African servals, exotic cats as pets

Serval Equipment and Resources
Harnesses and Collars
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Your serval will need to be restrained whenever you take him out of your house, requiring you to have an escape-proof harness setup.

The brand I use (and the one you see in the pictures) is Premier Pet Products Sure-Fit Harness.

You can get a leash with snaps on both ends (they are make for police and assistance dogs) and hook one snap to the collar, then one snap to the harness. This means that if you lose one snap, the other will still be connected.

Servals have a narrow neck and a broad skull, so snugly fitted collars are difficult for them to slip, but felines are more easily injured when struggling against a collar. The collar should be considered a backup measure only.

Serval Harnesses, Collars, and Leashes 101

Your serval will need to be restrained whenever you take him out of your house, requiring you to have an escape-proof harness setup. Servals have a lean body and a keen mind, making them talented escape artists. Many of them are perfectly capable of slipping out of even the best harness. This means you need a snug, well-fitted harness, but also an escape-proof collar in case the harness ďcomes off.Ē A second consideration when out in public is the possibility of someone either accidentally or deliberately unsnapping the leash. Children and misguided animal rights activists do odd things sometimes! Plain old equipment failure is a possibility too.

Serval restraint item number one; the harness. Harnesses come in three main types: the figure-8, the H-style, and an unnamed style Iíll just call ďthe best kind.Ē

Figure-8 harnesses consist of one long strap that loops around the neck, crosses through a little tab, then loops around the chest and buckles. These come off very easily, which means you donít want to use one!

H-style harnesses have one loop that goes around the neck and a separate loop that goes around the chest. A strap a few inches long that runs along (on top of) the catís shoulders/back connects these two loops. These are better than the figure-8 harnesses, but not ideal.
Sirocco wearing a Sure-Fit harness and a Premier collar, with the collar secured to the harness by a metal fitting.

The best kinds are designed like the H-style harness, but they have an additional strap running from the neck strap to the chest strap between the front legs. And of course the harness you select should be fully adjustable not only to allow for growth but so that you can adjust it to fit the servalís unique body type.

The brand I use (and the one you see in the photos) is Premier Pet Products Sure-Fit Harness, which adjusts in 5 different places. Lupine also makes a similar product.

Collars Luckily, servals have a narrow neck and a broad skull, so snugly fitted collars are difficult for them to slip. You need a closely fitted adjustable buckle collar. However, you do not want to rely on a collar alone because felines have much more delicate necks than dogs and are more easily injured when struggling against a collar. The collar should be considered a backup measure only.

Sirocco models a collar and harness hooked together with an independent connection. This was taken just outside my home; had we been out in public, I would have used a leash with a lock-jaw snap.
Serval restraint item number three; independent connection between collar and harness. If you attach the collar and the harness to each other, you can connect to both with just one leash snap. Even if you are using a leash with snaps at both ends (see below) it is good to have an independent connection in case one snap comes off and serval kitty chooses that exact moment to slip his harness!

Serval restraint item number four; the leash. Remember what I said about people unsnapping the leash? You can use any type of leash you want when playing in your backyard, but beef up your security while doing education work or socializing. Three secure leash ideas are:

  • My first choice; Use a leash with a lock-jaw snap. A lock-jaw snap has a lever you press down to lock the snap in a closed position. It takes enough time and figuring out to get this undone that you will notice someone fumbling with it long before they get it loose. I love these! The only two drawbacks are that they are fairly large (not be appropriate for use on a kittenís leash), and if you forget to put it in the locked position, this is a quick release snap! One pinch and itís off. You can buy high quality leashes with lock-jaw snaps at .
  • Tie the leash securely to the ring on the harness, then hook the snap to the collar; that way if the snap comes off the leash is still firmly tied to the cat. If you have the harness and the collar independently hooked together, you will still have him on a harness and collar even if the snap comes off. This method requires a flexible nylon leash.
  • Get a leash with snaps on both ends (made for police and assistance dogs). Hook one snap to the collar, and the other snap to the harness. If you lose one snap, the other will still be connected. If you have the harness and the collar independently hooked together, you will still have your cat on both a harness and collar if one snap comes off. Bridgeport Equipment sells three variations of this type of leash. Their Multi-Purpose Leash would be the best for a serval because it is narrower than the other two, which are designed to restrain police dogs!

    Should you leave a collar on your serval at all times?

    This is a question without an easy answer. The advantage of leaving a collar with ID and Rabies tags on all the time is that should your serval escape, he will be wearing ID and the collar will clearly identify him as a pet.

    The disadvantage of leaving a collar on is that if your cat gets his collar caught on something, he can easily choke to death. To prevent this, some owners use breakaway collars designed to come off under pressure. If you decide to go with this option, bear in mind that your cat's life depends on the breakaway function working properly.

    Serval owner and breeder Sara Comstock does not allow any of her servals to wear harnesses or collars at home or in their cages. Each of Sara's servals is microchipped, as well as each kitten she sells. When she takes them off site, her cats wear collars with rabies tags. Each collar is color coded for a specific serval. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Deborah-Ann Milette of Telling Felids keeps break-away collars with tags on her 3 servals and her caracal at all times. Her cats are microchipped as well. She feels that collars are a must to prevent hunters from shooting the cat should it get loose, and to provide immediate evidence of rabies vaccination in the unlikely event of the cat escaping and biting someone.

    Sandi Cossette of Cossette's Exotics presents a compelling argument against leaving even harnesses on an unattended feline. Some friends of hers had a bobcat kitten that they would take out on a harness and leash. They let him run around the house with the harness on after they returned. All of a sudden they didn't see the kitten. When the investigated, they found him dead. He had strangled himself with the harness. She also knew of a person who had a bobcat kitten strangle himself in Venetian blinds.

    Jill, another serval owner, keeps a break-away collar with a name tag on it that says "REWARD" on her serval. She weighs the possibility of danger against the risk of being caught in a fire or escape situation without identification.

    One break-away collar that will fit servals is the Chinook Collar which is designed for dogs. Whether or not you opt to keep a collar on your serval, I strongly suggest you microchip him as a means of permanent identification.

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© Jessi Clark-White, 2004
Serval harnesses, collars, and leashes, exotic cat equipment