Lets talk about escape proof harnesses and walking jackets.
You have done all of your research and purchased a so-called “escape-proof” harness or walking jacket. Only to find in a fight-or-flight situation that your cat has escaped. You are just left standing there in shock with the lead and jacket in your hand. Not only has your cat gone, but what is also gone is your confidence and pleasure of walking your beloved pet.
Cats have amazing bodies and to watch them squeeze out of most situations is mind-boggling. Cats’ shoulder blades are attached to the rest of the body only by muscles and not bone, unlike the human body. Their collarbones are much smaller in comparison with the rest of the body as well. These anatomical features help cats squeeze through tight openings, aiding them in hunting small prey, and also helping them hide and escape from predators. It is no wonder they can escape poorly fitted harnesses or even well fitted harnesses.
I love reading my customer’s feedback and have had many customers telling those who are looking for an escape-proof harness to come to us. Stating they have used every harness on the market and their cat gets out of all of them. But do not get to confident, you can have the most secure house or car on the market, but if you leave a window or a door open, then it does not matter how secure your home or car is.
There are a few critical factors in having a secured harness or walking jacket, miss, any of them, and you may have your cat complete a full escape.
Having the correct mindset.
Fit the jacket correctly, as instructed by the designer.
Have a grab handle.
Never leave your cat unattended.
Do not walk in front of your cat.
Know your walking environment.
Have a backup.
Know your cat’s behaviours.
Preempt a threat or change.
Have a backup wristband.
Do not buy harnesses or walking jackets that were originally designed for dogs.
Do not buy over the head harnesses.
Have a cat collar on as a back up, with a tracker.
The purchase of a walking jacket marketed as "escape-proof" can set a person up with too much confidence in the product alone. In order to keep your cat safe, you will use these principles or some of them if you have the correct mindset that a cat can escape from just about anything.
Another false perception is becoming too confident in your well-behaved cat, believing they will never try to escape. Even a well-behaved cat can start to show sudden changes in behaviour or experience a fight-or-flight situation under the right circumstances.
Our walking jackets must be very snug around the neck. If you can pull the neck over your cat’s head, it is too loose. The neck opening must be smaller than the angle of the smallest positioning of your cat’s head. Test this before leaving your home, and let your cat try to escape inside the home. Or try to gently pull the jacket’s neck over your cat’s head.
Having something to grab onto helps you take control of a situation quickly. Always have a grab handle somewhere on your walking jacket or harness.
Always watch your cat and never leave your cat unattended in a walking jacket or harness.
Do not walk in front, ahead of your cat, let them take the lead. If you walk in front, the angle of the lead will be in the wrong position. You need to be behind your cat.
Know your environment well, and note the best times of day when you will have less to deal with. Many dog owners walk their dogs after work or first thing in the morning.
Avoid areas with heavy machinery being used, as this can startle or frighten your cat.
Take a backpack with you or a pet pram as back up, a safe place for your cat to hide. Get them used to this being a safe area in the home. That way they will know heading there will keep them out of harm’s way. It is nice to have a light blanket in the backpack or pram so they can hide under it.
Knowing your cat’s behaviour can have you in the best position to foil an escape attempt. If your cat seems to turn and reverse, immediately release the tension in the lead. They will fall/roll back and soon correct themselves once they know that is not helping them. The natural thing to do is pull the lead towards you, this is the worst thing you can do, as you are now aiding them in their escape.
While out walking, keep a lookout for trouble and avoid it long before something happens. See an owner with a big dog turn up, then walk in the opposite direction. It’s just not worth the risk. See a big bus driving towards you. Make sure your cat is secured in its backpack or pram before it reaches you and frightens or startles your cat.
Have protection. If a vicious off-leash dog approaches, be prepared to defend yourself and your cat. I always take my “Doggie Don’t Device” while out walking.
You can increase your security by wearing a wristband. If you drop your lead, the wristband holds the lead to your wrist, giving you time to grab your lead again. My granddaughter is always dropping the lead. I will not let her walk our cats without a wristband.
Do not buy over the head harnesses. These can not be tightened around the neck in most cases. If your able to put a harness on over the head, it will easily come off the same way in a fight or flight situation.
It is best not to buy harnesses or walking jackets that were originally designed for dogs. Often these are identifiable by the front neckline being lower on the upper chest area of a cat. This is a recipe for disaster. See the example image below. Notice the position and how large the opening of the neck area is because of this incorrect positioning.
Remembering the neck is the first point of escape. This needs to be higher around the narrowest part of the cat’s neck and snug.
In order to have a snug fit around the neck. It is very important that there is no Velcro or any buckles at the very front of the neck area. This may cause discomfort, injury and limit downward neck movement. Cats’ necks are very delicate, especially the front area.
Have a thin cat collar on with your cats ID and your phone number, just in case they do break free from their harness or walking jacket. Strongly consider attaching a tracker to this collar.
I hope these tips have helped and will build your confidence when out and about on adventures.