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How to Manage Greetings When Hiking with Cats

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Although it’s becoming more common for people to take their cats out on the trails, it’s still not something you see every day. For cat owners, this means we’re experiencing a range of reactions to our feline hiking companions. We have to be prepared to encounter people and dogs while protecting our cats and respecting that the trail is meant for everyone. This post describes the precautions we take and discusses what hikers and dog owners can do to make the outdoors more cat-friendly. 

As cat owners, the most important thing we can do is to know our cat and do a little research before we go. Consider whether your cat will be comfortable with the business of a trail and how many dogs might frequent it.

Fish has always been really people-friendly and especially enjoys the attention of young children. When we’re out hiking with him he’s more than happy to roll over so kids can pet his belly. He’s extremely tolerant and we can trust him to remain gentle. Chips on the other hand, is a little more weary of strangers – especially loud ones. He prefers hiding behind a tree or on our shoulders as people go by.

If you’re unsure how your cat might react towards people, I would play it safe and choose a less popular trail, or go at a time when you know it will be quiet. For those of you who don’t hike with cats, be sure to ask before petting any that you see along the trail – just like you would for a dog.

Before embarking on your first outdoor adventure with your kitty, make sure you have a backpack or cat carrier that they’re comfortable riding in and that you don’t mind carrying along. This will be their “safe place” and you’ll always want to have it with you.

When Fish and Chips were just kittens we got them used to riding in our backpacks and found this to be incredibly helpful. Not only was it a way of carrying them when they got tired, but it provided them with somewhere to go when they felt scared or nervous. This meant that they would be more likely to run towards us than away from us when they were frightened.

Back in February, Fish tore ligaments in his knee (while playing indoors, ironically). That kind of injury takes a long time to heal, and affected his balance and his ability to jump and climb.

We could tell that he was feeling extremely vulnerable and would display signs of defensive aggression when he was afraid. This was completely unlike him as he’s always been a very confident cat, so it’s been a process to make him feel more comfortable and safe. He can’t balance well enough to ride on our normal backpacks right now, so we’re using a pet carrier style backpack and going out of our way to ensure he’s not afraid – especially when we’re somewhere unfamiliar to him. If you cat is naturally more skittish, a pet carrier pack may be best for you, too.

Fish’s injury has also affected how he reacts to dogs. He used to feel quite comfortable standing up to most dogs. Now he’s more likely to become upset with dogs he doesn’t know, often growling and becoming agitated. Fish knows a couple family dogs that both happen to be golden retrievers, so he generally reacts well to that breed, but otherwise (for now) we’re avoiding contact with dogs when outdoors.

If you want to try introducing your cat to dogs, it’s best to start with a dog you’re confident will behave and make sure your cat is somewhere he feels safe. When meeting unfamiliar dogs on the trail, it’s generally a better idea to pick your cat up or put him up high, and let him decide if he wants to meet the dog. Just because a dog owners believe their dog is good with cats, doesn’t always mean the dog will react well towards your cats, especially if they’re showing aggression. 

I believe that cat owners should have every right to take their feline friends outdoors. However, not all people feel the same or are willing to make accommodations. It’s important to remember that dog owners have been bringing their canines out for a lot longer and we should respect that by allowing them to continue to have places to bring their dogs where they don’t have to worry about running into cats.

This is why we always avoid off-leash trails and dog areas. When we do encounter dogs on the trail, we’re always the ones to pick up our cats and move over, waiting for them to pass. We also try to yell ahead to let people know we have cats with us so they can be prepared. Some dog breeds in particular are prey driven and instinctually will chase cats, so we want to make sure the owners have time to make sure their dog is leashed and they have a good grip on it. 

On the other end of the spectrum, some people are over the moon to meet our cats on the trail. These are the interactions we love. We always laugh when people are caught off guard by the cats hanging over our shoulders and we love hearing stories from people who have tried to do the same thing.

We also get asked frequently if people can take our photo, which we’re usually more than happy to do because we enjoy sharing the message and showing people that it’s possible! So if you ever happen to see us out on a hike feel free to stop and say hi, just make sure you offer to pet Fish or he’ll be very offended. 

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