CAN CATS BE TRAINED TO WEAR A HARNESS?

By feline behaviour consultant Anita Kelsey

The answer is absolutely!

How do I know?

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Zaza on holiday with us at Wasdale, Lake District

Because I have trained my two cats to go out with me on a harness.

I won’t say it’s easy but with patience, perseverance and lots of understanding you can train a kitten to become accustomed to wearing a harness. I would say the older the cat is the harder to achieve so always try to start as young as possible. It took me 6/8 weeks to slowly introduce the process.

Obviously cats have different personalities so if you feel your cat would hate to go out on a harness or if your cat shows any signs of major distress  STOP – AND LISTEN. This is not about you .. it’s about what’s best for your cat.

Now… here’s how to do it:

  • Buy a kitten/cat harness from your local pet shop
  • Throw in with kitty’s toys so that they familiarise themselves with it. Play with them and the harnesses everyday for at least two weeks.

Now comes the hard part! Without putting the main lead in, try putting the harness on the kitten before his/her main meal time. Always associate this with meal times or treats so that the kitten associates putting on the harness with something nice. At first there will be a struggle but the motto here is try try try again. Never give up!

Walking in all weathers. Norwegian Forest cats have thick water proof coats and fur tufts between the pads on their paws so they are well protected against the snow

Walking in all weathers. Norwegian Forest cats have thick waterproof coats and fur tufts between the pads on their paws so they are well protected against the snow

Start with 5 minutes a day congratulating them and reassuring them every step of the way. They will soon realise that the harness leads to treats and cuddles and all good things. This part of the training takes the longest so be very patient. As you see your kitten getting more comfortable with wearing the harness extend the time that it is on. Soon they will be playing totally unaware that they are strapped up in a strange gizmo and you can give yourself a pat on the back that the hardest part has been conquered!

  • Make sure you leave enough space around the neck of the harness so that it is comfortable and not too tight. Test this by putting 2 fingers between the neck of your kitten and the harness. This applies to the body of the harness too. NEVER EVER leave your kitten unattended wearing the harness as it could get caught up on anything during playtime and lead to strangulation!
  • Once you can see that your kitten has adapted to this strange looking thing around it’s body then you are ready for the next step, attaching the lead. Do this process slowly. Remember small steps will eventually lead to major leaps! Let your kitten walk along at it’s leisure with the lead dragging along. Don’t attempt to lead the walk, as it will never work! Even when you get to the stage where you go out with your kitten on a harness you will never be leading, they will!

Kiki and Zaza, as kittens, playing with their harness

Kiki and Zaza, as kittens, playing with their harness

  • My kittens tended to play with each others leads and not much walking was done so I tried to separate them first which they didn’t really like so I quickly had to jump onto the next stage, taking them out, so that they understood what the lead was for. It’s difficult to know where to go that is A: quiet and B: dog free. One great place I have found is my local cemetery which says no dogs allowed. Doesn’t say cats!!! ;-). It helps if your road is quiet but if it’s a busy road try taking them out at night.
  • Make sure the harness is on secure. Be patient and always offer words of encouragement and reassurance. Make sure you attach the lead BEFORE they take their first steps out into the big world. My kittens made my job easier at this stage as they really enjoyed being outside and, although nervous at first, they soon had a ball sniffing the grass, chasing butterflies and climbing trees! If your kitten does go to climb a tree that’s great but don’t let them go to high. Always be in control and hold that lead TIGHT!

    This is a retractable lead which attaches easily to a harness. It gives more freedom on walks and is the best lead for your cat

    This is a retractable lead which attaches easily to a harness. It gives more freedom on walks and is the best lead for your cat

    When you are both relaxed at this you can buy a small puppy extendable lead which will give kitty more freedom to run along and chase things. It is never going to be like walking a dog. They go where they want to and when they want to so you just have to let them be cats and enjoy watching them lead YOU all over the place.

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    Me with both cats in Lake District. The loved the mountains and watching sheep at a distance

Please be aware of dogs and foxes in your surroundings!

Most dog owners have sense and will cross the road with their dog when they see you have a kitten/cat on a lead. Don’t panic as this just strikes fear into your cat. Be observant and if you feel uncomfortable about a particular breed of dog, not on a lead, pick your cat up and turn your back on the approaching dog.

My cat Kiki at Wastwater, Wasdale, Lake District.

Happy walking folks.

Please let me know how you get on.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita is based in Notting Hill, London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza. Her debut booked is published by John Blake and is called Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer.

Please contact info@catbehaviourist.com should you wish to book a home cat behaviour consultation.

To subscribe to Anita’s new monthly newsletter on cat news and mog tips please visit:  http://www.catbehaviourist.com/subscribe/

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Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita is based in Notting Hill, London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza.

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13 thoughts on “CAN CATS BE TRAINED TO WEAR A HARNESS?

  1. Our cat Midnight enjoys being walked on a harness and leash. Whenever we touch the harness and she hears the small jingle of it, she runs up to us, begging to go out. At first she didn’t like the feel of it, but when she realized harness=outside, she never hated it again. We do not walk her out on the sidewalk or street- she would freak and bolt away. We walk her in the backyard, where she gets a feel of her* territory.
    With patience and practice, it could happen.
    ~Grace

    *She shares the territory with wildcat Shadow.

  2. Thank you for a wonderful tutorial. I started to train my cat to go out on a harness. For now, he will only go into the yard, and he doesn’t want to do anything, but lay around and eat grass. My vet told me he shouldn’t eat grass. Is this true? He’s afraid to lead me anywhere. I have a harness that is similar to the type dogs wear, in which the pressure is on their chest if they pull.

  3. Its the Same with Training Rabbits to use a harness and leash,earlier the better although Speedy was the exception he was 2 and half when I tried it with him and with in a week he was going out for walks but as I said he’s an exception the the rule,xx Rachel

  4. We used a harness for one of our cats for years. Then, we moved and stopped taking him in the car and out for trips (we used to travel to where we moved), he outgrew it, and he heels well on walks without it. (he also retrieves.)

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