Consider what your goals are for getting your cat outdoors. Will you be taking him for walks, keeping him on the leash on your own property, hiking or biking with him? Your cat’s temperament, size, and habits will also play an important role in picking a good harness.
You may have had to temper the idyllic vision of your kitty enjoying scratching and climbing trees, chasing butterflies and sunning himself on your porch with the reality of where you live and how safe it is to have an “outdoor” kitty. Cats cannot be easily contained in an outdoor environment and a cat living outdoors in the city or even a suburban neighborhood is exposed to countless risks including busy roads and careless drivers, other cats who may be aggressive, dogs with a high prey instinct, local wildlife, and ingesting mice and other rodents that may have eaten poison or contain parasites.
The compromise can be training your cat to enjoy being outside with you on a leash. Even if you choose not to expose your cat to the world outside their window, having them accustomed to a harness can keep them safe during trips to the veterinarian. Some cats are initially very afraid and nervous, especially if they are older and have spent their life indoors, but with time, patience, and a little training, your cat can enjoy their outdoor adventures safely even if it’s just to take them out with you for a gardening or sunbathing session. The added benefit is that the exercise and time spent outdoors can help alleviate the “crazies” of indoor kitties.
While there are many different types of harnesses out there, the most important feature for any of them is that it is impossible for your cat to escape. If you’ve ever tried to hold on to an angry cat trying to get away you know how easily they can worm their way out of just about any situation. Cats are master escape artists! The more snug and well-fitted the harness is, the harder it will be for your kitty to get out of it. While you don’t want it to constrict him around his neck or behind his shoulders too much the harness will need to be adjusted or fitted so that there’s just enough wiggle room to be able to slip a finger between the harness and the cat. Most cats have an abundance of fur and the harness will likely need to fit tighter against their actual body -not their fur- a little tighter than you think it will.
While you want the cat harness to be snug, you do not want to ever use a cat harness to keep a cat from pulling or to restrain a cat. Cats are very fragile, especially in their neck and shoulder areas, and tugging on an improperly fitted or sized cat harness could crush your cat’s trachea.
A lot of harnesses are marketed as being appropriate for both dogs and cats. This is not always the case. While both dogs and cats have 4 legs, the actual differences in their anatomy and temperament can make a harness for a dog completely unsuitable for a cat and vice versa.
If your cat tolerates his collar well and sometimes wears clothes, a harness may not be difficult for him to adjust to. However, if you have one of those cats that pretends to fall over the moment you put anything on him, it will probably take time and patience to get him used to wearing it. He’ll need to wear it around the house to get used to it without a leash.
When fitting your cat for a harness you will want to measure around his neck and chest. Be sure to have the measuring tape snug against his skin, especially if he has a lot of fur. Consider how much fur he has- some harnesses utilize mesh materials or fabric that could easily catch on his fur or create snarls. Some cats are frightened by the sounds of velcro or snap closures as well so test him with items you have already around the house like purses and clothing you may have on hand with velcro to see how he responds.
Strap & Buckle Style Harness: This style is primarily nylon webbing with buckles to fasten it. Can be step-in or over-the head.
- May be easier for some cats to back out of
- May be too constricting or uncomfortable for cats with long fur
- Many cats do not like the feeling of straps
Step-in Style Harness: This style allows you to put this on your cat and fasten over his back so you aren’t slipping it on over his head. Not always as secure.
- Typically 4-6 suction cups anchoring the perch
- May be easier for some cats to escape from
Vest Style Harness: More like a little shirt, these harnesses have more material in contact with the cat’s body.
- Most secure style for escape-artist cats
- Style may be reassuring to some cats but traumatic for others.