstances and very different cats.

    I introduced my semi feral cat to a halter and leash when I first adopted her 8 years ago. She cried to go out, and it was a way to allow her “safe freedom”. Luckily, she took to it right away after some practice in the house. I’d never done this with any previous cats who’d been indoor/outdoor, on 5 acres in Hawaii. But now I was in California suburb.

    Intuitively, I knew that a regular dog halter would be easy for her to slip out of, and maybe even uncomfortable. So, I bought a cotton blend, reversible halter with Velcro snaps, on EBay. I also decided to get a solid color, so I could write my ID information on it with indelible black ink. I also got a RED leash, in case she got away from me, it would be easy to spot, since she blends in with nature.

    At first, we went out on the front porch and sidewalk to see how she did. Then, out in the fenced back yard. I began to drop the leash, so she could wander around the yard. She enjoyed her freedom, under my watchful eye.

    We’ve moved several times since then, each situation being different. The last place was a mobile home park, with open green belts. I allowed her off leash, and she stayed pretty close. When she started traveling farther, I would join her, sometimes taking hold of the leash.

    One time she chased a cat, and her halter came off. I was fearful that she might get hit by a car or hurt in the cat fight. After a few minutes of not seeing her, I returned to the chair where I used to sit. She was waiting for me!

    Now, we live in a house with a fenced back yard, and we have the same routine. Sometimes I walk her in the front, but keep hold of the leash. She mostly walks along beside me, like a dog. If she needs re-direction, I say “this way”, with a slight tug, and she responds.

    Sometimes she just sits next to me on the front porch, watching kids go by on bikes or dogs being walked. This is her first exposure to kids, and she’s adjusting pretty well.

    She has jumped the fence twice, and was gone for over an hour. Once I located her in the neighbor’s yard, and once she returned on her own, waiting for me, under my chair.

    She always wants out, but my limit is twice a day, so after some meowing, she gives up. If I had my own house, I’d modify the fence so she couldn’t get out.

    I’d never take her to a busy place or even the peaceful countryside where people hike and walk their dogs. It’s too risky, and I won’t take the chance of losing her.

    In our case, the halter and leash allows her “safe freedom”, but I realize that isn’t a guarantee of safety. But confining a cat who really wants to go out, can present other issues caused by stress. We know that stress can trigger serious health issues over time, so walking a cat on a leash may prevent this.

  4. Albert Schepis says:

    I’ve can get cats to walk on a leash, but they don’t like it. I did have one cat become crazy when restricted at all, and when I leashed him (especially when he was healing from something) he was either so averse to it that he’d just fall over and lose interest in living, or he’d try to explore as if he wasn’t wearing a harness. If he wanted he could always get out of it anyway. Instead I develop an especially close relationship with mine whereby they do what I tell them with no leash. I know the leash bothers them. I do walk two of mine off leash down the street to a park, we play or just lay together on the grass then walk home. It’s not ideal for their safety in case something weird happens (which a leash wouldn’t help anyway), and they wouldn’t enjoy it any other way. If a dog chases them they’re better off being able to run and hide, too.

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