How to get your cat used to walking on a harness and leash

Cat on Leash

People don't think twice about taking their dog with them on a leash for a walk. Why not a cat? It's not that cats can't be walked on a leash, it's just that it takes a lot more patience getting a cat used to the idea.

What's important with cats is that you give them time to get comfortable with all that's involved. You're not going to be able to immediately put the harness and leash on then take them for a walk. It will be more of taking them for a drag instead if you do that.

Note that unlike dogs, you don't want to use a cat collar with a leash. You can injure or choke your cat that way. Always use a harness instead.

There are basically two styles of cat harnesses: the H-style (straps) and vest/jacket style.

H-Style (Straps) Cat Harness

The above strap-style harness comes in small, medium, or large along with a leash.

Measure the girth on your cat to get the right size (around the body just behind the front legs).

Girth Measurement

If you don't have a flexible tape measure then you can measure the girth by taking a piece of string or something similar and wrapping it around your cat's girth. Pinch the point where it meets with your fingers then measure the length up to the pinched point with whatever measuring device you have (i.e., ruler, yardstick, etc.).

Not all harness sizes are equal between brands. Be sure to check the girth measurement for whichever brand you buy.

Jacket or Vest Style Cat Harness

The jacket/vest style harnesses are more encompassing in their fit and thus more escape-proof.

The sizes are based not only on girth size but also neck size.

Because the Kitty Holster harness above uses velcro, it can be adjusted to better fit your cat.

Don't forget to pick up a lightweight leash if your harness doesn't come with one.

Getting Used To The Harness

Cats often don't like having things strapped onto their bodies. A first reaction to having a harness on may be to simply flop over on their side. A first step is to get your cat comfortable with the harness before you go any further.

If you can fasten the harness without any problems then do so. However, you may have to start without fastening the harness and work up to that.

You  don't want to leave a harness on your cat all the time, primarily because it could get caught on something and get your cat stuck. Instead, put it on your cat for brief periods of time to not only get your cat used to wearing it but also used to having it put on and taken off.

Try to get your cat's attention off the harness if he or she just flops over or seems otherwise irritated by the harness. Do this by being affectionate, offering treats, playing, putting it on at feeding time, etc.

Getting Used To The Leash

Once completely comfortable with the harness then it's time to get used to the leash. You can start by attaching the leash to the harness and letting your cat drag it along, but it might be better if you attach the leash and hold it while you follow your cat around.

Remember with the leash to not so much lead your cat but let your cat lead you. In time, you can begin making gentle tugs or pulls to get your cat to go in the direction you want.

To encourage your cat to head in a particular direction you can use toys or treats or other means. A toy with a long stick attached might be especially useful for your cat to follow. You can also use treats or simply a spoon with soft cat food to lure your cat in the direction you want to go.

Exploring The Outdoors

When your cat is comfortable walking around the house on leash with you then it's time to try it outside. You'll do best to avoid a lot of noise and distraction at first. Perhaps an exploration around the backyard would be a good start.

Know that you may have to pick your cat up at some time during a walk (e.g., your cat has had it, threats or distractions appear, etc.). So, keep both hands free in case you need to make a quick pick up.

Some cats may just have no interest in going for a walk outside. All is not lost though because training your cat to be OK on a harness and leash can be useful in other ways (if you have to secure your cat with a harness and leash for other purposes that will be discussed in other articles).

A Longer Leash

You may want to give your cat more length on leash once you and your cat become more comfortable taking walks. One way to do this is with a retractable leash. The retractable leash shown above is 16 feet long (10 feet more than the typical 6 foot leash). You can also find lengths ranging from 10 feet to 26 feet. 

The pro with a longer leash is that your cat is a little more free to explore and make his or her own pace.

The con is that it can be harder to get to your cat if there's trouble and it can be harder to control where your cat goes.

A longer leash makes sense for walking in an open space with no foreseen dangers but not so much on roadway sidewalks or areas with a lot of activity.

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