rspca

Harness Training Your Cat

Adopt a Pet Animal Welfare Cats Pet Care Pets Pet Health Animals
Learn how to train your cat to walk on a lead with our top tips to enrich your cat's life and keep our wildlife safe too.
Having a cat that’s harness trained can have a lot of benefits; for cats, their owners and our wildlife too!

Whilst we’re out at work or school, our cats might be spending a lot of time indoors by themselves. Without a lot of stimulation your kitty can be prone to boredom (and prone to taking it out on your couch). Being able to take your cat with you outdoors is a great way to provide them with the stimulation they crave, ensure they’re getting enough exercise, and provide an opportunity to for you to spend more quality time with your feline friend. With harness training your cat, they can experience all the sights, sounds, and smells of the great outdoors in a way that’s safe for them, and your local wildlife. 

Want to train your cat to walk on a lead but don’t know where to start? We’ve compiled some of our top tips to set your feline up for success!
Cats are Individuals First
Not all cats will have the same reaction and experience with harness training and walking on a lead. RSPCA Furbassador Nathan the Beach Cat and her sister Winnie, both had very different experiences learning to explore outdoors on a harness and lead. Both were adopted from the RSPCA as kittens and still took to harness training quite differently.

Parents Rian and Mel said, “Nath would run around with the harness on, no problem, but the moment we attached a lead, Nathan refused to walk normally.”

It turned out that Nathan much preferred to walk on the harness without a lead and had great recall and stuck by her parents’ side.

rspca furbassador nathan the beach cat with winnie outdoors on lead
Winnie and Nathan the RSPCA cats

Little Winnie on the other hand, when training with the harness on at home, refused to move once it was on. Luckily Rian and Mel found that with a little encouragement from sister Nathan, Winnie loved walking on the harness and lead when out at the beach with the family! 

“It’s as if she forgot all about her hate for the harness and was more interested in the new sights and smells, as well as keeping up with Nath.”

harness training your cat to walk on the lead nathan the beach cat
You can follow Nathan and Winnie’s adventures on Instagram here.

Personality Tip: Every cat is different and you need to take harness and lead training slow. Some cats will just prefer to be indoor couch potatoes.

Finding the Right Fit
The first step to get your cat to walk on a lead is finding a comfortable, and well-fitting harness. You don’t want to wait until you’re outdoors to find out that your companion can wriggle out, leaving you holding an empty harness! It might be tempting to use a small dog harness, but we advise against this. Many types of dog harnesses are actually not suitable for cats – they are often able to wriggle out, which can be dangerous! It is also important for cats to be able to rotate their bodies in case they fall while in the harness, and dog harnesses can prevent this, so it’s worth investing in a dedicated feline harness. Make sure the harness is snug.

To save you multiple trips to the pet store, take some measurements around your cat’s chest and middle to help you find the right fit. Check out the RSPCA World for Pets range of cat harnesses here. 

Our Rule of Thumb (or finger): You should be able to fit one finger under the harness when it’s on your cat.

Making the Introduction
Cat harness training is much easier if you start at an early age, but just because you have an adult cat, don’t think you can’t follow these steps too! The harness quickly becomes a normal part of life when introduced to cats when they’re young; an older cat will need more time to feel comfortable wearing a harness. 

Start familiarising your cat with their harness while indoors. You may need a helper just to keep your cat calm when introducing them to the harness. Cats can be easily startled by new noises so don’t fasten the harness clips straight away once on, let your companion get used to the feel, then move up to the sound of fastening. Help them to feel comfortable with only one clip fastened before you secure both clips, and work with them at their own pace – if your cat is struggling to get away from you or shows other signs of fear, don’t push it!

To make sure it’s a positive experience, start each harness training session just before meal time, so your cat has a tasty reward at the end. Go slow – the first few days might just involve showing your cat the harness and allowing them to sniff it. Ideally, you want your cat to learn that the harness implies good experiences ahead; like their dinner, and later on, exploring outside.

rspca adopted cat pickle learns to walk on a harnessRSPCA adopted cat Pickle learning to explore outside safely from a young age.

Take Your Time
It’s normal for this process to take a bit of time, it’s a new experience for your cat and some can react more negatively than others. Take it slow, training with the harness for a few minutes at a time. Pay close attention to your cat’s behaviour.  Keep them distracted with their favourite toys, and stop as soon as they start getting stressed. 

For some, wearing their harness is no problem, others might refuse to move. Slowly increase the time your feline spends in their harness, making sure they’re comfortable before moving onto the next step.

The first few times you put a harness on your cat, be sure to supervise their behaviour as they may try to scratch, paw or bite at the straps, or get their legs tangled if the harness is loose.
Lead the Way
Once your cat is comfortable walking normally around the house with their harness on, it’s time to add in the lead. Some cats will happily drag their lead around the living room, but for others having something following behind them can be distressing. If this is the case for your cat, just hold it loosely as they explore. Once they’re comfortable, you can try applying gentle pressure on the lead and calling your cat, rewarding them with plenty of treats and praise when they come to you.  If you’ve already done some training with a clicker, you’ll probably have an easier time at this stage. Otherwise, now might be a great chance to start other training with your cat!
RSPCA adopted cat Nathan regularly visits the beach with his parents Rian and Mel.
The Great Outdoors
The time has come for you and your feline companion to take in the world beyond your front door. If your cat has been a purely indoor feline until now, it’s going to be a shock. Start them off somewhere quiet and controlled, like a fenced backyard. This way they can get used to a new environment and the experience of a harness and lead. When it comes time to take to the outdoors it’s a good idea to carry your kitty over the door threshold; you don’t want them too comfortable exiting the house on their own. Let them lead the way at first once outdoors, exploring and getting used to their environment. Leave the door visible and open so they return to their home comforts anytime they get overwhelmed.  It’s a good idea to carry a towel in case your kitty isn’t taking well to the outdoors so you can easily scoop them up without scratches and try another day. 

Some cats will prefer to be an indoor only cat.  If your cat displays stress when you walk outside, it is important to not force them to spend time outdoors.  

nathan the beach cat walking on a harness

RSPCA adopted cat Nathan frequently visits the Beach with parents Rian and Mel.

Taking on the World
When it comes time to explore the world beyond your backyard, start off with a private route you’ve scoped out beforehand; away from stressors like traffic and dogs. 

Each cat’s personality is unique so they will take to the outdoors differently to one another - start with short walks at first, and see how they like it. Some love outdoor adventures, others will be happy never getting much further than the backyard. 

Listen to your cat and let them call the shots; you can’t force your cat to love the great outdoors. Helping your cat learn to enjoy walking on a harness can provide them with a really satisfying new hobby – it can reduce behaviour problems and increase your bond with your cat. Give it a try – your cat might thank you for it! 

Read more about creating a pet friendly backyard here and just some plants that can be toxic if you plan to take your kitty on adventures.
RSPCA adopted cat Nathan regularly visits the beach with his parents Rian and Mel.

RSPCA QLD
Share this article
Find the perfect pet