Cat Collars, Leashes and Harnesses
Watch out dogs—cats are on the move! With more owners taking their felines for walks, retailers have an opportunity to grow their cat harness and leash selection.
Not long ago, the idea of a cat on a leash was comparable to a pig flying. Today, though, it’s increasingly common for cat owners to take their indoor felines on outdoor adventures—all with the help of a leash and harness.
“Cat parents are absolutely getting more adventurous with their kitties,” says Lindsy Argenti, marketing manager at Coastal Pet. “We see an increase in cats traveling and walking. It’s still a small number of owners who use a collar or harness on their cat, but that number has steadily increased year over year, according to APPA data.”
Why are pet parents suddenly interested in taking Fluffy for a walk? Some experts believe that this trend is a response to owners being encouraged to keep their cats indoors full-time.
“Over the past several years, it has become more widely known and accepted that it is best to keep cats indoors—both for their own safety and for the survival of local wildlife,” says Donna Bodell, vice president of Up Country, Inc. “A harness and leash set is a great way to let cats enjoy the outdoors safely.”
Another driver behind this movement is social media. Internet celebrities, like Jackson Galaxy, host of My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet, have shown that taking a feline for a walk is not just for the eccentric.
“Cat owners posting photos of their cats on a leash on both Facebook and Instagram have been driving the cat-walking movement—there are more than 285,000 posts on Instagram that carry the #adventurecat tag!” explains Tobi Kosanke, president of Crazy K Farms.
While this newfound interest in cat harnesses and leashes presents a great sales opportunity, it’s important for retailers to keep in mind that their knowledge of canine travel accessories doesn’t automatically translate to the feline side of the aisle. To find success in this burgeoning category, it’s important to understand the unique needs of cats and their owners.
Fit for a Feline
Cats are notorious for being finicky customers, meaning comfort is crucial when it comes to harnesses. That’s why Hempstead, Texas-based Crazy K Farm created its signature Kitty Holster harness with feline bodies in mind.
“The Kitty Holster cat harnesses are soft harnesses that are both lightweight and highly adjustable,” says Kosanke. “A cat is more likely to accept a lightweight, comfortable harness than one that is heavy or produces pressure points.”
The innovative “clothing-like” design features zero potentially abrasive elements, such as plastic buckles, harsh webbing or thin straps. It is also made with 100 percent cotton rather than traditional nylon for maximum breathability.
Another major factor for cats’ comfort in a harness is the fit.
“Retailers should encourage customers to measure their cats for a proper fit,” advises Kosanke. “An ill-fitting harness can be unsecure and lead to the cat escaping from the harness and the harness being returned.”
The Kitty Holster comes in four different sizes to ensure cat owners can find the right fit for their feline. Kosanke recommends using the finger test; pet parents shouldn’t be able to slip a finger in between the cat and the harness.
It’s not just cats’ comfort that modern manufacturers are addressing. Pet parents, too, should enjoy spending time outdoors with their cat. That’s why Up Country created its line of Comfort Leads.
The Providence, R.I.-based company’s collection of luxury leashes is made with high tensile strength webbing, bass hardware and a padded fleece handle for extra comfort. The solid colors pair perfectly with any of Up Country’s cat harnesses, which come in over 30 different designs. Plus, all of the products are manufactured in the U.S. at the company’s Rhode Island factory.
Like all new and unfamiliar pet products, owners want a guarantee that cat harnesses and leashes will be safe for their furry friends. While owners may be familiar with break-away collars—typically recommended for cats to prevent strangulation—harnesses have different requirements.
“[Cats] should never be walked with a break-away collar. A harness, either figure-eight or H-harness, is perfect for walking with their owner,” says Sandra Alexander, owner of Sandia Pet Products, Inc. in Albuquerque, N.M.
Sandia Pet Products produces both types of harnesses, as well as leashes and collars out of the company’s New Mexico-based facilities.
Owners who prefer to take their cat on an evening stroll should also consider investing in reflective products, advises Sara Schrekenhofer, marketing and advertising manager for Leather Brothers.
The Arkansas-based manufacturer produces high-quality cat travel accessories with reflective elements to help drivers and pedestrians better see cats on nighttime walks.
“Our product line is a great fit for cat owners because we offer everything from cat collars, leashes and harnesses to muzzles and cat scratchers. We offer a one-stop shop for every cat lover,” adds Schrekenhofer.
Strolling in Style
Who says that cats can’t be safe and stylish while walking around the neighborhood? Coastal Pet isn’t.
“Cats are known for distinct personalities and the modern cat owner loves them for it. Collars with flare and on-trend designs speak to them,” says Argenti.
The Alliance, Ohio-based company currently offers harnesses, leashes and collars in a wide variety of colors and patterns for every feline’s taste. For mousers with an inner wild child, for instance, the company’s Figure H harness and leash comes in a tiger stripe pattern. Trendy kitties, on the other hand, may prefer their harness in the tribal-inspired “resolve” pattern.
Even the smallest felines can get in on the fashion action, thanks to Coastal Pet’s “L’il Pals” line of products for kittens less than eight pounds.
“It’s an important line to offer because we’ve found that early use is the key to adoption of good collar, leash and harness habits in cats,” adds Argenti.
Of course, it’s not enough to just put cat harnesses and leashes on the shelves. Consumers have to be educated about why and how they should take their cat on outdoor excursions.
“Customers might think of these items as ‘optional’ for their new pet, when really, they’re just as necessary for a cat as they are a dog, if not more so,” says Argenti. “Retailers should encourage collar use on cats early and position it as a basic need, as they would a dog collar.”
Don’t let dogs hog the harness spotlight. Place feline travel accessories in a prominent store location that showcase the products’ eye-catching colors and fun patterns. Industry experts also advise providing a demo—either in the form of a plush or real cat—to illustrate how the products should be worn.
While it may still seem like a niche category, the forecast says that cat harnesses and leashes are here to stay. That prediction, plus the ever-growing market of young cat owners, makes this category a worthwhile investment for retailers.
“Even in a challenging economic climate, customers will continue to spend money on items that provide safety or quality of life to their pets,” says Kosanke. “Cat harnesses give an indoor cat the opportunity to experience the smells, sights and sounds of the outdoors safely, thereby improving their quality of life.” PB