How to get a cat used to a harness

How to get a cat used to a harness
(Image credit: Getty)

If there’s one major difference between cats and dogs it’s that, typically, cats don’t usually get to go out for walks with their owners. However, there are times when training your cat to accept walking on a leash is a practical and safe solution for all involved. 

Unlike with dogs, getting your feline friend used to walking with a comfortable cat harness and leash usually takes a bit of time and extra attention. 

There are steps you should take to get them used to it, rather than trying to rush them into anything. In this piece we’ll be taking a look at the routes you can take to ensure that your cat's time on a leash is happy, healthy and secure.

Should you walk a cat on a leash?

Obviously, it’s not hugely common to see owners with their cats walking up and down the pavements, like you would see with dogs. Opinion seems to be divided about whether it’s even a good idea to walk your cat on a leash in the first place. 

As ever, there is no one size fits all answer, with what might be right for your cat being completely the wrong decision for somebody else’s. If you’re considering regularly walking your cat on a leash, think about the following pros and cons:

Reasons in favor of using a cat leash 

  • Walking your otherwise indoor cat on a leash gives them a sense of freedom without the hassle and worry of training them to be an outdoor cat (especially if it’s not possible for them to be one)
  • It can be a great way to mentally stimulate your cat and prevent boredom 
  • It provides exercise 
  • For cats who like it, it’s a great way of bonding with them

Arguments against using a cat leash

  • Restricting your cat’s movement makes it difficult for them to react in what might be a normal way to potential dangers (i.e. dogs)
  • If the cat slips the harness, they might flee dangerously 
  • It make may them feel vulnerable and stressed to be in a strange environment 
  • The feeling of restraint might be stressful for many cats 

It may also be that you are only intending to walk your cat on a leash in certain conditions, such as travelling and alternative care arrangements not being available, moving house and getting them used to a new area, or taking them to the vet. In these circumstances, already having them used to wearing a harness can be extremely beneficial. 

how to put on a cat harness

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Types of cat harness

There are three general styles of cat harness to choose from on the market: 

H-harnesses: These generally clip together around your cat’s body, evenly distributing pressure from the lead. They’re ideal for nervous or wary cats as you don’t need to slip it over the cat’s head to get it on. 

Vests: This type of harness provides even greater coverage / surface area over your cat's body. If you’ve got a cat who you think might be adept at slipping out of an H-style harness, then the vest harness can be a little more secure. These are also very similar to typical dog harnesses, but it’s best to buy or use one which has been specifically designed with cats in mind if you can. 

Jackets: With even more coverage, this type of harness is akin to putting a coat on your kitty. These ones provide the most security for a cat who might be prone to slip out of a harness, but as they’re also quite restrictive, not every cat will take too kindly to being put in one. 

How long does it take for cats to get used to harnesses?

This is one of those questions that again, can vary from cat to cat, and can also depend on how much time and effort you put into introducing your cat to a harness. 

The fact is, some cats will never get use to a harness, no matter how hard you try. If that sounds like your cat, then have a serious think about whether you want to use one at all. If your cat has a serious disliking for harnesses, it’d be better to transport them using cat carriers and so on.

As with most things, the earlier in your cat’s life you can introduce something to them, the more likely they are to take to it. If you can introduce your kitten to a harness, all the better, but the tips below are also likely to work for older cats too.

how to put on a cat harness

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tips on how to get your cat used to a harness

It’s important not to rush things when introducing your cat to a harness for the first time. As you’ll no doubt be aware, cats are stubborn creatures, and forcing them to do something they’re not ready for just isn’t likely to work. Take your time, introduce the cat to the harness as far in advance as possible, and try your best to be as patient as possible. 

Start slowly

First thing’s first, it’s a good idea to introduce your cat to the harness slowly and safely. Show your cat the harness, giving them the opportunity to give it a good sniff. Don’t try to put it on at this stage, come back to it later – ideally the next day at the earliest. 

The next thing you can do is to place the harness over the cat, so long as they’re staying calm and allowing you to do it. Don’t rush this part, and don’t fasten the harness. At this point, you’re still indoors and still simply getting the cat used to the idea. After a few minutes, take the harness off again and give your cat copious rewards verbally and a couple of their favorite treats. 

Build their confidence

Next time, you’re going to fasten the harness and continue with the pattern of praise and treats, and not leaving the room yet. Gradually increase the time that you leave the harness on your cat, starting with a few minutes, rising up to a couple of hours for them to just wander around freely with it on.

Once the cat is used to the harness and isn’t too bothered about its presence, you’ll want to start introducing a leash to the proceedings too, which can also take some time to get used to. Again, introduce the leash to the cat for a sniff and an explore before you actually come to use it.

how to put on a cat harness

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Try loose leash training

Next, you can try “loose leash” training at home – attach the leash to the harness, but don’t pull it taut at this point. Slowly increase the tension in the leash every time you attach it, walking around your home to get them used to the feeling of restraint. Take your lead from your cat at this point, giving them lots of rewards, and if at any point they seem anxious or unnerved, stop what you’re doing and try again another day.

Create a secure outdoor space

After you’ve built up your and the cat’s confidence inside the house, it’s time to head outside. It’s ideal if you’ve got a secure outdoor space, such as a garden or a yard, that you can practice in at first, but don’t worry too much if you don’t. At first, staying close to home makes sense, and only going outside for short bursts while they’re getting used to it is recommended. 

Be prepared for your cat not to be happy about being outside, and restrained by a leash. Monitor the situation, and if they seem unhappy, it’s time to head back inside. If they are particularly nervy and react badly, it can be useful to have a heavy or thick towel or blanket with you to pick them up quickly and transport them back to a safe space.

Keep persevering

Slow and steady wins the race, and eventually, all being well, you should find you have a cat who at the very least tolerates being in a harness, and you may even find they enjoy it.

Amy Davies

Amy Davies is a freelance writer and photographer with over 15 years experience. She has a degree in journalism from Cardiff University and has written about a huge variety of topics over the years. These days she mostly specialises in technology and pets, writing across a number of different titles including TechRadar, Stuff, Expert Reviews, T3, Digital Camera World, and of course PetsRadar. She lives in Cardiff with her dog, Lola, a rescue miniature dachshund.