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How to put on a cat harness without getting attacked

Ginger cat wearing orange harness
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Approaching how to put on a cat harness can be a trepidatious business. Cats are not known for their patience, especially with something they are not familiar with touching their skin, so how do you go about it? 

Well, you're in luck, because we've got some great advice on just that, as well as step-by-step guides on how to safely secure the different types of harness around your cat with the minimum of fuss.

It's worth taking the time to learn how to do this, as the best cat harnesses are perfect for introducing your cat to the great outdoors without you having to worry about them bolting into the wild blue yonder. Cats are expert escapologists and will easily slip out of a collar at the first opportunity.

Using a harness that is correctly put on will reduce the chances of that happening. Harnesses are also useful for controlling your kitty on a vet trip, or if you would like to give them a bath.

How big a cat harness do I need for my cat?

Cat harnesses come in a variety of sizes, usually marked as small, medium or large. Typically, this translates as 12, 14, and 16 or 18 inches.

To get the right size for your cat you need to measure your cat's chest size:

1. Take a cloth tape measure, place it behind your cat's front legs, and gently wrap it around their chest. Ensure the tape encircles your cat completely, and isn't twisted.

2. Gently pull it tighter so it is snug around your cat, but isn't digging into their skin.

3. Take the measurement of the loop around their chest, then add 2 inches to allow your cat freedom of movement. This is the size of the harness you need.

Typically, a larger cat harness can be reduced in size, but a smaller one won't readjust to fit a larger cat, so go for a harness that won't restrict your four-legged friend, as this will cause them discomfort.

Introducing a harness to your cat

A cat sat outside wearing a harness

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you have a feisty feline on your hands, or even if you don't, the best way to introduce a harness into your cat's life is to do it slowly over time. First, you need to get them used to this new object and have them associate it with good things. Leave the harness next to their food bowl so they can investigate it, sniff it, and get used to its look and smell in an area they feel happy in.

After a few days, distract them with cat treats, play or strokes while you gently drape it over them. Let them pull away from it if they don't like it. Keep trying over a few sessions until they associate the harness with being rewarded. 

Once they are calm enough to feel comfortable with having the harness over them, snap the harness into place gently (we cover how to do this with the most common harness types below). Reward your furry friend with treats and petting to let them know this is a good thing.

Let your cat get comfortable wearing it around the house for another day or so, continually congratulating them using treats and strokes. Wait until it seems that they have forgotten they are wearing the harness before moving on to the next stage.

Now attach the leash, but just let it trail behind them for a short while. Let them play with it and get used to it being there, before removing it again. Treat and praise them. Repeat this for a few days before trying to pick it up, but do not restrain them when you do.

Let your cat go where it wants to go, with you following behind them. Try to keep the leash slack as you do so, only starting to slowly guide them once they are completely comfortable with your presence. Again, lavish praise, petting and treats will let them know that this behavior is good.

When you think they are ready to try out a new environment, again take it gradually. Open the door to the outside world, but give them space to retreat back indoors if they get timid or feel uncomfortable. You can encourage them into new areas using treats, all the while allowing them to return to safety if they want to. As they get more confident, you can start going on longer and longer walks, and soon you will be able to let them explore new outdoor environments in the knowledge that you have a way to stop them taking flight if needed.

Note that accidents can still happen, like you dropping the leash, so it is always  good to have your cat microchipped or invest in a good pet tracker before properly introducing your harnessed furry friend to the outside world.

How to put on a H-style cat harness

H-Style harnesses look like the letter H when both loops are unbuckled and spread out on the floor. When buckled, it consists of two loops connected by a short strap. One loop fits behind your cat's front legs and around their chest, and the other goes in front of the legs.

1. Identify the smaller of the two loops, and gently put it over your cat's head.

2. There will be a small metal hoop at the top of the larger loop that connects to the leash. Position this so it is between your kitty's shoulder blades. Keep it in that position.

3. Now, take the other larger loop, and put one of your cat's front legs through it.

4. Then, taking the remaining strap, guide it behind your kitty's other front leg, and attach it to the buckle at the top (next to the metal hoop).

4. The buckles can then be used to make the harness fit your cat comfortably but securely. Don't pull it too tight: For your cat to be comfortable, you should be able to fit two fingers in the space between your fluffy friend and the harness.

Black cat in the garden wearing a blue harness

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to put on a figure 8 cat harness

A figure-8 cat harness also has two loops, this time in the shape of a figure 8. Typically, only the larger loop has a buckle on it. The first loop goes around the cat's neck in the same way as a collar would, while the other goes around their waist.

1. Undo the buckle on the larger of the two loops.

2. Put the smaller of the two loops (usually the one without the buckle) and gently put it over your cat's head.

3. Ensure the place where the leash connects is above your cat's shoulders.

3. Take the two ends of the larger loop so they meet under your cat's mid-section. Ensure there are no twists in the material.

4. Gently fasten the buckle and use the sliding adjuster to lengthen or shorten the straps so there is room to put two fingers between the harness and your cat's skin.

How to put on a vest cat harness

Vest harnesses look like little sweater vests for your cat. They are typically made from strong, mesh-like material to allow your cat's skin to breathe. They are fixed around your cat using Velcro or buckles

1. Undo all Velcro and/or buckles and lay the vest out open on the floor.

2. Gently drape it over the cat so the smaller straps are at the front, just behind their neck, and the larger ones are behind their front legs.

3. Gently fasten the first loop around their neck using the velcro to make it fit comfortably, and then the buckle, if there is one, to secure it in place.

4. Now, fasten the other two straps behind the front legs using velcro, and using the buckle to secure it.

5. Ensure that there is room to put two fingers between the harness and your cat's skin.

Jamie Middleton

Jamie Middleton is a freelance editor and writer - or at least he is when he is permitted to by his cat Pirate, who enjoys the warmth of laptops too much to allow being creative to get in the way.