Many cats enjoy spending time in the great outdoors, either on walks or while enjoying catios and other enclosures. Fresh breezes and blue skies are soothing for even the most cantankerous feline soul, and if you’re an avid hiker, you may be wondering if it’s possible to take your buddy with you. The answer depends entirely on the cat.
Some mellow cats that don’t enjoy exploring strange lands may not enjoy hiking, preferring to stay home and watch birds on TV. More adventurous pets, on the other hand, may be open to the idea. With a few safety precautions and a bit of preparation, it’s possible to head into the woods with adventurous cats. Keep reading for more on hiking with a feline companion.
Evaluate Your Pet
Just like some cats hate being picked up, some cats aren’t interested in being outdoors for terribly long. Your first step is to determine whether hiking is an activity that would appeal to your cat.
Cats that dislike unpredictable situations or become anxious around new people or animals may not make great hiking companions due to the number and variety of novel stimuli the two of you will undoubtedly encounter.
Pets that don’t like being picked up and carried may become cranky if forced to hang out in a backpack. Other cats that enjoy walking on leashes in the city may be fine in rural environments or become scared when they see a rabbit for the first time.
Train Your Cat
It’s generally a good idea to train your cat to walk on a leash and return to you when called before attempting any hiking trips. Cats must be harnessed and leashed at all times when hiking to prevent them from running off and getting lost if startled or scared. Training cats to wear a harness and walk on a leash is often relatively simple. Harnesses are safer for cats than collars; if your cat pulls while wearing one, the weight will be distributed over multiple points instead of their neck.
Give your cat lots of time to get used to wearing the harness, and provide treats and praise when they tolerate the contraption. You can move outside once your cat feels comfortable wearing a harness with a leash attached at home. While some cats keep it moving when walking with human companions, others prefer regular sniff stops.
Cats can wiggle out of harnesses when sufficiently motivated or frightened. So, ensuring your pet will come when called before heading off into the great outdoors with them is critical. Getting cats to respond to their names with a few treats and patience is often reasonably easy. To get started, stand in front of your cat with a treat. Call your cat’s name and give them the treat when they turn their head and look at you.
Keep going until you’re pretty sure your cat has the idea. Move a few steps away and repeat the process. Give your cat the treat when they come to you when called. Keep your training sessions short to maintain your pet’s interest. Cats who’ve mastered these basics are ready to hit the big time, otherwise known as a local park, to practice their skills under more challenging conditions.
Preparing For a Hike
Get Your Pet Vaccinated
Consider reaching out to your veterinarian before heading off for a hike. Make sure all of your cat’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Let your veterinarian know you’re thinking of hiking with your cat so they can make appropriate vaccination recommendations. Remember to ask about flea and tick prevention options; your veterinarian can provide specific guidance relevant to your pet’s age and health. Also, ask them to check your pet’s microchip, and contact the correct microchip registry to ensure your current contact information is on file.
Cats often dislike novel things and situations, but giving your pet time to get used to things can make a huge difference in their level of comfort and cooperation. Give your cat time to adjust to wearing a harness and spend plenty of time “walking” outdoors close to home before heading out for a hike. Not only will it give your cat a chance to learn the ropes, but it’ll also allow you to see how your cat behaves during the outing and gauge how far they can comfortably walk, which you’ll need to know when planning your route and packing list.
Pack carefully, and take extra food, water, and treats for your cat. A cat backpack is essential in case your buddy decides they’d rather not walk anymore. Practice walking around the area where you live with your cat in their backpack until they’re comfortable hanging out. Don’t forget to take a few rounds with a fully packed backpack to ensure you can comfortably carry all your gear and your cat’s weight.
Pack the Essentials
Start with the 10 essentials, according to the National Parks Department, and ensure your cat’s necessities are covered. Pack a feline first aid kit, and consider signing up for an online Red Cross veterinary first aid class if you’re unsure what to do if something happens to your pet. Don’t forget to take enough food and water to keep your cat happy if things don’t go as planned and the two of you stay in the woods overnight.
Bring Your Identification
You should attach an ID tag featuring your pet’s name and contact information to your cat’s harness. ID tags make it easy for concerned bystanders to contact you if your cat escapes and refuses to return; they can just call you instead of taking your cat to a veterinarian or shelter to have their microchip read. Also, adding a tracking device to your pet’s harness makes it possible to find your cat if they bolt.
Do Some Research
While several state, national, and local parks welcome pets, many have restrictions on the areas in which four-footers are allowed to roam and explore. Most US National Parks don’t allow pets in many true backcountry or wilderness areas. State parks and USDA-run National Forests are often pet friendly, but check the details before heading out to ensure you’re familiar with any rules or restrictions. Ensure you’re familiar with the Leave No Trace principles and how they apply to your cat while hiking.
Be willing to delay if the weather conditions are less than ideal. A rainy day might not be the best choice for an inaugural feline-human hike. And while you may be perfectly happy hiking on hot, humid days, cats may not be as comfortable. Both you and your cat will likely have a more enjoyable experience on a nice, sunny, temperate day.
It’s possible to hike with a cat, provided they’re interested and have learned a few basics, such as how to wear a harness and walk on a leash. Some cats aren’t cut out for outdoor adventures and prefer familiar environments like the bedroom.
If you decide to hike with your cat, don’t forget to include your feline companion in your safety planning; bring enough food, water, and treats to keep your feline happy for at least 24 hours longer than you plan to be on the trails.
Featured Image Credit: Amerigo_images, Shutterstock