We started taking our cats, Fish and Chips, on outings shortly after we adopted them, including backpacking, hiking, and even snowshoeing! It’s a bit unusually to see a cat hiking up the trail, so when people see us out and about, they’re curious. These are some of the common questions we get about traveling with our adventure cats:
How young were Fish and Chips when you started taking them on adventures?
We started taking them on adventures pretty much right away. The day we adopted Fish, we put him in a tiny harness the second we got him into the car. By nine weeks he had gone on his first hike, which he quite enjoyed, although he fell asleep in the backpack half way through! At three months old Fish went on his first multi-day road trip to California.
When we adopted Chips we gave him Fish’s old little harness and had him out on the trails the next day. Kittens are a lot more adaptable than older cats so exposing them to as many things as possible while they are young makes training much easier as the continue to grow.
How did you train your cats to walk on a leash, and how do you get them to follow you?
If you want to leash train your cat, its important to understand that it will take time and require a lot of patience. The biggest mistake people make is assuming that the process will be the same as leash training a dog, which is far from the truth. When we first started, our “walks” consisted of just letting the cats wander around, or carrying them in a backpack. They didn’t know to follow the trail, nor were they interested in following us. The outside world was brand new to them and they wanted to explore it on their own schedule.
Getting them used to being outdoors and comfortable with the sights and sounds was very important. Once they became more relaxed outside and we were comfortable giving them a little more freedom, we decided to try retractable leashes. The longer leashes were essential in training the cats to follow us because it allowed them to get as much as 20 feet away. They felt like they had their freedom, but once they reached the end of the leash, a gentle tug let them know it was time to catch up. When they did catch up, a treat provided positive reinforcement, letting them know that being with us was the best place to be!
After years, we’ve reached a point of mutual trust and often drop the leashes letting the cats drag them behind. This allows us to step on the leashes if we need to grab them quickly (if there’s a dog on the trail) but also gives them a real sense of freedom.
What’s it like to hike with your cats?
This is a question we get asked a lot. People see our photos on Instagram and think we just carry the cats out to a pretty spot, take their picture, and head home – but this isn’t the case. When we take walks around town, we add some extra time so we can move at their speed, and this allows the cats to walk the entire time! When we’re hiking, the cats spend a reasonable amount of time walking and running along the trail and hitch a ride on our backpacks when their little legs have trouble keeping up.
How do you deal with the dangers your cats may encounter by taking them outside?
People tend to be quite fearful of letting their cats outside, and this is very understandable. They are just like any other member of the family and it can feel like it’s your duty to protect them. We’re trying to change the way people view cats because, just like dogs, they need exercise and stimulation.
Yes, there are plenty of dangers an adventure cat could encounter including wildlife, dogs that aren’t cat-friendly, parasites, toxic pants, and others – but, just like people and dogs, the positives of hiking certainly out weigh the negatives! Care and precautions should definitely be taken, but that doesn’t mean your cat should never leave the house. We don’t let Fish and Chips out of our sight, we keep them harnessed at all times with ID tags on their harnesses, they’re microchipped, and we didn’t let them off leash until we were 100% certain they’d come when called.
What complications are added by getting a second cat?
Adding Chips to our family definitely came with some challenges, but it was totally worth it. Fish and Chips are very different, so sometimes it’s difficult to do an activity they both enjoy. For example, Fish likes warm, dry weather and really enjoyed the desert. Chips, on the other hand, prefers cooler temperatures and lots of tree cover.
Also, if you want to explore with two cats at the same time, you pretty much need two people. Taking one cat out for a hike on your own can be difficult enough – trying to take two is nearly impossible and will give you a new appreciation for the phrase “its like herding cats.”
Having two cats also means that we can no longer take turns carrying one on our packs like we did when we just had Fish, now we both have a kitty to handle. So you end up juggling things a lot more.
How do you deal with them needing a litter box? Will they go outside?
We always bring a litter box with us; we actually have one that just stays in the car permanently. That being said, we did take a multi-day backpacking adventure with Fish once and he did go outside (although he didn’t seem too pleased about it).
Is road tripping with cats really complicated?
Just like taking any other pet, bringing your cat on a road trip requires a little extra planning to make it smooth sailing. You have to consider what you’ll do with the cats when you go somewhere they can’t – like the grocery store, or doing an activity like surfing. Will it be too hot for them in the car? Do you have room in the car for a litter box? Will you be tenting or staying in hotels?
When we take Fish and Chips on a road trip we camp in the car for the most part, but splurge on hotels when we want to do an activity or explore a city and need somewhere for them to stay. If we need to stop and get groceries when the weather’s warm, one of us goes in while the other waits in the car with the air conditioning running. If the weather is mild enough to leave them in the car, we make sure there is food, water, a litter box and a little fan running.
Just like anything else, road tripping with cats does present some new challenges, but a little planning and a willingness to adapt make it enjoyable for you and your furry friend!
What do you pack for a day out with the cats?
The essentials we take along for a day trip with the cats include: a litter box, water bottles, collapsible dishes, treats, and leashes. Depending on the weather, we may also pack jackets if we’re worried about them being chilly.
What kind of harness and leash do you use?
Fish wears a vest style harness and Chips wears a H-style harness. For more on our harness choices see our post Choosing the Right Harness for Your Cat. We started out with bungee leashes to help with backpack training and to make it safer for them to jump off the packs. We then moved to retractable leashes to help with leash training. Since then we have converted to regular 6-foot nylon leashes for ease of packing and making it simpler for the kitties to roam when possible.
Do you need any special vaccinations or flea/tick medications for the cats?
It’s important that your cat is always up to date on all their vaccines, so definitely consult your vet. If you’re traveling you’ll want to look into whether or not they need any additional medications. We’ve crossed the Canadian/US border with our cats several times and all that’s required is a copy of their rabies certificates. As for flea and tick medications, we’ve never administered them to either cat and they’ve never had fleas. Chips had a tick once that we removed. If you’re going exploring in areas where ticks are very common, it would be important to research medications to keep them tick free!
Why did you start an Instagram profile for your cats?
We started Fish and Chips’ Instagram account after a stranger on the trails told us it might be a fun idea. We thought that it couldn’t hurt to share our experiences and hoped that it would inspire others to take their cats out as well. We never expected it to grow to where it is today, but it’s been an awesome way to connect with others in the adventure cat community. We definitely recommend it if you’re just starting to train your cat – you’ll gain so much knowledge and inspiration like we did!
How do you deal with encounters with other people/dogs on the trail?
We’ve had mostly positive encounters and have never had any major issues with dogs. We avoid off-leash dog areas out of respect for dogs and their humans, and will pick up the cats whenever we see a dog approaching. Often the dog doesn’t even notice them if they’re on our packs.
Our encounters with other people on the trails mostly involves them taking photos or saying “that’s something you don’t see every day.” We see it as opportunities to educate people on the possibilities of exploring with their cats and how enriching it can be for them.
How did you teach your cats to ride on your backpacks?
When Fish was tiny we put him inside the backpack when he got tired on a hike and he seemed quite content. As he started to grow he learned how to balance on top and ride on our shoulders. This was essential fro us to hike with him, so we did the same thing when we adopted Chips.
It took Fish some time to figure out how to get comfortable on the pack since he wanted to look around at everything that passed by. Chips on the other hand was naturally calm on the backpack and required very little practice. One thing that may help when training older cats is practicing in an environment they are comfortable, like inside the house or the backyard.
What is your favorite hiking trail on Vancouver Island?
Vancouver Island is so beautiful, and there are tons of hiking trails to explore! We live in Parksville and enjoy the local trails at Englishman River and Little Qualicum Falls. Our favorite, however, would be the Juan De Fuca trail on the west coast between Jordan River and Port Renfrew. We haven’t spent a lot of time exploring north Vancouver Island, but it is definitely on our list!
If you have questions about traveling with an adventure cat that we haven’t answered, leave a note in the comments below!