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Why Does My Cat Walk Backwards With A Harness On?

If your cat is walking backwards with its harness on, you may be wondering why this bizarre behaviour is happening…

Why does my cat walk backwards with a harness on?

When you put a harness on your cat for the first time, you may notice that they push themselves down and forward, often with a little angry wagging of the tail, or that they start backing away slowly. This behavior is actually quite normal, as your cat is not yet used to the harness.

So, now you know. But, do some cats feel threatened by these harnesses? How do I prevent my cat from going backwards? Do some cats like harnesses? Keep reading for these answers, and much more…

Do some cats feel threatened by a harness?

A cat with a harness.

A cat with a harness.

The reason that your cat is disoriented like this is actually instinctual. Until your cat is used to the harness, it feels like they have been grabbed from behind. This leads cats to walk backward, freeze up, or sometimes they go lax and fall down in an attempt to throw off a perceived predator attack.

Don’t worry, they’ll get used to it with patience and lots of treats! Keep the harness on and let your cat wear it for another 5 to 10 minutes before you take it off and give your cat a treat.

What is a cat harness?

A cat harness is simply a bit of fabric that is sewn in such a way that is secures around both the neck and the torso of your cat and behind its front legs. A loop or metal ring is present on the harness on the top of your cat’s back which you may attach a leash to.

This allows for walking your cat without the risk of harming its neck, as you would with a simple collar.  

How do I prevent my cat from walking backwards with its harness on?

It’s going to take a lot of reassurance and treats before your cat gets used to the harness and stops walking backward. You can try distracting your cat with bits of string, petting, and treats just to reassure them that they are okay and that some predator hasn’t grabbed them from behind and latched on.

It takes time, however, as this behavior comes from a powerful survival instinct. Over time your cat will start to associate the harness with getting to walk together outside and after this, they should feel less disoriented from the presence of the harness.

Do cats like harnesses?

That depends on the cat. You’ll need to keep in mind that some cats may never really like a harness and if you’ve tried to get them used to it for a couple of weeks and your cat still doesn’t like it, then you may have to take that idea off of the table to avoid stressing-out your cat.

That said, many cats LOVE their harnesses, and once they see that it means they can take ‘field trips’ outside with you then they’ll let you slip that harness on with little or no resistance once they’ve gotten used to wearing it.

Is a cat harness needed with a lead?

An orange cat with a leash.

An orange cat with a leash.

Yes. Cats like to run, pounce, and play, and without a harness and a nice, long lead, a walk outside would be very dangerous for your cat. A lead that is simply attached to a collar runs the risk of hurting your cat’s neck, should they spot something interesting in the grass and decide to run towards it.

With a harness, this won’t harm them, because instead of pulling on the cat’s neck, the lead will be pulling at a secure loop on the cat’s back. This means that your cat can run the length of the lead and then be safely stopped, without giving your furry feline a case of ‘whiplash’.

What are the benefits of a cat harness?

Provided that your cat learns to like the harness, there are a few definitely benefits that will come with having one. First off, your indoor cat can get a taste of nature safely! One of the biggest problems, when an indoor cat goes outside, is their tendency to dart away and hide when they are scared of something.

The lead will keep them safely close and with a bit of exposure to the outside, your cat will feel more safe and secure because you are there to keep them out of dangerous trouble.

A harness also has the benefit of being a safer option than a lead that has simply been clipped to a collar. If your cat gets frightened and tries to run from something they’ve seen, the pull-pressure will be situated at their back, rather than their fragile necks.   

How can I help my cat get used to its cat harness?

When you are starting off, you will need to initiate a protocol of ‘no harness, no treats’ to help to speed along the process of getting your cat used to the harness. Start off by showing the harness to your cat and letting them sniff it before attempting to put it on.

When you put the harness onto your cat, let them wear it for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and do not attach the lead yet. Give your cat a treat immediately after you put the harness on and after you take it off.

When your cat has become less averse to the idea of the harness, you can try attaching the lead and let your cat pull it around for a few minutes. Give them a treat and repeat the process again later that day. Once your cat is comfortable with this, then you are ready to start leash-training your cat.

How do I know if my cat’s harness is too small?

 When you are fitting your cat for a harness, the easiest way to ensure that you’ve got the right size if the ‘two finger’ rule. Simply hold two fingers together and place them in-between your cat’s harness and their body. If the fingers fit, then it’s not too tight.

There are also some elastic-type harnesses out there that will fit tightly but not constrict your cat. Just make sure that if you go with one of these options that the design is hardy, to avoid any accidental tearing that could lead to your cat running and putting themselves in harm’s way!

How long does it take for a cat to get used to a harness?

This is going to depend a lot on your cat, but generally, you can expect this process to take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Some cats take to their harnesses quite quickly, especially if introduced to them at a very young age, but other cats are quite set in their ways and may be resistant to the idea for a long time.

Just be patient and reward your cat often with attention and treats and see what happens. You may find that once they’ve gone on a walk or two with the harness that their attitude about this ‘weird new thing’ you’ve put on them may change dramatically.

Is it too late to leash train my cat?

Nope! It’s never too late to introduce your cat to the joys of walking with a leash. While it is definitely better to start early, older cats can adjust to the harness and lead, it’s just likely to take a bit more time for them to adjust. This is normal, as older cats are going to be more set in their ways.

The key to getting them used to the harness is going to be consistent, patient training along with a little love and a lot of treats!

Lindsey Browlingdon