Traveling By RV With Cats



Calico kitten staring into a fishbowl at a goldfish

Traveling by RV or camper trailer with our cats requires some thoughtful preparation and conscious care on the road. Before you take off for that big adventure, check out these tips on living in a small space with our cats.

Nomadic living with cats, such a traveling by RV, has unique problems. So you must think and plan carefully before hitting the road to keep your cats — and you — safe and comfortable. While our RVs and camper trailers may be the perfect portable home for us, to your cat it isn’t much different than traveling by car. The RV or camper trailer is merely a slightly larger confined space that moves alarmingly fast. Cats can adapt, and some adapt quickly, but it takes time, patience and preparation.

Keep in mind that you need to adapt, too. In a house or apartment, we can usually get some time away from our cats, but in an RV or camper we are all confined together. In addition, take even greater care to keep your cats safe inside  — and outside only under supervision.

Before Traveling By RV With Your Cats

Never let your cats roam freely while the vehicle is moving. Along with keeping your cats safely confined while the vehicle is moving, you want to keep your cat from getting lost, injured or infected in an unknown environment.

Make certain your cats have a valid I.D.

Microchip, microchip, microchip! Seriously. Microchipping your cats is the best way to help in getting them back if they get lost.  Unlike children, they can’t tell rescuers their name and phone number — but the microchip can speak for them.

At the very least, and as an excellent backup, your cats should wear a collar or harness with “Reward — [Followed by your travel phone number]” written on the inside in indelible ink (such as laundry marker or Milwaukee Inkzall).

Make certain your cats have up-to-date vaccinations.

Many RV parks and campgrounds require a current vaccination certificates before you can rent space. It’s also necessary to have a current vaccination and health certificate. For example, Canada requires a health certificate issued no more than 10-days before your entry.

Also, treat your cats for fleas and ticks.

As someone who remembers the days of flea powder and flea baths for her cats, I am a HUGE fan of systemic flea treatments such as Revolution or Advantage. Talk with your vet and get her recommendation. Remember, the cats do not have to go outside to be exposed, we can carry fleas, ticks and other contagions into our RVs and campers. (See the Veterinary Care On the Road section below) Also, keep in mind other animals are traveling by RV as well. Who know where they have been!

Never open a sliding or extended section of your RV or camper trailer until you have confined the cats in their carrier or crate.

Cats get into the darnedest places. I’ve heard many horror stories from fellow travelers of cats killed or mangled by expanding Rv or camper sections. Basically, if any part of the vehicle is moving, our cats should be safely confined.

Make certain you have a plan for leaving your cat alone in the RV or camper.

A cracked window is not enough ventilation in the heat and you can’t always find a shady spot, particularly in the open country. While a vent fan or air conditioner is a good start, what happens if the favor air conditioner fail? If you are planning on being gone for an extended period, try to find someplace to board your pet or see if another camper will pet sit. Perhaps work out an exchange of services.

Never leave your pet outside alone especially tied up or confined.

Your cat is at risk of abduction, but more importantly, your cat can become prey for wild animals. Each year numerous pets are seriously injured or killed during wildlife encounters in the national parks. Almost every year I lived by the Olympic National Park there was a report of an animal mauled or killed by raccoons, coyotes, cougars or bears after being left tied outside an RV or camper trailer while the owners went off sightseeing or hiking. This despite numerous warning signs that dangerous wildlife was in the vicinity and that people should not leave their animals unattended.

Essentials When Traveling By RV With Your Cats

Along with your necessities, spend some time planning what, where and how for your cat’s necessary gear. You cat will require:

Food and Water

You may want to put down food and water only when you stop or take a break. Not only do some cats get carsick in moving vehicles but you’ll be forever cleaning up spills. Also, think about using a water filter or carrying bottled water to prevent health issues as you move from one water treatment system to another. Cats can be even more sensitive to the changes in odor, taste and chemicals in the local water.  As for food, you can read my more detailed suggestions in Traveling by Car With Your Cat, but do have a plan to provide consistent, readily digestible cat food on the road. As much as we hate bowel and bladder problems at home, in the confines of an RV or camper trailer our cats are not the only ones who suffer.

Litter Box and Litter

While it’s possible to scrape by with a smaller-than-usual litter box for a 3-day cross-country dash, in an RV or camper trailer the litter box needs to be large enough to properly handle the sizes and number of cats using it. We may tolerate a tiny, portable toilet but our cats may rebel, particularly if the litter box is difficult to use or isn’t regularly cleaned because of an awkward location. Often cats also like a bit of privacy, so an ideal spot is out of sight (though not out of mind). There is a good article at Technomadia on renovating an RV to accommodate a litter box for easy access while staying out of site. And because of the confined space, you should choose your cat litter carefully.

Cat carrier and/or pet crate

You need a cat carrier or pet crate when traveling for everything from temporary confinement to emergency evacuation. Our cats should never roam freely in a moving vehicle, especially a large one! In the event of sudden braking, sliding or, heaven forbid, accident, our cats will fly further and hit with greater impact, not to mention being at risk from any objects that break free. There are many new options that may particularly appeal to RV and camper trailer owners such as portable cat play pens and foldable, mesh crates. Read about all of your options when Choosing a Cat or Pet Carrier.

Scratching posts, beds, furniture and toys

While you  may not want to install a full-scale kitty condo in your RV or camper trailer, you probably want to prevent your cats from scratching the furniture or claiming your seating. And while there will be plenty of stimulation in the ever changing view outside, you should bring along some toys, especially toys that provide interaction with you when you park the vehicle for the night.

Safety First

Before releasing your cats, inspect your RV or camper trailer carefully for any potential escape routes or hazards.

Look for sharp edges, cat-accessible confined spaces, where objects might shift unexpectedly or door latches that might spring open dropping objects on your cats. A friend jokingly calls this “earthquake preparedness” after they awoke to find their RV shaking from a sudden high winds. Fortunately, neither my friends nor their cats were hurt. But my friends made some changes in the RV after cleaning up the mess.

You should also acclimate your cats to the RV or camper trailer before you start your travel.

Once you are certain the vehicle is safe and secure, allow your cats to spend a few hours in the parked vehicle exploring. Stay with them and engage in some quiet, peaceful activity such as reading or watching a video or even napping. Watch how your cats react. Keep an eye on who is trying to find an escape route, who is hiding (and where) and who is taking it pretty much in stride. You may want to check out my steps on moving with your cat for more information.

Train for necessary new habits.

Even if you are a seasoned traveler, traveling with cats in an RV or camper trailer is different. The cats and you must adjust your habits when traveling together. Develop the habit of securing doors and locating cats BEFORE opening doors or windows. Automatically put everything back in its place. Just as new parents have to learn new habits when the baby starts to explore, we have to learn new habits when we start traveling with cats.

Take a brief test trip or two traveling to a place not too far from home.

How well does everyone adapt to the RV travel or camping? Do your nocturnal cats keep you awake as they eat and explore? Should you put a sign by the doors and windows reminding people to keep the cats from escaping? Are changes needed in your arrangements or the RV itself for everyone’s safety and comfort?

Prevent damage to your RV or camper trailer by your cats with planning from their perspective.

We know our cats are going to want to look out the windows. It is their reality TV (or “Kitty Cinema Verité” as we say at our house. Hey, I’ve got to use that class on film somehow). In addition, our cats will need a scratching post. If we don’t provide one, the builtin furniture will do nicely. Not to mention the fun of banging cabinets that are not secured firmly in the middle of the night. Consider placement of pet beds and possible remodeling with window seats or hammocks. Provide approved scratching surfaces like carpeted bins or attaching sisal or other scratching posts. They do make flat scratching pads that can be attached with double-stick tape or Command removable picture hangars. The folks at have some good ideas for protecting the furniture, like clear double-stick tape on the chairs. Not fashionable but better than shredded furniture.

And while most of us do not have a million dollars to create the ultimate RV, check out this video from HGTV on comfortable RV traveling with 6 cats!

Consider Harness Training

A good-quality cat harness allows you to secure your cat — once the vehicle is stopped — without confinement. And many cats learn to enjoy walking on a leach outside. (In all honesty, I’ve only had two cats who actually enjoyed the harness and leash and three who actually tolerated it. I am trying again with my latest rescues, but it’s slow going and requiring a lot of patience — from both of us.) It’s easiest to start young, train for a very brief time daily, begin indoors and get the cat comfortable with the harness and lead before moving outside with training. And don’t forget the rewards. Treats are necessary rewards to cats.

Veterinary Care on the Road

Get copies of your cats’ medical records to take with you.

You should also have the name and phone number of the veterinary clinic in case anything happens to the actual records. Current records can be life saving in the event of an emergency. It is also a good idea to keep a copy of the records (scanned or print format) in Cloud storage such as Dropbox, Apple Cloud or Google Drive. (This is were you can also keep backup copies of your cats’ identification photos.)

If you have a location where you return annually when traveling by RV, get a “home town” vet for your cats.

Ideally, your “home town” vet is where your cats get their annual well-cat check up and inoculations updated. Having someone who knows your cats improves the quality and reliability of their care. It also saves time in diagnosis and treatment, even on the road. If you do need emergency veterinary care while traveling with your cat, the emergency vet can contact your cat’s “home town” vet for consultation and details of past treatment.

To find veterinary care while traveling with your cats, simply Google veterinary services near you.

I like to check out the reviews before making a choice. I don’t mind driving a little further for a vet who gets better reviews. But consider these questions when reading the reviews:

  • How recent is the review?
  • Do the reviews apply to cats or dogs? (Some vet practices are better at one then the other.)
  • With negative reviews what is the true complaint? Costs or actual treatment of the animal?
  • Are the reviews consistent, especially negative comments?
  • Are the reviews to obviously similar?
  • What’s your priorities?

If you need emergency veterinary care,

simply Google “Emergency animal hospital near” and put in the name of the nearest town or city. Or type “near me” if you use the location feature on your mobile phone. 

While Traveling By RV With Your Cats

Never let your cat roam freely when any part of the vehicle is moving.

This includes expanding extensions or unfolding built-ins. As mentioned, cats should travel in a secured cat carrier crate, kennel cage or play pen. Buckle down the cat carrier with a seatbelt or other restraining device to prevent tumbling in the event of sudden stops. Check out the post on Choosing a Pet or Cat Carrier for details on ways to make your carrier safer.

Alternatively, you could use a safety harness system when traveling by RV. A harness allows your cat to roam leashed to a limited area. But good systems are hard to find. A harness and sing leash are not enough. A single, tied leash simply turns your cat into a tether ball in the event of sudden stop or accident. You need a two-point attachment system. Frankly, a good size cate crate, kennel cage or play pen is much easier and safer, in my experience. Not to mention easier to use. If space is a problem, choose a folding kennel cage or crate that can be tucked away.

Make certain you place your cat kennel cage, crate or pen in a secure, safe location that stays cool.

Avoid placing your cat carrier near things that might go flying in case of sudden stops or slides. Under the table is good, if the cat cage or crate fits. Or attach the cat carrier to the table base — and keep the table tops clear. (No flying knives or heavy objects, please.)

Consider a remote temperature sensor to make certain things don’t get too hot (or cold)  in your RV or camper trailer. Remote Temperature sensors are devices you place in your RV or camper trailer that send an alert to your mobile phone if the temperature is too hot or cold. Of course, remote sensor alerts are dependent on having cellular phone service in the area. Cell service can be problematic in wilderness areas like many national parks or monuments. There are temperature monitors that will automatically turn your generator on (and off) when temperatures reach a trigger temperature. Make certain any monitor you choose has a backup battery and that the batteries are fresh and working before leaving your cat alone.

For your own peace of mind — as well as the safety of your cat — keep track of your cat when traveling by RV.

Do not let your cat roam freely outside, especially in a new or wilderness environment. Not only can the cat do damage to the wildlife and environment, but the environment and wildlife can do damage to your cat! As the songs says, “there are a lot of bad things out there.” Some of those things are other people. Oh, baby, baby it’s a wild world.

If you want to have your cat experience where you travel, harness train before hitting the road. Or get a large, portable cat playpen. Just be certain to inspect your playpen each time you set it up for chewed holes or tears. (I had one sitting on a deck airing and rescued it from a squirrel just in time.) Canceling plans while trying to find your missing cat is extremely unpleasant! So is making a dash to an emergency animal hospital. Or worse, finding the body of your cat. Tends to ruin a trip.

Our goal is to make cat travel as safe and comfortable as possible for our cats — and ourselves.

Happy trails!

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