How to Choose a Harness for a Cat

You take your dog on daily walks, but how about your cat? It may sound daunting, but it is entirely possible — as long as a harness is involved.

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Cats sure look cute in a harness. And, good news — many cats actually like to wear them! If you’ve ever wanted to outfit your cat with a harness so they can enjoy the great outdoors alongside the rest of the family, we say give it a try. But first, here is some need-to-know info to help you choose the perfect harness for your cat.

Why Get a Cat Harness?

According to the Humane Society, two-thirds of pet cats in the U.S. live indoors exclusively. And this is a good thing, the organization says, because the great outdoors can be dangerous for cats. But a little fresh air never hurt anyone, and this is where a cat harness comes in.

“The primary function (of a cat harness) is to provide your cat with outdoor time, where they cannot roam freely, but they can enjoy some of the benefits of being outside, like laying in the sun, laying in the grass, smelling all the smells and just enjoying a little bit of exercise and enrichment outdoors,” says Mikel Delgado, Ph.D., of Feline Minds Cat Behavior Consulting.

She says harnesses are great for cats of all ages, even senior cats that have never donned a harness before.

Are Cat Harnesses Safe?

Harnesses are completely safe for cats as long as they are worn properly, fit correctly and are used with a reliable pet leash (most will come equipped with one). Harnesses can enhance safety in general because they prevent the cat from getting into mischief, assuming the owner is keeping hold of the harness via said leash.

Delgado says harnesses also provide an extra layer of protection beyond the cat carrier for people who like to travel by air (or train or car) with their cats.

Types of Cat Harnesses

Harnesses come in two standard varieties — the jacket/vest style and the traditional leash style. The best one for you is the one your cat will actually wear. Delgado says she prefers vest-style harnesses with secure hook-and-loop attachments across the chest.

“The main issue is making sure your cat cannot wiggle out of the harness,” she says, adding that you also don’t want it to be a huge ordeal to get your cat into the harness.

As for material, this again is all about your cat’s comfort. If you live in a warmer climate, a mesh harness will help keep your cat cool. In the winter, a soft/cozy fabric might be more suitable. And if you plan to take a walk with your cat at dusk or in the early morning hours, look for one made with reflective material so your cat will be easily spotted by drivers and cyclists.

Be sure to consult the manufacturer’s sizing chart — most likely, you’ll choose a size based on the weight of your cat. You can also get a cat-sized patio to give your furry friend some fresh air.

How to Use a Harness on a Cat

While harnesses should be easy to operate, not every cat is going to love wearing one at first.

“You have to go slowly,” says Delgado. “You can’t expect to just put the harness on and have them immediately accept it.”

She suggests leaving it on the floor with treats nearby so they can check it out on their own. And if your cat seems overwhelmed and stressed the first time or two, don’t sweat it.

“Take off the harness and try again a different day,” she says.

Dawn Weinberger
Dawn Weinberger is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon who has contributed to numerous publications and websites over the past 20 years, including RD.com, Glamour, Women's Health, Entrepreneur, and many others. Dawn has a BA in journalism from Western Washington University and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She writes about everything from health and medicine to fashion, shopping, and business.