Skip to main content

How to fit a cat harness so they won’t escape

Everything you need to know before taking your cat outside on a harness

You don't feel comfortable with an indoor-outdoor cat, but you want your cat to experience the enrichment and curiosity that comes from going outside. A good harness can help you balance your cat's well-being with the safety of the birds outside.




30 minutes

What You Need

  • Cloth tape measure

Cats are more wily than dogs. You must take extra care to fit your cat's harness so they can't escape, or you'll be sending out search parties for your cat on your first walk.

Orange cat in harness near water
Natasja Jovic/Getty Images

How to measure your cat

The fit is the most important goal here. The harness must be tight enough to secure your cat but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable or causes the dreaded cat flop the moment you put it on.

You should be able to put two fingers underneath the harness without much trouble. If it takes a lot of work, the harness is too tight. If you can fit three or four fingers side by side with plenty of space, your cat is escaping that harness the moment you go outside. Harnesses have multiple adjustment points to get the fit just right, but it all starts with the right size.

Here’s how to measure your cat correctly.

Step 1: Use a cloth tape measure

This will provide the best results.

Step 2: Measure the girth

Wrap the tape measure around your cat’s chest just behind its front legs to get the girth measurement. Make sure the tape is flat and fairly tight.

Step 3: Measure the neck

Repeat the same measurement technique with your cat’s neck.

Step 4: Find the correct sized harness

Based on those measurements you should be able to find a harness that fits like a glove. If your cat is between sizes, it’s best to size up so you can use the adjustment points for a customized fit.

Black cat in harness with owner
sdominick/Getty Images

Get the right style

Cats are notoriously picky, so you may have to experiment to get the right harness. Much like their food or litter box location, your cat’s preferences may determine the style of harness you purchase, and that’s that.

There are three basic styles of cat harness:

  • H-style harness -- Gets its name because it looks like the letter "H" when spread out. One piece fits behind your cat's front legs and around the chest while the other fits in front of them. They're open and allow movement but can be easy to escape for some cats.

  • Step-in harness -- Allows your cat to step into it and then you slip the front piece over your cat's head. These harnesses are great for senior cats that need help getting into them but are also the easiest to escape from.

  • Vet harness -- Features a padded panel on the chest and sometimes the back, which helps secure the harness and makes it difficult to escape. The drawback is it also covers more of your cat, and some felines may protest wearing one.

Cat wearing a harness in a field of grass

Helping your cat accept the harness

Vest-style harnesses are the best for escape artists, but they may take some getting used to. The best thing to do is start your kitten wearing one so they’re used to it by the time they reach adulthood. If you adopted an adult cat, consistency and patience are key. Follow these steps to help your cat slowly adjust to wearing a harness.

Step 1: Let your cat get used to the harness while it's off

Allow your cat to explore and sniff the harness without pressure to put it on.

Step 2: Offer special treats

Praise your cat and offer treats that are only available when harness training.

Step 3: Put the harness on your cat while in the house

Put the harness on your cat after a few days of allowing your cat to explore it. Give your cat time to wear the harness in your house and continue to offer those premium treats.

Step 4: Take your cat outside with the harness on

When your cat seems more comfortable, go for a short time on the leash in your backyard or patio — wherever you have space. Keep a close eye on your cat for signs of escaping.

Step 5: Repetition is key

Repeat until you’re confident your cat cannot escape, and then your cat is ready to explore outside (and keep those premium treats around just in case).

Cat proudly wearing a tan harness outdoors
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A matter of the right fit

A cat-walking harness can be a secure option for giving your pet valuable outdoor time, but the key is the right fit. You should be able to fit two fingers between the harness and your cat, but if your cat always seems to escape, that’s a different story.

Escape artists may need harnesses that fit more tightly. A vest-style harness removes any space your cat may have to maneuver out, so tighten the harness carefully while indoors to find the right balance.

If you notice your cat chafing or having trouble walking, loosen the adjustments just a bit. Experiment with tightness to balance safety and comfort.

Your cat will thrive with quality time outdoors to explore. Have patience while choosing and fitting a harness, as well as leash training, so that your cat can go from a bored house cat to an excited explorer.

Editors' Recommendations

Can cats have autism? Here’s what to know about unusual behavior in cats
Learn about special needs and autism in cats
Cat with blue eyes staring into the distance

Can cats have autism? This is a question that might have crossed your mind as you try to decipher your cat's behavior patterns. Even though the diagnosis is centered on human behavior, many pet lovers and experts have discovered similarities between special-needs cats and people with autism. Still, cats are typically only labeled as special needs if they have a diagnosed physical or mental disability.

There are several behaviors in cats that are similar to those found in humans on the autism spectrum. These include:

Read more
Lap time, nap time: Why your lap cat chooses to sit on you
Find out the real reasons your cat lies in your lap
Cat sitting in a lap

As a pet parent, nothing is better than when your cat decides to curl up for a nap on your lap. Sometimes it can be slightly irritating when you need to get some work done, attempt to move your fur baby, and they look at you like you've not only offended them, but also the entire domestic cat species. But it's impossible to say no to their adorable noses and whiskers, so you let them stay. Have you ever wondered why so many of our feline family members become lap cats? We'll tell you everything you need to know about why cats love to sit on you.

Reasons your cat loves to sit on you
Wonder why your lap is your cat's favorite place to sleep? Here are some of the most common reasons.
Cats sit on you because they seek connection and attention
Despite their reputation for being aloof, most cats crave attention, especially from their favorite people. Cats get lonely when you’re not around and will beg for attention when you are. One way they do this is by sitting on your lap; it’s hard to ignore them when they’re right on top of you! They also come to you for connection and love. Usually, a cat on the lap gets affection, so your cat may come to you when they want to be petted and feel loved.
Cats get on your lap because you’re warm
Whether it’s by the radiator or in a sunbeam, kitties love napping in warm spots. One of the coziest places in your home happens to be wherever you are because of the heat your body emits. This could be why your cat likes sitting with you. They may choose to sit on your lap because they want to soak up all your body heat. Luckily, it’s not a one-way street; your cat’s body heat and fur can help keep you warm, too. With your lap cat, you’ll both stay nice and cozy.
Cats sit on you because they trust you
Sitting on top of you is a cat's ultimate sign of trust. Cats only sit in the laps of people they really feel safe with. This is especially true if they nap on you. Your cat is essentially saying they trust you to protect them from any predators while they're napping. To build even more trust with your pet, make sure you’re not forcing them to sit on your lap, and you’re giving them the option to walk away when they want. By acknowledging their freedom and leaving your lap open to your kitty, you're encouraging them to trust you even more.
Cats like the way you smell and sound
Your body is like a white-noise machine for cats. They find the noises human beings naturally make, like breathing and heartbeats, to be very soothing. It helps them relax into an easy slumber. Your cat may also be attracted to your unique scent. Smelling you may make your cat feel safer, making it easier for them to fall asleep. This can also explain why your cat always seems to love sleeping on your clothes, bed, and other possessions.

Read more
Video: We’ve seen some weird cat sleeping spots, but this feline’s is the strangest
Ever wondered why cats sleep in strange positions? We have the answer
Cat curled up in a ball while sleeping in grass

Cats sleep in the weirdest positions — this fundamental fact of feline life takes over the internet on a regular basis. We've seen kitties in boxes, baby bouncers, and sinks, but we may have found the new best cat-napping spot. Ever spotted a cat sleeping inside a pot? You're in for a treat with this viral video.

sephera._ posted this hilarious recounting titled "Orange cat behavior," and it went well beyond the hilarity of the usual antics we see from mousers. It opens with an orange kitty sitting in a pot on a counter in the kitchen. But that's just the beginning. We get to see him try out just about every cat sleeping position while staying inside his snug hidey hole. The text says, "When your cat's favorite spot is inside a pot," and takes us through the favored resting contortions, including curled up with his head poking out, squished all the way in, and with head in and butt up. It doesn't look particularly comfy to us, but we don't have this cat's flexibility.

Read more