Saba the adventure cat is just a kitten, and she has already explored so many places. She’s hiked local trail networks, pranced around on the beach, sat at a local brewery and canoed on Damariscotta Lake.
Recently adopted from Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, this tiny tabby is learning to walk on a leash, ride in a backpack and sleep in a tent.
“Basically anything we go outside to do, I’m planning on trying to incorporate her,” said Saba’s owner, Maureen Pease of Windham.
An “adventure cat” is a relatively new term used to describe an indoor cat that has been trained to walk on a leash and accompany their owners on outdoor excursions. However, some may argue that adventure cats can also be outdoor cats (cats that are allowed to explore outside unsupervised), and they don’t always have to wear a leash.
Whatever definition you prescribe to, adventure cats — while fairly uncommon — exist all over the world, and they’re making quite a splash on social media.
“It’s expanding the idea of what people can do with their cats,” Pease said
Joining this online community, Pease created an Instagram account, @saba_tooth_tiger_kitten, where she shares photos and videos of her and Saba’s many adventures.
“With everything else that’s going on in the world, it’s just fun,” Pease said. “It’s something that makes people happy. It’s a nice thing to put out there.”
Achieving feline fame
New to the online world, Saba has only a couple hundred followers on Instagram so far, but there are a number of other, longer-established adventure cats that have huge online followings.
“The internet loves cats, especially cats doing cool things,” Everett Orian of Los Angeles said in an email interview about his popular Instagram account @adventurecatpeaches. “Adventuring with cats isn’t as common as taking a dog for a walk. People are typically surprised and can’t help but smile when they realize they’re seeing a cat walking on a trail because it’s a little out of the ordinary.”
In the hot, arid climate of southern California, Orian takes his cat, Peaches, on hiking, biking and camping trips, capturing photos along the way. To date, their Instagram account has accumulated more than 8,000 followers.
An exotic-looking cat, Peaches is actually a mix of two semi-exotic cat breeds: Savannah and Bengal. Covered with distinct spots, she looks a bit like a baby cheetah, which makes her especially photogenic.
But you do not have to be a special cat breed to gain a huge following, as demonstrated by @bluetheadventurecat, which highlights the adventures of two tabby cats in the Netherlands. The account has more than 28,000 followers.
In an email interview, the account’s owner Weijie “Akyra” Hu described how her cats rapidly gained fans from around the world. All she had to do is take beautiful photos of them enjoying the outdoors.
“I like to take them to open forests so they can run and have fun in the grass, sand or trees,” Hu said.
At first she kept them leashed, but over time, she trained both cats to stick with her while off leash, and she has affixed bells and ID tags on their collars, just in case they wander off.
“There is a way to give your cat a little taste of freedom,” Hu wrote. “Get a leash. Get a collar. Get a nametag. Get a bell. Get a backpack. Find a peaceful place. And let your cat be a wildcat. For that moment.”
How to train an adventure cat
Adventure cats may seem trendy because of their recent online fame, but cat lovers have been walking their feline friends on leash for years.
“I don’t really think it’s anything new,” said Paul Wade, veterinarian and founder of The Cat Hospital Of Maine in Manchester, Maine. “We have a lot of clients that take their cats out on leash on a regular basis.”
While it may be easier to train a kitten than an adult cat, Wade said that cats of any age can learn and adapt. That being said, the “adventure cat” lifestyle may not be for every cat.
“Every cat is an individual, and just like people, some don’t like to go outdoors,” Wade said. “It might be quite a shock to them, but I think any cat would adapt to it over a period of time.”
If transitioning your cat from being strictly indoors to spending time outdoors on leash, Wade suggests using a cat halter or harness rather than a collar, which cats can much more easily escape. He also recommends that adventure cats stay up to date on vaccines, since travel can expose them to various diseases.
Also, it’s a myth that ticks don’t bother cats. Therefore, if you live in an area that has disease-carrying ticks, it’s important to consult your veterinarian about tick preventative treatment for your cat, such as an anti-tick collar. Also, check your cat for ticks on a regular basis and properly remove any you find.
“I think the big thing is protecting them against attacks from other animals and disease,” he said. “And also controlling them so they don’t get frightened and run away or strike out at another person that comes up to pat or scratch them.”
To make traveling easier, many adventure cat owners use a special cat carrier, which can also serve as a “safe place” for their cat.
Peaches, the somewhat famous cat from California, rides in a cat carrier backpack that is lined with paddling and has mesh sides. This allows her to join her owner on bike rides. It even has a bubble window for her to look out of and watch the world whiz by.
“A couple times a week, Peaches will load up into her backpack and we’ll bike to a nearby park, then walk around a couple different areas there,” Orian said. “For day trips or camping trips, I’ve found that Peaches really enjoys places that are cooler, up in the mountains with trees and boulders over a beach or desert adventure. We recently spent a few days up in Big Bear and that’s easily our new favorite place.”
When Orian adopted Peaches, she was already one year old, and she had spent all her time indoors. Getting her comfortable with adventuring outdoors was a slow process, Orian said. For weeks, he would take her on short car rides until she got used to the car and stopped crying. He also took her on short hikes, getting her used to the leash before embarking on bigger trips.
“It took some steps and patience training Peaches with a harness and leash,” Orian said. “She’s still not a huge fan of wearing a harness, especially the process of putting it on. She whines about it every single time, but she does allow me to put it on. … Building up to the adventures she can do now was quite a slow, but fun process.”
Saba also rides in a cat carrier backpack. This backpack serves as a place she can go if feeling overwhelmed by people or other animals, such as off-leash dogs.
“She’s very comfortable in there,” Pease said.
Prior to adopting Saba, Pease trained two of her previous cats to wear harnesses and walk on leash. For her, it’s about allowing her pets some freedom while keeping them safe from predators and other outdoor dangers.
Walking a cat on a leash can be challenging at times, Pease said. Cats are known for being independent, stubborn and curious, and these qualities can be problematic when training them to follow you for long periods of time. Saba, for example, tends to get distracted. Right now, they can only cover about 0.5 mile during one walk, and the pace is slow.
“She’s a big climber,” Pease said. “So if she sees a tree or a rock, she wants to get up on it.”
To keep her on track and reward her for good behavior, Pease simply uses treats.
“It really helps if they’re food motivated so they can associate it with something positive,” Pease said. “Now when I get home, I take that harness off its peg on the wall, [Saba] hears it, and boom, she’s there, ready to go.”