Whether you’ve resolved that you and Whiskers will spend more time exploring the great outdoors in 2016 or you’re simply interested in adventuring with your kitty but aren’t sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s your step-by-step guide to introducing your feline friend to everything from a harness to the trail.
First, a simple question…
Why do you want to adventure with your cat in the new year?
Because you both need the exercise? Because you think your kitty would enjoy tasting the backyard grass or taking a trip to the local park? Because your fur baby is totally photogenic and you’ve resolved to start him an Instagram account in 2016? Whatever your reasons, make sure they’re the right ones for your cat.
Not all cats are cut out to be adventure cats and that’s OK. So before you purchase a harness — and well before you pack up the litter box and tent — assess your kitty’s personality to see if he might enjoy adventuring or if he’s more of a catio type of cat.
1. Find the purrfect harness.
While you may want to start training your adventure kitty on New Year’s Day, it’s important to get the right equipment first.
Your local pet store may carry only one type of harness, but there are a variety on the market. Do your research to find the best harness for you cat, and be aware that you may have to purchase one online, which means waiting a few days to kick off your adventure-cat resolution.
The two basic styles of harness are leads, which comprise a few straps attached to a leash, and vests, which are are like little pieces of clothing for cats. It’s important to purchase a harness for your cat and not to simply attach a leash to your cat’s collar — doing so could injure your cat or enable him to easily get off leash.
Our suggestions: Check out the Puppia soft mesh harnesses, which have come widely recommended to us (so much so that we recently started selling them), and also the Kitty Holster walking vest, one of two brands that cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy recommended to The New York Times.
Regardless of the harness you choose, fit is the most important factor. As a general rule, you should be able to fit a finger or two — but no more than that — under the harness.
2. Start training.
Helping your cat adjust to a harness and engaging in days or weeks’ worth of training may not be the photo-worthy moments you’ve been dreaming of, but it’s a very important step to getting your kitty adventure-ready. Just as you needed to learn how to ride a bike before you went coasting down a big hill, your cat needs proper preparation to adjust to this new experience.
If your feline is still just a kitten, he or she may take to a harness and leash walking easily; however, it can be much more trying if you’re working with an older cat. This doesn’t mean older cats won’t ever be comfortable wearing a harness and walking on a leash. It simply means you need to be patient and take things slowly — and have plenty of delicious fishy treats on hand.
Don’t be alarmed if your cat goes limp, lies down, refuses to walk or walks strangely the first few times he dons his harness. He likely isn’t accustomed to the sensation of something on his back, and it’s going to take time to get used to it.
Ready to get started? Check out our kitty leash-training guide.
Training doesn’t have to end once your cat is comfortable in a harness though. We strongly recommend clicker training your feline friend and teaching him to come when called before you venture too far into the wilderness.
3. Hit the trail
You’re likely itching to get your kitty’s paws into the dirt as soon as possible, but the early new year may be too chilly for cats in colder climates. Talk to your veterinarian before taking your cat outside, and while you’re there, ensure that your kitty is up to date on vaccinations and flea, tick and heartworm treatments.
Whether you’re heading out for a relaxing nature walk or an overnight camping trip, here are a few basics to keep in mind.
Be purr-pared. This means packing the usual essentials for a trip into the outdoors, as well as a few extras, including a recent photo of your cat in case you become separated. Read the full packing list.
Keep your kitty on a leash. Your little adventure cat may always come when called or never venture too far from you, but accidents happen. Play it safe and keep him on leash — and that leash in your hand.
Expect the occasional pick-me-up. If you encounter a threat or something that could frighten your cat, such as a dog, pick up your kitty. Cats feel safer when they’re up high and have the visual advantage. Also be ready to give your cat a lift if he’s tired, the terrain is tough or it’s a particularly hot day. Your cat may want to explore only every now and then, so make sure he’s comfortable nestled in a backpack or perched atop your shoulder.
Going camping? Read up on how to prepare and what to expect when camping with a cat.
For more tips on hiking with cats, check out our detailed hiking guide.
Adventure cat tips from the pros
- Go slow. Mitigate your cat’s escape routes at first. In the beginning, I’d take Millie to a tiny island in a pond at a local park. I only had to guard the bridge for her escape. This way she could explore outside safely, but not get scared and bolt off and never be found. –Craig Armstrong
- I always recommend that pet parents carry their cat outdoors, rather than letting the cat walk outdoors on his own. The reason is to reduce the tendency for door-dashing when the leash is not on. A cat who is used to walking out of his own accord when the leash is on probably will try to do that at other times as well. -Dr. Kat Miller, Director of ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior Research
- Be patient. It’s hard not to compare [cats] to dogs when you start leash training. The best thing you can do is to keep your expectations low, and understand that it may not be for your cat at all. –Emily Grant
- Learn to read [your cat’s] body language. Animals tell us a lot through their body language, and understanding what your cat is telling you is really important when taking them to new environments. –Martin Henrion
- If you want to get from A to B, you’ll probably have to carry him a lot. Save the wandering for camp. –Stephen Simmons
- Having a bell on your cat’s collar is really helpful — for you because then it’s easier to know where they are, but also for other animals, especially any birds they may be trying to hunt. –Nicole Gaunt
- Keep your cat comfortable with outings by making regular outings as a part of your routine. –Erin Verplaetse
- If you do have a negative experience with your cat, don’t punish them. Encourage them for their effort. Maybe even give treats once they calm down, then try again. Always try to end the adventure on a positive note. –Erin Dush
You’re now ready to get out there and adventure! We wish you a safe and ameowzing 2016!
Have questions or tips of your own to share? Let us know in the comments.