Why don’t cats walk on leashes? The answer can be found in the traits of the wild ancestors of both the domestic dog and cat. Grey wolves are the ancestors of pet dogs. They are pack animals and it is in their DNA to explore, hunt and patrol in groups. Domestic dogs have an inherited urge to go walkies with their owner. It is very enjoyable for them. Their owner is the leader of the group.
Conversely, the wild cat ancestor, the North African Wildcat, does not patrol in groups or hunt in packs. They are independent and quite solitary. They don’t want to go walkies with their owner. It is not an inherited characteristic. When they are on the move, the presence of a companion is disturbing. In short, it is unnatural for pet cats to go for long walks with their owner.
In conclusion, therefore, domestic cats don’t naturally walk on leashes because it is not an inherited trait. There is another issue. Cats tend to react in a peculiar way when in a harness. It makes them role over on the ground and “collapse”. They can get over this but it does present another barrier to going for a walk with your cat on a leash.
Mother Teaching Offspring to Hunt
However, there are quite a lot of people who take their cat for a walk on a leash. Usually, these are not long walks as happens with dogs. Domestic cats do sometimes go for walks with their owner but this can be explained in a different way. It may occur when they follow their owner down a path perhaps in private grounds. This is a reflection of the cat’s early years when learning to hunt. They accompany their mother on short trips away from the nest while their mother shows them how to hunt.
It is said that when a cat follows her owner down a path she is reverting to this sub-adult stage of her life. It’s a reminder that throughout the domestic cat’s life she is looking upon her human companion as a mother. The adult domestic cat remains a “part-kitten”. Because of this she is able to go for a short walk behind her owner. However, she will return to safety when getting too far from her home (“the nest”).
The above being said, there are some exceptional cats and cat owners who go for treks together into the wilderness and I love to see it. Also when a cat was raised with dogs she learned to walk on a leash. The theory expounded above does not apply to all cats and all people because together they have surmounted the obstacles. Also I sense that domestic cats are shaking off their wild cat heritage and becoming more social and more domesticated. A very small percentage of domestic cats do go for walks on leashes. They are very much the exception.
P.S. The quote in the header image is by Dr Desmond Morris in Cat World.