By Harry Yorke
Pet owners in the UK should stop walking their cats around on a leash because they become stressed and agitated when they "lose control", the RSPCA has warned.
Across Britain a growing number of pet owners are walking their cats on leads in a bid to give them more "enrichment", the charity says - but doing so is likely to do more harm than good.
With many cats cooped up indoors for prolonged periods, particularly in urban towns and cities, there has been a drive in recent years to provide them with more freedom.
Capitalising on the trend, well known pet brands have released their own line of cat walking products, with specialists including PetSafe UK and PetPlanet stocking a range of cat harnesses and leads.
Meanwhile, social media is also believed to be encouraging the trend, with the hashtag #catonaleash used more than 40,000 times on Instagram alongside pictures of owners taking their cats through city centres, on public transport and to country parks.
They include actress Marleen Maathuis and interior designer Tim Van Cromcoirt, from south London, who recently took their Maine Coon cat, Ash, on a three day walking holiday to Snowdonia.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Ms Maathuis said that because Ash was unable to roam freely at home, they had trained him on a leash and now regularly take him on walks across the capital.
"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," she added.
'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, whilst 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. People don't have gardens and so they have to take their animals outside for a walk."
However, the RSPCA warns that this well-meaning trend is having the opposite of the desired effect, because forcing cats to walk with a collar or harness removes their "sense of control".
Unlike dogs, which eagerly await their daily walk, cats are more territorial and likely to become agitated when forced into new environments.
A spokeswoman added: "A sense of control is very important to cats and being walked on a collar or harness prevents them from having control," she added.
"It may be more difficult for them to be able to move away or hide from anything which might scare or worry them. Therefore the RSPCA wouldn't recommend that cats are walked outside in this way.
"Some loving owners who have cats that live indoors-only may feel that walking cats outside on a harness or collar is beneficial for their welfare.
"However, we would generally suggest that for most cats taking steps to provide an indoor environment which has 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."
However, many animal behaviourists disagree, claiming that whilst some cats may lack the right temperament, the craze is largely beneficial to animals without alternative access to the outdoors.
Laura Moss, the founder of the website Adventure Cats, said: "More people are leash training their cats. Taking a cat outside can be great for a cat's mental and physical health.
"Many indoor cats simply don't receive enough stimulation and they may suffer from obesity or boredom-related behavioral problems."