Article at a Glance…
- The best cat leashes/harnessses I’ve found are Kitty Holster (full coverage for wrigglers!), Puppia (another cute harness) and PetSafe (lighter, strappy harness).
- Walking your cat on a leash is a great way to exercise indoor cats and prevent boredom.
- Start out slowly and gradually increase time outside to avoid overwhelming your pet.
Seeing a dog being walked on a leash is perfectly normal, but what about a cat? I remember the first time I saw a man walking his cat in a local park. My first thought was that he must be a bit eccentric. The cat was walking him rather than the other way around. The kitty led her owner into a bush, where they stayed for one or two minutes before emerging.
Now that I have cats of my own, and a few friends who regularly post photos on social media of their “catwalks”, walking a cat seems normal. The benefits of walking your pet definitely outweigh the strange looks you might get!
Before you embark on outdoor adventures with your feline friend, the most important thing is to find the right cat leash for the job. The wrong choice could hurt your cat or even allow him to escape. Not to worry, I’m going to explain everything you need to know about walking your cat and take a look at some of the best cat harness reviews 🙂
Benefits of using a cat leash
Depending on where you live, there can be a stigma associated with walking your cat in public. It’s silly, but the negative stereotypes around cat owners still exists. If you need a little convincing to bring your cat out on a leash, here are more than a few good reasons to just go for it:
Exercises your pet & prevents illness
If you have an indoor cat like mine, walking him (in addition to play) is a great way to ensure he’s getting enough exercise. Indoor cats are more prone to obesity than their outdoor cousins. By walking your cat regularly, you’ll help to prevent illnesses such as feline diabetes, arthritis and hepatic lipidosis (source).
Improves behavior & relieves boredom
Another benefit of walking your cat is that it relieves boredom and associated behavioral problems. When I come home after a day out, my cats are captivated by the smells on my shoes and coat. Cats are intelligent and crave new experiences (source). Bringing an indoor cat outside opens up a whole new world to explore. Not only will your kitty live a more fulfilling life, but the exercise will make him tired and less likely to get into mischief at home.
Useful for traveling & transporting your cat
If you’re taking your cat on a short trip such as a vet visit, a good cat leash can keep your cat secure when he’s out of his carrier. One of my cats has a tendency to hide at the vet’s office. Putting her in a harness with leash allows us some control so we don’t waste time chasing her around the vet’s room.
Choosing the right Cat Leash
Because a cat’s throat is more delicate than a dog’s, you should never attach a leash directly to your cat’s collar. Doing this is a choking risk. You need to use a harness that secures around the neck and chest. The leash should clip onto the harness at the middle of the cat’s back so you’re not applying too much pressure to his neck.
Cat Lead or Vest?
There are two basic categories of cat harness – lead and vest. A lead is made of a few thin straps which fit around the cat’s neck and torso behind the front legs. Vest harnesses are more like a piece of clothing for your pet. You can think of it as a cat walking jacket. They generally cover the cat’s upper body and fasten with Velcro or snaps over your cat’s belly. Which is the best type of cat harness? Well, it depends on how you’re going to use it and what your cat can tolerate.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the best cat harness means no escape. The reason I keep my cats mostly indoors is to keep them safe. When they venture into the outside world, a cat leash should keep them out of harm’s way.
When fitted correctly, both vest and strap-style harnesses are very secure. However, if you have a really flexible cat, I’d recommend a vest harness. It’s just a little bit harder for kitty to escape from. It’s also a good choice for cats who pull a lot when you’re walking them. The even pressure distribution will be more comfortable.
Fit is undoubtedly an important factor when choosing a cat harness and leash. A leash that’s too loose will allow your cat to escape. A vest or harness that’s too tight will be uncomfortable for your cat. This may stop him cooperating with your efforts to walk him. Luckily most harnesses come in sizes from x-small up to x-large. Most are also adjustable within 3 to 4 inches.
To avoid disappointment, measure your cat properly before making a purchase. You’ll need her girth and neck size at a minimum. Use a soft measuring tape and wrap it so it’s snug against her fur. Then add 2 to 3 inches to that figure for comfort. This video explains exactly what to do:
When you get the harness, check the fit by making sure you can slide 1 or 2 fingers between the straps and the cat’s body. More than that is too loose, but less is too tight. As it’s recommended to get your cat used to wearing a harness as early as possible, you’ll most likely need to start out with a kitten-sized harness for your new pet. You can size up when your cat reaches adulthood.
There’s not a huge amount of variation in materials when it comes to cat leashes. Try to find one made from a soft material to avoid chaffing. A lining made with cotton or other natural fibers is well tolerated. Mesh allows air circulation in hot climates. If your cat is inclined to get into dirty places, easily washable materials are a plus. Many strap-style leashes come with a reflective trim. If you’re walking your cat late in the evening, this can be useful.
For vest-style cat leashes, closures are usually made from Velcro or snaps. Velcro is not a good choice for long haired cats as their fur can get caught. However, if you’re very careful, you can make it work. Strap leashes usually close with plastic buckles. While all of these closures are very secure, make sure to test them when you receive the leash in case of any defects.
I’ve covered everything there is to know about cat harnesses, but what about the leash itself? Most pet owners agree that their favorite is the “bungee” style. It’s stretchy so that the cat has some more leeway when roaming around. Finding the best cat walking harness is the hardest step – good leashes are cheap and easy to come by.
The Kitty Holster is a full-coverage walking jacket especially designed to be the best cat harness for walking your cat. It’s 100% cotton making it comfortable for kitty and easily washable for you. The outside comes in at least 8 different colors (my favorite is the sweet red bandana pattern!) while the inside lining is completely undyed to avoid allergic reactions.
It closes with a strong, wide Velcro strip. It uses stronger Velcro than the type you’re probably used to. Most users report having to pull at it to get it open, so it’s unlikely that even the strongest cat could escape. This makes it a good choice for the best cat harness for large, muscular cats like bengals. There’s a sturdy D-ring at the middle of the back to attach a leash of your preference.
Sizes are XS, S/M, M/L and XL. There’s around 4 inches of adjustment in each size so it will suit the majority of cats.
As the name suggests, the Puppia harness is designed for dogs. However, there’s not much difference between the size of a small dog and a cat so it’s popular with lots of cat owners too. As long as you measure your cat properly, you shouldn’t have any problems with the fit of this harness.
This cat harness vest is made from a soft polyester mesh, making it breathable. It is washing machine safe, but to make it last as long as possible, hand washing and drying is recommended. The neck opening is even padded to make your kitty extra comfy.
It closes with a plastic buckle under the chest. Sizes range from XS to XXL however those on the larger end are aimed at big dogs. For cats, medium and below should work. Puppia also makes an affordable leash to go along with it.
If you prefer the strap-style cat leash, PetSafe’s offering is one of the best. This harness is made of 3/8th inch nylon straps which secure around the neck and behind the front legs with a plastic buckle. There are three sizes – S, M and L. They are adjustable to between 2 and 5 inches depending on the size.
Unlike the other two harnesses we’ve looked at, this one comes with a bungee leash. This restrains your cat gently and provides “give’ when walking. The PetSafe harness is designed to apply pressure to the shoulders, not throat, when restraining your cat.
This harness is good for cats who get stressed out when they feel the full pressure of a vest. It’s also my pick for the best cat harness for traveling on short trips such as to the vet’s office. The harness is secure while leaving most of the cat’s body uncovered for the vet to examine.
How to put on a cat harness
As usual, the way to a cat’s heart is through his belly. Keep the treats close at hand when getting your cat used to wearing his harness. If possible, you should introduce your pet to his harness as a kitten. If your pet is already grown, it’s still possible to train your cat to tolerate a harness with a little patience.
Start out by letting your cat sniff the harness. He may want to sit on it and mark it as part of his territory. If the sound of the velcro closure scares your cat, close it and open it a few times without putting it on him. Do this over several days until the noise doesn’t phase him.
The next step is to drape the harness over the cat without closing it. Provide some treats while doing this. When kitty is used to the sensation of pressure on his back, it’s time to gently close the harness. This can take a few days or even weeks, depending on how skittish your cat is. When your cat is happy to wear the harness, let him wear it around the house. It’s normal for your cat to freeze or crouch down when he wears the harness for the first time. When he realizes he can walk normally while wearing it, he will act like himself again.
When your cat is used to the harness, try attaching the leash and follow your cat around the house with it. This is a good chance to test the fit and make sure your cat can’t escape. Make sure to reward him with treats along the way so that he associates the leash with a positive experience.
How to walk a cat outside
It can be daunting for both owner and pet to bring an indoor cat outside for the first time. If you have an enclosed yard, this is the ideal place to get started. Alternatively, a quiet local park away from traffic and predators such as dogs is ideal.
Always carry your cat to his walking destination. If he gets used to walking out your front door, he may feel confident enough to make a dash for it when not wearing the leash. You should follow closely behind your cat while gripping the leash securely. Don’t be surprised if he tries to climb trees or wander out of sight. This ain’t a dog after all. Leave a comfortable amount of slack on the leash while keeping your cat at a safe distance from hazards.
If, like me, you live in an area with dangerous snakes and spiders, you should probably reconsider walking your cat. A bug bite may just mean discomfort for us humans, but our pets are much smaller and it could be fatal to your cat. If you’re really concerned, talk to your vet about the particular hazards in your local area. He will be able to tell you where it’s safe to walk your cat, and what to do in case of an injury.
Another point to be careful about is the outdoor temperature. Concrete surfaces in particular can get very hot in summer and burn your cat’s paws. A good rule of thumb is to touch the back of your hand against the pavement for a few seconds. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your cat.
Most cats will be afraid loud noises such as traffic. Walking your cat in the evening in less populated areas will usually be less stressful for your pet.