A harness and leash can help keep kitty safe on your outdoor adventures, but can be tricky to use. Here’s how to put a harness on a cat safely so your feline friend can explore the outdoors without getting hurt or lost.

By Sierra Burgos
August 24, 2020
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Cat harnesses aren’t just for leashing up your feline to take them on a walk outside! Sure, a cat harness can help keep your kitty safe on your outdoor adventures together, but it can also help if you need to take her to the vet or give her a bath. Since getting her in it can be tricky, read on to find out how to put your cat’s harness on so she stays safe. 

What is a Cat Harness Used For?

Believe it or not, it’s possible to take your cat on a walk in the great outdoors. A feline on a leash may sound silly, but many cats genuinely enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the outside world, and it can be a great bonding exercise and way to give your cat exercise. After all, scratching posts are meant to mimic the bark of a tree—cats have a natural urge to scratch to mark their territory and behave like the jungle predators of yesterday. Of course, not every cat will enjoy being outside or going for leisurely walks around the neighborhood.

While there can be some benefits to walking your cat on a leash, Samantha Nigbur, ASPCA Behavioral Sciences Team Counselor, says cat owners should keep in mind that not all cats will ultimately enjoy walking on leash. “Particularly those with handling sensitivities or those who are fearful in new environments,” she says.

Even if you don’t plan to take your cat out on a neighborhood stroll anytime soon, a cat harness can be helpful in more ways than one. For instance, when traveling, your cat may be inclined to get anxious when placed in a carrier or in the car. Their fight or flight instincts can kick in and they may try to escape. A properly harnessed kitty won’t be able to escape, making your trip a whole lot easier. The same goes for bathing your cat. It can be difficult to maintain control of a wet, soapy cat—especially one who hates water. Harnessing them allows you to keep a steady hold as you wash.

How Do You Put a Cat Harness On Safely?

There are two types of harnesses for cats: a figure eight harness, and an H-harness. The figure eight looks how it sounds: it’s two loops attached that create a figure eight shape. The head of the cat goes through one loop, and the torso through the other. This harness is typically favored by professionals as it’s more secure (thus, harder to wiggle out of). For both styles, you’ll need to take your cat’s measurements to see which size will fit them best. While most harnesses have adjustable straps, you’ll still want to measure your kitty to ensure a comfortable and safe fit.

How to Put on a Figure Eight Harness:

Hold the figure eight harness out in front of you and identify which loop is the smaller of the two—this one will go over your cat’s head and does not typically have a buckle. The larger loop will need to be unbuckled to wrap around the cat’s chest. Start by slipping the small loop over your cat’s head, and then guide the back ends to meet underneath your cat’s chest. Fasten the buckle and make adjustments as needed.

How to Put on an H-Harness:

The H-harness looks like two loops connected by a short strap. Again, identify which loop is smaller and gently slip the cat’s head through. Look for a small metal loop that connects the harness to a leash, and hold that end between your cat’s shoulder blades. Unbuckle the other loop, and you’ll be able to see a “D” shape form on one side of the harness. Feed your cat’s front leg through the “D” shape and pull the end of the buckle under their chest and back up to connect with the piece on their shoulder blades. A comfortable harness should be snug, but allow you to fit two to three fingers between the cat and the harness.

How to Train Your Cat to Use a Harness

Start by leaving the harness near your cat’s food for a few days so that they associate it with happy feelings. Once they’ve had a few days to sniff and get used to it, gently drape it over their back and reward them with food or play. Work with her until she’s calm and comfortable enough for you to snap the harness into place, always rewarding her behavior with treats. 

Let her become comfortable wearing the harness around the house, and continue praising good habits. Eventually, she may even forget she’s wearing anything at all. After a few days, attach a leash and let it drag behind her. Repeat this step for a few days until you know she feels secure, and then you’re ready to pick up the leash and “walk” your cat. “

Practice indoors a bit prior to taking your show on the road. Once you take hold of the leash, Nigbur says to let your cat set the pace and move in the direction they choose. “Start by following behind your cat as she checks things out and travel further with your new walking buddy when she’s relaxed and ready to move on.”

Before you step foot (or paw) outside, be sure that your cat is microchipped or has a collar with ID tags. That way, on the off-chance that they somehow slip out of their harness, you’ll be relieved knowing your information is tied to your cat. When you feel ready to try a new environment, take things slow. “If it’s safe to do so, start introducing them to the outdoors or new space that allows the cat to retreat to their known environment,” Nigbur says. For example, you could let them out on the patio wearing their leash, but keep the door open in case they want to go back inside. This will allow them to get used to the idea of the outdoors, and you’ll eventually be able to take your cat for short walks as they build up their confidence.