Cats that RV.
While not as plentiful as their domesticated brethren, the RVing dog, these magical felines exist. From cats that travel full-time with their RV-living human packs to cats that enjoy a weekend out camping with their person or people, many cats find enjoyment in the adventures of a home on wheels.
If you’re a cat lover, the challenge of living up to your cat’s expectations is likely not a foreign one. If you’ve mastered the art of pleasing your feline companion while cohabitating in a stationary home, it might be time for you to take on the challenge of living with your tiny tiger in a mobile setting. With the notoriously finicky nature of many felines, you as their human caretaker will need to be fastidious in creating an environment that fosters happiness and safety while camping or RVing.
As a full-time RVer who has cohabitated with my husband and our 10-year-old cat, Lucy, in a large Class A motorhome, I’m happy to share some of what we’ve learned on our RV cat journey.
I’ve also reached out to Campendium community member and cat cohabitating van dweller, Jonah Light (Campendium Profile: Permanent Vacation) for tips and perspective on living nomadically in a truly tiny mobile home. He built his van—a Ford Transit 250 Extended High Roof LWB—knowing he’d be traveling full-time with two cats. He’s now been on the road since November of 2018 with seven-year-old Lucy and thirteen-year-old Cyrus.
Many cats don’t like or can’t handle commuting. Whether it’s due to motion-sickness or the general environment created by the act of riding in a vehicle from one place to the next, some cats are just not fans. Your cat’s ability to tolerate being driven to a location should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not your feline is a good candidate to join you on a camping or RVing trip.
For those who have cats that aren’t concerned by a ride in the car—you are one step closer to a successful cat/camping relationship. We’ve got some considerations and tips for cats that are cool with going for a ride, and for those who are not.
Class A, B or C RV Travel
There are perks of traveling in a unit with a living space directly accessible to the driving space. You can be with your feline while in transit, while your cat remains in a familiar space.
RVers who travel in a larger RV may find that their typically motion-sick feline friend fares a bit better in a larger rolling vessel.
While our cat Lucy gets terribly ill when riding in our Jeep, she fares decently well while traveling to a new destination in our 40′ Class A motorhome. Note I did not say “happily.” But, she has never demonstrated signs of nausea, as she does in a car. Lucy has developed a ‘travel routine’ over the years, which involves hiding in her shark hut (a plush cat home shaped like a shark) when she sees me seat myself in the driver’s seat. She will stay there until we shut the engine down and verbally alert her that we have arrived.
Van or smaller rig dwellers may note a higher risk of motion sickness in their felines…or maybe not.
Jonah Light’s Lucy also hates to travel. As soon as he starts up the van she’s hiding under the bed, where she stays not only until the engine is off but generally until he opens the side door. Jonah and Lucy have created a travel day routine of sorts: even when he’s in a store parking lot to pick up some sundries, but not necessarily to stop of the night, he’ll open the side door just to let her know it’s okay to relax for a bit.
On the other hand, Cyrus Jonah’s designated copilot. Jonah has set-up a cat perch set up on the passenger window, which acts as Cyrus’ spot when they’re in motion. Jonah reports that Cyrus is a terrible navigator, but he also insists that both cats make up for their traveling quirks in plenty of other ways.
Some tips for those traveling with cats in non-towed rigs, such as RVs or vans:
- Provide a comfortable hiding area for your friend. Make sure this area is safe from shifting contents or falling items, and that it is an area with cool airflow on hot travel days.
- Establish a travel day routine so that your feline is alerted to your imminent travel and can settle-in / prepare.
- Be aware if your cat is prone to moving about your rolling home while you are in motion. Avoid dangerous situations like a cat under a brake pedal or a distraction via your furry buddy doing something super cute (and causing you to ooh-and-ahh and crash off the highway). You may consider crating, leashing, or otherwise restricting your cat’s movements if you’ve got an active little buddy.
Tow-Behinds and Smaller Vehicles
Nomadic ventures via a trailer, fifth-wheel, pop-up, rooftop camper, or other small camping unit has its perks. However, these rolling home types do present the need for extra consideration when traveling with your cat.
Many people are not comfortable leaving an animal in a towed vehicle. Those who are considering pulling a towed unit while leaving their cat in the unit should also consider the following:
- Installing monitoring systems:
- Stopping frequently to first-person check-in on your pet.
- Making sure all items in the towed unit are secured so as not to fall and cause injury to your best friend.
Most people that camp in a tow-behind unit transport their cat in their towing vehicle with them. While some cats can handle transit in a truck or car, others cannot tolerate long trips. You will need to consider your cat’s personal endurance to this type of travel before embarking on a long trip.
- Trial your cat’s comfort level with smaller vehicle travel with a few ‘test runs’ around your local area before setting out on a longer trip. Some cats may demonstrate stress initially, but will settle-in after a bit. Others will be physically ill or show emotional distress beyond what is tolerable to you.
- Trial different cat travel styles. Does your feline seem comforted by riding in a crate? What about including your cat’s favorite bed in the crate?
- If you decide that allowing your cat to roam while you transport them in your towing vehicle is best for your pack, do be extra vigilant about their movement patterns. Consider dangers such as a feline under a gas or brake pedal, distractions caused by either cuteness or crankiness, and the need to be extra careful when opening a door at a gas station or other pitstop.
Creating a Cat-Friendly Mobile Environment
Homes on wheels are typically smaller than a stick-and-brick home. If you’re using that home on wheels in a nomadic manner with your feline friend on board, you will need to consider the limited space provided by an RV, trailer, or van, as well as the constantly changing environment outside of your rig.
Considerations for a Cat-Friendly Rig
Cats, while known to nap much of the day, are typically very active during their waking hours. Space constrictions will need to be considered when accounting for both exercise and play.
Some cats are more than happy to lounge all day in a small area. For these small beasts, a small home with a comfy lounging spot and a window for mental stimulation may provide all that they need for health and happiness.
There are a plethora of ways to enhance the interior of your mobile dwelling. Enhancements will be highly specific to what type of rig you are traveling in, and your own personal thoughts on just how much of your space should be dedicated to or considerate of your feline friend.
From suction cup mounted window shelves that may attract some bird-based entertainment for your buddy, getting creative with cat-friendly enhancements for your small space doesn’t have to be costly or overtake your livable space.
Or, you could, of course, build out your mobile dwelling based on your cat’s anticipated needs, as Jonah did:
“When I built out my van, I did it knowing I’d be traveling full time with two cats… Cyrus is what I like to call a floor dweller. He’ll ascend to the bed, shelves, and anywhere else he likes, but when he wants attention he wants to be on the floor. This required enough floor space for the two of us and ruled out the galley style kitchen used in most van builds, with the sink/water cabinet extending across a portion of the side door opening and the cooktop/prep area on the opposite side. I have my entire kitchen on the wall opposite from the side door and an open 4′ X 6′ area. In a van, it’s a luxury to dedicate that much space to nothing, but it has worked out great for us. I also have shelves at various heights throughout the van, so Cyrus and Lucy can access its full length, top to bottom, without obstruction. The layout is also important for temperature control since I don’t have AC. I have bedding areas in the upper cabinets if they want to get higher and warmer, as well as under the bed for a cooler spot. I also have magnetic french door screens covering both the side and back doors, so we can enjoy the outdoors, bug-free, and with enough security to prevent the cats from escaping (although it has happened, prompting me to secure the bottom of the screens with additional magnets).”
One of the many joys of cat companionship is the ability to leave your buddy at home without the worry of needing to take them outside for toileting breaks or having them create a public ruckus via loud barking. (More private ruckuses can’t be ruled out, of course.)
Jonah mentions an important factor in creating a safe RV environment for a cat: temperature control. Most RVs or vans are not as proficient in controlling the temperature as a typical sticks-and-bricks home is. Some rigs can become saunas or freezers pretty quickly, especially when enjoying an off-the-grid trip. Be sure to consider your rig’s ability to provide safe and comfortable climates for your feline friend.
While Jonah rarely leaves his feline friends alone in his rig for longer than short trips inside a store, we have been known to head away from our RV all day or overnight sans our Lucy. We closely monitor the weather for heat concerns, make sure to open or close windows for ventilation based on the environment, and top-off Lucy’s fancy cat fountain before we head out. This particular model provides 46oz of flowing water to tempt your friend to stay hydrated. It’s the quietest model we’ve found, which is a huge plus when living in a small space. And, the fountain offers battery fallback for boondocking and emergency power outages. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that an RV cat can’t be fancy.
Because we consider Lucy our most prized family member, we also utilize cameras to check-in on her when we’re away. Personally, we use the Blink system, as it easily integrated with our mobile internet set-up.
We also utilize a product called Feliway to help create a less stressful environment for our Lucy. A few veterinarian offices we’ve visited used Feliway diffusers in their exam rooms to help ease the anxiety of a vet visit for cats. Feliway mimics a cat’s facial pheromones, which cats deposit when they rub their cheeks against surfaces, marking the areas as being safe. While we haven’t tracked our fur baby’s reactions and demeanor in a structured manner when we’ve used the product versus when we haven’t, we generally note that our girl seems a bit calmer when we’ve rubbed her and her belongings down with a Feliway wipe before a long haul or when we’re parked in a campsite with other cats roaming nearby. (Our Lucy despises other cats.) You’ll need to explore the ingredients for yourself and closely monitor your cat’s reactions and behaviors if you do try this product.
Outdoor Enhancements & Considerations
Many cats are happiest with some form of access to the great outdoors.
But, even for cats that act as outdoor roamers at a stationary home, special consideration should be taken for the fact that RVing cats will be moving amongst environments frequently. New places mean new environmental dangers: novel predators, different, and often intriguing plants or objects that could harm your furry friend, and an unfamiliar space where your cat may lose track of where ‘home’ is.
You should also always consider a camping area’s pet rules before allowing your favorite feline to explore the outdoors in any capacity. If a campground employs leashing rules for dogs, consider those rules to also apply to your cat – unless you can confirm otherwise with the campground’s managing body.
Deciding how best to provide outdoor access while RVing with your cat often comes down to trial and error. During our travels, we have seen some really creative environmental enhancements for cats. From a homemade cat tunnel complex installed out from an RV window that led to a screened-in outdoor play area to a zip-line style cat run, creativity and consideration of what your cat will and won’t tolerate should lead you to a solution that fits your family’s needs.
When I crossed paths with Jonah and his feline companions at an epic camping spot East of the Tetons last summer, I was impressed with his personal solution. Jonah reports:
“My cats always were kept indoors, but I wanted to provide them with safe access to the outdoors during our travels. Initially, I used the Clam Escape Popup Tent. It doesn’t have a floor but it does have flaps at the bottom of the side panels that I would weight down with rocks to prevent the cats from escaping. It worked well but only lasted a year and a half, being used constantly in all conditions of weather. I replaced it with a 10′ X 10′ canopy with screen walls. It’s not as easy to set up and it’s bulkier to store, but it’s modular, so if the screens fail I just buy new screens, if the canopy tears I just buy a new canopy. I opted for white because any other color would just end up getting bleached out by the sun in the Arizona desert. Eventually, I want to figure out how to connect the canopy to the side door of the van so the cats can have access to the outdoors whenever they want, but that’s a project for a later date.
Currently, after 5 years on the road, our Lucy is a ‘monitored free roamer’. We allow her to join us when we’re outside without leash or restraints. We worked her up to this level of freedom. Starting with a harness and leash, which was apparently the most embarrassing thing we’ve ever done according to her, she slowly convinced us that she was responsible enough to maintain a roughly 200-foot roaming radius of our rig or us. After numerous tantrums with us controlling her by way of the leash (again, apparently highly embarrassing), we eventually kept the leash and harness on her but didn’t hold it. She showed us she was willing to hang with us when we did this. So, we removed the leash but kept the harness on. She let us know that not only was the leash too restrictive, but the harness was also a faux pax. So, we tried the leash with a collar and eventually removed the leash. Now, when we’re outdoors, we’ll allow Lucy to join us without embarrassing restraints. She will even join us on walks, so long as the walks don’t venture too far from her home on wheels.
We are hyper-vigilant of traffic patterns and the presence of other animals and dangers when considering if we will allow our Lucy to venture outside with us. Having been an indoor dwelling cat, her safety instincts are quite dull. Luckily, she never developed many of the predatory traits that some felines develop – so we have little concern of her catching or harming small wildlife (but we do monitor her while outside to make sure this does not occur).
We have also affixed a Tile tracker to her collar. A Tile is a GPS tracking device developed to be attached to items that you frequently lose, like keys, wallets, and cats. On occasion, Lucy will wander into some bushes while I’m reading or otherwise distracted – and I lose sight of her briefly. The Tile alerts us to where she has wandered to with a marker on a map and a cute ringtone that emits from the device attached to her collar.
- Consider your feline’s calorie needs. They may not need as many calories as when they are living in a larger space if they are contained to the inside of a small space.
- Before allowing your cat to explore a novel environment by a leash, tent, or semi-freely, be sure to explore the area yourself, checking for any dangers.
- Be aware that neighbors may not feel as friendly towards your feline friend as you do. This includes neighboring humans, dogs, and other animals.
- Be sure to clean up any wastes your cat may deposit into the environment.
The best advice we ever received about RVing with our cat?
Don’t skimp in the quality litter department.
A few extra dollars spent in the kitty litter aisle could ease the pain of the cruel and unusual punishment that is a smelly cat box. Creativity in cat box placement doesn’t hurt either.
Where do RVers keep their cat’s litter boxes?
It’s highly rig-dependent. There are typically a few more options for the provision of a cat poo sanctuary in a large Class A than there are in a van.
We keep Lucy’s poop-palace in our shower. Yes, we move it before we bathe. No, we don’t worry too much about litter down the drain. We’re personally very lucky that Lucy keeps her defecation basin very tidy and doesn’t spread litter hither and yonder, otherwise, we’d likely use some form of temporary cover to control litter down the pipes. It also likely helps that we use a top entry litter box, which limits the flinging of clay particles as she covers her waste.
Jonah has trialed a few box placement and litter disposal options during his travels:
If you’re looking for some cat perspective (and several more ideas of litter box placement), Kiki of Technomadia – Chris & Cherie of Technomadia also happen to be Top Campendium reviewers – shares her history and thoughts on the Purrrfect RV Litter Box.
Emergency Situations & Veterinary Care
Lucy is a healthy, albeit a bit heavy, mutt of a feline.
She has had very few health scares, save for the time she got stung in the face by a bee, which we thought may have been a venomous snake due to her reaction, and had to be rushed to an emergency vet in Myrtle Beach. A $350 shot of Benadryl and a newfound fear of the common housefly later (cats are weird), and she was fine.
Being on the road full- or part-time can sometimes create a new hiccup in healthcare for your cat. When Lucy shows any signs that she may not be well, we don’t have an established veterinary practitioner with her records on file. Instead, we are typically stuck contacting an emergency-type vet and paying the emergency-type bill.
While we initially attempted to get Lucy into a vet for regular yearly check-ups, after a few years we just gave up. On top of acting like a fool every time we enter a veterinary office, we found that having no rapport with a practitioner caused more stress than assurance for all of us. She’s generally up to date on her vaccinations, and being that she is a pack-of-one type feline, we don’t have to worry about diseases spread between cats.
Other nomads report successfully using chain type veterinary clinics like Banfield or Petco Clinics, which are able to share pet records across clinics.
If an emergency does arise, and you haven’t begun or continued a relationship with a veterinarian, emergency vet offices are typically an option. Appointments at these types of clinics are often not the most cost-effective, but knowing they are around when you need them can be reassuring.
Have Cat, Will Travel
We spent our first 6 months on the road as a family of two humans, sans cat. After settling into our new full-time nomadic life, we reunited with our feline companion, plopping her litter box into our shower and her shark-shaped hut under my husband’s desk. We quickly decided that full-time RV life was significantly enhanced by her presence.
Lucy didn’t immediately take to all parts of RV life, especially the commuting aspect. After a bit of trial and error, we found what works for us. Our Lucy does pretty well during RV based hauls now, regardless of length. She’s even decided that if we haven’t planted our levelers by dinner time, she is capable of eating while the tires are in motion. She still does poorly while traveling in smaller vehicles, like our Jeep, so if we’re going to leave the RV behind for more than a night or two to visit friends or family and it’s more than an hour or two drive, we’ll often hire a cat caretaker from a pet care service like Rover.
Yes, there are pet-sitters for cats. No, we’ve never had difficulty finding one that will come to our RV to care for our cat.
If you think your cat might be up for an RV adventure, and you are up for creating an environment to support them on that adventure, the pay off of RV cat companionship is well worth the occasional waft of kitty litter as you drive down the road to your next great campsite.