Why Does My Cat Fall Over When I Put a Harness on Him?

Not many cat owners put a harness on the cat but when they do they may discover that their cat’s behaviour changes quite radically. Their cat may become passive. He may rollover, lie down or crawl along the ground. The overriding reaction is one of passivity. Your cat becomes stationary and does not want to move, almost as if he is temporarily paralysed.

Good and bad cat harnesses
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Good and bad cat harnesses

The answer must lie in the “kitten response”. To a cat, a harness appears to replicate being held in the mouth of their mother when being carried from one nest to another. We all know that when this happens the kitten becomes passive which assists the mother in transporting her kittens to safety.

What will happen is that if you are patient your cat is likely to gradually begin to behave normally. You will be able to walk with your cat in a harness within several minutes in my opinion. I can’t guarantee that this will happen but it is likely to happen. Also the next time you put the harness on your cat’s reaction will be less dramatic and he’ll eventually get used to it.

What may be happening is that part of the harness is applying pressure to the back of the cat’s neck. What I mean is that the harness may be applying pressure to the exact same point where a mother would grab hold of a kitten in her mouth, namely the scruff of the neck. This then gives a sensation to the cat of being held in the mouth of their mother.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Therefore, if this theory is correct, it may be wise to buy a harness which does not make contact with the neck if such a harness is available.

There is a rather unpleasant short video on this website of a kitten being “deactivated” by placing a clothes peg onto the back of his neck. This is exactly the same process, in my opinion, as placing a harness onto a cat although the harness is less effective which is why the cat will eventually start behaving normally.

There is also a page on this website about a coat that you can put onto a cat which calms him or her. It is called a “Thundershirt”. Once again I believe that the same principle is being applied.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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6 Responses

  1. Sarah Hartwell says:

    The Thundershirt was designed for dogs. Most dogs like to be held when they are scared of something. Cats prefer to hide when afraid. Marketing a Thundershirt for cats shows ignorance of feline behaviour – the company make money by trading on people who think cats behave like dogs. I despair.

  2. Eva DR Force says:

    This behavior has always struck my funny bone -L.O.L.-
    Cat refuses to walk with a harness and maybe feels too vulnerable & restricted. Pet parrots and other small animals will do this too. There are exceptions-such as a large dog who will turn into a rock glued to the floor if he hates baths* same idea only different animals and preferences, chains-ropes-leashes etc… even invisible lasso’s !!

  3. Debra says:

    I call it being submissive.
    Yes the harness does calm the cat and in some cases makes a difficult cat more tolerable so to speak when need arises to handle cat outside of it’s normal environment.
    Harnesses are sometimes necessary to avoid potential issues for those who choose to take cats outdoors safely but the harnesses must be a good sturdy one not the cheap ‘too’easy release snap types.

  4. Of my 12 cat’s 4 of them wear halters and the trick to getting them used to it is to put the halter on the cat and just leave the cat alone,witin a couple of days they will be used to it but under no circumstance do NOT force ye cat to walk with a lead because then it will defeat the purpose and it does work just leaving the halter on,I promise.

  5. Susan Gort says:

    We used to trvel with our cats, dogs and kide. We had o pickup with camper and a travel trailer. Cats and dogs wore harnesses and were trained to walk on the leash. We only had one cat who absolutely did not like to travel, but she did very well when we got started. We met many families who wanted to know haw we could travel with such a large group. Our pets did better than out kids a lot of the time. The Clowder and The Pack were gradually introduced to harness and leash and accepted that they had crazy folk for parents. We also carried everyone’s vaccination records, doctor’s letters of health (for four and two-legged). My own parents, who were NOT animal lovers asked how we could do it. My response was that I would take the animals anytime and anywhere and leave the husband and kids at home.

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