RVing with cats can be awesome, fun and rewarding, it just needs a little preparation to make things go smoothly – for you and your cats. But where to even begin? It feels like when preparing for an RV trip there is already so much to do. Add a finicky cat or two into the mix, and now you’ve got some serious work to do!
My guide breaks it down into helpful categories, which should make the advice streamlined and digestible.
In this guide, some of the tips are specific to when you own your RV yourself and can make modifications to it. With #vanlife becoming more and more popular, some people are making their RV their full-time home. Other tips will suit also those renting a camper for a vacation. And that’s so awesome because, at last, you can take your feline friends with you!
Without further ado, let’s dive into these all-killer-no-filler tips for traveling by camper with your cat!
Prepare your cat
1. Go for a check up at the vet
A check up is essential before embarking on an RV trip. Cats can hide pain very well, so you’ll want to make sure she’s physically healthy before setting off. Vet care can be hard to come by on the road. If you’re on vacation, you won’t want to spend that time attending to cat health issues.
If your cat is on medications, ask the vet how best to ensure a consistent supply of medications. Ask for several months’ supply of a medication or a few rounds in the case of a recurring condition.
2. Get necessary vaccinations
You’ll need to look into cat vaccinations requirements in your country. In the US, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you’re planning to enter Canada, you’ll need to have an up-to-date certificate of rabies vaccination for each pet. The rabies shot is needed every 3 years. Some campgrounds will also require vaccination records.
Cats can have a severe allergic reaction to the rabies shot. For this reason it’s recommended to get the shot done at least two weeks before the intended departure date.
3. Prevent against common ailments
Safeguard against minor issues cats can have such as hairballs, over-eating or drinking, or those bouts of tummy issues by taking precautions ahead of time. If your cat will be out and about roaming on a leash in long grass, a season’s supply of flea and tick preventative medications may be in order.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has a helpful print-and-keep list of first aid supplies to have on hand for your cat or other pet.
4. Get your cat microchipped
Keep your info (phone number, email address, home address) updated with the chip company. A chip is useless if the company can’t find you!
Get an identity tag made for your cat with a contact phone number and the information that they’re microchipped. When putting any kind of collar or attachment around your cat’s neck, it should not be too tight. Cats have a sensitive and fragile trachea. It also shouldn’t be too loose, otherwise something could easily get caught in it.
5. Know your cat’s personality
Knowing your cat’s needs and unique temperament will help ensure a comfortable ride. It’ll also mean that you prepare in a way that’s effective for you both, and not setting yourself up for problems down the road.
Ask yourself if your cat is the curious and mischievous kind, or just happy to be close by basking in the sun? Does your cat prefer to den and hide or be where the action is? Is he skittish and easily spooked? Or needy and affectionate?
Got a super anxious cat? Check out our guide linked below!
6. Train your cat on the leash
Life on the road can be unpredictable. They are some times when you’ll need to take your cat out of the rig, or open a door when she isn’t in her crates. An easy way of preventing escape is to put your cat on a leash.
Unlike dogs, cats are not naturals on a leash. They’ll need training well in advance of the trip as each cat responds differently to training. When you first try the leash on the cat, you’ll want to give up immediately! But be persistent and use treats to reward them. I have a full guide on leash training coming out soon.
As well as getting used to the leash, cats will also need to get used to being in strange places. As territorial creatures, they survive by knowing every square inch of their turf. That security will not be afforded to them when they are constantly going to new surroundings.
Use a leash and harness system that is specifically designed for cats, not for dogs.
A note on letting your cat off-leash, from Gone with the Wynns. When visiting State Parks or National Parks, don’t assume you can let your cat run free, no matter how Instagrammable the pictures will be. You can get thrown out or slapped with a fine if your cat kills a bird or other animal.
7. Get your cat used to his carrier
Even if you’re not planning to crate your cat during transit, there will be times when kitty will need to be confined or retreat to the carrier for safety. If your cat isn’t already familiar with a carrier, set it up at home well in advance of the trip. First with the door open, using familiar-smelling blankets and treats to lure him in. Then get him used to being in there with the door closed or zippered.
8. Get your cat used to the RV
Full time RVers have gone to great lengths to get their cat used to the rig before setting off. The writer of Wheeling It describes in this article how they chose to live in a stationery rig for almost two months with their cats before they drove anywhere.
While that may not be a possibility, if it’s an option to have your cat sniff around the RV before moving anywhere, do it! Even if you’re renting one, try to add even just an hour for the cats to explore every nook and cranny of their new home – after you’ve catified it, natch.
Prepare your rig
9. Address safety issues
Consider what changes you need to make to the rig to accommodate the cat’s needs and address safety issues. For example, your rig might have slideouts, electric jacks, steps and awnings. If you’re not planning on crating, how will you ensure that cat’s safety when operating moving parts?
10. Put child safety locks on drawers and cabinets
Close off out-of-bounds areas. Some drawers and cabinets should be off-limits to your cat. Some might lead to the bowels of the vehicle, are escape hatches, or places your cat could get stuck. A simple solution is here (Amazon link).
Go over every square inch of your rig and think like a cat!
11. Have cat-only areas
Some drawers or cupboards that are fully enclosed might be great areas for cats to retreat to, however. Cats very much like having private areas they can call their own – no humans allowed! Cats like high perches where they can take a nap without being disturbed.
Make sure there is ample room for your cat to play and places for them to lay and snooze. Windows should be available for your cat to gaze out of.
12. Get vinyl floors
If you’re planning a longer-term trip, a vinyl floor is a good investment to make. Easy to clean and super durable, it’ll make wiping up any spills or accidents a breeze. As bad smells can linger in an RV, anything you can do to keep your camper smelling fresh is a huge bonus.
13. Buy food containers
A clip-and-close container is must for storing dry food. As you’ll likely be stocking up, a large dry dog food container works well. You’ll probably want to change up the type of food and water bowls the cat uses at home, in favor of something collapsible that stores away easily like this camping cup (Amazon link), or something you can put a lid on like this one.
14. Use pet cameras so you can keep an eye on your cat
Whether you’re living full-time in your RV or just vacationing, there are probably going to be times you’re away from the vehicle for hours at a time. To avoid that natural tendency to worry or want to check in on your cat, you could invest in a cat-camera that streams to your phone. That way, any time you catch yourself wondering if your kitty’s OK, you can reassure yourself with the live feed.
Just do make sure you regulate the temperature, leave ample food and water and perform safety checks before setting off for an extended jaunt without your cat.
You can even buy remote temperature sensors to ensure that your cat stays cool. These smart devices monitor the temperature inside the RV and can send an alert to your phone if it gets too hot or cold! One like this by Sensorpush has thousands of glowing Amazon reviews and is modestly priced considering the stress it will save.
Keep it clean
15. Where to put cat litter box in an RV.
This is a huge concern when it comes to traveling with cats in an RV and probably the number one most-asked question! This excellent article on DIY RV goes over some hacks to install a cat litter box in a way that’s discrete and most efficient for keeping bad smells at bay.
Both of their methods involve a fair bit of DIY modifications and also losing some storage space! And if they don’t work for your specific model of RV, the article might spark a thought.
This video below from I Love RV Life breaks it down. It’s clear how much of a dedicated cat-lover he is!
Another hack is to use the outdoor storage area as the litter box area – you’ll just need to figure out a way for the cat to be able to access it at all times.
You could also use your own bathroom if there’s an area that fits kitty’s litter box. Harvest Hosts, in this article, suggests placing the litter box in the shower, which is a great space-saving idea that requires zero customizations.
Another detailed article with incredible solutions to the RV litter box problem is here on Technomadia. Their guide takes your through their innovative ideas step by step.
A couple of quick points:: use the same litter box that they’re accustomed to from home. If you dare to shake things up a bit, you could use a top-entry litter box which takes up less space, creates some space up top, and can even be more decorative.
I’ve heard that pine litter such as Feline Pine (link to Amazon) helps with odor control A LOT. There’s a lot less dust with pine – it’s compostable, too. You won’t have to scoop the cat’s urine, only poop! Just be sure to get the pine pellets rather than the fine grain which can get flung around and tracked around the RV.
On travel days, give your cat time to use the litter box in the morning.
16. Dispose of cat litter carefully
Never allow any cat litter to enter your holding tanks. Doing so would be a nightmare for your water tanks and septic/ sewer lines. Cat litter doesn’t dissolve in water. There is also a risk of contamination from the toxoplasma gondii parasite present in cat faeces.
17. Keep cleaning supplies
Keep cleaning supplies on hand to easily clean up any messes. As far as your cats go, waterproof mattress covers are great for using on human beds. Utopia Beddings has a good and well-reviewed waterproof bamboo mattress cover.
18. Get sturdy containers for trash
To prevent the cat getting into the trash, buy sturdy large plastic food containers to use as garbage and recycling cans. This prevents them from spilling over and any foul odors.
19. The RV is a ready-made kitty jungle gym
Cats will find their own ways to use what they’ve got in the RV for their own play and entertainment, though this doesn’t replace deliberate play. Life in the RV can make your cat more agile and coordinated with all the different levels, obstacles and areas to play in.
So, don’t go nuts with a ton of different cat toys. A simple kicker toy, a mouse / bird on a string and your cat will be over the moon. These can be toys from home so they also bring comfort and familiarity as well as fun.
20. Get into a routine of regular play
Just like at home, your cat needs regular stimulation that only you can provide. If you are worried about your cats bolting, remember, they’ll want to go outside if there’s nothing to do inside! If you love RVing, there’s a good probability that you enjoy exploring the great outdoors. Make sure you give your can plenty to do so that he’s less likely to make a bid for freedom.
21. Get a laser pointer
These are so much fun for cats on the road! They are inexpensive, work in any environment and take up hardly any storage space.
22. Have something for your cat to scratch
A cat scratching post is just as vital in the vehicle as it is at home. Spray with catnip spray to get him interested. Ideally, you’ll want a cat scratcher or tower that attaches to the wall.
In an RV however, space is precious. A scratching pole can take up too much of it. Instead, make an area scratch-friendly. Secure a scratching pad like this one to the wall or the end panel of a kitchen cabinet. (Great tip there from RVshare)
If you’re vacationing in the RV, you can simply scatter a couple of horizontal cardboard scratch pads like these (Amazon link) around the RV.
23. Use makeshift toys to keep cats entertained with something new
An occasional brown paper bag or cardboard to play in can be stimulating for your RV cat. Then, when he’s done with his playtime, you can recycle it.
During the RV trip
24. Perform routine safety checks
Periodically check your window screens and doors for any abnormalities that can create an escape route. Check over all your locks, safety catches and screens every so often to make sure they’re still intact.
25. Take purposeful kitty breaks
If you are planning on longer driving days, make sure you take cat breaks to give your feline a chance to use the litter box and get food and water. Esther and Jacob of Local Adventurers (check out that post just for the amazing photos!) suggest pit stops every 2-3 hours. They also suggest that in the morning you need to allow 3 – 4 hours for your cat to let their food settle before the drive.
As cats tend to hunker down and switch off during traumatic times, they may not attend to their normal urges to go to the bathroom, eat or drink – all of which can cause health issues.
26. Decide whether to crate your cat during transit
Whether or not to crate your cat will depend on your cat’s temperament and personality. Usually, cats will find their own personal hidey-hole to retreat to while the vehicle is moving. It also depends significantly on the setup you have in your RV.
Some experts such as VetStreet in this article warn never to let a cat roam free while an RV is in motion. As long as there is no possibility of the cat getting into the driver’s area, however, it’s your choice.
If you have a travel trailer or a fifth wheel, your cat will need to ride in the car with you in a carrier. Seatbelt the carriers through the handles, or use other means to fix the carriers or crates securely.
27. Keep a carrier accessible regardless
Keep a carrier accessible at all times in case the cat does need to be moved or restrained. A carrier can prove useful as a place for the cat to retreat to. If you’re crossing any international borders, you may need to take your cat out so border control can inspect him, and check that everything matches up with his pet passport.
28. Know how to calm your cat if she’s distressed
At least initially, your cat may act out of character while he adjusts to life on the road. Even the boldest cat can act differently once they’re out of their comfort zone! If you need to use some kind of sedative or calming agent, I recommend using natural ones.
Herbal or floral remedies can work wonders and you cannot overdose them. Pharmaceutical sedatives can play havoc with your cat’s equilibrium and can bring on respiratory or cardiovascular issues.
Your vet can provide more customized recommendations for your unique cat regarding sedatives. It’s important to take into account factors such as pre-existing conditions, temperament, breed and history.
If you’re looking for reasons to go herbal rather than pharmaceutical as far as cat sedatives go, be sure to check out our detailed guide on natural cat calming here.
29. Keep calm and focus on the road
It bears repeating that your cat shouldn’t be a distraction from your driving. If you are worried about your cat or hear howling or something unusual, pull over and check it out. Never let the cat run around the driver’s area while the RV is moving.
30. Keep routines from home and build new routines
Cats love routine, it makes them feel safe. Keep some of those same routines such as mealtimes and playtime to give them a sense of familiarity. If you need to shift something, do it gradually. Your cat already has a lot of newness to take in!
As well as routines, make sure you bring familiar items that remind your cat of home – a favorite blanket, a sweater that smells of you, or a toy she curls up with.
There you have it! Hopefully this helps you a little with practical and actionable tips for riding in your RV with your feline companion.
Cats can be wily and fast, good at hiding, and persistent when they want something. Many cats however are also more adaptable than we give them credit for. For those that aren’t, a little perseverance can go a long way to convincing your cat that their new home on wheels isn’t so bad.
Pin this graphic to your cat care board, and give us a follow on Pinterest!