Taking Your Cats on a Roadtrip
Can You Travel With a Cat?
Cat lovers unite! Travelers have been taking their dogs along in their travels since the beginning of time. Now cat owners are joining other pet lovers who travel with their pets. Cats travel by car, train and airplane! We've seen cats in carriers on the back of bicycles and in kitty strollers. There are even many cats who live happily with their owners in their RVs.
Cats in an RV
Our experience with traveling cats has been while traveling in a motor home. When we started full-time RVing, we had two seven-year old cats, Gemini and Shadow. They readily adapted to living in the RV although it took a little time for them to get used to traveling in a moving vehicle.
Whatever your mode of travel, there are things you can do to make travel with your cat easier and safer.
How to Prepare a Cat for Travel
1. Get Kitty a Check-Up.
Before you travel with Kitty, be sure that she has a checkup and that her vaccinations are up-to-date. You will need to carry a copy of her rabies certificate and it’s a good idea to carry a health certificate signed by your vet. Make a folder of all veterinary records to carry with you in case you need to take your cat to a vet while traveling. If you plan to travel into Canada or Mexico, be sure to check ahead of time to see what you’ll need to do. You will most certainly need a recent health certificate signed by your veterinarian.
2. Familiarize Kitty With the RV.
If you travel in an RV with your cat, let Kitty get used to the RV ahead of time. Bring the cat in with you and let her wander around the inside of the RV, getting acquainted with all of its nooks and crannies. Give her a little treat. One thing that helped our cats adjust was to place a soft throw on the dash for them. It helps protect the vinyl covering on the dash and the cats liked to sit on it and look out the window at the birds and activity outdoors.
3. Get Kitty Used to the Crate.
If your cat will be traveling in a cat carrier, get her used to it by leaving it open with a treat inside. Your cat will probably investigate and be more comfortable with it if she can go in and out with the door propped open. It would also be a good idea to take her for short car rides in it that don’t end up at the vets. She needs to know that every car ride does not take her to the vet’s office.
4. Familiarize Kitty With Harness and Leash.
It’s a good idea to let your cat get used to a leash and harness because you will want to take her outdoors now and then for exercise.
Some cats, especially if they are young, will adapt to a harness easily and will enjoy walking outdoors. Others may resist and need some coaxing. Our cats have always hated the harness, and at first refused to move at all when it was on them, but eventually did condescend to walking around while in it. One way to get them used to the harness is to put it on while they are indoors, and let them get used to walking around without the leash. With our cats, it seemed to be the weight of the leash that annoyed them. We’ve found that a collar and leash just don’t work as a frightened cat can almost always slip out of a collar. You certainly don’t want to lose Kitty in a rest area or campground, so its better to be safe.
5. Get Collar Tags.
Get tags with your name and cell phone number on them in case your cat gets lost.
6. Get a Chip Implant.
To be extra safe, you can get an identification chip implanted in your cat.
What to Pack for a Cat
- Cat carrier
- Cat first aid kit and grooming tools
- Cat toys
- Cat bed
- Scratching pad or scratching post
- Food and water from home
- Collar, harness and leash
- Litter box
How to Travel by Car With Your Cat
- Get Hotel Reservations. If you are planning to stay in a hotel, check ahead of time to find out their pet policies. Many hotels allow pets, but some will charge extra fees.
- Crate the cat. When traveling by car, you will probably want to keep your cat safely in her crate while moving. Line the floor of the crate with disposable diapers with the plastic side down just in case your cat gets car sick. It makes a soft bed, but is easy to clean up.
- Give Kitty a rest stop. When you stop for rest stops, take Kitty out of the crate and give her a chance to use the litter box if she wants to. Cats can go without using the litter box for hours, so she may not use it. Don’t worry.
- Keep windows and doors closed so that she can’t escape. We usually put the harness and leash on our cats when we stop on a car trip as it’s easier to grab a trailing leash than the cat who might scoot under the car.
- Give her some attention when you stop, but don’t offer food or drink until you are settled in your hotel. Most cats travel better without food in their stomachs.
- When you reach your destination, give kitty a chance to explore her surroundings, but make sure she knows where you’ve placed the litter box, food and water. Put her scratching pad close by and bring in a toy or two so that she can get some play and exercise time.
- Never leave your cat locked in the car during warm weather. Even when it's only mildly warm out, the sun shining in the windows can make the inside of the vehicle excessively hot and very dangerous for your cat.
How to Deal With a Litter Box While Traveling
A friend recommended to me when I complained about kitty litter tracked everywhere, both at home and in the RV. The top portion of the box has a grate in the bottom. You place the pellets on top of the grate. The bottom portion is a drawer that has a pad in it similar to a disposable diaper. When kitty does his business, the urine falls through the grate onto the absorbent pad. Solids stay on top on the pellets and become somewhat dry. When you clean the box, simply remove the solids from the pellets. Very few pellets will stick to the waste. The pad in the bottom only needs to be changed every week or two when it become saturated. The pellets only need to be changed every 3-4 weeks, though you might want to add a few more now and then during that time to replace the few that get carried out with the waste. the Breeze Kitty Litter system
Although this system may seem more expensive than traditional kitty litter, you will not have to change it nearly as often. And it does not smell!
The best thing about this is that the pellets don't stick to kitty's paws and they do not get tracked everywhere like regular kitty litter does. You may find a few pellets on the floor near the box, but you will never find them on your sofa cushions or in your bed!
*Multiple cats. Most people with multiple cats find that they need at least two boxes. We have two cats, two boxes and it works well.
*A note about cat food. Many cats are not fussy about cat food and will eat any cat food purchased in any grocery store. However, we found that by feeding our cats Science Diet their poop is more solid and less frequent. They are less likely to step in it by accident while in their litter box and get dirty paws, and it's easier to clean the box.
Traveling in an RV With Your Cat
- Litter Box. Because of the space constraints in an RV, you may have to get creative when placing the litter box. Much will depend on the interior layout of your rig. Some people can place it in the bathroom, others put it in the shower, propping the doors open.
In our case, we cut a hole the size of a small cat door from the stairway into the compartment below and placed the litter box in the compartment. This can be accessed from outdoors to be cleaned. Though cleaning is a little awkward, keeping the litter box in the basement compartment keeps tracked litter to a minimum. Wherever you place it, the litter box will need to be cleaned once or twice a day. We find that it's most convenient to carry a large plastic coffee can to place the waste in until it can be tossed in the trash. Never empty cat litter outdoors on the ground -- it's littering!
- Safety. Some pet owners like to crate their cats while traveling. Others will confine them to a bedroom or bathroom. We have always let our cats roam free in the motor home, but they do not move around when we are moving. As soon as we start the motor, one cat will find a spot under the dining table and the other will sit in the bedroom under the overhanging bedspread. They usually didn’t leave these positions until we stop, although if the road is exceptionally rough, Gemini likes to sit in my lap. I guess there’s more cushioning there!
- Scratching post. If you value your furniture and rugs, provide a scratching pad or post for your cats. Ours like the Turbo Scratcher which has a cardboard scratching pad inset into a round frame. It's surrounded by a grove with a ball in it that provides a lot of fun without losing the ball. They learned to like this as kittens, and use it several times a day, both to play and to scratch. Gemini always uses the scratching pad after he comes out of the litter box. It’s somewhat like washing your hands after using the bathroom, I think.
- Food and water. Cats digestive systems can become upset by many changes in water and food. Try to buy cat food that is commonly found so that you won’t have to change brands frequently. If your cat uses specialty food, always carry a spare bag in case you can't locate it easily when you run out. Since we usually buy bottled drinking water by the gallon for ourselves, we also give our cats bottled water rather than water from each different water source.
- Deal with cat hair. In a confined space like an RV, your cat’s shedding could become a nuisance much quicker than it would in a house. You can cut down on some of the shedding by more frequent grooming. As a cat owner, you know that your cat will choose his own favorite spot. When we saw that the cats liked to sit on the front window, we covered the dash with a soft, fleece throw. Another favorite spot was the corner of the couch where we placed a folded towel reserved for the cat. These can be shaken out every day and help keep the cat hair down in other areas.
- Keeping the cats safely indoors. This is tricky if your cat is used to going outdoors. We had to put a lock on our screen door because the cats learned how to open it and get out. Some RVers have special cages which their cats use outdoors. Gemini likes to go out with us and sit in a chair nearby, so we always put on his harness and leash when we bring him out with us. I always tie his leash to the chair just to be safe.
Letting your cat loose outdoors. Best advice is: Don’t do it! Campgrounds don’t allow pets to roam around off leash. If you are out boondocking, it might be tempting to let your cat go exploring, but it is not a good idea.
Cats are natural predators and will hunt birds which might be protected species or that other campers might be attracting. There are also poisonous snakes, spiders and lizards that could make it dangerous for your cat. Gemini loves to stalk small lizards which are usually too fast for him, but once when he did catch a blue tailed skink and ate it, it made him sick. Coyotes consider cats a delicacy.
Cats: The Perfect Traveling Companion
We traveled with two cats for four years while full time RVing, and we still travel with one cat, Gemini, who is now thirteen years old. He is quite happy to travel, and when we are parked at our home base, will often sit on the steps of the RV and ask to be let in. He has developed a routine when we are on the move by sleeping in the same spot, eating when we stop for meals. He also usually only uses the litter box when we are stopped, which is a good thing. When we are stationary, he likes to sit on the dash or on the back of the couch and look out the window, especially if there are birds around or people walking past the RV.
Surprisingly, our cat even earns his keep by catching an occasional mouse or ground squirrel that has entered the RV from some tiny opening. One week he caught a whole family of mice that had moved in under our dashboard. We were so happy he did!
Of course, a cat, like any pet, offers companionship and entertainment. Gemini is an alarm clock and a lap warmer, a comforter and a conversationalist. We are delighted to have him as our traveling companion.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
How do you keep a cat from escaping through open doors? We are traveling in our travel trailer more. We want to bring our laid back kitten to see if he would like to camp. The thing that scares us is a door opening and him escaping. What do you suggest?
We travel with two cats, and I can understand your worry. We are always careful to note where they are before we open the door, and tell them firmly to get back before opening the door. Our cats are pretty good about listening, but they were not outdoor cats, to begin with. If we are carrying things in and out and have the door open for a longer period, we will lock them in the bedroom or bathroom temporarily to keep them safe. Some cats are more determined to get out than others, so you'll have to watch them carefully at first.
We have found that on the rare occasion when one of the cats slips out, they are not that fond of being out in the open and will either turn around and go back in or run under the RV. In a campground, it's easier to get them back in. If we are parked in a parking lot somewhere, we are extra careful about opening doors.Helpful 5
We brought our cat in the RV for a weekend. My husband built an enclosure for the litter box, but instead of using it, he peed on the driver’s seat. Needless to say, my husband wasn’t happy and doesn’t want to take him again. What can I do to get him to use the box?
Is your cat used to using an enclosed litter box? Some cats adapt to them, and some don't. If he is used to an enclosed box, you might try putting his old box that carries his scent in the new enclosure, or put in a little of his used litter. Also, be sure to clean the driver's seat well to remove any lingering scent of the cat urine before bringing his out there again. If he's not used to being in the RV, he might just be marking his territory. We had a cat that went on our bed our first trip out, but I think it was just a nervous reaction to the unfamiliar territory. He was fine once he got used to living in the motorhome. Cats are fussy, and sometimes it's hard to figure out what they are trying to tell you.Helpful 3
I brought one of my cats into our new RV home today to get her used to the new environment. All was well and then she climbed into the dash. I put on some soothing music, and she came out immediately. Do you let your cats go in there or have you blocked that area it with some netting or something? Do I need to worry about this?
Our cats have not tried to get under the dash, and we haven't blocked it in any way. I don't think it's a good idea as there are wires that could tangle them up. Cats do like to check every new nook and cranny. I hope she will be satisfied to have looked at it once.
If your cat likes to go into small spaces, be extra careful about bringing your slide in or out as you don't want kitty to get caught in it. We always check to make sure our cat is either in her carrier or visible in a safe place before moving the slides.
Do you have any suggestions on how to acclimate an outdoor kitty to living indoors? We own a 40 ft. RV and one of my two cats absolutely hates being shut insides. He hates his harness too. We'd like to do some long-term traveling, but as of now, my cat is making it impossible.
I think it will be difficult, but with patience, you may be able to convince kitty to enjoy RVing life. I would start by getting her used to wearing a harness. With a cat that absolutely hates it, that will take extra effort. Perhaps start by putting it on her when before giving her treats. Let her wear it for a while each day, and hopefully, she'll become less resistant. Also, keep her indoors and only let her go out if she's wearing a harness. If she can associate going outdoors with the harness, she may accept it better. One of our cats was also a great hunter and had some trouble adjusting, but he came to associate the harness with a walk outdoors and would stand patiently while we put it on him so that he could go for his walk each day.
Be sure your cat has plenty of entertaining toys that will also give her some exercise. And don't forget to provide several places to scratch! Cats who are used to being outdoors will miss the activity and the opportunity to scratch and stretch in natural surroundings. We carry at least three different types of scratching pads and posts for our cats, and they use all of them.
© 2010 Stephanie Henkel