Most cat harnesses are made with adjustable straps designed to fit either kittens or adult cats and are made of either nylon or neoprene. Some harnesses may come in sub-sizes based on your cat’s specific measurements. The harness should be fitted to your cat’s body and should neither squeeze or cut into your cat or hang loosely off its body. If it’s fitted properly, you should just be able to fit two fingers under the harness when you put it on your cat. Never use a harness as a restraint for car rides—cat harnesses aren’t designed to protect cats in the event of a car accident.
Cats have different leash needs than dogs, so choose an appropriate leash carefully. Some manufacturers make lighter-weight leashes designed specifically for cats, as cats are generally lighter and less forceful than dogs. Bungee leashes are ideal for cats because they provide enough stretch to let your cat safely wander a bit. Put your cat in its harness for short periods of time. Before you’ll be able to take your cat outside, you’ll first need to get it accustomed to wearing its harness. Start by putting your cat in its harness for short periods of time every day for several days. Initially, put the harness on for just a few minutes, then increase the length of time each day for several days.
Give your cat treats and lots of praise while putting on the harness and while your cat walks around wearing the harness. You want your cat to eventually feel comfortable moving around the house in its harness, ideally to the point that it doesn’t pay any mind to the harness. Once your cat has become comfortable with its harness, begin attaching the leash to the harness. At first, allow the leash to trail behind your cat. Encourage the cat to walk around with the leash attached by offering treats and lots of praise. Practice walking with the harness and leash.
Once your cat has become comfortable having the leash trail behind it, pick up the leash and again encourage your cat to walk around—this time with you holding the leash. Offer your cat its favorite treats and lots of praise as it begins to walk around. Try not to yank or drag the cat along as you go—let the cat move about of its own volition. Don’t force your cat to go outdoors. The prospect of going outside can be quite intimidating to some cats, so if your cat is reluctant to follow you out, don’t insist. If your cat is unsure about going out, just leave the door open so it can get its bearings and take its time.
If your cat doesn’t want to venture out, try again another day and be patient—it may take time. Help your cat venture outdoors. Once your cat is ready to make its way outside, follow behind and offer encouragement with treats and praise. Keep the trip short—about five minutes. Any longer and your cat may become overwhelmed and be less willing to go outside again in the future. Wait for a dry day to go outside. If it’s raining or has recently rained, many of the normal scents your cat would use to navigate will have been washed away and your cat may have difficulty getting its bearings.
Take your cat out regularly. Gradually increase the length of time you allow your cat to stay outside and make outside trips part of your cat’s regular routine. As your cat becomes more comfortable outside, allow it to wander farther from you if it chooses. Follow at the distance that the leash allows. Is there a way to control a cat that is on a leash? Elliott is a Veterinarian who specializes in Companion Animal Medicine in England. She registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1987.
Cats can be ‘encouraged’ to go in a particular direction when lured with a treat, but don’t expect your cat to walk to heel like a dog. Use gentle encouragement in the form of praise or treat, and never resort to harsh methods or punishment. It is in a cat’s nature to be independent, so remember it is an achievement in itself if the cat calmly accepts the harness and leash. What age is best suited for a cat harness and lead? Any age is just fine, provided the harness fits correctly. Kittens accept change more readily than adults, so by all means start getting an 8-week or older kitten used to the harness. You can practice in the house when the kitten is too young to go outdoors so you are ready for a big adventure once fully vaccinated. Likewise, an older cat will get used to a harness but it takes time and patience on the part of the owner. Will the harness cause my cat to become hunchbacked? You only leave it on during training and when you are walking her. Would it make a different if my cat already likes to go outside? It might make it easier to train him, but it could also make it more difficult, especially if your cat is used to freedom. Make sure you keep a firm grip on the leash, and avoid shrubs, bushes, and trees. There are a lot of dogs in my neighborhood. What do I do if there is a dog nearby?