5 Tips For RVing & Camping With Cats
In my last post reader Stephanie asked me about camping with kitties which, as it so happens, was one of the posts on my “list”. I originally wrote about this several years ago (when we first started RVing), but I’ve never written a follow-up and it’s time I did.
We’ve had our kitties (both rescues) since they were little, fluffy mischievous balls of fur and they are now getting on in years and approaching the 13-year mark. In that time they’ve lived in many different houses, flown to Asia and back (quite a major event) and adapted to RV living. They are part our family and we simply couldn’t imagine life without them. One of our biggest concerns going fulltime RVing was making sure the cats adapted to their environment and continued to live a full and rewarding life, especially since one of our cats (Rand) is prone to anxiety & food sensitivities. Here’s some of our tips:
Adapting to RV Life (Cats At Home)
Most cats don’t like change and when we decided to move into the RV we intentionally took a very slow, deliberate approach. Before we moved into the RV we made sure the kitties had several cubby holes & hiding places, scratching poles, litter and rags/blankets with familiar smells. Then we chose to live stationary in the rig for almost 2 months in San Diego before we started driving anywhere. This gave the kitties a chance to find their spots and make the rig their home before moving. I honestly feel this was a critical part of the adaptation process. Some basic items which we put in the RV:
- LitterBox -> We chose to place our litterbox in the shower for easy access (we cover the drain). It’s not the snazziest of places and means we have to remove the litterbox & sweep everytime we shower (a bit of a pain), but we’ve been too lazy to create another spot. I know RVers who create/open a specific space for the litterbox either under the bed or in a bathroom cupboard. I also know RVers who use litter-box cabinets (really nifty if you have the space) or even teach their cats to use the toilet (yes, there are cats who can do this!).
- Kitty Beds -> We have 2 “official” kitty beds, one in the front of the RV and one in our bedroom cupboard plus at least 3 other “cubby hole” areas where the cats can hide & relax. One of these is a make-shift bed/play area in the closed cabinet above our bed. Kitties love to get HIGH and I feel it’s important to their well-being to give them that outlet. Kitties also love to be WARM so a few years ago I got some nifty thermal kitty blankets (awesome for boondocking) which both cats LOVE. I’ve put these in 2 of our cat beds and they use them all the time.
- Scratching Poles -> We have one basic, standing sisal-style scratching pole as well as a few cardboard-type floor versions that we “refresh” with catnip on a regular basis to keep them interesting. Hanging versions can also work, depending on your RV layout.
- Food and Water Bowls -> The cat food bowls we place up on the window ledge by the bedroom (i.e. above the reach of the dog). The waterbowl is shared (by all pets) and just sits on the floor by our fridge. It helps to have something non-slip under bowls to prevent them gliding around while the pets are eating/drinking out of them.
Driving Around (Cats On The Go)
Once our cats had adapted to the RV as their home, we started with short (less than 50 mile) trips to adapt them to moving. Initially we enclosed the cats in their collapsable cat carriers while moving, but Taggart (especially) meowed and howled the entire time. Eventually I gave in and let them out. They both ran back to the bedroom and under a box that we keep under the duvet cover. That was enough to calm the meowing and that’s where they’ve been ever since. Most folks I know that travel with cats end up doing something similar. The cats “find their spot” for travel and then they’re usually OK. These days the kitties will actually run under the duvet as soon as they see me putting stuff away. They know the routine now.
There’s a few other things we always do before/during moving:
- Secure the Cats Before Moving Slides -> This is probably the #1 item I would impress on anyone with cats & RV slides. Always, always, always know where your cats are before moving the slides in or out. Secure them and watch them. I’ve heard horror stories of cats getting crushed/killed in slides & it’s something I’m extra careful about. Check, check again and only after slides are completely moved (in or out) let the cats roam.
- Relaxers For Anxious Cats -> Our stress cystitis cat (Rand) is especially prone to anxiety and we have several options for her, all non-pharmaceutical. Cats are very individual in how they react to these remedies, so if one doesn’t work for you try the other.
- Bach’s Rescue Remedy is a flower remedy which I’ve used for years. A few drops rubbed into the inside of the ear will almost instantly calm Rand. Bach’s also makes many other, specific flower remedies if the “general” formula doesn’t work for you. Australian Bush Flower Essences is another good brand. I’m a huge fan.
- Feliway is a synthetic feline phermone with fabulous calming properties if your kitty is reactive to it. It comes as a diffuser and a spray. I use the spray version for area they sleep/travel in & also in their kitty carriers (for trips to the vet).
- L-Theanine is an amino acid with calming properties. I have not had terrible success with it, but know others who have especially for travel anxiety. There’s many brands that sell products containing L-Theanine (e.g. this one) so just google around for sources. Human versions, cut down to size, will work too.
Taking Your Cats Outdoors (Cats Out And About)
What???? You walk your cats??? Yes, believe it or not just about any cat out there can be leash-trained (at any age) and this provides your cat a safe way to explore the outdoors, as well as hang out with you while you’re having your afternoon beverage in camp. I believe this kind of mental & physical stimulation is key to our kitties health. Our cats were leash-trained at the age of 5 and have enjoyed outdoor activity ever since. These days they’re so well-adapted to staying close to us that they’ll even just hang quietly (without a harness) and sunbathe right next to us if we’re in camp or walk right next to us out in the boonies. A couple of pointers:
- Buy a Cat-Specific Harness -> A cat-specific harness is different from a small-dog harness & not all brands are equal. A good kitty harness is a body-size piece that wraps completely around your kitties stomach & neck and is secure enough to prevent her/him from squirming out of it. We’ve used the HDW Cat Harness for past 8 years and have been very happy with it. Kitty Holster is another good brand.
Blog Update: check out these colorful & cute harnesses from blog reader Deci.
- Take Time To Train Kitty -> Kitty harness training takes TIME and a just a wee bucket of patience. The first time you put that harness on your cat he/she will likely meow like he/she is dying and flop around like you just attached a 1/2 ton torture device. The key is to associate the harness with something GOOD (= treats & the outdoors). I started by putting the harness on for only a few minutes and immediately took kitty outdoors & treated/praised them. Then, I slowly increased the harness time. It took a month to get fully converted, but now my cats will come running if I take out the harness and will patiently wait for me to put it on at the door before we go out.
- Stay Vigilant -> We never leave our cats outdoors unattended, especially since they have zero “street smarts” (seriously, no kitty sensibility whatsoever). I know some folks who leave their cats on a harness outdoors and, depending on the cat, this is fine as long as they stay close and have a way to come indoors. I would not recommend letting your cat roam, unharnessed & unwatched at a campsite. Too many potential ways for kitty to get lost or hurt.
Buying Food & Litter
Acquiring food & litter on the road is not so different from doing it at home except you do (generally) have a to do a bit more planning. We use a generic litter that we can buy anywhere (even Walmart) and our cats eat limited-ingredient canned food which I can pick-up at any Petco or Petsmart. I’ll typically buy food for 2 months at a time and just plan for the next big(er) town to stock-up. It’s possible to get food delivery on the road, if you’re staying at a campground that allows mail/packages, but since we’re often out in the boonies this doesn’t really work for us so, stock-up is the way we roll.
Note/ Our dog is 100% raw-fed but that is a WHOLE other post topic
Another huge concern on the road is veterinary care for your pets. This can be complicated when you’re travelling around and don’t have access to a regular vet. Thankfully there are a few tips to handle this:
Take Charge & Keep Records -> Much like our person health care I’m a big supporter of taking charge of your pets care. This means keeping records for every vet visit, learning to read blood & urine-test reports and keeping ontop of any required health checks. I have a folder at home which has all our pets records, and I ask for a complete record set (incl. all blood-tests) at every vet we go to. That way I have the records handy and can give them to new vets as needed down the road. As a back-up I keep a scanned copy of these records online on Dropbox so I can access them anywhere if we lose them or are not in the rig.
- Have a “Home Town” Vet -> For those travelers who come back to same town every year it’s easy to keep a hometown vet for annual check-ups. I still recommend keeping a copy of all your pet records for those times you’re away from home.
Use Nationwide Vets/Plans -> Thanks to Technomadia, we learned about Banfield Pet Hospitals last year. For a standard yearly fee you get access to a comprehensive healthcare plan and network of nationwide vets. The vet offices tend to be in bigger towns only, but their footprint is pretty good & includes ~800 locations. For our cats we have the Active Wellness plan which costs $29.95/mo (each) and gives them 2 complete check-ups/year (blood, urine, fecal) as well as vaccinations & teeth cleaning (which can be very pricey!). As an added bonus Banfield keeps a central, electronic record of all your pets’ visits which automatically transfer to any office you visit. They even have a mobile app. So far we’ve done 2 vet visits and been very happy with the care.
Extra TIP/ I’ve noticed that monthly plan fees vary somewhat depending on where you initially sign up (no matter where you travel afterwards), so when you’re first signing up check around a few offices to get the best price. The care is the same regardless & all plans are nationwide.
- Emergency Care -> At some point in your travel life you’ll likely need emergency care for your pets. At that point I’ll go to the nearest best-rated (on Google) vet office or hospital. This is where having a record of your pets’ history comes in handy yet again. We don’t carry pet insurance, although I know folks that do.
PHEW!!! Didn’t know I had that much to say, but there you go. Any questions I didn’t cover? Do ask away below!
Related Posts & Other Cool Cat RV Bloggers:
- WheelingIt Post -> A Tale of 2 Kitties…or how to travel the road with cats
- WheelingIt Post -> Guest Blog: Taggart Meows About Life On the Road
- Cool RV Kitty #1 -> Technomadia -> Kiki’s Corner
- Cool RV Kitty #2 -> Ivan & His Cat Hailey
- Cool RV Kitt(ies) #3 -> Gone With the Wynns, Singa & Cleo