Hiking with Cats

Taking your pet along for a trek in the backcountry is very popular, as on almost every trail you’ll see someone hiking with dogs. However, taking a hike with a feline friend is a lot less common, but it’s growing in popularity every day. If you’re a cat owner who’s ever felt left out when you see hikers on the trail with their canine friend, maybe you could try hiking with your cat. Taking a cat out into the backcountry requires a little more effort and preparation than with dogs. Hiking with man’s best friend is easy and simple; hiking with cats provides more of a challenge. 

Hiking can be a very enjoyable activity for felines, once they get used to it. Most housecats need training before their first adventure outdoors, and they might not like it at first. However, once you and your new trekking buddy are used to hiking together, it can be very enjoyable for you both. Hitting the trails is a great exercise for your cat, and helps to stimulate their brains as well. There are plenty of benefits to hiking with cats, and a lot of information owners need to absorb beforehand. Let’s jump in and start learning about everything you need to know, and you’ll be trekking with your kitty in no time. 


Brown cat with a leash on the ground outside.

Hiking with your cat can be a wonderful way to bond together.


Why take a cat hiking?

Outdoor exercise has numerous benefits for your feline friend. Walking outside is a great way to help your cat stay healthy, and reduce boredom as well. Some cats may act out when bored, if they don’t have enough stimulation then it can lead to behavior problems. Taking your cat on regular hikes can relieve these problems and help your feline friend to become much happier. You might assume that your lazy house cat prefers to bask in the sun or sleep on your couch all day, but any feline might enjoy exploring the world and becoming an adventure cat. 

Taking your cat outdoors gives it the freedom to experience a different environment to your home, full of new smells, textures, and sounds. Not every cat is destined to become an adventure cat, but giving your kitty a safe opportunity to see the outside world is a great way to diversify their lives. 

Overweight cats, in particular, can benefit from this exercise for obvious reasons, and going outside can make it easier to get your cat to move around. Hiking can also be beneficial for sick or disabled cats, keeping them mobile and easing the pain. For example, cats with Manx syndrome suffer from back problems and back pain. Manx syndrome can cause shortened tails, and prevent your kitties’ spinal cord, organs, and muscles from properly developing. Long hikes in the wilderness can help ease symptoms and pain of Manx syndrome or other feline conditions, and keep your cat active too. 


Related article: The 4 Best Pet-Friendly Ice Melts.

What to know before hiking with cats

The most important thing to remember when hiking with cats is that it will be very different from the canine equivalent. Some cats love exploring new areas and taking long treks, others may be more comfortable staying at home. Certain adventure cats prefer to explore for a mile or two before calling it a day, meanwhile other kitties enjoy spending days exploring with a hiker. 

Every cat is different on the hiking trails, so make sure you pay attention and know your kitty well. Some cats will be comfortable with hiking, climbing, swimming, and more, while others need to take it easy and start slow. Unlike dogs, cats much more training and preparation before hitting the trails for the first time, so make sure you’re prepared before your first trek. 


Training your cat for the hiking trails

Cats must be well trained before heading out onto a hike, your cat must be comfortable wearing a harness and used to walking around on a leash. It’s not advisable, but it is possible to let your dog off the leash when out in the backcountry, although many national parks do not allow it. This is much riskier with a cat as they’re less likely to come when called. We wouldn’t recommend taking your cat off the leash in the wilderness, it’s just not worth the risk. It’s a good idea to train your cat to come when called, just in case of emergencies and accidental situations. 

It’s much easier to harness train a young and energetic kitten than an older cat, but there’s nothing stopping you from trying either way. Expect a slow process, with lots of incentives and rewards for your kitty. If you’re successful, it can be an incredibly rewarding process for both cat and hiker. 

We recommend using a harness, and not a collar when taking your cat on a hike. Collars provide too much wiggle room that your feline friend could easily slip out of, whereas harnesses are much more secure. You might need to go through some trial and error, as different cats need their harness to fit differently. You might need to try out a few different styles of cat harness to make sure you have a safe and secure fit. Never use a collar and leash alone, as not only is this an escape risk, but it could be dangerous to your cat’s neck and windpipe. 


Person feeing a white and black cat.

When training your cat to walk on a leash, it’s important to give them lots of treats and encouragement.


Harness and leash training your cat


1. Start by showing the harness you’ve purchased to your cat, allowing it to sniff, play, and get used to the item before trying to put it on. Make sure to give your kitty plenty of treats and encouragement when spending time in or around the harness, to encourage positive associations. Ig your cat seems uninterested or unhappy in the harness, try using a different strap thickness or design.


2. Once your cat is used to wearing a harness, it’s not quite time to go and explore yet. Next, you’ll need to attach your leash to the harness and practice walking around inside. Don’t pull or pressure the leash, simply hold it and follow your cat as it moves. This will be a slow process to start with, but as your cat becomes more comfortable, you can use a longer leash and get more movement. Remember to give your cat plenty of tasty treats and scratches to keep them happy along the way. 


3. When it’s time for your first adventure into the outdoor world, make sure you choose the location carefully. You’ll need a quiet, safe, and mostly-private spot so your cat will feel relaxed and confident. The ideal space to start is a fenced backyard, where there are no dogs, traffic, or other elements with the potential to frighten your kitty. 


Once your cat is trained and used to walking around on a harness, it’s time to go out on your first real hike as trail buddies. Although your feline friend should now be comfortable walking in a harness, there are still a lot of new things you’ll need to be ready for on the trail. Read on to find out how you need to prepare before hiking with cats. 


Preparing to take your cat on a hike

When getting ready for your first backcountry trek, there are a few extra things to consider when bringing along your cat. First of all, you’ll need some extra equipment and supplies. Here’s what you need to bring along on a hike with your feline friend:


  • Water: You’ll need to bring plenty of potable water for yourself and your cat, especially in warm weather. Don’t let your cat drink from streams or rivers, as they’re susceptible to water-borne diseases just like you are. Instead, give your cat the same drinking water you bring for yourself, make sure you have a water bowl too. You could bring along a collapsible water bowl to save on packing space. 


  • Food: Hiking burns a lot of calories, and just like you, your cat needs to refuel. Pack more food than you would usually expect your cat to eat, as trekking can work up quite the appetite. 


  • Warmth: If the temperature drops, you might need something to keep your cat warm. Bring along a blanket or similar item to wrap up your kitty if the weather gets colder.


  • Collar and ID: It’s of paramount importance that your cat is wearing a collar and an ID tag at all times. In some states, this is a requirement, but we recommend you follow this advice no matter where you are. 


  • Harness and leash: Of course, you’ll need your cat’s harness and leash on a hike. It’s a good idea to add some reflective tape or lights to the leash, to make your cat more easily visible. 


  • Litter box or poop bags: Portable and foldable litter boxes are available, so you can take one into the backcountry for your kitty to use. Otherwise, you’ll need to clean up all waste using poop bags. Leave no trace applies to cats too, just as with dogs and humans. 


  • A recent photo of your cat: In the event of a separation, having a recent photograph of your cat is very helpful. You’ll be able to show other hikers, park rangers, or make copies if necessary. 


Hiking with cats: health and safety

The first thing to consider before taking your cat to explore the world is any health concerns. You may want to take your feline friend to the vet for a health check before your first adventure, to check there are no potential issues. Your cat will need to be vaccinated so it can’t catch diseases from other animals, or spread them to other pets on the campsite. Rabies is the most important vaccination that all cats should have, but before going into the wild it’s even more important. Rabies is easily spread if your cat gets bitten by a wild animal, so avoid this serious illness by vaccinating your cat. 

Vaccinations for other diseases might also be recommended by your vet, so make sure your cat is fully protected before adventuring outside. Panleukopenia is another common backcountry disease that you may want to protect your cat from. If your feline is likely to meet other cats while out on the trails, you might want to vaccinate them against Feline-specific diseases. Feline influenza, Calicivirirus, and Leukemia are all easily spread between pets at the campsite and can be very dangerous. Vaccinate your pet against these diseases for extra peace of mind on the trail. 

Fleas, ticks, heartworm, and other parasites are a danger to your cat in the backcountry. As well as being vaccinated against known threats and diseases, taking extra precautions such as using a flea collar will help keep your cat safe while hiking. It’s a good idea to check your cat’s fur for any ticks after an outdoor adventure, and learn how to avoid ticks for yourself too!


Pathway on a grass field during the daytime.

There are plenty of dangers to your cat in the backcountry, but if you prepare then there’s nothing to worry about.


Other considerations when hiking with cats

When choosing a hiking trail, think about the terrain and conditions which are ideal for your cat. Some felines won’t like hiking on certain terrains, so it will take some time to learn your cat’s preferences. Check that the weather is mild, as most cats will be very unhappy if forced to hike in the rain or snow. 

Research the rules beforehand, especially in a national or state park. There are usually specific regulations applying to dogs and cats on hiking trails, so you can talk to a park ranger if you have any questions. We recommend you take special care in finding out if dogs are allowed off-leash in the area, as of course, this could pose a threat to your adventure cat. 

Many cats will struggle with water crossings, even a puddle can stop your feline friend in its tracks. Be prepared to pick up your cat and carry it across questionable terrains, and plan your route according to your pet’s abilities. Most cats will only hike a mile or two before getting tired or bored, so you’ll need to be ready to carry your pet for a significant portion of your hike. Some cats may be happy to sit atop your shoulder or backpack to enjoy the hike from a lazy vantage spot. For other felines, a small dog carrier may be the best solution when it’s time to carry your kitty. 

Remember that cats on average sleep for 20 hours a day, so make sure you pick the right time to hike. Try to adventure when your cat has just woken up, so it will have lots of energy to explore. Trying to hike with a cat who just wants to sleep is a losing battle; hiking takes a lot of energy so limit your adventures to times when your cat is well-rested. 


On the hike

Now we’ve gone through all the preparation and considerations before hiking with cats, the only thing left to do is to hit the trails. Your cat should be harness trained and comfortable in the outdoors, while you should be fully prepared with everything you need for the perfect hike with your cat. Once you hit the trails, there are a few more things every hiker needs to keep in mind when trekking with a feline companion. 

Cats are very intelligent creatures with highly developed senses, so there’s a lot of stimuli to be aware of in the backcountry. Be aware that loud noises can scare cats who aren’t used to them, especially in unfamiliar wilderness environments. Carry your cat at the start of your hike, until you’re a good distance from the road. After that, you’ll need to be ready to deal with any issues which might arise regarding loud noises. 

It’s a good idea to stay away from dogs when hiking with your cat. Dogs on the hiking trails could get over-excited at the sight of an adventure cat, so be wary that your cat could be attacked, or scared at the very least. The same goes for children to whom a hiking cat will be very interesting. Although it’s a great idea to share knowledge about hiking with cats with children, never let a child or any stranger pick up your cat. In any situation involving dogs, children, or other hazards, be prepared to pick up your feline and carry them a safe distance before setting them back down. 

You’ll need to be alert and watching your cat every second on the trails. Your furry friend should be on a harness, and therefore unable to get into too much trouble, but there are still a lot of hidden dangers that careless hikers might miss. Watch out for poison ivy and other dangerous plants, as these can be harmful to you and your cat both. You’ll also need to keep your cat away from water and prevent it from drinking from any rivers or streams. Finally, watch out for wildlife which could harm your cat, such as eagles, snakes, or other dangerous predators. Don’t forget that your cat is a natural predator too, so it’s the hiker’s responsibility to protect the wildlife from their adventure cat as well. 


Grey tabby cat photo.

Remember that your cat has many wild instincts that will kick in in the wilderness; enjoy watching the inner tiger emerge.


Final Verdict:

Hiking with cats can be an incredibly enriching and enjoyable experience for both cat and owner; exploring the backcountry together is a great way to bond with your furry friend. If you properly prepare and train your cat for a hike, then adventuring together should be a breeze. Check out adventurecats.org for a lot of really valuable resources and information about hiking with cats.  

The most important things to remember are to properly harness train your cat first. Allow some adjustment time to walk on a leash both indoors and outdoors, before hitting the trails. Make sure you remember enough food, water, and other supplies when hiking with cats, and pay a visit to the vet first to iron out any health concerns. Protect your kitty from dogs, children, and other trail dangers, and your backcountry adventure should go just perfectly. 

Our final reminder is to Leave No Trace in the backcountry, these rules apply to cats as well. Always make sure to pack out or properly bury any waste, to protect other wildlife, keep the trails enjoyable for everyone, and preserve our beautiful natural environment. 


Bonus tip: Check out this video about how to harness train your cat! 




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Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.