Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I know it’s not safe to let my cat go outside on her own, but I would like to give her the chance to get some (supervised) opportunities to breathe some fresh air and feel the grass under her paws. How can I train her to use a leash and harness?
Thomas: Well, Katy, depending on the cat, leash training can be easy or it can be an ordeal. It really depends on the cat.
Bella: First of all, cats that are less skittish are going to take more naturally to being in a leash and harness than those who are more sensitive.
Tara: I don’t know if I’d like being on a leash. Even having a necklace on is kind of a struggle for me sometimes.
Thomas: I know, and Mama totally understands that, too.
Bella: Siouxsie used to love getting in a leash and harness and going to work with Mama, as you can see in that photo at the beginning of the post. She really enjoyed getting love and pets from Mama’s co-workers and roaming around outdoors on Mama’s breaks. I, on the other hand, didn’t particularly care for my harness experience, as you can see here.
Tara: The first thing you should do if you want to train your cat for a leash and harness is to pick out a good harness. The harness should wrap around in front of and behind the cat’s front legs, so a traditional H-shaped harness is a good choice.
Thomas: Mama used the Come With Me Kitty harness with Siouxsie. She liked it because not only was it an H shape, but it came with a nice bungee leash that gave it some flexibility without allowing Siouxsie to go far under cars and other things.
Bella: You’ll want to make sure the harness is the right size for your cat. It should fit snugly without squeezing too hard, so measure your cat’s chest just behind her front legs to determine the correct size.
Tara: The harness you see Bella wearing is called the Kitty Holster. Bella didn’t like it because it came too far up her neck and she felt like she was choking, even though it was the right size.
Thomas: Once you’ve selected a harness, first get your cat used to it existence. Put it on the floor and let her investigate it. Once she’s comfortable with the harness as just a thing on the floor, try putting it on her.
Bella: She’ll probably skulk around a little bit until she gets used to the feel of it on her body.
Tara: But be careful–if she actually hates it, she’ll start rolling around on the floor and backing up and flapping around trying to get out of it. If this happens, remove the harness as quickly as you can and restart the process of introducing it as just a thing on the floor.
Thomas: Some cats never get used to the harness. My dear departed Dahlia was one of those. As soon as Mama put it on her, she started flopping around like a fish out of water. Poor Mama was so scared she was going to hurt herself that she grabbed Dahlia and removed it as quickly as possible, then she apologized profusely and never tried again with her.
Bella: Thomas says he liked the harness until he realized he couldn’t go wherever he wanted. Then he got annoyed.
Tara: Anyway, Katy, if your cat takes to the harness, the next step is to introduce the leash. Keep in mind that all these introduction steps are done indoors, so if something bad happens, your cat won’t be lost and frightened outside!
Thomas: Hold your end of the leash and let your cat explore indoors while feeling the weight of the leash and harness.
Bella: If she takes to that, bring her outside to a quiet area where she can explore on her own without loud noises to frighten her.
Tara: If she enjoys that, you can try bringing her to a slightly busier area. Just keep gradually introducing her to more stimuli until she feels comfortable walking anywhere in her leash and harness.
Thomas: This whole process could take several weeks or more, but be patient with your cat and let her proceed at her own pace.
Bella: And if she never takes to the harness, don’t try to force her. It could harm your relationship, and it’s better for you and your cat to have a good bond than it is for her to go outdoors!
Tara: What about you other readers? Do your cats enjoy a leash and harness? Do you have any other tips for Katy on how she can get her cat used to it? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
I love being on my harness! It usually means I am going to do something fun. I am seriously food motivated so my human got me used to the whole harness and leash thing with lots of my favorite treats. I got rewards for being good in the harness, and it helped to get me moving on my leash. If I just sat there and didn’t want to budge, all my human had to do was hold a treat in front of me and I get walking right away. She calls it giving me “a carrot on a stick,” even though it’s freeze dried chicken. Now I almost walk like dogs do… well, I don’t heel, but I do walk down hallways and such. I think lots of cats would enjoy harness and leash training if they realized it always led to something good and perhaps tasty!
Your human did a good job, Summer. We’re sure it helps that you’re a naturally confident kitty, too!
Miss Gin Gin loves to go outside in the backyard! We were carrying her outside since she was a young kitten as she was born outside to a semi feral mother.
As she got older, she became a lite heavy to carry so we got a harness.
While she isn’t crazy about it being put on her, she does know what comes next. As soon as I get her in it and the leash attached, she actually leads me to the back door!
My oldest Miss TC is very afraid to go outside as she was dumped in a garbage bag and thrown in a dumpster so she only goes out when I take her to the vet.
Mr. Munchie was adopted recently as a 5 year old and he seems interested in the outside but as he starts freaking out when I try a collar on him so for now, he stays inside too!
Different cats react in different ways to the harness. We’re glad Miss Gin Gin likes going outside on a harness. :-)
I’ve only tried a harness with Bear once … he’s skittish so I wasn’t expecting much. He’s scared of most everything outside anyway – so there’s not much benefit to teaching him to walk with one because I couldn’t get him out the front door.