New experiences are essential for cats, especially indoor cats. A safe way to take them outside is on a harness. Some complexes allow cats time in their gardens, otherwise take them along to friends and relatives that are amenable to having feline visitors.
The structure of the head and neck make it quite easy for cats to escape from a collar, only use a harness when taking the cat out. Cats of any age can be trained to wear a harness although kittens tend to learn faster!
There are a number of designs of harness available in pet stores and on line in different sizes and colours. It is also possible to have a custom-made harness for a cat that does not fit the standard sizes.
Fitting the harness is important. Many harnesses are adjustable as cats come in different shapes! The harness must fit snuggly around the rib cage with minimal movement. The front of the harness must fit closely; if there is a collar the gap between the collar and neck must be only 1 finger spacing – any more and the cat could slip out.
While Velcro is a quick and easy way of securing a harness, the noise can be scary for a noise-shy cat. Also check that there is no fur caught in the Velcro as this will be awkward and painful for the cat and can create an adverse association with the harness.
The attachment for the lead should be light-weight, especially for kittens. Similarly the lead should be light weight, strong and long enough for the cat to walk around without you standing on his tail but short enough that he doesn’t run into a street or too far up a tree.
Training to the harness may be slow for some cats; it is always worth persisting with the process. Allow your cat to become familiar with the harness before putting it on.
Start slowly, with high-value treats handy. Place the harness around his neck and loosely fasten. Give a treat, take off the harness. Repeat, with another treat.
For some cats that will be enough for the first session, others will allow the next step immediately. Loosely fasten the harness around the rib cage, offer a treat. At this stage many cats will collapse and not take the treat. This is a new sensation, something quite different and presenting a form of confinement and control. Remove the harness and end the session with a game or grooming.
Continue with short sessions, gradually increasing the tightness of the harness until your cat is comfortable and can stand. Encourage him to walk, treat him when he does.
Only when your cat is completely comfortable wearing the harness, can walk and eat with it securely fastened, is it time to add the lead. Up to now the cat has been balanced in his body, the lead and catch often act as a weight which is unfamiliar. For a few sessions attach the lead and encourage the cat to walk around under supervision without you holding the lead. Make sure that the lead does not catch on anything or in any way frighten the cat.
When he is used to the lead on the floor, pick it up and guide him gently around the house where he is comfortable. Once he understands that you are in control of his movements it is time to start adventuring outside.
There are many cats that will accept the harness at once, and a few that will never accept one. Rather than fight a losing battle, allow those cats that really won’t have their way to stay comfortably at home while their friends have all the fun
Every experience in a different environment, even a different day in the same environment, is like an episode of National Geographic to the cat. It is an exciting adventure filled with smells, sounds and wonderful things to see and watch.