Yes, you can totally take your cat hiking, camping or on many other outdoor travels — with a little training and the right gear. The phenomenon of cats getting out in the world has been well-documented by adventurous cat parents everywhere, which may have you itching to take your own cat friend to stretch his legs in the great outdoors. We talked to cat foster parents and hikers Janelle Leeson and Mike Lane for their expert take on what you need to know to join the cat-hiking party.
Your cat’s introduction to the outdoors should be somewhere they already know. “[Our cats] Atlas and Lyra’s first outdoor adventures, following all necessary immunizations, were in the safety of our own backyard,” Leeson told The Dodo. Burning off excess energy, not bugging out when they encounter bugs, learning not to eat grass — all of these are basic skills that your cat should learn somewhere safe before they’re ready for bigger trails. This might also be a good time to start clicker training. Clickers are tools that can teach cats basic instructions with a tiny clicking noise. “This is helpful on the trail for the kitties to learn to hike in the same direction as you, heel and respond to their names,” Leeson said. Cats will have a harder time learning commands than dogs, but starting early and being patient will help them once they’ve graduated to more remote areas.
A harness is the most important part of being able to get your cat outdoors, so make sure you and your cat are familiar with it. If you start training early and in a comfortable setting, most cats will take well to their new gear. “We introduced Lyra and Atlas to the harness by tempting them with Churu treats so they would put their own head through the strap,” Leeson said. One trick for starting really young kittens: Try a guinea pig harness. If your cat never quite gets the hang of it, she might do better with a simple collar.
If none of those options work for your cat, don’t fret. There’s a whole range of other ways to get them out on the trails, like carrier backpacks or even strollers. Sure, you might catch some looks from your fellow hikers, but you’ll be the one with a cat on top of a mountain.
Hiking is strenuous work for cats and humans alike, so take the same precautions with them that you would for yourself. Since dehydration is the number one concern, a collapsible water bowl is a necessary accessory, and a cooling bandana can be a helpful addition on hot days. Leeson and Lane also carry liquid push-up treats to give extra hydration during snack time. Even if your cat is walking on a harness, you’ll probably want to bring along that backpack or carrier, since cats can be prone to exhaustion or overstimulation. And as always, call your vet before going into the wilderness. Vaccinations can sometimes be region-specific, so it never hurts to double-check that your BFF is protected.
Before you call it a successful cat expedition and pack up your campsite, give your pet a thorough once-over. Check your furry companion for ticks (a tick grabber makes them easier to remove) and other unwanted hitchhikers. If they got any scratches or bug bites while scrambling about, you can relieve them with a soothing spray. As with all hiking, the principle of “leave no trace” applies here: A collapsible or even disposable litter box can make your life a lot easier, and the loose litter material is more comfortable for your cat, too.
At the end of the day, not all cats are ready for hiking. But if you’re determined to get them outdoors, there are other ways to do so. If you have the space for an RV or camper, indoor cats can get out on the road while still being comfortable — just be sure to secure your windows and doors. For car camping, even non-adventurous cats will usually do well in a large tent (just don’t leave them behind to go check out a trail). Even just walking around your neighborhood can be a good way for you to experience fresh air together. The important thing, as Leeson said, is to explore, enjoy your pet’s antics and take plenty of pictures to remember the fun.
Written by Stephen Rubino. Stephen is an assistant editor for The Dodo. He’s a huge fan of disposable cameras, calories, and flush draws. You can find him on twitter at @shrubino or telling jokes around NYC.