Lace up your boots, pack up some trail mix and water, and get ready to hit the trail because November 17th is National Take a Hike Day. This annual event is a perfect time to get out and enjoy some fresh air. Whether you travel to a renowned hiking destination or spend the day exploring the wilderness a bit closer to home, there’s no need to leave your furry friends behind. And if you think this type of outing is only suitable for dogs, think again! With proper planning, you can take your feline friend out for a hike, too.
Hiking with cats requires a bit more preparation than taking your dog out for a stroll, but it’s definitely doable. Keep in mind, however, that this activity isn’t suitable for all cats. If you have a skittish feline who isn’t thrilled about new adventures, hiking might not be right for them. If you think your cat would enjoy hitting the trail with you, keep reading to discover some tips from our veterinarians!
Invest in the Right Gear — And Get Your Cat Used to It
Your cat’s safety should be your top priority when planning an outing. To protect your feline friend and keep them close by your side, they will need to wear a harness and leash while in the great outdoors. They also need a collar and identification tag, just in case they get lost.
Look for a harness that is snug enough that your cat can’t slip out of it but not so tight that it restricts movement. Vests and jacket-style harnesses are your best bet when it comes to comfort and safety. Choose a leash that’s long enough that, when held comfortably at your side, it doesn’t pull upward on your cat’s neck. It should be short enough to keep your feline friend close by, though. A regular flat leash is a better choice than a retractable leash.
Your cat’s first experience wearing a leash and collar shouldn’t take place on a trail. It shouldn’t even happen outdoors. Begin getting your cat used to their new gear inside your home, and be patient. At first, they might not particularly enjoy their harness, but many cats get used to them with time. Keep initial training sessions brief, and be sure to give lots of treats. Once accustomed to wearing their harness and leash inside, take your cat out for short walks in your backyard. Proper leash training takes time, but once your cat has mastered walking by your side with a leash and harness, they’ll be ready to accompany you on hiking adventures.
Plan Your Outing
Consider your cat’s personality, age, and leash experience when searching for a trail. If you have a senior kitty or one with certain medical conditions, they might be unable to handle rough terrain or an all-day trek. And you shouldn’t allow a developing kitten to jump too far or walk for several miles as their bodies are more prone to injuries.
The first time you take your cat hiking, a relatively easy and quiet trail is the best option. Even if you have done lots of practicing in the backyard, exploring a new environment can be overwhelming. Always pay close attention to your cat’s cues and avoid forcing them to do more than they can handle.
Check the weather report. Chances are, your cat won’t enjoy hiking on a rainy day. Be mindful of the temperature, too, and your feline friend’s coat type. If you plan to walk with your hairless cat on a bright, sunny day, you might need to apply sunscreen. On especially hot or cold days, your cat is safest at home.
Pack Plenty of Water and Snacks
Staying well-hydrated is the number-one rule of hiking, and it applies to cats, too! Bring lots of water, and familiarize yourself with the signs of dehydration in cats. Remember to pack a collapsible bowl for your kitty. Don’t let your pet drink from potentially contaminated water sources like puddles, streams, or creeks.
Hydration breaks are a good time to fuel up on food. In addition to packing trail mix and high-protein snacks for yourself, be sure to bring some of your feline friend’s favorite treats or even a can of wet cat food.
Be Prepared to Carry Your Cat
You might need to carry your cat at some point during your trek. They might get tired, or you may come upon a potential threat — such as an unleashed dog or an overexcited child. Be ready to pick your cat up and carry them if the need arises.
When you’re getting your cat used to walking on a leash, consider training them to perch on top of your backpack while you walk. This will make carrying them much more manageable. Alternatively, invest in a pack with a compartment for your furry friend.
Leave No Trace
Stay on marked trails to prevent erosion and avoid damaging native plant life. Keep your cat on the path, too, and remember to follow the principles of Leave No Trace. In addition to packing out trash like food wrappers and empty cat food containers, you should never leave your kitty’s waste behind. Carry bags for cleaning up after your cat, or pack a collapsible litter box. It may not be glamorous, but cleaning up after your feline friend is part of being a responsible hiker and pet parent.
Schedule a Vet Visit
Before your hike, we encourage you to bring your cat in for a checkup.
You want to have your veterinarian check the following before taking your cat on a hike:
- Check that your cat is up-to-date on all vaccinations
- Ensure they are on effective parasite prevention protocols as part of preventative medicine
- We also highly recommend microchipping to provide a form of permanent identification that can save your cat’s life if they get lost on the trail (or anywhere else)
Hiking is a fun and exciting way to explore the world with your favorite four-legged family member by your side, and this activity isn’t just for dogs! With careful planning and a cat who shares your love of adventure, hitting the trails can be even more enjoyable than you ever imagined possible. Just remember to give us a call to schedule an appointment for your feline friend before your outing!