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How We Travel With Cats in an RV

with 10 Comments

Cats are made for travel…. said NO ONE ever!

We started this full-time RV travel life when our cats, Tinsley and Carter, were less than a year old and we had only rescued them 8 months prior.  To say they were comfortable and happy in their 4000 sq. foot home would be an understatement. They would chase each other up and down the grand staircase, push balls and other cat toys around the hard wood on the first floor, snuggle up to us on the couch during the day and sleep with us at night.  They were living the life after being rescued from the wild and little did they know their life was about to change drastically.

The kitties and their litter box were the last items to leave our empty home for the last time in March of 2017.  The sound of their pitiful cries once we put them in the truck will always linger with me. How could we do this to them?  We gave them this great life and now we were taking it away and they were not having it at first.  Once we got to the RV they did everything possible to try and escape every time we opened the door and even when we didn’t they would climb up the screen door looking for a way out.  This was going to be a challenge for sure.

Being a good pet Mom I did my research, talked to my Vet several times and bought many recommended remedies to alleviate their stress because their stress was becoming our stress.  I even had thoughts of having to re-home them for their own good and that broke my heart.  They were these lights in our life after losing 2 cats within 6 months of each other recently and I was determined to make this work for them AND us.

Carter our male cat adjusted quicker than his sister Tinsley.  She is prone to higher anxiety just based on her breed so you could say she gets it honestly.

I know first-hand how frustrating this adjustment can be for some pets (mostly cats) and their humans based on our experience and would like to share what worked for us. It was really a lot of trial and error and consultation with our Vet to get it right…well almost.  It’s still not perfect but they’ve come such a long way and we are all much happier now.

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Our journey of travel with cats…so far:

  • Bring as much of their past life with you as you can. The items that they use and play with every day. This is easier said than done with space constraints.  We did not do enough of this in the beginning.  They had gotten used to two cat trees that they played on, slept on and scratched on all day long. We had modified one of them which made it much shorter and it wasn’t as easy to scratch because it wasn’t as sturdy. This proved very inefficient and they were wanting to scratch furniture now so I purchased a 3 tier cat tree with multiple scratching areas and places to play and fall asleep – this alleviated their scratching habit pretty quickly.  It took up more room but after we made renovations to our dining table area with smaller, lighter chairs and table it fit much better.
  • Give them multiple areas to call their own. They should have spaces in common areas and hidden quiet areas.  We accomplished this by putting a cat bed on a closet shelf and one on the couch.  By far their favorite is the hanging window cat beds.  They spend so much time on them sleeping in the sun, watching wildlife, playing or just hanging out.  It was the best money we spent to make them comfortable.
  • Litter pan privacy is key. We put their litter pan in the shower and leave the sliding door open enough for them to go in.  Yes, we must remove it to shower but otherwise it’s tucked away and in the bathroom which keeps the smell down. I know other RVers have cut holes in the under-bed compartment for them or one to get down to the basement of a fifth wheel. Creativity is key. We also use a top entry litter pan to keep the litter inside it when they start flinging it everywhere.
  • Give them an adjustment period before traveling. We stayed in our local area for at least 1 month before traveling.  This allowed us to explore all the above and give them time to adjust to their new surroundings.
  • Travel day failures and successes. This has been the biggest challenge for our cats.  Here’s what we’ve attempted, failed and succeeded with so far: (Disclaimer: The first attempt was an epic fail on our part as pet parents and I hope you will withhold judgement until you finish reading.  I am putting this out there to ensure no one makes the same mistake.)
    • Riding in the fifth wheel. I knew our cats DID NOT like being in the truck just based on our short trips so we thought they would feel more comfortable in the RV surrounded by all their things, their food, water, litter box etc… They liked sleeping in the closet the most so we made sure the doors were open for them to go in there. We took a couple trips of about 4 hours and every time we checked on them they seemed happy to see us but also wanting to bolt out the door immediately. This proved stressful trying to get the door open and closed on busy roads. I was not convinced this was the best option for them based on their reaction and I also knew the weather would be getting warmer and you can’t run the AC while moving so I did some research and in the state of NC you are legally allowed to ride in a fifth-wheel or travel trailer (crazy!).  I knew the only way to know what their experience was like was to live it myself for a couple hours.  I had this notion that it was going to be a piece of cake and I would be able to chill on the bed with them and get some work done on my laptop. BIG MISTAKE! HUGE!
      • Let’s just say a travel trailer and fifth wheel are not the same ride as a Class A or C.  I would describe it as nothing less than an on-going earthquake. The cats were glued to my side on the bed as everything was shaking and making noise and the side to side motion made us all want to vomit.  Not sure why we didn’t vomit as we were making our way to the campground down a winding, bumpy road.  My husband opened that RV door and I finally understood why the cats wanted to bolt out the door as soon as it was opened because that’s how I felt and I was nauseous for hours afterward.  I looked at my husband with tears in my eyes and said, “My babies will NEVER ride back there EVER again!”  I felt so horrible that I ever allowed them to be alone back there. Thankfully it was only a few times and they’ve since forgiven me but I’m not sure if I can ever forgive myself.
    • Riding in the truck. We have experimented with many solutions to provide comfort for their travels in the truck. The long list includes: covered and uncovered individual cat carriers, small dog cage for both, window seats, open cat beds, natural pet calming drops, pet calming spray, pet calming collars, kitty Xanax, pet calming treats and many others to my husband’s chagrin. So, what has worked?  A little of this and a little of that.
      • Tinsley now gets a dose of Gabapentin prescribed by our Vet one hour prior to traveling.I worked closely with our Vet and recommend that first and foremost before trying any natural or prescribed medication.  I tried natural remedies first and they did not take the edge off and she was a mess of anxiety the whole time.  We then tried Xanax and it had the opposite effect on her – giving her a lot of energy although her limbs were like rubber.  It was a sad sight. That is when we turned to the Gabapentin which is a human drug that is highly effective in reducing anxiety and fear in cats.
      • Carter feels comfortable with very little anxiety on natural remedies such as Pet Essences Travel & Richard’s Organics Pet Calm.
      • They both lay in their beds in between us in the truck. They did not like being confined to a pet carrier. They would tell us so by providing guttural sounds that I never knew could come from a cat.
      • Someone always remains in the truck with them or around it. They get scared when alone in the truck, pacing back and forth trying to find us.
      • Window seats – they go through stages with these. They either spend a large amount of the trip in them or not at all. If you are reading this you know cats so does that surprise you?
      • We travel with the litter box. We use a top entry type that fits perfectly behind the driver’s seat.  They have never had accidents or thrown up in the truck but having it there gives us peace of mind and they have used it on occasion when we’ve been stopped.
      • I provide a lot of love and attention. I mean who wouldn’t, look at them! I had visions of all the work (blog writing/travel planning) I would get done on travel days until we started traveling with them.  If I’m lucky I get a stretch of a couple hours of non-needy time. Tinsley likes to wedge herself between my back and the seat and I just lean against her.  I think she likes the confined space.
    • At our destination. Once we travel with our cats to our destination they like to be outside as much as we do. We went through about 5 different types of outdoor pet enclosures until we found what we now call Fort Knox since they haven’t been able to escape from it or claw through the mesh. We found this Elitefield option on Chewy and you can order one too by clicking here. The link will take you to the smaller size but we purchased the largest size, 62x62x36, because it gives the cats some room to move around. They especially love sitting on these little toddler chairs – they aren’t spoiled at all!

What tips do you have when you travel with cats?

Quite a list huh?  Well that’s what we do for our pets right?  They are part of the family and should be treated as such. Each of us finds our own way and what’s right for our pet but a little help is always welcome.  I hope the list at least provides you a start when considering traveling with cats or helps those struggling with the right formula. I also know there are many pets who transition easily to a traveling lifestyle.  For those of us who it did not come easy for we would love to hear how you made the adjustment in the comments below. Or did you just have one of those happy go lucky pets that isn’t fazed by traveling in a vehicle?  You are the lucky ones!

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10 Responses

  1. Edie
    | Reply

    Excellent article, Tina. It’s interesting, well written and really keeps you wanting to read.
    You’ve found your “thing”. Way to go, Braveheart!
    So happy for you!
    E ?

  2. Tammie
    | Reply

    Tina, This was great information as I’m “thinking” about getting a kitty as a travel companion. Just a quick note on your writing skills… YOU ROCK!!! I was intrigued the entire time. I could envision the whole trail and error recap (several that I would have done myself). I look forward to following along on your travels and excited to read your blog.

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Hi Tammie – oh I hope you get a kitty! I would definitely recommend to get them very young so they know nothing other than travel. And I will say the striped/torby breeds seems a little more grouchy when traveling and my Vet agreed. ;). And thank you so much for the sweet comments on my writing style. Since this is all new to me it helps to have that feedback and know I am reaching/helping others such as yourself. Happy traveling!

  3. Linda Daniel
    | Reply

    Hi Tina. I am enjoying your blog. We also travel with an 11 year old cat named Stella. We decided to go camping with her, but didn’t plan ahead! What a truck ride! After trying our vet’s suggestion of Benadryl, Stella slept all the way home!
    We now have a prescription for Diphenhydramine Transdermal which we apply to the inner ear pinna, It is awesome and she is a different cat!
    We too keep the litter box in the shower and one of us stay in the truck. Thanks for reinforcing what we have learned.

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Hi Linda. Thank you for the awesome tips and I’m happy to know we aren’t the only one trying all these different things for the comfort of our furry friends! 🙂 I am going to look up the one you are applying to the inner ear. That seems so much less evasive. Happy travels!

  4. Tammy
    | Reply

    Great info!!! We are looking into transitioning into full time RV life, and we currently have 3 kitties, (2 are 14yrs, the baby is 3) and this article was very helpful. We were thinking about doing a couple short trips locally to get them used to the RV. We are getting a toy hauler and was thinking about making the garage the place for the cat box, any thoughts?

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Hi Tammy! Thank you for the feedback and congrats on the decision to go full-time! I think it’s a great idea to get them used to short trips first. I wish we had done this. Depending on what you are using the toy hauler for I think this is a great idea for the litter box, more out of the way and no smell in your living area! We do scoop ours often to keep that down as well. We went from 2 pans to 1 so that was an adjustment. I wish you all the best with your new lifestyle and your kitties adjustment to it.

  5. Kimmie
    | Reply

    So happy to have found your blog! We are starting our full time RV life next month and one of my biggest fears is how the 2 cats will handle it! Reading this has given me some peace of mind and great tips too! Thank you!

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Hi Kimmie. Thank you for your sharing. I’m so happy you found some peace of mind to travel with your fur babies. Please email me with any questions along the way. Happy to help and happy travels!

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