This blog dedicates itself to helping people travel and get outdoors, but did you know that your cat could come with you? You might have seen videos or pictures on the internet of cats climbing mountains and camping with their owners. If you are like me, it was a little over a year ago, you might assume that those cats must be different somehow, that your cat could never be as adventurous as that. However, walking cats is a growing trend, and I am going to give you some tips on how you can train your cat to go hiking with you.
Combining some hiking with a road trip? Check out How to Survive a Road Trip with Pets.
How to Take Your Cat Hiking
1. Know your cat
Before ever buying a harness or cat backpack, ask yourself: “Would my cat actually enjoy walking outside?” Some cats are perfectly content to observe the world from their window, and have no desire to go outside. On the other hand, if your cat lacks confidence, there are steps you can take to help them gain their confidence. When I first adopted Riley, she was the definition of a wallflower. She was very timid and would disappear anytime anything from new people to thunderstorms disrupted her world. Through positive reinforcement and lots of encouragement, she has come out of her shell.
Another aspect of understanding your cat is observing what they respond to. Does your cat respond better to food or pets? At first, I thought Riley was more food motivated, but when I tried to train her with treats, she completely ignored the treats in my hand and did what she wanted to do. I learned that if I wiggled my fingers (my signal to her that she will get scratches), she would immediately approach my hand, which I rewarded by scratching her chin. Now, this is a signal I use when she gets distracted on a walk and I need her to refocus and head my way.
2. Start small
You will want to go slowly and progress through training only as quickly as your cat is comfortable. It might take up to a couple weeks to ever take your cat outside, depending on how quickly they adjust to the harness. The first step is to get your cat accustomed to the harness. Put it on them for short periods of time and reward them every time they wear it. Next, train your cat to follow your lead. I use a hand signal and petting, but your cat may prefer treats.
You should never ever drag your cat on a leash. If they refuse to follow you, consider why. Is there something intimidating in your direction? For example, I learned that Riley is intimidated by wide open spaces and sounds of water. We have now reached a point, where she follows me with a little encouragement in these more daunting situations, but when we first started, I would not take her to go where she sensed threats.
Once your cat follows you on the leash inside, it is time to practice outside. Again, you’ll want to start with short sessions and gradually increase over time. Make sure your practice location has minimal foot traffic and is calm enough so as to not overwhelm your cat. If you cannot avoid foot traffic, try taking your cat outside at times when people and dogs are less likely to be out and about. I have found that mornings on weekdays work best. They should associate the harness and walking with good experiences. So if they show signs of distress, it is time to end the training session.
3. Keep safety in mind
There are several safety tips to keep in mind when hiking with your cat. First, make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations as well as having heartworm and flea prevention. Cats are exposed to more potential health threats when they venture outdoors. So you will want to talk to your veterinarian about additional vaccines they recommend for cats that go outdoors. For example, my vet recommended Riley get a vaccine for feline leukemia, a vaccine that she did not need as an indoor cat, but which she needs now that she goes outside.
Next, make sure you have the proper gear for your cat. Just like people need gear to hike, so do cats. Cats should be walked on a harness, not a collar. They are much less likely to escape a harness. I recommend the Puppia harness, which is made for dogs but is used with success by me, as well as other cat owners. Order through our link and we’ll earn a small commission (helps support the blog), and it won’t cost you anything extra!
You’ll also want to consider getting a backpack for your cat to ride in once you venture further than your backyard. Cats get tired more quickly than we do, and might need a break. The backpack also works as a safe space when they are feeling overwhelmed or when dogs approach. There are different kinds of backpacks that you can get. You’ll want one that works for you. Riley’s backpack reminds me of a spaceship and has a bubble she can look out of.
Dogs are something that you will want to pay special attention to. While your cat might be comfortable around dogs, you cannot control other people’s pets. I put Riley in the backpack when I hear people or dogs approaching, just in case, but some people have trained their cats to jump on their shoulders.
Also keep an eye out for other wildlife. While it may be tempting to let your kitty investigate hollow trees or under rocks, critters like snakes can hide there. Finally, if you are outside long enough to need water and a snack, know your kitty will need that, too. Plan ahead, and don’t let your cat eat unknown plants, as they may be toxic.
Riley is still learning, but she becomes more confident with every adventure we go on! I hope, with these tips, your cat can become a confident adventurer too. If you want to follow Riley’s adventures, follow her on Instagram @rileybowbiley.
Would you ever take your cat on adventures with you? What was your favorite tip? Let us know below!
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