Before you got your cat, the fact that he didn’t need to be walked was probably a big selling point.
Then you fell in love.
Watching your cat stare out into the world outside his window, you began to feel a need to take him exploring, to let him actually experience the sights and sounds that he was previously isolated from.
To do that, though, you need a harness — and there are several varieties to choose from. Picking a cat harness is likely more important than getting one for a dog because it’s much easier to corral a dog that’s worked his way free. If your cat gets loose, though, he may well be gone for good.
We don’t say that to scare you, but merely to impress upon you the importance of this decision. In the guide below, we’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each type of harness, so you and your cat can enjoy a safe, peaceful walk anytime you like.
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The H-Harness is made of thin strips of fabric that run down your cat’s side, with a band near the neck and another near the belly. This makes them look like the letter “H” from above.
Pros of H-Harnesses
There’s very little fabric on these, so there aren’t many points of contact on the cat’s body. This makes them a smart choice for kittens, as they won’t weigh them down or overwhelm them.
Usually, you put on an H-Harness by clasping it around the neck and body like a collar, so there’s no need to wrestle with your cat to get it over his head.
While it’s unlikely that your cat will enjoy having a harness on the first time he tries it, he’s much more likely to tolerate an H-Harness, making them a good starting option.
Cons of H-Harnesses
Since they don’t cover much surface area, there’s plenty of room for crafty felines to wriggle out of these, making them much less secure than other models.
As a result, you should use them primarily for training purposes, and limit their wear to inside your house or other areas where your cat can be easily contained.
They also tighten up if the cat pulls, which can pinch them. You’ll want to limit how often this happens, because if it happens too much, your cat may develop an aversion to wearing a harness. He may also get his revenge by knocking your prized bowling trophy off the mantle (who are we kidding, he’ll do this anyway).
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Vest harnesses cover a large portion of your cat’s chest and back — you know, like a vest (huh, imagine that).
They’re often one-piece, so you have to slide them over your kitty’s head and then maneuver his front paws through the armholes. The leash then attaches to a D-ring or buckle on the back.
Pros of Vests
Because they cover so much of your pet’s body, they disperse pressure widely rather than focusing it on one specific point. This reduces the risk of injury if your tabby freaks out and tries to run, or if you have to pull it out of harm’s way suddenly. It also makes them virtually impossible to escape from.
They’re also less likely to pinch your pet while walking, and some cats find the gentle pressure they apply to be calming. Most importantly, though, they’re absolutely adorable.
Cons of Vests
Most vests have to be put on by slipping them over the cat’s head. If you’ve ever actually owned a cat, you can see how this might be a problem. Many people try to avoid this by only doing it once and then leaving the harness on permanently, but we don’t recommend this.
All that fabric can be heavy, so these might not be ideal for older pets with mobility issues. Also, they get extremely hot during the summer months.
Vests can be more expensive than other options, but again, let us remind you of what really matters: the fact that they’re really, really adorable.
3. Figure 8s
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Close cousins to H-Harnesses, the S harness is made of thin strips of fabric or webbing that run in a figure-8 shape around the neck and belly.
Pros of Figure 8s
They’re designed to gently squeeze the cat every time he lunges forward, so theoretically they should help with leash training. Notice we said “theoretically” — more on that in a second.
These are ideal for docile cats in low-risk situations. They’re extremely lightweight, and many pets will quickly forget they’re even wearing it.
Cons of Figure 8s
Don’t let the squeezing mechanism fool you into thinking these are secure harnesses, because they’re absolutely not. In addition to being easy to wriggle out of, if your cat gets spooked, a “gentle squeeze” is the absolute last thing he’ll want to feel.
The narrow straps can potentially dig into the skin, causing discomfort, so be sure yours is sized correctly.
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These are currently the least common harnesses, but that may change, as they’re designed with ease-of-use in mind.
The idea is that you set the harness on the floor, and then the cat steps into the arm holes, which you then pull up over their shoulders and across their chests.
Pros of Step-Ins
These are much easier to put on than vests, yet they’re almost as secure. They have wider necks and arm holes, so your kitty will have more range-of-motion, making the walk more fun for him.
They tend to be lightweight as well, making them an excellent option in the summer.
Cons of Step-Ins
While they’re more secure than anything other than vests, there’s still ample room for your cat to escape, so it’s best to use them in low-risk situations. They’re especially vulnerable to being backed out of, so be ready to scoop your cat up if you see him putting it in reverse.
Also, while having your cat step into the harness is easier than pulling it over his head, you’re still likely to have a bit of a rodeo on your hands when putting it on.
Which Harness Type is Best?
Unless you’re walking your cat in an extremely safe, controlled environment, we generally recommend a vest-style harness, as they offer the most security by far. They’re fairly comfortable, too (once you get them on, anyway).
That being said, the other types have their place, but they’re best suited for specific situations rather than all-purpose use.
Of course, once you commit to walking your cat, you’ll likely find an excuse to buy one in each style. Your little furbaby needs them, after all.
- Looking for an alternative when it comes to taking your cat for a walk? Learn about the Best Cat Strollers here!
Featured Image: Amber Kipp, Unsplash