Once upon a time dogs went for walks, and cats sat on the sofa. But nowadays, cats are going for walks too, with more and more felines learning to walk on a cat leash.
More and more cat owners are buying their cats harnesses which provide for a far better solution than a collar and a leash. There are several big advantages to a harness, particularly if you want to get your cat to walk on a leash so she can explore the great outdoors, or just want to give your indoors cat a little stroll in the garden for occasional exercise.
Our Top Recommendation
There are a couple of reasons a harness is better than a collar for your active cat. First, unlike a collar, a harness doesn't put any pressure on your cat's throat if you need to pull back and restrain the cat. You can't choke your cat with a harness. Secondly, it's much more difficult for kitty to wriggle out of a harness than it is for him to slip his collar - though it's not impossible (and escape-proofness was one of the criteria we used in making our selection of cat harnesses).
Of course, walking a cat is never going to be quite like walking a dog. Cats aren't going to 'heel'. In fact, it's not so much you who's walking the cat, as the cat who will be walking you. You're just her facilitator. She may decide to sniff around and take her time, or she may want to stride out - you can pull her back, but she's going to call the shots. If you wanted a dog, you should have got one.
Harnesses come in two types; they can be made of straps, like a horse harness, or they can be little vests that cover the cat more completely. Vests, because they have more coverage, and are slightly more difficult for a cat to wriggle out of, essentially making a great escape proof cat harness. Harnesses can also have different types of catches - Velcro is more convenient to do up, but can catch on long fur, and the noise upsets some cats, while buckles can be a bit more fiddly to do up but don't have Velcro’s disadvantages.
You should also think about where you're going to walk. A short, four foot cat leash is good for walking in town where you need to be in control and to have the cat close to you. An extendable leash can be great for going to the park, since you can let your cat forage around in the bushes or stalk a pigeon or two.
We considered a number of criteria when choosing cat harnesses; whether they were washable, how well they took the weight off the cat's neck and shoulders, the quality of the stitching, and 'escapability'. You should also note that not all of these harnesses come with their own leash.
Here are our five recommendations for the best cat harnesses that you can buy:
This adjustable walking harness from PupTek is great for cats of all sizes as it comes in a choice of small, medium and large. What we especially liked is the fact that this harness is marketed as escape proof – a claim backed up by many owners. The harness features a secure Velcro and mesh design which is designed to wrap around both your cat’s neck and body. We found it to be very robust whilst still proving to be very comfortable and secure.
It has been reported that a couple of very small cats have managed to escape which is why it is so important to buy the right size. We suggest measuring your cat and using that as the basis for your purchase.
Both the neck and chest straps are adjustable. This harness comes with a matching 5 foot leash and is available in pink, black, or red – we found the black version looks very high in quality but why not buy all three colors for a little variety. And at around $15 or so, we think this is a bargain!
The Crazy K Kitty Holster cat harness is a snazzy walking vest with a 100% cotton soft lining, selling at $25-30. It's ultra light-weight and easily washable, and there are a number of colorways including sober black, tiger skin, and our favourite, the red bandana. This cat harness has Velcro closures, and has a d-ring very firmly stitched under a contrasting tape roughly between the cat's shoulders, so that any pressure on the leash is transferred to the cat's chest rather than its neck.
The Velcro is very strong, so your cat can't easily break out, and it makes the vest easily adjustable - if you have too much Velcro left, with a small cat, you can simply chop the end of the strap off. However, some cats react badly to the noise - a familiarisation session can help. (Simply sit and rip the Velcro again and again without trying to put the harness anywhere near the cat, till she gets used to the noise.)
The Kitty Holster comes in four different sizes, from XS to XL, so you can get a good fit for your cat. Customer reviews provide very favourable feedback with just a small minority of cats being able to get out of it. 10% of profits goes to the Crazy K animal rescue charity, which is nice.
Puppia's Authentic Neon Soft Harness combines strap and vest approaches - it's a minimal vest, with a large breastplate that helps direct the pressure from your leash to the cat's chest rather than its neck. While the girth is adjustable, the neck isn't, so a wily cat could escape more easily - you need to be careful about picking which of the three sizes is best for your cat.
Made of 100% polyester in a sporty open mesh design, it's machine washable, and has a quick-release buckle rather than Velcro fastening. The neck opening is well padded, for your cat's comfort. As the name suggests, this is not a harness for the shy cat - it's bright neon, whether you choose orange, green or pink.
The Puppia harness runs around $25, and while most of its users are canine, cats also give it good reviews. It's fair to say, though, that this harness may not be 100% escape-proof.
One for those cats with attitude, Mynwood's Cat Jacket is decorated with big grinning skulls. It looks particularly good on black cats, of course. It's also reversible to plain black cotton, so your cat can go incognito and no one will know he's really a pirate!
Mynwood jackets are all handmade by a cat owner whose cats escaped from regular harnesses, and who decided to outwit her wily felines by making jackets they couldn't get out of. She also offers a made to measure service from her website - and really backs her product with excellent service.
This jacket costs around $30, and is made in cotton, with Velcro straps and a firmly attached steel D ring. It's machine washable, too. The Velcro straps make it easily adjustable; the same jacket can fit a relatively petite fur baby or a bigger beast of a cat. You can also buy this jacket for a young cat and simply loosen the Velcro straps as she grows up. The leash is attached further back than on many harnesses, so if the cat tries to reverse out of it, she has further to go.
Some owners still report their cats managed to escape, but this jacket receives overwhelmingly possible feedback from customers. But of course, if your cat hates Velcro, this might not be the right harness for him.
This is not a vest but a strap harness and comes supplied together with a bungee leash, so the comparatively slim price ($15-20, depending on the size) is even better than it looks. It's very light, and comes in three sizes - unfortunately customer feedback shows that problems with sizing seem to be rather more common than usual with this harness, so buy carefully.
The smallest size fits kittens under 3 months; you may not want to take them out into the wide world, but the earlier you start putting them into a harness and walking on a leash, even just around your house, the happier they will be when it's time to head outside.
The harness is adjustable around the cat's girth and also has a slider adjustment for the collar, and the leash is attached right at the back of the harness to distribute any pressure from the harness properly. The harness has snap-on buckles, and in pretty purple will make any cat look proud.
Cats could potentially get out of this kind of harness - but they would have to walk backwards to do so. The smart owner can easily get in the cat's way just by putting a foot out behind her, and prevent her breaking out.
And the winner is .... the PupTek Cat Harness. We love it's simple yet effective design, the fact it comes with a great leash and also doesn't break the bank.
Whichever harness you decide to buy, make sure that you measure your cat properly before you order - sizing is one of the common difficulties encountered by buyers. Take the cat's girth measurement with the tape measure nice and snug, then add two or three inches for comfort. The ideal is that when your cat is wearing her harness, you can just get a finger or two underneath, allowing free movement for the cat without the harness becoming too loose.
If your cat hasn't worn a harness before, she may not be comfortable with it at first; many cats hunker down and refuse to move. Take it gradually, and remember that bribery almost always works - give her a treat every time you put the harness on, and while she's wearing it, and she'll soon be happily walking around in it.
And don't leave a cat tied to a tether in the garden. A harness is for walking your cat or letting her wander while she's supervised - if she gets a paw tangled up in the leash, or manages to twist herself up in the harness, she needs you to be there to help.