Hiking is the type of adventure that the whole family can participate in, including your cats and dogs. That’s right; even cats can enjoy a trip out in nature! As fun as hiking with your cat can be, you need to make sure it’s something that your individual cat will enjoy, as some personalities feel anxious when removed from the safe and comfortable environment that they know. If yours is a confident explorer, hiking is a great way to stimulate them mentally while being right by your side. It is also an excellent form of exercise that will keep your feline at a healthy weight.
However, before you can hit the trails with your cat, there are a few things you will need to get and do to ensure that your shared adventure is a happy and safe one.
Before You Start
Before you allow your cat out of your front doors to play in the yard or to start training for your hike, it’s important to make sure that they have identification tags on their collar and are microchipped. Although it can be tough to think about, cats go missing every day. There is always a slight possibility that something could go wrong when you’re out on the trails, and you could end up separated from your furry friend.
If your cat has been microchipped and is wearing updated identification tags, people will know that your cat isn’t a street cat and will feel more confident about approaching them. They’ll see the tags and phone you, and you’ll be reunited quickly. If the tags get lost, they’ll be able to take your cat to the veterinarian to have the microchip scanned in order to reach you. However, if your cat doesn’t have the correct identification, reuniting with them will be a much harder and longer task.
The 8 Tips on How To Hike With Your Cat
1. Begin Leash Training
It’s not a good idea to take your cat hiking without a leash and harness, so if you don’t have that gear just yet, make sure you get it. Walking them with a leash and harness will keep them safe in unfamiliar environments and around other hiking pets. However, not all cats enjoy this gear, so you may need to leash-train them before heading outside.
Kittens adapt best to leash training, but it is possible to train older cats, too; you just need to have a bit of patience. Introduce this new exercise to them by placing the harness over their body and allowing them to walk freely around your home with it on.
Once they’re comfortable with the harness, add the leash and let them walk around freely with that too. Remember, positive reinforcement, such as praise and treats, will encourage your cat to accept the harness and leash better.
2. Go for a Walk
The next step is to allow your cat to walk around outside in your yard with the harness and leash on. This should be an easy transition for outdoor cats, but indoor cats may struggle with all the new stimulation. If your cat is nervous outside, you may need to practice going into your yard with them a few times a day for the next few days until they feel confident. If they’re already confident outside, you can attempt taking them for a walk.
Most cats don’t take to being walked at first, but you can encourage the activity with treats and praise. Although you might be eager to go hiking with them, it’s important to remember that this process isn’t a race, and you need to take each next challenge at their pace. Start with short walks, and as they become more confident on the leash outside, you can start to walk further and further.
3. Get the Right Gear
A leash and harness are a good place to start, but there are a few other essentials you’re going to need, such as a cat backpack, a blanket, and a first aid kit.
A cat’s legs are much shorter than yours, so they will have to work hard to keep up with you. No matter how adventurous your cat is, all cats may need a moment or two to rest. A cat backpack allows you to carry on with your hike without having to carry your cat in your arms. It’s also a safe place to put your cat if the trail is busy with other pets or unpredictable dogs.
An Item of Comfort
A blanket from your cat’s bed is a nice addition to the backpack because the smell is familiar and will bring your cat comfort, especially if they start to get overwhelmed by all the other pets, people, sounds, and smells. It doesn’t have to be a blanket; a familiar toy can do the trick, too, but a blanket will be necessary if the weather is cold.
First Aid Kit
You shouldn’t go hiking without your own first aid kit, so why would it be any different for your cat? You should always be ready for the unexpected when out on the trails because, like you, your cat may stand on a thorn or cut their leg open on something sharp and require antiseptic spray, tweezers, or a bandage.
4. Choose the Right Trail
When starting out, it’s a good idea to ease your cat into hiking instead of taking them on the toughest, longest hike in your area. You’ll need to start off easy and work your way up to more challenging hikes as your cat’s confidence builds, as well as their fitness.
Secondly, start off with quieter trails, without much activity, especially from other cats and dogs. Make sure you research each trail before you arrive because some trails aren’t pet-friendly, and if they say, “no dogs allowed,” that usually applies to cats as well.
It’s also better to choose trails that require pet owners to keep their pets on the leash, as this will keep your cat safe from dogs walking off the leash. Not all dogs are comfortable with cats, and if they’re not trained well, they may go for your cat.
5. Check the Weather
Your cat might be one of the few breeds that actually enjoy water but hiking in the rain isn’t ideal and could make the situation more stressful than it needs to be. However, sometimes the weather can change unexpectedly, so it’s important to pack rain gear just in case.
Knowing what the weather conditions are for the day will help you pack correctly for your cat. If it is a sunny day, your cat may benefit from a cooling mat. If you have a hairless breed or a cat with a light-colored coat, you’ll need to pack sunscreen to reapply to their skin throughout the hike. If it is a chilly day, you may need to bring extra items in your backpack to keep your cat warm.
6. Pack Water and Food
Regardless of whether it is hot or cold, you need to bring plenty of water for you and your cat to stay hydrated. If you intend on refilling your bottle with water from rivers and streams, make sure you bring a water filter, as waterborne diseases can affect you and your cat. Make sure you pack in a bowl to pour the water into so that your cat can rehydrate without difficulty.
If you’re going to be hiking for several hours, don’t forget to pack in snacks for your cat. They will be burning plenty of calories as they hike along with you, even if they spend a good portion of the hike in the cat backpack.
7. Leave No Trace
It’s necessary to take breaks throughout your hike to rest, drink water, and munch on a few snacks with your cat. If your cat has been resting in the cat backpack, they’ll also use these moments of rest to relieve themselves. When they do, be respectful to the natural world and other hikers by picking up your cat’s poop and placing it in your poop bags. Keep these poop bags until you get back home to discard them properly.
Along with your cat’s poop, make sure never to leave behind any other trash, such as wrappers from your snacks.
8. Groom Your Cat
Your adventure partner likely adventured into plants, grass, dirt, and even mud along the trail, which may have left their paws and coat dirty. Within those patches of grass may have been ticks, fleas, and other parasites that jumped onto your cat. Therefore, it is a good idea to bathe your cat when you arrive home from your hike and brush out all the debris from their coat.
After you have cleaned them up, give them more food and water and let them relax in a comfortable spot. Just like you, your cat will be exhausted from the physical exercise and all the stimulation that comes along with it.
If your cat is confident and adventurous, taking them along with you on a hike could be a great experience that will stimulate them physically and mentally. However, it is something you will need to prepare for. Firstly, you’ll need to leash train your cat and get them comfortable walking outside, you’ll need to get the right gear for your cat to ensure their safety should anything unexpected arise, and you’ll need to research the trail you want to hike and the weather for that day.
Be sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, and poop bags so as not to leave any trace behind. When you get home, give your cat a good brush before they curl up for their nap.
Featured Image Credit: Alina Lucia, Shutterstock