RVing with Cats – A Primer

During the last few months, we have received a number of requests regarding information and advice on the subject of RVing with cats. Since there is very little likelihood of a book being published on the topic of RVing with cats, I’ve put together a brief primer on this dubious practice. Let me start out by stating that RVing with cats is nothing like RVing with dogs. Practically every RVer takes their dog with them these days. As a result, there are books on the subject and they even show a dog in one of those slick “Go RVing” ads seen on TV. Furthermore, RVing with cats is often so unpredictable and weird – you’ll probably wonder why anyone would consider traveling with them in the first place. Our first excuse is that we’re suckers for strays. In other words, all of our cats were originally homeless. Our second excuse is that we secretly like cats but don’t quote me on that. At any rate, here’s what I know so far.

Step One – Getting Your Cats Used to the RV

If your cat is new to RVing, you’ll need to get them accustomed to your RV. This is normally a simple task with a dog but with cats, you’re up against 30 million years of psychic baggage. In a nutshell, all cats begin with the assumption that every RV is filled with dangerous forces that have to be found and eliminated. It doesn’t matter whether you travel in a refurbished 6-foot trailer or a brand new million dollar luxury motorhome – all RVs contain dangerous forces that must be exorcised. These typically include evil spirits, invisible aliens, cat-eating monsters, shape-shifting dogs, cat-sucking vacuum cleaners, silent predators, and exploding mice. Hence, when a cat first enters an RV, they will invariably perform a room-by-room search to rid the RV of these treacherous forces. If you have more than one cat, you may even hear them shout out “clear” as they declare each section safe. It takes most cats at least 24 hours to purge an RV of all its embedded demons. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, older Airstreams seem to take a little longer.

Resolving the Cat Box Dilemma

The issue of where to keep a cat litter box in an RV is often so controversial and challenging – it frequently results in violent arguments among otherwise mild-mannered RVers. In fact, I was tempted to side-step this issue altogether. However, unless you can train your cat to use the toilet, cat litter boxes are an unavoidable component of RVing with felines. Based on a cursory review of online discussion boards, it appears that a good number of RVers keep their cat litter box in the shower (or bathtub). We’ve tried it and can testify that this particular option has some advantages as well as a few shortcomings. The good news is that the litter box is generally out of the way. Plus, when you want to do a thorough cleaning, you simply remove the litter box, vacuum up the stray litter and run the water to wash away any residual dust. The bad news is that whenever you want to use the shower, you have to move a heavy box full of cat litter and clean up any loose litter. Plus, it seems that the litter box is always being used every time we want to take a shower (cat head games?). Here’s one suggestion. If you have several cats or take lots of showers, forget about storing the litter box in the shower. The litter box will probably be too heavy and too cumbersome to routinely maintain and move. Instead, look for a location that is out of the way but easy to access. Stay away from closets and cabinets as they are typically too difficult to access for routine maintenance. If your cats are in good physical shape, consider placing the litter box on a table since it will be easier to maintain. Use non-slip drawer lining material to keep the box in place and use a litter box that comes with a cover. It will help to keep the litter where it belongs. The clumping type litter is your best bet for small areas. On the other hand, if you only have one or two cats, the shower may be the perfect place to keep the litter box. Consider constructing a small (but deep) cat litter box with a comfortable handle (like those on a basket). The handle will simplify the transfer to and from the shower. Besides the shower, we’ve seen cat litter boxes stored under the steering wheel, inside wardrobes, under beds (accessed via a hole), and inside drawers. Regardless of where you put the cat litter box, if it’s a hassle to access and clean – , you’ll invariably end up moving it somewhere else.

Keeping Your Cats Safe

Without a doubt – the most important consideration when RVing with cats is making sure that they don’t accidentally get out of the RV. The world can be a dangerous place for cats and it’s very easy for them to get lost when you’re staying in new places every day. Fortunately, this is generally a short-term problem as most cats eventually understand and respect the safety of the RV. However, in the meantime, you should do everything you can to keep them from getting out of the RV. If you travel with a cat that routinely explores its environment, make sure that you a have a thorough understanding of the risks. Coyotes, snakes, bears, fox, wolves, weasels, dogs, and poisonous insects routinely prey on cats throughout the United States. When I served as a host at a county campground, even dogs routinely disappeared and died. If you feel strongly about letting your cat roam freely – at least keep them in the RV from dusk till dawn. This will greatly increase their odds of surviving. As for me, I’ve seen too much to take the chance. In addition to the dangers associated with the outside world, cats also face a number of risks from the RV itself. For example, if your RV has slide-outs, you’ll need to make sure that your cat isn’t in danger of being injured or crushed when the slide-outs are being extended or retracted. Likewise, unstable objects can often become dislodged and fall while you’re traveling on bumpy roads. A couple of years ago, a LaserJet printer slid off a counter and almost seriously injured one of our dogs. With cats, you have to make sure that everything is secure before hitting the road. Finally, avoid keeping decorative plants that can be toxic to cats. The Cat Fanciers’ Association website (www.cfainc.org) has a great list of potentially dangerous plants you’ll want to avoid.

Food and Water

Besides the obvious, make sure that your cats have unlimited access to fresh water that is free from chemical contaminates and microbial pathogens. When in doubt, purchase gallons of spring water from the local Wal-Mart. Clean fresh water is one of the secrets to keeping healthy cats. In terms of their food, stick with the same type they eat at home. We use “spill-proof” water bowls that keep the water in, no matter how rough the ride.

Medical Issues

If your cat routinely takes a specific medication, bring a little extra along with a copy of the prescription from your vet. Some vets won’t give you any medication without a written prescription from your “regular” vet. We have an older diabetic male cat that gets two shots a day of insulin. We purchase the needles and insulin at Wal-Mart because they cost a lot less than at other pharmacies. If your cat needs emergency medical care while you’re on the road, do whatever it takes to locate the nearest emergency animal care facility. Call the campground owners, call the police, or stop at the nearest store to get some yellow pages. Always call the animal hospital before you get there so they can give you good directions and prepare for your visit. Last but not least, purchase a good cat first-aid manual. Look for one that can be used in a true emergency. If the first-aid manual is too detailed or academic, you’ll probably never have time to use it.

RVing with Cats and Dogs

If you live with cats and dogs in an RV, you’ll eventually begin to observe what can best be described as miniature “range wars”. It primarily has to do with the way cats and dogs relate to their environment. For example, many dogs have been bred for the purpose of keeping farm animals under control. For this reason, they have an obsessive tendency to chase and herd your cats into areas they see as suitable containment areas, typically, the bedroom, the bathroom, or a closet. Cats, on the other hand, do not see themselves as farm animals that require herding. In fact, in the business world, managing teams of overconfident employees is often described as “herding a pack of cats.” Not only can you not herd cats, they will insist on being part of the (human) family. In our case, this difference in perspective between cats and dogs results in a never-ending sporting event where the cats attempt to make it to the living room without being intercepted by the dogs. It may sound amusing but the game can often become fierce. Once, we were sitting down to a nice relaxing dinner when suddenly, a crazed feline flew across the table on a suicidal mission to the front of the RV. As plates, glasses, and food crashed to the floor, the dogs suddenly turned their attention to the beautifully cooked roast that was supposed to be our dinner. At times like this, the idea of RVing without any pets seems almost dreamy. In the final analysis, cats are probably much better suited for RVing than dogs. They take up less room, they’re quieter, they don’t need walks, they produce less fur, and they’re terrific company. Keep in mind, the wooden sailing ships that used to traverse the world’s great oceans always brought several dozen cats aboard. In addition to keeping the pest population down, these self-sufficient felines offered warmth, affection, and good company for a crew that often went months without such “creature comforts.” We figure, why mess with centuries of a time-tested tradition. Want to know what the RV camping lifestyle will be like for your dog? See the article Running with the Pack.