5 Must-Know Tips for Safely Hiking With Your Cat
If you thought dogs are the only ones who like to hike, you may want to think again. While not all cats are born for adventure, hiking with your feline can be a great way to provide her with essential mental and physical exercise. If adventure is what makes your cat purr, it's important to keep her safe when you're out exploring the world together. Keep reading, because we've got all of the tips and tricks for safely hiking with your cat—straight from an adventure cat mum and top experts in the field!
Can Cats Go Hiking?
While every cat can go hiking, not every cat should go hiking says Julie Posluns, who's an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB) and founder of Cat School. "Only the most confident cats—the extroverts of the cat world—should go on hikes and other adventures far from their home base," Posluns says. Hiking provides your cat with important mental and physical exercise, but if she is easily spooked, anxious, or stressed, it might be best to consider other ways to safely enrich her life, such as an enclosed outdoor space like a catio.
While hiking with a cat is becoming less silly and more popular, it's important to remember that it's not as simple as throwing on a harness and leash. Adventure cat parents spend countless hours training their feline friends before a toe bean ever meets the trail. If at any point your adventurous feline doesn't feel so adventurous, it's best to let her take a rest in her cat hiking backpack or the comfort of home.
"It's essential to ask if your cat will benefit from hikes," Posluns says. "The best way to answer this question is to start with backyard outings and learn to be an expert at reading your cat's body language."
5 Tips for Safely Hiking With Your Cat
Keep these tips in mind to ensure your cat is happy, safe, and engaged throughout your adventure so they will want to keep exploring again and again.
1. Start indoors.
A life of adventure begins inside the safety of your own home. Start training your cat to walk on a leash and harness by gradually introducing your kitty to her harness, then putting it on, and eventually attaching the leash. Only after she receives necessary vaccines and is trained on a lead should you introduce your adventure buddy to the great outdoors.
Speaking of immunizations, Leanne Lilly DVM, DACVB, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Behavioral Medicine at Ohio State University recommends flea, tick, and heartworm prevention year-round as well as up to date rabies, feline distemper (FVRCP), and feline leukemia (FeLV) vaccines before your kitty steps a paw outdoors.
2. Take it slow.
As Posluns suggests, it's best for your kitty to first feel the wind in her whiskers in the safety of your own backyard, patio, or other safe space close to home. When you're ready to hit the trails, Lilly recommends starting with a brief walk and working up to longer adventures.
3. Safety first.
A well-dressed adventure kitty should always sport a well-fitting harness, leash, collar, ID tag, and a tracking device. You'll want to take into account any cold or hot weather gear that's needed, as well. And if your contact information has changed recently, make sure your cat's microchip is up-to-date.
4. Have a recall plan.
You can never be too prepared when it comes to taking your animal out into the great outdoors. Hiking safely with your cat should also include a plan if things don't go quite as planned. If your cat slips from her harness, Lilly recommends relying on positive enforcement training to make sure your cat doesn't bolt off and not return. "Teach your cats a recall cue and make it reliable so that if you say 'here' or make a trill or some other signal your cat comes dashing back to you—and better yet into your arms to be lifted," Lilly says.
5. Choose a cat-friendly hike.
Lilly recommends considering your cat's personality when choosing the best hike for her. "A wide-open lounger may feel safe on a hike through the plains with minimal coverage overhead. An 'under-the-coffee-table-cat' may prefer hiking in areas with more tree coverage," Lilly says. When it comes to dogs, it's always recommended to choose a low-traffic trail that enforces leash laws, so a curious canine doesn't spook your kitty from her perch.
Cat Hiking Gear You'll Need to Get Started
Before you head out on your trek, check your packing list to make sure you have all the essentials to care for your kitty throughout the hike.