Why should I harness my cat?
If you're not walking your cat you really should be. Cats love the outdoors. It's really where they want to be. All the birds, squirrels and other little critters outside provide a stimulating environment for your cat. I promise you once you start walking your cat, every single time you walk outside your cat's going to be howling at you trying to go outside with you. I used to have a purely indoor cat. He was never allowed outside as I lived in a big apartment building. There really weren't any other options but as soon as I got a backyard and started bringing my cat outside I realized how much I was missing out by not walking my cat Chalupa.
Maybe now you agree that you should be walking your cat kind of just like how everyone knows you should be walking your dog. It's really really important to have a harness as opposed to a collar. Sometimes cats get nervous or scared. Their instinctual reaction is to run away as fast as possible. The reason why collars aren't super popular in terms of walking cats is because cats can actually strangle themselves. This is something you don't really have to worry about with dogs but if you do get a collar for your cat make sure it's a breakaway collar. If it does get snagged on something, it's not going to pose any danger to your cat. If you're going on a walk with your cat and something surprises it you're not going to want to have something that breaks away. In this case, I strongly recommend a cat harness. It'll be so much easier to control your cat while you walk together. Better yet, you really won't have to worry about it running away.
How to Harness Your Cat
Step 1: Make sure the harness fits snuggly
Before we get started trying to actually get the harness on your cat, make sure that it's snug. Figure out how to adjust your harness to give your cat a perfect fit. Every harness fits differently. It probably has some straps that you can loosen or tighten. Please make sure the harness is really snug on your cat. Cats are amazingly slippery at getting out of harnesses. I can't tell you the number of times that I've had to readjust or tighten my cats’ harnesses. The harness tends to loosen slightly after a couple weeks of walking.
Step 2: Start with a treat
If you haven't walked your cat before, putting a harness on it can actually trigger some defensive mechanisms. The harness is going to go under the chest almost to where your cat's belly is and then loop around. There's different styles of harnesses but cats can be really sensitive with their bellies. I have one cat who loves belly rubs but the other will roll over on his back exposing his belly. He does not want you to touch it though. He’s simply showing you how comfortable he is. It took him a little bit of time to get used to me fiddling around trying to get the buckles to click. I'm not sure if this is true of all cats but my cats are extremely slow eaters. You give them a treat and it'll take each cat at least 20 or 30 seconds to eat it. I've had dogs that eat a whole bowl of food faster than my cats can eat a treat. Giving a treat helps keep your cat in the same place.
Step 3: Put the head through first
When you put on the harness, make sure to put on the head first. Most harnesses have a loop that goes around the head and two straps that go under and around the cat's torso. I recommend putting the head in first. I know that if the cat’s head is in I can kind of control the rest of the cat. Trying to get the buckles in it can really be quite a pain if your cat won’t stop wiggling around.
Step 4: Pull the straps under and around the front legs
All you have to do is pull the straps around your cat and buckle them in. Make some last-minute adjustments to the tightness of the fit. You should be able to fit at least a couple fingers between the harness and your cat. That's going to make sure that it's pretty snug but not so snug that it's going to prevent your cat from breathing. Remember cats are not social creatures. If they are uncomfortable or if they are in some sort of pain, cats are way less likely than dogs or people to tell you that something's wrong. You should anticipate and look out for any sort of issues.
Some cat walking tips
Here are a few tips to make walking your cat easier. Firstly, you need to properly set your expectations. Your cat is not going to walk like a dog. A cat is not going to follow a path and go down the sidewalk at a consistent pace. Some cats after a lot of training may be able to do this. I found that with my cats if I establish a regular path then they feel way more comfortable walking at a consistent pace. As soon as I take them anywhere new or outside of their original territory or familiar smells, it's going to take time. It's going to be a little frustrating. That’s okay if it's less of a walk and more of a meandering journey. Let your cat sniff around.
In terms of controlling your cat’s leash, remember to pull up on the lease instead of the side. It’s subtle but it's actually really important. If for any reason you have to pull on the leash, pull up as vertically as possible. Pulling too much from the side will create a way for your cat to slip out of the harness. Even if your harness is super snug and super comfortable, the anatomy of cats is such that no harness can be perfect for any angle. Prevent your cat from escaping by remembering to pull up on the leash.