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As a youngster I was always both perplexed and delighted by the sight of my neighbour walking her cat. As kids, our cats were always allowed to roam the streets (and bring us delightful treats such as dead mice from outside) and walking was strictly for dogs. I would have loved to have taken my cat to the park with me, or taken her with us on camping trips, but she would never have put up with it!
Now, as the owner of a pedigree Persian, I have a new perspective on cat walking. My beloved Persian is an indoor cat. Her long hair means letting her loose in the garden can be a major health hazard as dirt and grime gets caught in her hair, which it is difficult for her to clean thoroughly, and can cause her skin irritations and infections. Also, with her placid nature, I’m not sure how she would manage in a fight with the Tabby next door. Plus, I’m told that high value pedigree cats are often stolen when seen on the street, which would be heartbreaking.
While my Persian seems happy reigning over her kingdom inside our house, our vet suggested that we consider walking her. We were told that all cats, including Persians, get great pleasure from passing time outside, with its scents, and the opportunity to do things like scratch real trees, and that letting her pass a little time outside would leave her brighter and more engaged. They also suggested that it would be good exercise for her long-term health and could give her more confidence (in case I really am worried about that Tabby next door). We decided to give it a go.
Picking your Harness
The first challenge we faced when we decided that we would need to harness train our cat was selecting the right harness for her. Many people use harnesses designed for small dogs because there is such a wide range available, but specialist cat harnesses are also available.
The main things to consider when selecting your harness are security – you don’t want your cat to slip out of the harness and escape – and comfort – you want something that won’t irritate them and will distribute the pressure of the lead evenly across their body and never cause excessive strain on the neck.
Types of Harness
There are two main types of harness: strap harnesses and vests. Strap harnesses are just a few straps of nylon that fit around your cat’s legs and back, while a vest is more like a small piece of clothing for your cat. Vests are popular as they are generally considered more difficult to escape and distribute the pressure of the lead more evenly across the cat’s body. However, on the downside, not all cats like to have their bodies covered by fabric in this way, and it can cause problems for their skin, especially in hot weather. If you do go for a vest, make sure you pick something made in a breathable material. Whichever type of harness you go for, make sure it doesn’t sit too close up under your cat’s arms, as this can cause chaffing.
When securing your cat in their harness, depending on the design, you will generally either need to pass the harness over your cat’s head and secure it on their belly, or they will step into it and you secure it on their back. While the former is generally considered more secure and ‘escape proof’, some cats simply do not like having things passed over their heads or do not like you passing excessive time securing the harness on their belly.
Harnesses are generally secured using either snap locks or velcro. While velcro is great in terms of ease of use for you, some cats do find the sound of velcro distressing, so whether this is an option will depend on your cat. Also, with long haired cats like Persians, it can be easy for their hair to get caught in the velcro if the fastening isn’t well designed.
While several harnesses may claim to be ‘escape-proof’, no harness is escape proof for a canny cat that wants out! This is especially true if the harness isn’t fitted properly, so make sure you use the size chart provided by the manufacturer to find the right size and adjust it properly for the unique body of your cat.
Lots of friends that own Persians have recommended taking the measurements as close to the skin of your cat as possible, and then add 2-3 inches, depending on the size of your cat, to ensure it is comfortable with their long hair. If the size harness you receive doesn’t work for your cat, don’t be afraid to return it for another size, there is no point trying to adjust a harness that is far too big or too small for your cat.
Most harnesses will come with a lead around the standard 47 inches. This is great when your cat first starts out and you want to keep them close, but you may want something longer for a more adventurous cat. In most cases, you’ll need to invest in a longer lead separately. The Flexio Vario Cord Leash is a great option as it is extendable with an easy breaking mechanism. But when breaking, be careful not to break too hard or suddenly, causing distress to your cat.
There are a lot of different harness options out there, several of which I have tried, or heard about from friends and fellow cat lovers. Almost all come in a wide variety of colours, so it should be easy to find something that looks great against your cat’s fur.
Because every cat’s body shape and temperament is different, it is also important to accept that you may need to try a variety of different models before you find one that is right for your cat. Some cats don’t mind having something passed over their heads, some hate it. Some cats don’t mind the sound and feel of velcro, for others this is a deal breaker. Experiment until you find the right harness for your cat.
Best Cat Harnesses for Walking Your Cat
#1: PUPTECK Adjustable Cat Harness with Leash
If you are looking for something basic and affordable, this nylon harness with a lead that comes in a variety of colours is a great option.
The simplicity of the straps and the double snap-lock buckles mean that it is easy to put on and remove. It is also highly adjustable for different size cats. As the straps don’t cover much of your cat’s body, it shouldn’t cause them too much distress.
The H shape of the harness means that it should fit comfortably around your cat’s neck and back, and distribute the pressure of the leash comfortably across their body.
This model has good ratings and customer reviews, so is clearly a great starter option. The main problem people have had with this harness is that it can be easier for cannier cats to slip out of the simple straps than some other models.
#2: PURR Multi-coloured Lockable Cat Harness
The PURR is a vest model harness and is made from a lightweight, breathable fabric, which is great for cats that have sensitive skin, like many Persians.
It is also extremely secure using duraflex buckles with additional locking mechanisms, reducing the likelihood that your cat will escape.
The ergonomic design of the vest means that it does not sit too close to your cat’s joints, reducing the risk of things like harness chaffing and skin irritation from repetitive friction.
The challenge with this model is that you need to put it over your cat’s head and fasten it on their belly.
Primary complaints are that the size chart provided by the supplier isn’t accurate, and many who went with a small actually required a medium.
#3: Voyager All-Weather Pet Harness
Similar to the PURR, this vest features breathable mesh fabric ideal for cats like Persians.
What is particularly great about this model is that your cat can step into it, and then you fasten it at their back. But on the downside, this model uses velcro to fasten the vest, which can distress some cats.
Many sites rate this product highly and it’s generally well received and a safe bet. Comments suggest that this is ideal for larger cats, but can be a bit bulky if you have a small cat, even if you buy the smallest model.
#4: EXPAWLORER Escape Proof Cat harness
The EXPAWLORER vest offers the best of both worlds. It has a step-in design that fastens at the back, and clips rather than velcro to avoid your cat’s hair getting caught.
Reviews for this product were limited due to it being a new product but feedback was fairly mixed. Friends of mine who have tried this harness have raved about it because of the step-in design and the fact it doesn’t use velcro. The only serious complaint I have heard is that it is really designed for small cats, so if you have a larger cat, you will need to look elsewhere.
#5: Puppia Authentic RiteFit Harness
Although this Puppia is designed for small dogs, many friends have said that this is the best harness they have found for their cat. Again it uses a soft, lightweight mesh, and while you need to put the harness over your cat’s head, it buckles at the sides, making it easy to put on and release your cat from quickly.
It uses less fabric than some of the other models, so like the PURR you shouldn’t have problems with harness chaffing.
While Puppia also makes a harness especially for cats, many friends have bought this model and been incredibly pleased with it.
Before you can start exploring the great outdoors with your cat, you will need to harness train them. Unfortunately, not all cats will take to it, so when trying to train your cat keep an eye on how they are responding. If it seems traumatic for your cat, you may simply need to give up. It is easier to train a kitten than a cat to become accustomed to leash walking, so if you have the option, start young.
Introducing the Harness
You need to start the process inside the house. Leave your selected harness in the area where your cat likes to play and let them smell it and play with it until they become accustomed to having it around.
Once they seem comfortable with the harness, let them wear the harness inside the house, first letting them drag the leash around the house, and later with you holding the leash. When they are dragging the leash, be vigilant to ensure it doesn’t get caught on things in the home so that your cat gets tangled up; things like this can be traumatic for your cat and create negative associations with the leash and harness.
If your cat drops to their side or freezes when the harness is placed on them, don’t worry, this is a normal response. You can try to entice them to stand up using treats, and if that doesn’t work, remove the harness and leave it on the floor for them to play with and try again later. You might also try using treats to help them become accustomed to following where the leash leads, rewarding them with small treats every time they obey.
Training sessions should be short and stopped at any time your cat shows signs of distress. This is a sign that they have had enough for now and to try again later.
Once your cat becomes accustomed to using the leash inside the house, it’s time to venture outdoors. Make sure when you do go outside that you pick up your cat and take them outside, rather than let them walk out the door themselves. This helps reinforce that you are in control of when your cat is allowed to venture outside and will associate going out with using the harness. This will reduce the likelihood that your cat starts crying at the door, or tries to slip out when you open it.
Choose your first location carefully. It should be an enclosed space in case your cat slips their harness and decides to bolt – your backyard can be an appropriate first choice. For your initial outings you should also avoid places, and times of day, when there are lots of dogs or people about as these can spook your cat. Don’t think that you will be able to carry your panicky cat home! This is how both cats and humans get hurt. It can be a good idea to take a towel with you so you can wrap your cat in it if they do start to panic. If you are travelling a distance to an appropriate location, you may also think about transporting them in a cat carrier.
Once you have selected your harness and trained your cat, there are still lots of things to consider when actually walking your cat outdoors.
When you start taking your indoor cat outdoors, remember that she will now be susceptible to things like fleas and ticks, so you will need to start administering medicine for this before you take her into the great outdoors.
For long haired cats like Persians, while you will be able to control to some extent how much dirt they will pick up in their hair, be sure to pay extra attention when brushing them afterwards, and perhaps start bathing them a little more often.
Cat walkers suggest making sure that you always stay behind your cat while they are walking. This means that the harness sits more comfortably on their body in the way it has been designed to and makes it less likely that pressure pulling the harness over your cat’s head will make it easier for them to escape.
In case your cat does escape while being walked, make sure they are microchipped so that they can be returned home. You might also consider a visible ID, both to make this process faster, and ensure that whoever does find your cat knows that they aren’t necessarily ‘street savvy’.
Also, never tie your cat up outside (or inside for that matter) by their leash. It is too easy for them to get spooked by something unexpected and either escape or get tangled up.
Finally, every cat is different, and unlike dogs, they are never likely to become fully leash trained, so be patient and vigilant, and adjust your approach to suit your cat.
I definitely feel like our Persian is happier and brighter now that we have started taking her out for walks a few times a week. Also, it has given us something new to do together and bond over, which can be difficult to find with an indoor cat when they are no longer a kitten and constantly wanting to play. I have had to spend more time and take more care grooming my cat, but this is also an activity that we enjoy doing together. I would definitely recommend trying walking your cat for anyone with an indoor Persian.