Regular exercise can do wonders for your cat’s health and happiness. If you’re worried your pet won’t get out enough and won’t object, you can try putting it on a leash and walking it, like you would a dog.
Some cats won’t accept this and you shouldn’t force them. If you think your cat might be okay with it, you need to make sure they’re comfortable in a harness before embarking on this adventure.
Below you’ll find expert advice on how to find the best harness for your feline friend, as well as advice on how to train your cat to use it.
How should the harness fit your cat?
Dr. Christian Broadhurst, senior veterinarian at the nonprofit Clay Humane Clinic in Orange Park, Florida, said Newsweek that a cat harness should be snug enough that your pet cannot run away easily.
He explained that cats have a considerable amount of loose skin in their bodies. If they put their minds to it, they can extricate themselves from almost anything, so the tighter the harness, the lower the chances of escape.
“We don’t want to put it on so tight that it cuts into the fabric – obviously that’s not good. It just needs to be tight enough that they can’t slip out if they try.”
Broadhurst recommends a harness rather than just a leash attached to the cat’s collar. “Over time, cats climbing trees with collars got caught on branches and hung themselves because the collar wouldn’t come off.” To avoid this, any collar you put on your cat should be a detachable product, which usually has a weak link or elastic band that will break if you pull too hard.
What type of harness is best for your cat?
There are three types of harnesses, and your choice will depend on whether your cat feels comfortable with more or less fabric against their fur, according to feline behavior expert Pam Johnson-Bennett.
The minimalist option is an H-shaped harness. Your cat may like that it gives her freedom of movement, but you need to be extra careful as the animal might have an easier time slipping away.
Walking jackets, on the other hand, are extremely safe in this sense, but your cat may not like the bulky fabric covering its torso.
Vest harnesses fall between the other two options. They are as secure as a jacket but have less fabric, giving your cat more freedom of movement.
You may need to try different types of harnesses to find the right one for your cat, Broadhurst said. “I wish there was one size but, unfortunately for cats, that’s never the case.”
How to put a harness on a cat
Putting clothes on a cat is rarely easy. They may run away, start scratching you, or even try to bite you. Again, there is no one method that is guaranteed to work on all cats.
How you adjust the harness mainly depends on the type you have. Both Broadhurst and Johnson-Bennett say you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid hurting your cat.
How to walk your cat on a leash
Not all cats are good candidates for leash walking. Before taking your cat out on a harness, Johnson-Bennett recommends that you think carefully about their personality and the conditions of your outdoor environment to determine if walking on a leash will be beneficial.
“If you’re patient and your cat is willing, you can achieve this,” Broadhurst said, but it will take a long time. “It’s very unreasonable to expect to put a cat on a leash and take it for a walk immediately. It’s called progressive desensitization.”
It’s important that you help your pet adjust to the harness gradually and only attach it once it’s comfortable, Johnson-Bennett said. All training should be done in “indoor safety” before considering taking a cat outside.
Broadhurst suggests putting the harness on your cat for just 5 minutes when you first try it on. You can put it on for 10 minutes the next day, 15 minutes the day after and so on, until the cat gets used to the fabric.
Once the cat seems comfortable and undisturbed by the harness, you can attach the leash to it. Let the cat drag the leash around the house to get used to it. After that, you can try walking your pet from room to room on a leash.
“Only after they have managed to walk on a leash from room to room can you try to take them outside,” he added.
When trying to walk in a harness, cats can display what veterinarians call “leash paralysis” when they lie down and stare at you, as if they can’t believe you’re doing this to them. While some cats will grow out of it, others never will.