As a loving cat parent, you probably already know that cats need physical activity and mental stimulation daily to stay healthy. And like us, they’re probably also happiest when they’re not stuck inside the house all day. Fresh air, the great outdoors, a nice walk together – more and more pet parents are getting out and about with their cats, not just their dogs. From traveling to hiking with cats – the sky is the limit, and your cat might just be your new favorite adventure companion.

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But cats have a mind of their own, so training them to do anything can be no easy task. However with the right knowledge, a little patience and lots of praise, many cats can get used to wearing a harness. Read on to learn how to harness train a cat in 7 easy steps. Plus, we’ll answer your other questions about cat harness training.

To get your cat used to wearing a collar, check out our guide to cat collar training.

Are harnesses safe for cats?

Before you put a harness on your cat, you probably want to know – are harnesses really safe for cats? Or could they pose some threat to your feline friend?

It’s a perfectly understandable concern – since some cat collars (especially those without a safety breakaway or release mechanism) have been associated with cats getting seriously hurt. In the worst case scenario, an ill-fitting or inappropriately used collar or harness could cause strangulation or even death. So it’s important to make safety a number one priority when using a harness or collar on your cat.

Harnesses are generally safe for cats, as long as you follow the safety tips below:

  • Choose a harness that is the appropriate size for your cat.
  • Adjust the straps so that the harness fits comfortably snug on your cat (with space for 1-2 fingers between the harness and cat).
  • Always attach the leash to the harness, not a cat collar.
  • Be sure to supervise your cat when they’re wearing the harness.
  • Only use the harness on walks with your cat; it should never be left on your cat 24/7.

Pros and cons of cat harnesses

When it comes to cats wearing harnesses, there are several pros and cons.

The biggest advantage of training your cat to wear a harness is that they can enjoy safe access to the outdoors without all the risks associated with free-roaming. Cats on a leash and harness will be less likely to face accidents and injury from other cats, wildlife, or cars. Plus, they’re less likely to get lost.

Pro Tip: For extra security, attach a Tractive GPS Cat Tracker to your cat’s harness or collar, so you can have peace of mind while kitty explores.

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When it comes to disadvantages of cat harnesses, they seriously limit your cat’s movement, including their ability to follow their own natural instincts. For example, wearing a harness will interfere with a cat’s ability to engage in fight or flight, should they come across a threat in the environment. They’ll also be restricted in terms of hunting or stalking prey.

Moreover a cat wearing a harness is more likely to get caught on something – like a tree or fence, which would increase their risk of injury if left to explore the outdoors alone.

For these reasons, cats should only wear harnesses for a limited time during the day (during walks with you) when they’ll be supervised. Keep an eye on your cat and watch out for any signs of distress or anxiety that might be caused by wearing the harness.

However, exploring safely with you and a harness can bring a lot of joy and enrichment to your cat’s life.

Choosing the right cat harness

Now that you’re ready to start cat harness training, the first step is to choose the right cat harness. When it comes to choosing a safe and comfortable cat harness, there are several things to consider.

Types of cat harnesses

Not all cat harnesses are made alike. Some are minimal in terms of fabric and contact area; others offer more coverage and a more secure fit. You can choose from these types of cat harnesses:

Cat harness sizes

Cat harnesses come in different sizes, so be sure to choose the correct size for your cat. Note that sizes small, medium and large can vary in terms of actual size among cat harness brands.

For best results, measure your cat before buying a cat harness. Take a flexible measuring tape and measure around your cat’s chest, just behind their front legs.

Best cat harness material

The material should be soft and comfortable for your cat, so avoid any materials that are known to irritate your feline.

How to harness train a cat in 7 simple steps

Once you have your cat harness, you can follow these seven steps to train your cat to wear it comfortably:

  1. First, introduce your cat to the harness. Let them sniff and check it out.
  2. Leave the harness sitting beside the cat’s bed or food bowl for about 1-2 weeks before you ever put it on. This way, your cat can infuse the harness with their scent, and begin to recognize it as a familiar object.
  3. Optional: At this stage you can also use cat clicker training to create a positive association between your cat and the harness.
  4. Next, put the harness on your cat following the steps in the section below.
  5. Reward your cat with treats and praise so they can form a positive association with wearing the harness.
  6. Monitor your cat’s behavior when wearing the harness. If your cat acts normally after the harness is on, continue to step seven. In case your cat reacts poorly to wearing the harness, read how to handle this below before moving on to step seven.
  7. Allow your cat to wear the harness for 10-15 minutes per day and provide them with plenty of positive reinforcement and healthy distraction while doing so. Soon, you can extend the time your cat wears the harness and start taking short walks outside or in the garden.

How to put on a cat harness the right way

Follow the instructions below to put a cat harness on your cat correctly.

If your cat lets you, you can place a hand over their chest to stop them from moving while you attach the harness. Alternatively, you can give them food to distract them while you put on the harness.

  • First, take a moment to orient yourself with the harness. Distinguish between the smaller head loop and the larger chest loop. Unbuckle or open the harness where necessary.
  • Place the harness on your cat.
    • Figure-eight or H style cat harness: Place the smaller loop over the cat’s head and close the buckle if necessary. The ‘waist’ of the figure 8 shape or the connector of the H style harness should lie on the cat’s back, between the shoulders. Next, fasten the buckle to close and attach the larger loop around the cat’s chest.
    • Vest or jacket harness: Place the harness on your cat’s back or underneath its stomach depending on the style. Fasten the neck and chest buckles or slips. Make sure that the leash latch is on the cat’s back.
  • Be sure to straighten out any twists so that the harness can sit comfortably on your cat.
  • Adjust the length of the straps and fit of the harness until it is snug, but still leaves room for you to fit about two fingers between the cat and the harness.

To see a cat harness fitting demonstration, check out the video below:

What to do if your cat does not respond well to the harness

If your cat seems confused or stops moving after you put the harness on them, they may need a little extra time to get comfortable wearing the harness. Here’s what you can do in that case:

  • Get their favorite toy and move it around to get their attention. This should help them forget about the harness and move around again.
  • Feed your cat before, during, and after putting on the harness.
  • If this still doesn’t work…
    • keep the harness-wearing sessions short
    • give your kitty lots of praise and
    • reward them with treats for wearing the harness

This way, they’ll eventually develop a positive association with wearing the harness.

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Don’t try to force your cat to wear the harness. Everyone has a bad day, and your cat does too. Warning: if your cat starts to panic, stop the exercise and try again in a few days.

More tips for cat harness training

So that you and your cat can enjoy walking on the leash with a harness, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Give your cat enough acclimatization time. A harness and leash is a completely new experience for most cats. So be patient. 
  2. Cats have different movement patterns than dogs, so give your cat some space.
  3. Cats are not long-distance runners. Be careful not to take long walks. 15-20 minutes can be enough at the beginning. You can gradually increase the time. Add small breaks to longer trips and don’t forget to let your cat quench their thirst with water.
  4. Watch out for possible encounters with birds and dogs. Cats can even react aggressively to strangers of their own kind, so it is best to avoid such encounters. It is recommended that your cat only walks with you at first.
  5. Choose quiet places for the first walks. Prefer meadow areas instead of busy streets and busy times of the day and avoid dog exercise areas.

Conclusion on cat harnesses

While cat harnesses do restrict some of your cat’s natural movement, they’re still a great way to offer your cat enriching outdoor time while keeping them out of harm’s way. Above all, make sure your cat’s harness is correctly attached, and always supervise your cat while they’re wearing a harness. With a little patience and lots of love, even the most unlikely cats can get used to wearing a harness. Since outdoor time with a harness may be overwhelming for some cats, start slow and give your cat plenty of time to get comfortable. A little praise (and some treats) can go a long way.

To learn more about keeping your cat safe, check out our guide to caring for outdoor cats or discover the GPS cat tracker that could save your cat’s life.

Where are you taking your harness-wearing cat? Share your adventures with us by tagging @Tractive on Instagram or using the #Tractive hashtag.

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More tips for training your cat to walk on a leash

For even more tips and inspiration on harness and leash training your cat, check out this video below by Albert & Mia, the Adventure Bengal Cat ❤️

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