How To Choose a Leash for Your Cat

Updated: Nov. 17, 2023

Walking a cat is not like walking a dog. But with the right cat leash system, your feline friend can enjoy the great outdoors.

Like any animal, cats need plenty of mental and physical exercise. Heading outdoors is one easy way to provide it. There are many devices that allow cats to enjoy supervised time outside, including catios, playpens and backpack carriers, but a cat leash is one of the best options. A cat leash lets your pet walk around, roll in the grass and sniff all the smells. Here, find out what is a catio.

It’s less common to see cats on leashes than dogs, and walking a cat is a much different experience. However, with the right cat harness and leash system, felines can enjoy the fresh air just as much as their canine companions. Here’s what experts have to say about choosing the best leash for your cat.

Are Cat Leashes Safe?

Yes, cat leashes are safe — so long as they are used with a harness that fits properly. “What is most important is what is at the end of the leash,” says Dr. Mikel (Maria) Delgado, a cat behavior expert with Rover and certified applied animal behaviorist. “It is NOT SAFE to only attach a leash to a collar.”

Cats can escape from a plain cat collar more easily than dogs, and they are also more prone to neck injury. Use a walking harness designed for cats instead. “The best harnesses look like a little jacket or vest, and should secure in multiple places via Velcro, snaps or buckles to keep your cat inside it,” Delgado says. Have you heard about barn cats? They are semi-feral or feral felines that primarily live on farms, ranches or other rural properties.

Types of Cat Leashes

There are three main types of leashes, which are similar to what you would use with a dog. Regardless of the style you choose, a cat leash “should be long enough so that you can hold it comfortably without pulling upwards on your cat’s neck,” says Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, head veterinarian at Miss Cats. “If in doubt, choose a slightly longer leash so that your cat can explore.”

A standard flat leash is a common choice for dogs and cats. Flat cat leashes tend to be narrower than dog leashes, but that’s not always the case. These are a good choice because they are less likely to tangle when a cat rolls in the grass, and they are easy to untangle when knots do happen.

A bungee leash provides a buffer for excited pets. If your cat suddenly tugs on a bungee leash, it will stretch with them to lessen any jolt they may feel in the harness.

A retractable leash coils up neatly for easy storage, and it gives precise control of your cat’s walking radius. They are more easily tangled and more difficult to unknot. Some cats dislike the sound that retractable leashes make.

There are also three main types of cat harnesses to go with the leash. As Delgado says, the harness is the most important part. Dr. Maureen K. Murithi, veterinary spokesperson for Excited Cats, explains the differences so you can choose the best cat harness.

The H harness is popular due to its small footprint. Instead of covering a large portion of the cat’s body, it is made of straps in the shape of the letter H. Thanks to easy-to-use clasps, “it also does not need to be put over your cat’s head,” says Murithi. This makes it less stressful for your cat to get into the H harness. You can even make this type of cat harness yourself.

A jacket harness has the most coverage for an extra secure hold on your kitty. “It prevents cats from wriggling out of the harness when startled or scared,” says Murithi.

A vest harness mixes the other two styles. Vest harnesses have more coverage than the H harness, “making them more secure and comfortable as compared to the H harness,” says Murithi. However, you have to slide it over your cat’s head, which some cats may dislike.

How To Choose a Cat Leash and Harness

Choosing a leash or harness will depend on your cat’s size and preference, as well as where you intend to take them.

Delgado says to follow the fitting instructions from each harness manufacturer. A cat harness should be snug — more than with a dog harness because cats are better at wriggling out of them. Woodnutt suggests testing the snugness with two fingers. If you can’t fit any fingers beneath the harness, it’s too tight. If you can fit more than two, it’s too loose.

The H harness is good for walks in warm weather since it leaves plenty of breathing room. A jacket harness helps keep the cat warm in cool weather. Owners of fluffy cats may find that long fur gets stuck in the Velcro, and some cats may be startled by the Velcro sound. In that case, a cat harness with buckles is a better alternative.

If you intend to sit in the yard and let your cat roam, a retractable leash is a good choice. It gives a cat more room to explore away from its owner. Flat or bungee leashes give less freedom and are well-suited for walks in public.

If you’re unsure of which cat leash or harness to choose, talk to your vet. You may need to try several styles before finding one your cat likes.

How To Walk a Cat on a Leash

Walking A Cat And Dog Adriana Duduleanu / EyeEm/Getty Images

Walking a cat on a leash is different from walking a dog. You likely won’t cover the same mileage as you would with a dog, and your cat may not want to walk at all.

“For most cats, it’s really about giving them the mental stimulation and enrichment of the different smells, textures, and sights of the outdoors than getting in a lot of exercise,” Delgado says. The mental stimulation for your pet is well worth the time and effort of taking them outdoors.

When introducing your cat to a leash and harness, start inside. “You can place the harness on the floor, and put some treats nearby to encourage your cat to check out the harness,” says Delgado. Leave it there for a few days so your cat can check it out on its own time.

Then, you can try to put the harness on your cat, again offering lots of cat treats and praise. Take the harness off right away at first, slowly increasing the amount of time over a number of days

Once you get up to 10 minutes or so, Woodnutt says you can introduce the cat leash. “At first, clip it on and take a step, encouraging your cat to move forward with a treat,” Woodnutt explains. “Continue this process so that your cat learns to walk alongside you whilst wearing the harness and leash.”

Once your cat is comfortable and confident with the cat leash and harness, you can head outdoors. If you have an enclosed yard, start there. Be ready to take your cat inside if they seem overwhelmed.