Taking a Hike… with Your Cat? It’s Possible, But Be Sure to Follow These Tips

You’re enjoying the scenery on a wooded trail: the tall trees, a stream peeking through the pines, possibly a deer enjoying some lunch off in the distance. What makes it all the more enjoyable, though, is your 12-pound hiking companion: your cat. What? It’s totally possible. Haven’t you seen all the adventure cats? Or checked out the Hiking with Cats Instagram page? While many cats are not on board with such activities, some may enjoy it. If yours seems like she might, there are some important things to keep in mind before hitting the trails.

Get Your Cat Used to Her Leash and Harness

Cat sitting outside in leash and harness

In order to venture out safely, kitty will need to be secure, so that means you’ll need to get a leash and harness. If she’s not familiar with these items, be sure to introduce them to her slowly. Let her get a good sniff of them before putting them on, and keep those early sessions short, sweet… and inside. To get her to realize that the harness is supposed to be a good thing, give her plenty of treats when she’s wearing it. Once she seems comfortable, you can take it for a spin in the backyard.

Have the Right Kind of Equipment

Cat on leash and harness hiking

Once you start heading outside, though, even in your backyard, you want to make sure your cat can’t run off. That means you need to choose her leash and harness wisely, and that you’ll need a sturdy backpack for safer keeping once you hit the trails. What should you be looking for?

A harness needs to be small enough that she can’t wriggle out of it, but also breathable and not too tight. A well-fitting, fuller coverage vest-style harness could be just the ticket. It should be accompanied with an appropriate leash, too. It’s important to make sure it doesn’t extend too far, so your cat can be close by, but you don’t want it so short that it pulls on her neck while you walk. A six-foot leash is a happy medium.

In case your cat needs a mid-trail snooze, or her feet are getting a bit tired, a backpack is also a must. It should be large enough that she can comfortably lie down inside, and it may be helpful to have a flap on top. Once you do put her in there, never leave the leash unguarded. Either hold it securely in your hand or clip it to the backpack. Be sure you get your cat used to the pack before heading out, too.

There is also the chance for misadventure, so invest in items that will help you find your cat if she gets loose. A collar with ID is a must, and a GPS tracker may be a good idea.

With any hiking excursion, snacks should be on the menu! Be sure to pack a few treats, maybe a can of wet food, and plenty of water for both of you. A collapsible bowl is an important addition to the checklist, too, as are poop bags.

Make Sure She’s Up to Date on Her Shots

Cat getting her shots

Any time pets go outside, there’s the risk for disease, and pests could be encountered, too. Keep that in mind before you head out, and be sure your cat is up to date on all her vaccinations. Her flea, tick, and heartworm treatments should be current, too. And like any other outdoor adventure, you should do a tick check when your day on the trails wraps.

Be Mindful of Dangers on the Trail

Alert cat in leash and harness held by her human

Apart from pests and exposure to some diseases, there are other potential dangers to your little friend in the great outdoors. Those include predators and dogs. Be watchful for them, and should you see any, it’s a good time to scoop kitty up into her backpack. Much like human hikers, kitty adventurers are also at risk of health issues stemming from heat, and bad weather can present a danger, too. Be sure to check the forecast before heading out, and skip it if there’s anything too extreme. Another important thing to bear in mind? Know what poison ivy looks like and make sure kitty steers clear of it.

Be Prepared for Your Cat to Go Boneless

Closeup of cat in harness on leash

While we may have the stamina to just keep heading down the trail, your cat may tire of it before you do. She may stop walking, sit or lie down, or make it clear that she’d happier to be in your arms or in the pack. Be ready to carry her both ways at a moment’s notice, and keep an ever watchful eye on her mood and movements. If she’s still agitated or not enjoying herself once she’s no longer walking, it’s a good sign it’s time to bring the excursion to an end.

Gradually Build Up and Only Do What Your Cat Can Handle

Man taking selfie on hike with his cat

When you’ve determined that your cat is comfortable enough with a stroll, you’ll want to hit up calm, short trails without too much activity at first, preferably close to your neighborhood. If she enjoys that, try for something a bit longer and further out. She’ll give you signs about how she’s feeling. You just need to pay attention. Once you’re out, don’t put her on a timetable, either. Let her enjoy the outdoors at her own pace and in her own way. That may involve stopping regularly for her to investigate. It’s okay. It’ll help you see nature from a feline’s perspective.

And Then You’ll Attend Your Cat’s Park Ranger Ceremony

Okay, maybe not, although why doesn’t the National Park Service have more feline rangers? We should investigate. While she may not get a fun NPS job, you two can still do plenty of park exploration together.

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