Camping with your cat is almost completely uncharted territory. Go to any primitive campground and you’ll see dogs, the occasional horse, maybe even a pet pig (that’s a story for another time) — but rarely, if ever, will you see a cat. I and a few other brave souls have tested the waters, taking our feline companions out to experience the wild and commune with nature. And I’m going to pass some of that hard-earned wisdom along to you.
I will say first and foremost that not every cat is suited to camping. The prospect of the great outdoors is alluring to most cats, but in the interests of safety, it’s not a good idea to bring a cat who is easily distracted or will run off given the first chance. If you don’t have a strong bond with your cat, maybe it’s better to leave her at home.
For example, my cat Pi is the perfect candidate for a camping trip. He’s curious about the outdoors, but has excellent vocal recall. Whenever he’s accidentally gotten out of the house, he comes right to me when called — even ignoring birds, bunnies and snakes in the process. My cat Gracie, on the other hand, will run until she has nothing left. It’s not that we don’t have a strong bond, but her will to escape and experience the outdoors is stronger than that bond.
If your cat isn’t used to wearing and walking on a harness – preferably a secure H-style or Roman harness – you need to get him acquainted with it before even thinking about taking him on an excursion. Having a harness on your cat allows you some security in knowing that he won’t run off easily. It also means you can stop along your hike to the camp site and allow him to experience the wild.
But when you get to your campsite, what do you do? You’ve got to set up your tent, set up your cook stove (or fire) and do a multitude of housekeeping chores to set up for the night. It is never a good idea to tie a harnessed cat to a solitary post — they can wiggle out of the harness or get bound up in the lead. But a picket line setup solves these problems. Pack a length of clothesline and tie it to two trees. Clear the area beneath the trees and hitch up your cat’s harness and leash to the picket line. This allows her to move freely and explore as you go about your work. Do keep an eye on her, though, to make sure she isn’t getting tangled or her harness isn’t coming lose.
So your camp is set up and it’s time to eat. How much water and food should you pack, exactly? Cats need about 300 calories a day to maintain their weight. That’s about one cup of dry food per day, or three pouches or tins of wet food. Multiply those figures by how many days you plan to spend camping and bring along a few extra treats to compensate for any extra energy expenditure, and you’re good to go. Pack a few extra days, just in case you’re out longer than you plan. It’s always better to have more food on hand and have to bring it home than to run out when you need it the most. As far as water? The more, the better. Your cat should have access to fresh, clean water at all times.
The night is winding down, the fire is dying. You’ve got your tent set up, but your cat’s claws will tear right through the nylon. Where does he sleep? A carrier! It’s time to take the harness off and put your little guy to bed in his carrier for the night. They make soft sided carriers that fold up completely flat, which are perfect for camping. Bring your carrier into the tent with you to maintain safety — if any wild animals lurk about the site at night, brought on by meows or a strange smell of feline, you’ll be right there to ward them off.
And I’ve left the best for last — waste disposal! You can bring along a disposable litter tray and litter liners, which is the easiest solution. When you’re done with your trip, you just bag up the entire thing and take it with you. If not, have some baggies on hand to pick up after your cat (much like you would a dog). Feces contamination of camp sites is no joke — and that goes for your cat as well as you. Leave the area the way you would want to find it: completely free of kitty nuggets.
Have you gone camping with your cat? Are you planning a trip after reading this article? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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About Caitlin Seida: Owned by three cats and two dogs, she never met an animal she didn’t like. A Jill-of-All-Trades, she splits her workday as a writer, humane society advocate and on-call vet tech. What little free time she has goes into pinup modeling, advocating for self-acceptance, knitting and trying to maintain her haunted house (really!).