Out hiking with your dog? A dooloop and some compostable dog poop bags are standard equipment for dog parents who love their pets and care about the environment, too. But what about those astonishing Adventure Cats we’re seeing more of on social media? When cat parents head out for a day hike or even a long camping trip with their cat on a halter and leash, what should they bring along when cats do their “business?”
Do you haul a litter box with you, or let cats use the forest floor instead? Yes, felines do a darned good job covering things up – unlike dogs, who usually leave an unsightly pile. But even if your cool cat leaves it neat, doesn’t mean it’s neat to leave.
Are "adventure cats" really a thing?
They are! It’s 2022, and we’re no longer able to be surprised. In addition to cat lovers who simply want to bring their intrepid, leash-trained cat along with them to enjoy hikes, bicycle rides, and air-conditioned car adventures, there are more and more people camping, traveling in RVs, or living the van life – sometimes full time! With more people choosing the wandering life, of course they are bringing both cats and canines along.
For the record, we’re now the proud pet parents of “Moose,” a black adventure cat who likes leisurely walks, having his meals served on time, and belly rubs. Best of all, he comes when he’s called. Moose adopted my son and his girlfriend in Montana. He’s now a devoted Mainer. Bella likes him as a sidekick for walks. The neighbors are all amused by a Basset Hound and a cat hiking side by side.
As a bonus, Moose is handy! A DIYer with persistence, he made his own cat door in the window screen, and the local chipmunks have enjoyed letting themselves in to visit. At first, we thought Moose was doing a chipmunk rescue program, sort of a “scruff and release” into the house. Fortunately, no chippies have been hurt, but I’m sure they’re shaken up by their indoor experience. And, yes, we’ve repaired the screen!
Accidents happen, so add a litter box to your cat’s travel kit
Back to the serious poop: It’s always best to bring litter box supplies along on any trip with your cat, even if they will be conservatively confined to a travel crate and won’t be headed out on hikes and bike rides. Emergencies happen, and a quick day trip can turn into a few nights at a hotel if your vehicle breaks down or your trip hits a snag.
There are lots of disposable litter boxes on the market, but a cardboard box will do in a pinch. There are also travel litter boxes that you can reuse – some even have zippers like a tiny suitcase to keep litter under control! There’s no need to haul along a big bag of cat litter. A gallon Ziplock with a few scoops will usually do just fine.
Pack out cat poo anywhere you’d pick up dog doo
But what about when a leash-trained cat is walking along a nature trail, or demands a break from their kitty backpack? It sure would be nice to let your cat scratch a hole and cover their own poo in the soft forest ground or a sandy dune and just quietly walk on.
However, all of the environmental baggage that comes with dog poo is also a concern with cat feces. When pet after pet adds their extra nutrient load along trails and parklands, they can make the soil inhospitable to native plants, reducing biodiversity. They can also leave behind parasite eggs that can infect local wildlife, other pets, and dirt-loving kids.
And then there’s that extra cat poop concern: toxoplasmosis.
Is toxoplasmosis really a concern for cats who poop outdoors?
Toxoplasmosis (T.gondii) is a parasite that causes disease in humans and other animals. Cats are the only animal known to excrete toxoplasmosis eggs in their feces. If other warm-blooded animals, including dogs, wildlife, farm animals, birds, and even people accidentally ingest infective cat feces in outdoor soil or dirty litter boxes, they can become infected with T. gondii.
Toxoplasmosis gets a lot of alarming press because if a pregnant woman is infected, her child is at risk of birth defects. You’ve probably heard the warning that pregnant women should assign litter box cleaning to another member of the family until after their baby is born. People with immunodeficiency diseases can become ill, too. (No, pregnant women don't have to give up their cats. Just take sensible cleaning measures).
Fresh cat feces aren’t infective for 1-5 days, so if litter boxes are scooped daily and cat parents wash their hands, that risk is significantly reduced. The one good thing about toxoplasmosis is that a cat (or any creature) who is infected once tends to become immune to reinfection for the rest of their life.
Animals – humans, too! – can also be infected if they eat the raw or undercooked meat of infected animals. In fact, handling or consuming undercooked or raw meat, particularly pork, is the most common route of human infection in North America.
Being vigilant about cleaning counters, hands, and utensils after handling raw meat, and cooking meat thoroughly, is also very important when it comes to managing toxoplasmosis.
People who are hiking and playing outdoors – especially children – put up with quite a bit of dirt and tend to wait to wash up until the end of the day. Soap and hot water aren't always available on the trail. People may not think to wash their hands before pulling their lunch from their backpack or firing up the grill at their campsite. And of course, dogs love root in the dirt or taste anything interesting they find, (some pups dine out in litter boxes at home, too). Wild animals often stop to sniff or nibble anything unfamiliar.
Run-off from rainstorms can wash dog and cat poo, including those unneeded nutrients and possible parasites, into waterways where they can impact aquatic animals and plants, too.
So, a good animal lover, neighbor, and environmental steward will pick up their adventure cat’s poop, just as they would a dog’s. Just because cats tend to have smaller, neater poop than canines isn’t an excuse to leave it behind. Perhaps the good news is that cleaning it up is less of a chore than scooping our hiking canine companions! Glass half full, anyone?
Nature’s not your cat’s litter box
Finally, since adventure cats are finally getting their day in the sun, let’s not ruin their new, fun reputation by dumping another ‘load’ on Mother Nature. Now that I'm walking two four-footed companions, canine and feline, I’ve ended up with two bags o' poo -- Bella’s and Moose’s -- slung on my dooloop. Give your cat-traveling friends a dooloop as a gift, in their favorite color. And why not add one of those cool zippered cat boxes? Isn’t it nice to have some new gift options for pet lovers?
Spread peace, not poo, no matter who!