Why Cats Flop Over When You Put A Harness On Them

If you’ve ever tried to put a harness or a leash on your cat, you’ve probably been met with unsatisfactory results. Most likely, your cat immediately turned into a useless loaf, flopping limply to the ground. We’re here to report this is completely normal and has a couple of simple explanations.

When you put a harness on a cat, it can trigger a defensive response. This is the same response they might show if a large predator grabs them. They go limp and freeze in hopes the predator will move on. Other times, a cat may flop in protest, as they are not used to the feeling of a harness.

Cats are not the easiest animals to harness. While dogs can take to harnesses and leashes with relative ease, your cat may never be cool with the idea of being restrained. Felines have a lot more opinions about harnesses, and they are primarily negative.

Our own cats really don’t like the feeling of a harness put on them but after a while outside they can often get more or less used to it.

For more on cats and how they may be harnessed, read on.

Why Won’t My Cat Tolerate The Harness?

We can’t be entirely sure, as the cats we’ve asked refuse to give up their secrets, but we do know that it has to do with the nervous system. Cat’s tactile senses are very sensitive, much more than we can begin to fathom. Their whiskers help them balance and feel the world around them. The same goes for their fur.

By putting something strange, uncomfortable, and confined around them, a cat may feel trapped and helpless; thus, we have the flopping. You’ve heard of the fight or flight response, but there is a third response that is less known: freeze.

When a cat is overwhelmed with something like a harness, it will likely freeze. It is an instinctual response, though, and it is unlikely that it is hurting your cat.

Should You Harness Train Your Cat?

It’s ultimately up to your cat to decide. If you’ve known more than a couple of cats, you’ve likely noticed two distinctive differences that can appear. Some cats are always trying to escape the house and get outside, most likely to explore and roll, and eat whatever small animals they can sink their teeth into.

These are the outside cats, and they are good candidates for harness training. Some outside cats end up enjoying going for walks just as much as dogs. Though outside cats are more likely to learn to like their harness, it will take more training than your average dog to get them to behave.

Then there are the inside cats. These are the type of cats that helped to originate the term “scaredy-cat.” Inside cats are fickle creatures that slink into the shadows at anything out of the ordinary. They may show interest in the outside world, but only from behind the safety of windows and screens. They approach an open door with hesitation and worry.

Outside cats are unlikely to take well to harness training. They still may learn to love the leash, though so much effort is more likely to result in bloody scratches inflicted on the owner in a rather embarrassing display.

Forcing a shy kitty to face her fears is less likely to build strength and character and more likely to create new layers of phobias and neuroticism in an already nervous cat. So, don’t push it.

Our cats are primarily indoor cats but love to go outside when the weather is good. They can tolerate a harness if it means that they get to go out.

The Benefits Of Using A Harness On A Cat

If you’ve decided that your kitty is a good candidate for the leash life, we believe that you should train them. Taking your cat outside is one of the best ways that your cat can safely explore the outdoors. It is also an excellent way to keep your cat healthy and happy.

Going outside is mentally and physically stimulating for your cat- and it can be good for you as well. If your cat is prone to destructive behaviors like clawing furniture, missing the litter box, or just being an evil little grouch, a little outdoor adventure can be just what the doctor ordered.

It is common to believe that cats require less stimulation than dogs, as they tend to care for themselves very well. Some cats need more motivation than others, but nearly all felines will benefit from exercise and excitement. Even if that just means playing with toys inside, it can do wonders for a cat’s wellbeing.

Outside Is Less Dangerous With a Leash

Even outside cats, in daily pet life, are typically kept inside; the world can be a dangerous place for a cat. Busy roads can be a death sentence even for even the savviest of felines.

There are also stray dogs, birds of prey, coyotes, and a bevy of other animals that may see your cat as food. Large herbivores like deer can even see them as predators, and they have no qualms with taking the first shot. And let us not forget there are people out there that hate cats and will hurt them.

So if you’ve found that your cat is always looking for a way to get outside and explore, the leash and harness can help to keep them safe while entertaining their drive to see the world.

Your Cat Is Dangerous Without a Leash

In the United States alone, domesticated house cats are estimated to kill between 1.3 to 4 billion birds and between 6.3 to 22.3 billion mammals yearly.That is a significant impact on the environment. Although most of the damage is done by ferals and strays, outside cats allowed to roam definitely have an effect.

So, before you allow Mittens to freely roam about the neighborhood, or the woods behind your house, you may want to consider harnessing her and going for a walk.

If your cat has a habit of “getting some air” before you can even try to put a harness on them, a bell on the collar is a great solution. Its tinkling can make your sneaky cat a lot less stealthy and give even the naivest of birds a heads-up.

Other Options for Outdoor-Curious Cats

Try as you might; some cats will never take to the harness or the leash. Whether they are too shy or too proud, your cat might just refuse to go for a walk with you. But your options aren’t exhausted. If you want your cat to be able to have fun in the great outdoors, there are some solutions that don’t involve a harness:

  • Outdoor Enclosure: This can be something as simple as a chicken wire fence that is too high to jump over. Anything that limits their movements to an area of your choosing. They get to play, but other animals know to stay away.
  • In-Ground Fencing: These allow you to set an invisible boundary in the yard. If your cat comes too near, a special collar will give them an uncomfortable electric buzz. Not enough hurt, just enough to let them know where they are allowed to go.
  • Perches and Window Boxes: These work well, even for indoor cats. Even the shyest of cats love to gaze out the window at the birds and the squirrels. Some window boxes fix directly to the pane so that your cats feel like they’re already outside.
  • Long Leashes: Even if your cat hates the harness, they might go for a long leash outside. These leashes are tied to a stake that screws into the grass or fixes to an immovable structure. That way, your cat can’t get past the length of the leash, but they are still in charge of their exploration while safe in the yard.


Not all cats will take to a harness, but the flopping and freezing you’re likely to see when you do put a harness on them are completely normal; and to be expected. If your cat doesn’t get used to the thing, it says nothing bad about you as an owner.

It’s just that your cat is a bit stubborn and opinionated. Still, we hope one of the other methods we’ve described helps you get your cat some more outdoor time.