Updated: Feb 8
How can you successfully teach your kitty to become comfortable with being on a harness and leash? Find our top 5 tips below.
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1. Start as early as possible (but it's never too late!)
In general, the earlier you can start familiarising your kitty with a harness and leash the better. A young kitten will usually adapt more quickly and more easily to wearing a harness than an adult cat. The ideal time to begin is around 8 – 12 weeks of age, making the most of the time indoors before all vaccinations are completed.
It is important to remember from the very beginning that a cat is not a dog and will not behave on a leash as a dog would. Humans don’t usually walk their cats; cats walk their humans! It will pay off in the bond of confidence and trust you nurture with your cat to keep your expectations realistic and guided by the character and needs of your individual cat. Some cats will never adapt to a harness and leash and that's ok!
However, with time and patience, cats of any age with promisingly catventurous personality characteristics and a secure bond with their human can be taught to walk outside on harness and leash and can reap all the wonderful life enrichment benefits of doing so. It's never too late!
With time and patience, cats of any age with promisingly catventurous personality characteristics and a secure bond with their human can be taught to walk outside on harness and leash and can reap all the wonderful life enrichment benefits of doing so. It's never too late!
2. Find a quality harness and leash
Do your research and find an 'escape-proof', cat-specific body harness that is comfortable, fits well and that will distribute forces around the chest and body of your cat. There are a wide variety of specialty feline harnesses and cat jackets available, so take the time to find one that suits you and your cat. Where you can, invest in products with high-quality clasps and other attachments. Check out our guide to choosing a cat harness here and our breakdown of the 4 main types of harnesses available here.
If you are beginning harness and leash training with a kitten keep in mind that you will likely need to find a smaller harness for use until around 6 - 8 months of age and then to graduate to an adult harness (assuming all goes well!).
Important: Never use a collar and leash for cats as you might for a dog. Collars with any force placed on them can damage a cat’s neck and throat.
3. Start indoors
Once you have found a harness and leash that suits, leave it in areas that are familiar and safe for your cat. Let them sniff it and play with it so they immediately associate it with fun activities and can imprint it with their own scent. Over a period of days (or however long it takes), continue the fun by accompanying periods of harness wearing with plenty of food, treats and/or attention, including distracting your cat with food as you put on and adjust the harness.
Start with short, regular periods of wearing just the harness (no leash) and slowly increase the length of time your kitty wears it. Let your cat dictate the length of time this process takes – it may take days or even weeks for him/her to feel comfortable and, ideally, not even notice the harness. Eventually, you can attach a leash to the harness and let your cat feel the weight of the leash by dragging it behind him/her (a treats trail may be useful here!) and then try walking him/her inside on leash.
The key thing to keep in mind is to always associate the harness and leash, as best you can, with positive experiences. Avoid punishing your cat while he/she is wearing the harness and do not drag them on leash against their will. Make harness and leash wearing as fun and affirmative as you can!
As part of your indoor preparation period, introduce your kitty to the backpack or carrier that will be their ‘safe space’ when they eventually go outdoors. Let them have access to it, sleep in it and imprint it with their scent so they have a sense of ownership over it as part of their territory when you eventually head outdoors.
The key thing to keep in mind is to always associate the harness and leash, as best you can, with positive experiences.
4. Plan and prepare to start catventuring outdoors
Once you feel that both you and your cat are ready to try outdoor catventures, plan and prepare for a short outing. Ensure that your cat is up to date on vaccinations and flea and parasite management and is microchipped before you head out. If your cat is over 6 months of age, it is preferable if he/she is neutered or spayed. Consider the comfort and safety items you might need once outside – portable bowl, food, treats, water, poo bags, basic first aid kit, collar and ID tag etc.
It is a good idea to establish a routine of taking your cat outside already harnessed and leashed and inside their carrier so they understand that whenever they go outside this is how it happens. If your cat becomes excited about going outside, he/she might become a ‘door dasher’, so establish a well-defined routine from the beginning. Cats generally respond well to a routine so start how you wish to continue! This will also allow you to always have his/her ‘safe space’ with you, which your