How to Hike With Your Cat

Dogs aren't the only pets that get to go hiking. Some cats make great trail companions. (Photo: MW47/iStockphoto).

Man's best friend isn't the only furry companion who likes to hike.

With more and more cat owners training their pets to walk on leashes, don't be surprised if you spot a courageous kitty walking in the woods.

If you think your feline friend might enjoy a little time in the great outdoors, here's what to know before hitting the trail.

Why hike with a cat?

Taking regular outdoor walks can keep cats healthy and reduce boredom-related behavior problems. Certain cats may especially benefit from regular outdoor exercise, such as overweight animals or cats with whose pain can be alleviated through exercise.

For example, Marcus, a feline resident of Best Friends Animal Society, has Manx syndrome. Cats with this condition carry the gene for shortened tails, but sometimes the gene affects a cat's entire back, preventing the spinal cord, organs and muscles from developing properly.

Going on long walks in the surrounding Utah wilderness keeps Marcus mobile and eases his back pain.

cat in harness

However, hiking isn't for all cats. Your pet needs to be comfortable in a harness and in the outdoors, and he should be in good physical condition as well.

"There is nothing that suggests that a cat can't go for a nice long walk if you keep the cat safe from predators or from running away," Dr. Stephen Barningham told "Vermont Sports." "It's a rarity, but if you're willing to get your cat in shape and protect him on the trail, there's no reason why you can't do it."

If you think your cat could benefit from walks, or if you think he may simply enjoy a little time with you on the trail, first you need to make sure he's comfortable wearing a harness. Not all cats will take to a harness, and it's best if you can get your pet used to it when he's still young.

Check out our guide for teaching your cat to walk on a leash.


Keep in mind that walking a cat isn't the same as walking a dog. While some cats may love to go on long hikes and explore wild areas, others might prefer to stay in the comfort of your yard.

Michelle Warfle, cat manager at Best Friends, where Marcus enjoys his hikes, started the shelter's cat-hiking program five years ago. She says some of the shelter's cats love to spend hours exploring the outdoors and will hike for miles.

"And then we have others, they'll go a little bit, find a sunny spot and lay down," she told The Huffington Post. "It really all depends on the cat."

Most cats that take to hiking prefer to walk only a mile or two. However, there are some cats who may be comfortable spending much more time outside.

Burma the adventure cat

Army veteran Stephen Simmons' rescue cat, whom the Internet knows as "Burma the Adventure Cat," will spend days and nights outside with Simmons and his dog, Puppi.

"He's totally comfortable hiking, swimming, and climbing mountains with us," Simmons said.

Ready to hike?

Warfle says it's best to start your cat out slowly. After your cat is comfortable in the yard, try taking him to a quiet park or wooded area where you're not likely to run into a lot of people or dogs.

As your cat gets used to walking outside on a leash, pay attention to his body language and learn which situations make him the most comfortable.

Some cats don't like to be in wide open spaces. While some may love to climb inclines, others may prefer to stay in flatter areas. Some cats may also prefer hiking only at certain times of year or on specific types of terrain. Some cats may hike on packed snow, but not all cats will be comfortable on such terrain.

If your cat is new to hiking, it's best to only venture outside during mild weather, or go in the mornings so your cat is less likely to become overheated. If you notice your cat becoming sluggish, pick him up and carry him.

You may also want to pick up your pet if you're approaching a dog or children who may frighten him.

As your feline friend becomes more comfortable on the trail, you even may be able to take him on overnight trips like Chris Brinlee Jr. did with his cat, Finch.

"It didn't take long for us to get into the groove of hiking together," he wrote on Gizmodo. "We'd hike for awhile, listening and watching for activity in the surrounding woods. Then I'd let her down to 'stalk.' Pick her up, hike some more, then let her curiosity run wild as she sleuthed along the forest floor. By the second time she wanted down, it clicked! Cats are so naturally curious and investigative, it only made sense that she was enjoying every second of this."

Honey Bee blind cat

And even if your cat has a disability, that doesn't mean he might not enjoy some quality time in the great outdoors.

Just look at Honey Bee (pictured right), a blind tabby cat from Seattle, who's tackled not only the local city parks but also Washington mountain trails.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our cats, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.

Photos: (cat in harness) Carolyn Williams [CC BY 2.0]/flickr, (Burma) BurmaAdventureCat/Instagram, (Honey Bee) Sabrina Ursin