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Taking Your Cats on a Roadtrip

Currently sharing her RV with two cats, Stephanie is a lifelong cat lover. She enjoys independence, intelligence, and quirkiness.

Our cat, Gemini, enjoying the view at Yellowstone National Park.

Our cat, Gemini, enjoying the view at Yellowstone National Park.

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.

Gemini doesn't mind having his picture taken as he's quite photogenic.

Gemini doesn't mind having his picture taken as he's quite photogenic.

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
Shadow liked to curl up in the RV's bathroom sink when he felt nervous.

Shadow liked to curl up in the RV's bathroom sink when he felt nervous.

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 the Breeze Kitty Litter system 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.

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.

Our cat, Shadow, sunning himself on the back of the couch.

Our cat, Shadow, sunning himself on the back of the couch.

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

Question: 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?

Answer: 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.

Question: 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?

Answer: 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.

Question: 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?

Answer: 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.

Question: 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.

Answer: 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

Comments

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 24, 2018:

We leave our cats often to go sightseeing or off-roading for the day. They make out just fine as they have their favorite places to nap and watch birds and wildlife. If it's really hot, we leave the AC on, but they seem to like the heat better than cool air. When we're off-grid and can't run the AC, we open the smaller windows on the shady side of the rig and open all the vents, leaving at least one vent fan running. Pull shades on the sunny side and the RV stays fairly comfortable. Sometimes when we're concerned that it might get too hot in the rig, we'll come back and find the cats in the front window in front of the drapes and enjoying the sunshine. They do like it warm!

During cold weather, we will leave the furnace set on 62 or so to keep it from getting too cold, but both our cats will find a fuzzy throw to sleep on and seem to like it just fine. Cats are generally very adaptable and make good traveling companions.

Debi on April 23, 2018:

Thank you, I am planning ahead. Could you say more about having a cat stay in RV while you are out working/doing something and having cat be comfortable. Might be stupid question but can RV's run simple AC? Want cat to be comfortable while we are doing non-cat welcome things.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 25, 2013:

Thanks for stopping by to comment, Angela. With some advance planning, you can take your cat with you when you travel, and you will all have a pleasant experience. Thanks for sharing1

Angelo52 on April 25, 2013:

Great article with lots of good information on taking the cats along for a ride. Thumbs up and shared.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 25, 2013:

Peggy W - Our cats were good travelers, especially in the RV. They were just as much at home in it as we were! Thanks for sharing and pinning, Peggy!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 25, 2013:

Hi Stephanie,

Came back to share and pin this hub. You have given such good advice for people who might wish to travel with their cats in a car or RV. The latter of course is great! A home away from home. :)

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 14, 2013:

Cathy Strike - I'm glad you enjoyed the article. We traveled with Gemini for many years. Sadly, after 16 years, we lost him this spring. I've only ever seen one other cat with his markings. How lucky you are to have one like him!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on May 20, 2012:

Ann Cole - I think it's a great idea to start getting your cats used to riding in your van and getting used to the harness.

Since your younger cat is a bit wild, it might be a good idea to let her get used to wearing the harness at home in a non threatening environment before introducing her to the van. Put it on her and perhaps give her a treat that she enjoys and let her stay in the harness for an hour or two in the house. Do this a few times until she seems comfortable with it, then put it on her and introduce her to the van. One of my cats did not initially like riding in any vehicle, but he eventually got used to it after he found a safety zone. (see the picture of the cat in the RV sink).

My other cat likes to ride in the RV bedroom, but he also feels safe in my lap or under my seat. Rather than locking them in a crate, we let our cats ride in their safety zone. Of course, you'll have to adjust to your cat's personality. Some cats need to be in a crate for their own safety, while others do better if they are free to choose their own safety zone.

One other note, in two years, your rambunctious 3 year old may be calmer and less wild. Good luck with your travel plans! Thanks for stopping by to share your story.

Ann Cole on May 20, 2012:

Hi there, we are in the research phase of getting an RV - we have two cats. One is about 3 years and a bit wild - Misty Bella, The other is about 9 years and more calmer - Tiger Lily. TL will probably be calmed and easier to tame; however MB is wild and enjoys the outdoors (she is very much the hunter). We probably won't be making a purchase for at least a year or two. In the meantime, how can we prepare each cat - esp MB - for this adventure? Do we wait until we have an actual RV? Or start getting them used to riding in our van and used to a harness? MB is a cat that does not like to held for long so we need to get her into one while making sure we are not scratched up....thank you for the posting on how to travel with cats.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 30, 2011:

Ktrapp - Gemini did adapt to traveling more easily than our other cat, and has been wonderful company throughout our travels. He's getting old now and has health issues, but still loves to follow us into the RV when he thinks we might be getting ready to travel. If we ever got a kitten, I would start getting it used to car and RV travel at a really young age and avoid problems later. Thanks for stopping in Ktrap. It's always nice to hear from another cat lover. :)

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on November 30, 2011:

Gemini is such a beautiful cat. How lucky you have been to turn your cat into a traveling buddy. I don't think our cat could have ever done that no matter how much we prepared him. Our cat was a horrible traveler - how I wish I had your tips in years past!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 27, 2011:

Gryphin - Cat owners are very inventive when it comes to seeing to the comforts of their cats. I'm sure with some pre-planning, you'll be ready to roll with your three when the time comes! Thanks for stopping by to comment - let me know if I can help you with any RVing questions.

gryphin423 from Florida on November 27, 2011:

Again, an informative hub. We have 3 cats and by the time we are set for RV life I'm not sure who will still be around so I want to be prepared! ;-) Thanks again!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 25, 2011:

DzyMsLizzy - Thanks so much for sharing your cat stories! Each one has their own personality - that's part of what makes them such interesting pets! Training a cat to a harness only works with the cooperation of Kitty! Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 25, 2011:

prairieprincess - Our cats were about 6 years old when we started traveling with them and adapted amazingly well. The biggest concern with 3 cats is having a place to put your litter boxes, especially if you need one for each cat. Some cats share better than others. But usually, if there's a will, there's a way! Drop me an email if there's anything I can help you with. Thanks so much for visiting!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 25, 2011:

Hi there! This is great advice. Our cats don't like to travel, and in any case, travel is no longer in our budget.

However, we do have two cats who are "somewhat" acclimated to the harness and leash, and we take them out in the backyard when the weather is nice. The one who behaves best is our elderly, epileptic kitty...probably too stoned out on her meds to try and bother struggling out of her harness...

The other one...barely tolerates the concept, and even though I have an extra-secure small-dog-style harness, the last time I had him outside the house (fortunately indoors, in our shop!) he did manage to squirm out of even that rather quickly! I'd never trust him outdoors with it. He's developed the Houdini routine rather recently.. ..

Once, years back, we had a boat, and took both him and senior kitty along. When we docked and debarked, both cats were leashed up. Senior kitty wanted to head off exploring; the youngster put on 4-paw-and-claw brakes and hid under a set of dock stairs! I was in the middle, and had to yell for hubby to take one of them. The scardey-cat was then quite happy for me to pick him up and carry him.

I enjoyed this hub. Perhaps I should start acclimating our new kittens to harnesses. ;-)

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on November 25, 2011:

Awww! I loved this! It's good timing to read this, because my husband have been doing some chatting lately about what it would be like to RV for a year or two, full-time. We have three cats, so that has obviously been a big concern. This article definitely gives me some tips on how to handle cats in the motorhome. Voted all the ups but funny. Great hub!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on December 02, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by to read my hub, Crazybeanrider! We do love our cats and go to some extremes to have them with us and keep them happy and comfortable. In fact, we just came back from a 1200 mile car trip with our Gemini -- my husband is vacuuming out the car now! Does it sometimes seem that cats can shed their fur at will?

Boo McCourt from Washington MI on December 02, 2010:

What a well written hub. I love the cat photo's as well. I use to travel with my cats when I was on my bipolar adventures. I don't move around to much these days. But your tips are absolutely perfect. Cats are the best aren't they?

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 21, 2010:

Thanks, Nifty@50! It's always fun to write about my cats!

nifty@50 on November 21, 2010:

A very cute, yet informative hub! A lot of great information!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 20, 2010:

Thanks Peggy and Buttercup! We do love and spoil our cat. Our pretty gray Shadow passed away a couple of years ago, but Gemini who is featured at the top of the page, still travels with us. It's surprising to see the number of people who travel with cats these days. Cats do have their humans well trained!

buttercup007 from Cebu, Philippines on November 20, 2010:

I agree with Peggy. I love your cat photos! :) We have a cat but we don't travel with her. I'm sure this hub would help other cat lovers who are planning on taking their cat on a trip.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 20, 2010:

Your cat photos are great! We have never tried taking our cats for rides (except to the vet) and thus, they are not crazy about those rides in the car. Nice that yours acclimated and were able to travel with you. It seems you found the best methods to make it comfortable for them and you.