If you have walked your cat on a leash you know that they are great escape artists. I dare to say that even the best escape-proof cat harnesses are not 100% escape-proof (although you'll find some great options later in this article).
So... we all are familiar with the fact that cats are very good at freeing themselves from your harness but, I'm here to tell you that there's a method to the madness.
4 things are making your cat prone to squeezing out of their harness:
- A wrong harness
- A harness that's not properly adjusted
- Poor habituation
- Poor handling
I am going to cover these four topics in this article so that you can walk your cat on a leash without fearing they will escape. Let's see each one of them!
Getting The Right Harness For Your Cat
Finding the right cat harness can be a challenging task. With the overwhelming number of options available in the market, it can be hard to make a choice. But determining which harness is the best for your cat shouldn't be a daunting task.
Not all cat harnesses are created equal, and what may work well for one feline may not be suitable for another.
The best harness for your cat will be determined by your cat's size, fitness level, and most importantly, what you want the harness for.
Amazon and most sellers offer free or almost free returns, so you might even want to try a few before you find the perfect one for your kitty.
Before spending money on subpar harnesses, consider these points, so you don't have to regret them later.
Understanding Harness Types & Sizes
When you take your feline friends outside for a walk, choosing the right type of harness for your cat and the activity you want to perform there are 3 things you want to consider:
- Hard to escape from
- Comfortable for the cat
- Easy to put on
- Safe for the cat's neck
While we have an article talking about the best cat harnesses and entering into the details of each type of harness, I would like to add a summary here as well:
- H-Harness: A string harness is also commonly known as an H harness due to its shape and structure. It is made of thin-sized straps with two rings from the neck to the ribcage. It's the most used harness as it's safe, lightweight, and provides much more mobility.
- Figure Eight Harness: This type of harness is named after its figure-eight shape, with two loops that meet on top of the cat's shoulders. It's simple to use but may not be as secure as other types of harnesses.
- Full-Body Harness: As the name suggests, a full-body harness covers the cat's entire torso. It can help prevent injuries because it distributes pressure equally.
- Vests: Vests are lighter in weight. They have some strings and a padded area for chest protection.
- Hybrids: They are harnesses that combine some of the previously mentioned harnesses, like with small strings but including a chest pad, like the OutdoorBengal cat harness.
Tips for Measuring Your Cat for a Harness
Once you've decided what type of harness you need for your cat, the second most important point (that usually gets ignored by most cat parents) is to find the right size.
This point is particularly important as getting the perfect harness but in the wrong size can be as dangerous as getting a bad harness. Most cat harnesses will offer a sizing chart like the one below:
The best way to measure the cat's girth is with a flexible measurement tape, which can be found for under $5 online.
If you are in a hurry and don't have a flexible measuring tape at home, you can get a string and wrap it around your cat, then take that distance and measure it on a flat measuring tape.
A cat's harness, either too big or too small, may become uncomfortable or even cause your cat to escape. Most harness sizing charts use your cat's neck and girth measurements. While the neck is easy to get right, the girth is not so much, as the cat's hair makes it hard for the naked eye to guess.
Measure your cat's shoulder blades to the front of its breastbone and back. Start measuring from your cat's shoulder blades to the back of its legs and back. The measuring tape should be excellent and tight-wrapped around their elbows.
When picking the best cat harness, ensure it fits appropriately regardless of style.
How to Fit Your Cat's Harness Properly
As important as selecting the right harness and the right size, you need to make sure the harness is adjusted for your cat's needs.
A good harness will be adjustable, to adapt to different cats' body shapes.
After putting on the harness for your cat, you should be able to fit a finger or two under the neck and belly area. If it's too loose, the cat will escape, if it's too tight, your cat will hate the harness and won't want to walk on it.
Remember that the harness should be nice and snug but not too tight.
Harness Training Your Cat
Buying a harness is not enough if your cat doesn't like to wear it. While starting with a comfortable harness can help, nothing will help your cat get used to it better than harness training.
Training your cat to be comfortable on a harness is done via positive reinforcement. The process is fairly simple:
1. Familiarize Your Cat With The Harness
Place the harness in front of your cat and let it interact with the harness. It's a good idea to place the harness in areas that your cat likes hanging out on.
If your cat responds positively to the harness by smelling, rubbing against it, or simply by sitting near it, reward the behavior every time with a treat or two. Feel free to use a clicker if your cat is familiar with clicker training.
Once your cat is familiar with the harness and has impregnated it with their pheromones, try putting it on your cat.
Adjust the harness so that it is comfortable for your cat. Try to give her something as a reward so that she can enjoy the process and if you feel like they are not very comfortable with it, try to loosen the harness a little bit and distract them with playtime.
Don't worry about the leash just yet. Your cat needs to get comfortable using the harness alone first as the limiting leash might impact negatively the experience.
2. Start Walking on a Leash Indoors
Once your cat is used to wearing the harness, consider adding a leash.
The leash, particularly at the beginning, should not be used to guide your cat. Just let the leash be there and follow your cat around.
Once your cat is comfortable and not bothered about the leash, you can start training them to understand what the leash is and reward them when they follow the directions you give them.
3. Preparing For Outdoor Walks
Remember that you do not need to take your kitty far away from home to help him get used to nature. You can begin in your backyard; even better if it is fenced in.
The first experience walking on a leash outdoors should be in a very safe space, free from noises, dogs, and other predators that can make the experience go sideways.
Never go too far too soon. You want to avoid your cat having a bad experience wearing the harness, particularly at the beginning.
There's a fine line between comfort and fear and you want to play around the line, but never cross it.
Anticipating Escapes when Walking Cats
Understanding how and what cats do to escape from the harness is key to solving the matter while it happens, when you are walking your cat.
Let's review what makes cats such great contortionists but also what you might be doing wrong when walking your cat that allows them to use these physical skills to escape.
Why are Cats, Such Great Escape Artists?
There are a few physical characteristics that make cats great escape artists.
At the core of their remarkable flexibility is their highly versatile spine, which boasts more vertebrae than any other mammal.
Most mammals, including cats, have (7) cervical vertebrae. Cats also have (13) thoracic vertebrae, which is one more than humans. Cats have (7) lumbar vertebrae, while humans have five. Additionally, cats have (3) sacral vertebrae, which is fewer than humans due to their bipedal posture. Finally, except Manx cats and other breeds with shorter tails, cats typically have (22 or 23) caudal vertebrae, whereas humans only have three to five that are fused into an internal coccyx.
This allows cats to bend, twist, and contort their bodies into shapes that seem to defy the laws of physics. Making cat harnesses (particularly rigid ones) very easy to escape.
In addition to their spinal flexibility, cats have a unique skeletal structure that contributes to their supreme adaptability. Their collarbones, or clavicles, are completely detached from the rest of their skeleton. This not only grants them a greater range of motion in their shoulders, but it also allows them to collapse their bones and squeeze through narrow openings like, for example, a cat harness.
Finally, we come to the raw power of feline musculature. The mighty muscles in their shoulders and hips give them the strength to leap and jump with ease, while their sinewy limbs can push their bodies through spaces that would be impossible for less adaptable creatures. Your cat usually escapes from their harness by pushing back while the leash is tense, thanks to their back legs and abdominal strength.
It's this formidable combination of spinal flexibility, collapsible bones, elastic ligaments, and muscular might that allows cats to evade capture, climb trees, and explore the hidden nooks and crannies of our world with unparalleled ease.
Poor Handling Will Make You Lose Your Cat
You can't walk your cat while looking at your phone. Cats will sneak into a tinny hole, up a tree or who knows... and no harness will get a cat to come to you by pulling, using brute force.
In more than 50% of the cases, the cat will snug out of the harness if you pull the leash consistently in the opposite direction they are pulling.
The harness should only be used to prevent your cat to disappear from your sight in a flight response, or to correct behavior as it happens, not after it has happened.
The way to prevent a cat from going towards danger or a hiding spot is by doing small bursts of pull, but never by pulling consistently.
Letting the leash go tense will allow your cat to use all the physical abilities mentioned before to back up the harness and sneak out from it.
By not allowing the leash to go tense, your cat will never get enough pulling strength to back up from the harness. Your cat needs you holding the leash tense to turn around and sneak out.
If your cat stops, stop. If your cat backs up, get closer to your cat. Always keep some slack on the leash so your cat will never escape again.
Understanding Your Cat's Body Language
Cats are naturally curious and independent creatures, with a deep-seated desire to explore their environment. When a cat is on a harness, their movements are restricted, and their exploring drive will motivate their freeing desire.
Some cats may simply dislike the sensation of wearing a harness or feel anxious or fearful when they are on a leash.
Finally, a flight or fight response can get the cat very agitated and will try to do anything to get away from the threat, escaping from the harness is the very first step.
Understanding your cat's body language is crucial to preventing an escape from a harness. If you perceive discomfort, fear or the leash is too short and your cat is growing frustrated, consider going back to training and getting your cat comfortable at walking on a leash first.
Some signs to look for may be flattened ears, a lowered body posture, or a swishing tail. You can learn more about cat body language here.
Retrieving An Escaping Cat
Retrieving an escaping cat can be a challenging and stressful experience, particularly if they get lost. More about finding a lost cat in this article.
Grabbing your Cat After they Escape
If you can still see your cat, it's essential to remain calm and avoid chasing the cat, which can cause it to run further away. Instead, try to persuade the cat with treats or a familiar toy and create a safe and secure space to entice them back to you.
What I try doing is walking by them without ever trying to reach down to grab them, just walking next to them, letting them enjoy the walk without feeling their "fun" is close to an end. This way they grow confident and not seeing us as someone who wants to limit their recently gained freedom.
The most important thing is to keep your cat on sight. Unlike dogs, cats will just run far enough so you can't reach them, but they won't start running non-stop. It's best to just stay by their side until the moment is right.
When the right moment comes, try and grab them, calmly.
Choosing Safe Walking Locations
Because escaping might happen, it's good to walk in places that are not dangerous.
Look for areas with minimal traffic, low risk of predator encounters, and no potential hazards like busy roads or toxic plants. It's also important to be aware of local leash laws and regulations.
For that, we created a map with cat-friendly places. Feel free to drop your recommendations as well if they are not already there.
Avoiding Hazards & Dangers
Think twice before you choose a location to go with your cat. When planning a trip with your cat is best to think about the "worst that could happen". Cats are very good escape artists and can escape even from the best harnesses. In case they escaped, hazards like cars or predators can quickly become major problems.
When walking your cat on a harness, be mindful of the environment around you and avoid areas with heavy traffic, high-risk predator encounters, or other potential hazards and extreme precautions if you encounter some dangers you did not plan for.
Finally, use the leash to keep your cat away from sharp objects or toxic plants and ensure they stay safe from bodies of water, including ponds or rivers.
Planning Ahead For Emergency Situations
Sometimes the trip doesn't go as planned and the cat might end up escaping. It happened to me while in Mexico. It ain't fun.
If you are in places where you can't afford to get your cat lost, consider using a GPS or at least an AirTag. Being prepared and proactive can be the difference between retrieving your cat or not if they got to escape the harness.
Reinforcing Good Behavior
If you want your cat to never try to escape from their harness, then you must reinforce good behavior. Positive reinforcement, like offering treats or praise, can help encourage them to continue to behave well and feel safer while leashed.
Consistency is key, and it's essential to reward your cat often enough so that the expectation of the treat is there when they exhibit the desired behavior.
With time and patience, positive reinforcement can help ensure a happy and successful walking experience and they'll soon stop minding the harness while you walk with them.
Building A Strong Bond With Your Cat Through Walking
As much as training your cat, walking them on a harness can be a great way to build a strong bond with your feline companion. By spending time outdoors together, you can strengthen your bond through shared experiences and mutual trust.
Additionally, being mindful of your cat's body language and providing them with a safe and comfortable walking environment can help build trust and strengthen your bond.
Closing Thoughts on Escaping Cats
The perfect cat harness should be comfortable, secure, and durable, allowing your cat to move while ensuring its safety. It should fit nicely but not be too tight or restrictive and have adjustable straps for a customized fit. Ultimately, the perfect cat harness will suit your cat's individual needs and preferences while providing peace of mind for you as its owner.
Stay wild, stay safe... We'll see you outdoors!
Albert & Mia