Should you take your cat out on a lead?

More pet owners are taking up the trend of going for walkies with their cats, but is it good for the animals’ welfare? The RSPCA is not purr-suaded

Whoever said “curiosity killed the cat” obviously never put their cat on a lead, because these days curious cats with obliging owners and Instagram accounts are going hiking, paddle-boarding and even rock climbing, with leads and harnesses to help keep all nine lives intact.

Now, though, the RSPCA has advised cat owners against walking their pets on a lead, in case it causes them distress. “A sense of control is very important to cats, and being walked on a collar or harness prevents them having control,” the animal welfare organisation warned. “It may be more difficult for them to move away or hide from anything which might scare or worry them.”

Many pet owners have taken up cat-walking in recent years, encouraged by others on social media and by the growing range of outdoorsy cat kit on offer. But for most mogs, the RSPCA suggests, “an indoor environment with plenty of opportunities to be active and mentally stimulated is likely to be more beneficial for the cat’s welfare than walking them on a lead.”

For some cats, however, that’s not enough, says cat behaviourist Anita Kelsey. “If a cat is going mad being kept indoors, they’re crying at the windows all the time, and you’ve done everything you can to bring the outside in, that’s when I help people train the cats to walk on a lead,” she says, adding that letting a cat outside can help to solve some pets’ “destructive behaviour”.

Not every pet has a garden to roam at home, and if a cat lives in high-rise apartment block, for instance, then a walk on a lead might be the only way they’ll feel the breeze on their fur.

Kelsey lives in a London home with no garden and two Norwegian Forest cats, which she has taken walking in the Lake District on leads. “Every cat is different,” she says. “Mine are a breed of cat that really wants to go outside. But nobody can force a cat to go on a lead; you can’t force a cat to do anything if they don’t want to.”

The social media cat-walking trend can be traced to organisations such as Adventure Cat, a website and Instagram account launched by Laura Moss in 2015 and dedicated to intrepid domestic cats enjoying the wild. Given the internet’s fondness for felines, it’s hardly surprising the account has 120,000 followers, and more than 88,000 pictures have been posted with the hashtag #adventurecat.

Dr. Samantha Gaines, head of the RSPCA’s companion animals department, says the organisation is not suggesting a blanket ban on cat leads. “All we want cat owners to consider is that every cat is an individual,” Gaines explains. “For some, walking on a lead may be suitable, but we need to be careful that we’re not just thinking of cats as dogs.”

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