Hiking in nature has been one of the most popular activities for many adventure cats, as the beautiful scenery on trails can provide both humans and cats with a heightened sensation of sound, scent, and sight. Sometimes, it may be difficult for some adventure cat owners to get started, and prepare their cats for their first hiking adventures.
I’ve reached out to Selvynna, who is Teddy’s cat mom, to learn more about her experience training Teddy and hear some intriguing stories of them on trails. Selvynna has spent a great deal of time providing us with very detailed and helpful information. I hope you will benefit from her experience and advice.
Of course, if you would like to follow her adventures with Teddy, make sure you check out their Instagram page (@theoretically.teddy)!
1. Tell me about Teddy!
Teddy is 2.5 years old, and he is a domestic shorthair tabby cat. I call him a “grumpy catexplorer” because he always has this grumpy face, like nothing is ever good enough for him. It’s just his face though, he is actually quite tolerant with whatever we are doing that day, and rarely complains. At home, he is the most perfectly behaved cat.
We’ve been adventuring ever since he was around 4 months old, so he’s been adventuring for over 2 years now! Our most common adventures include hiking, road trips, and going to shops. Our favourite place to go is quiet hiking trails with great views!
Fun fact about Teddy: He loves snuggling with me during the day, but he never sleeps in my room overnight. Sometimes he’ll come and snuggle for a little but will always leave and sleep outside my room. He has very particular habits.
2. When did you start taking Teddy out for cat adventures?
I started bringing Teddy out for adventures when he was around 4 months old, which was around September 2018. When we first started, we would go to nearby parks and open areas which were relatively quiet. We lived right in the city centre, so he’s been used to busy city sounds since he was young. And now we go on hiking trails a lot, so he’s really used to both types of exploring!
3. Why did you start taking Teddy out for adventures?
I'm not sure why exactly but part of it is because I don't think any animal should live their entire lives within the same walls. I had hamsters before and even they would try and escape. And also I found he enjoyed coming places with me more than being left alone. I took him to my ex-bf's house every weekend to hang out and he never minded so I just thought why not take him to more places.
Also, I always wanted a dog and still do! But I'm very lazy for the daily walks. Even though I didn't get Teddy planning to walk him on a leash, it just all worked out!
4. How did you prepare Teddy for hikes, and how did he first react to the open space on trails?
I think hiking is the natural place to bring your cat for adventures, because it’s in nature, it’s relatively quiet, and there’s a path to follow, instead of wandering around. We first went to urban parks, which have a trail, and I noticed that he would naturally follow the trail instead of going off into the bush. I would encourage him to keep moving forward, restricting him from going backwards, and eventually he would follow the trail.
In open areas, he wouldn’t know where to go, and would usually end up wandering around aimlessly. When he was a kitten, he would be fascinated by everything and go wherever he wanted. Now as he got older, he’s less excitable, and he understands that he has to stay with me to be safe to get home at the end of the day.
5. What’s the most exciting hike you’ve been with Teddy?
Hands down, the best hike we’ve done is the Larch Valley Trail in Banff National Park. We visited Banff in fall, which is larch season, when a special type of pine tree turns yellow and loses their needles. It was absolutely beautiful! Snowy peaks in the background and golden larch trees in the valley. It was around 3 - 4 hours, and Teddy did really well, walking around half of the trail by himself. These days he doesn’t walk very much, so that hike was extra memorable as it was one of the last hikes he hiked himself.
6. What is the biggest struggle you have gone through while out hiking with Teddy?
Teddy has a couple of struggles, which all stem from him being stressed out from certain situations. The most obvious one is his reaction to seeing dogs on the trails. A lot of hikers will bring their dogs, and some of them let their dogs off leash and running around freely.
Teddy has experienced a few situations where an off leash dog ran up to him, came way too close, and Teddy had to defend himself with his claws. These days, Teddy will automatically behave aggressively towards any dog we see, no matter if they’re well behaved or not. Kind of like “the best defence is a good offence” mentality.
The other struggle is a little less obvious. Sometimes Teddy will be walking along, and come to a spot where he will stop and sniff for a long time. He will react defensively if I try to pick him up, including trying to scratch or bite. Since I don’t know what he’s smelling, I was confused about this behaviour for some time. I now think that he picked up the scent of a predator or something threatening. He’s extremely concentrated in investigating the smell, and when I startle him when trying to pick him up, he instinctively reacts defensively, as a form of redirected aggression.
For both struggles, my solution is to keep him in the backpack, so that I can carry him on the trails, and avoid both situations entirely. It’s a little unfortunate that we have to do this, but he’s still getting the enrichment from being outdoors, and he’s kept safe. We are also able to move at a faster pace which means we can do longer hikes when he’s not actually walking.
7. What are the essential you bring on a long hike?
For long hikes, you have to think about safety and survival equipment, as you are likely venturing into the back country where there’s no cell service. You can research the “10 essentials for hiking” and I won’t spend time here telling you I bring for myself since it’s probably not the best example.
For Teddy this is what I bring:
Small container of kibbles and collapsible bowl
Pet light for his harness
Churu treats and regular treats
Large towel used as a cushion in the backpack, and in case I need to restrain him
The essential item for Teddy is his treats. He is very food motivated and I can usually get his attention using treats, so I always make sure I carry some with me. I use treats to distract him from scary situations (when I know I wouldn’t be able to pick him up), to get him to pose for photos, to motivate him to walk, to call him to come back to me if he got himself somewhere I can’t reach, and for rewards in general.
8. What are some of the advice you would give to new cat adventure owners who are looking for a good backpack for hiking?
The backpack is an important part of hiking, because you keep all your things, including your cat, in there. You are also carrying that thing around all day. What’s important is the comfort of the backpack on your back, the storage space, and the comfort for the cat.
The comfort of the backpack comes from the design, weight distribution, straps, and padding. For storage space, you’ll want to have side pockets for your water bottle, or a pocket for your water bladder. It would be nice if the storage space is not the same space as where the cat is, because it can be difficult to get things when your cat is laying inside. Teddy will sometimes bite me if I reach into his space.
For the cat, keep in mind that sometimes they’ll want to sit on top, and sometimes they’ll want to be inside the backpack securely. This means that ideally there’ll be a flat top surface behind your shoulders where the cat can sit on, and a spacious and sturdy area inside the backpack for them to sit or lay down in. Mesh siding is important in the cat space, for airflow.
9. What are some of the things we should look out for while going on hikes?
I always look up the hiking trail on AllTrails, to see how long it will take, the difficulty, and read reviews of people who have completed the trail recently. They’ll note things like if it’s muddy, or well maintained, or easy to get lost. If the trail is too technical, like if there’s climbing ladders involved, I won’t bring Teddy because it’s a little risky if he decides to jump off.
I budget more time to complete the trail than is recommended, because it’s always slower with a cat. Now that he doesn’t walk the trails, it’s not too much longer, but when I would let him walk, we would almost double the expected time. So a 2 hour trail would take us 4 hours to complete.
I also check whether the trail is “no pets”, ”dogs on leash only”, or “dogs off leash”. If it says ”no pets”, you won’t be able to bring your cat. If it says ”dogs on leash only”, I treat it the same as ”dogs off leash“, because you’ll always run into people who don’t care about the rules. If it says “no dogs” and doesn’t specify for cats, you should contact the park and ask, because chances are, even though it doesn’t say cats specifically, they mean no cats too. So it’s better not to risk a long drive to be turned home.
In the summer, I look to see if the trail is shaded or mostly open. If there’s no tree cover, it could get too hot for Teddy, especially on sunny days.
10. What are some of the mistakes cat owners make when they go out hiking with their cat?
I can only speak from my own experience, and keep in mind that Teddy is not the same as all cats.
Not having the right harness - the harness is the most important part of adventuring with cats. It has to fit well so they can’t escape, and designed well, so it doesn’t pull on their neck if they are pulling against the leash.
Having the wrong backpack - if your backpack isn’t comfortable, it can really hurt your shoulders. When I was using the wrong backpack, my shoulders and back were limiting me more than my legs and energy.
Stopping too often - sometimes I like to stop so I can take some walking shots of Teddy, but doing this actually distracts him and disrupts the walking pace we have. It’s best to keep going and stop for photos when they stop.
Not budgeting enough time to finish the trail - as I mentioned before, hiking with a cat takes almost twice the time for normal people. I’ve had to zip Teddy up in his backpack (which he didn’t love), so that we could hurry back before it got dark.
Not paying attention to surroundings - I’m thinking of off leash dogs here, but you also have to watch for predators and other dangers to your cat, such as plants they may eat.
Having unrealistic expectations - no adventure cat was made in a day. It takes many many tries and many many hikes to slowly progress to the longer ones. It takes patience and practice! And if a hike isn’t working out there is no shame in turning around and heading home. I’ve certainly done that a few times.