Guide to Harness Training a Cat Pt. 1
Updated: Feb 5
If you love your cat(s) as much as I do, you’ve probably considered taking them with you on that Starbucks run more than once or twice - but doubled back at the last second because it would be too difficult and your friends would call you crazy. We've been there - first of all, we prefer “eccentric” to crazy, and second it doesn’t always have to be difficult! Get ready eccentric cat people, I’m here to teach you how to harness train your cat and give you tips on choosing the right harness.
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Before we get started, something to keep in mind is that not all cats will adapt to harness training or traveling and only you know your cat best. It's best to test it out before fully committing. Harness training doesn’t have to be expensive so if your pet refuses after a month or two, you’ll only be out a couple of bucks, so in my opinion it’s totes worth it. Also never leave your cat in a harness unattended until they are fully comfortable - they can get into all sorts of trouble when you’re not looking and it can be a lot harder to get a harness off when they get stressed and tangled.
Okay, so you’re ready to start harness training, but where to begin? Let’s start by measuring your cat’s girth - how wide your cat’s chest is - by measuring the circumference just behind their front legs. Different harnesses have unique size measurements, so keep this number written down somewhere before you decide to purchase one.
Now that we have your cat’s measurement, we can start looking at harnesses. Don’t be disappointed, as there is no such thing as a perfect harness - at least I haven’t found one so far (and if you know of one, hmu with that link!)
When I first started out, there weren’t a lot of options to choose from, but I ended up hesitantly purchasing the PetSafe Harness & Leash which actually worked out really well for training purposes (check out baby Seely above). Back then, I had limited colors to choose from but it comes in a variety of color options now, which is awesome if you have multiple cats. It also has a bungee-type leash included, which we’ll cover later on.
I have used this harness with my cats for 5 years and I love it because it allows full range of motion, giving my cats the freedom to run around and be crazy. The only downside is when given that range of motion, they can figure out ways to escape their harnesses pretty quickly - so again, please don’t leave your cat unsupervised.
Once you have purchased your new cat harness, you don’t want to traumatize your cat by immediately strapping him in and throwing him outdoors. You’re gonna want your cat to associate positive vibes to his new harness, so start by leaving it in a place he hangs out. Let your cat play with it if he wants to and give him treats as positive reinforcement. Do this for a couple of days before trying to get it on him and when you do put it on, be sure to use a calm and reassuring voice to talk him through it.
Once the harness is on, your cat may put on quite a performance. When I first put the harness on my cat Seely, he immediately flopped on his side and pretended he couldn’t move for 10-15 minutes. If your cat does this, it’s best not to pick them up or try to force them to walk - this will only involve more dramatics. Instead, find their favorite toy or string and try to play with them. Chances are, as soon as their instincts kick in, they’ll forget they are even wearing the harness and engage in play.
Remove the harness after about 30 minutes (you don’t want them to think of it as punishment) and keep this up for a few weeks, always making sure to reward him for good behavior. If your cat is accepting, you should start to notice signs of comfortability like running around, making casual jumps, or playing with toys.
Different cats will adapt at unique paces. When my cat used the litter box with his harness on for the first time, I knew he was finally comfortable - like I said earlier, you know your cat best, so keep an eye out for good behavior and reward it. Once your cat is totally comfortable, you can start taking him outside for small periods of time - just be sure not to rush it.
Congratulations, eccentric cat person - you've mastered Part 1 of Harness Training your Cat! Hopefully by now you feel a little more confident putting a harness on your cat and allowing them a little bit of free range. For more tips on taking your cat outside and additional harness options, you can head over to Harness Training a Cat Part 2.