Considering bringing your pets along in the motorhome? If so, you’re in good company; a huge number of RVers travel with animals. Dogs and cats are obviously the most common, but we’ve also seen a monkey (wearing a diaper, no less) and heard tales of rabbits, birds, reptiles, and even pot-bellied pigs!
Although taking your four-legged friends on the road with you is 100% doable, being a traveling pet owner does present some unique challenges. Luckily, we’ve got you covered! Read on for important safety suggestions, how to acclimate your pet to a motorhome, tips for keeping your rig fur-free, ways to get your high-energy pooch enough exercise on the road, and (the dilemma of all dilemmas) where to keep the litter box.
GENERAL TIPS FOR TRAVELING WITH PETS
Safety first! Make sure things are securely fastened so they don’t accidentally fall on your pets while you’re in motion. Try not to stop too quickly, and be careful when opening the doors at rest stops, gas stations, etc. Also, if you have cats or small dogs, be very mindful when using the slide-outs. Never put them in or out if you don’t know where the little ones are.
Consider your pet’s personality. As a general rule most pets do great in motorhomes… but it’s possible YOUR pet won’t. If you have older, nervous, or more established-in-their-ways animals, it’s a good idea to make sure they can handle the upset before you make any solid travel plans.
Do a dry run. Park your RV for a few days and let your pets acclimate to the new environment before you actually go anywhere. Give them small bits of cheese or chicken when they come inside, or leave it on the ground in each room for them to find while they explore (our border collie spent the first day playing “Lava Monster” with the linoleum floor, but he slowly forgot all about that once he realized the “lava” sometimes had cheese on it). Spend at least one night in the RV without driving, letting them sleep, eat, and play with some toys just like it was home (because, after all, it is!).
Keep medical records on hand. Have copies of your pets’ medical history, allergies, and proof of vaccines signed by your vet. These come in handy not only if they get sick on the road, but also if you cross any international borders (you’ll almost always need to show proof of rabies vaccine).
Keep cool! Probably one of the biggest dangers for RV pets is the possibility of overheating during warm weather. Most RVs are sadly lacking in insulation, so if it’s hot outside it’s going to be hot inside. When you leave them alone in warm weather, keep the AC on and use fans as a back-up in case of power issues. If it isn’t hot enough to need the AC, you should still always keep the windows open and a fan on to prevent over-heating in even mild temperatures.
Let them find their space. And they will, almost every time, find the most random space they can! Many pets love to sun themselves on the dashboard (we’ve even seen a couple of 50lb. dogs up there!), for instance, but even if it’s less public they’re definitely going to find some nooks and crannies to call their own. Some folks go to extremes to provide clever spots (like cutting into storage bins or cupboards to make cat hide-outs), but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re certain they will love it. We were convinced that the bed above the cab would be the only fur-free space in the motorhome (since it’s too high for our dog to get to), but naturally we were wrong. It’s our pup’s favorite spot, relative inaccessibility be damned.
Call ahead. In our experience the vast majority of RV parks are very pet-friendly (although you’ll still want to double check before setting off on a long journey), but many campgrounds are less so. Some places also have specific breed or size restrictions.
Get a collar with tags. Include your name, address, and cell phone number, and perhaps even “reward if found” or “needs daily meds” to help ensure a speedy return. Microchipping your pet (fairly cheap at your vet) or getting a collar with a GPS tracker (fairly expensive!) are also possibilities, but I would pair them with tags rather that use them alone.
KEEPING YOUR RV CLEAN
There is no escaping excessive pet fur in the best of times, and conditions only worsen in the confined spaces of an RV. Pets also add additional wear and tear on motorhome furnishings (which sometimes aren’t the most durably-built in the first place). However, there are a few things you can do to protect your coach or travel trailer from grime and excess fur:
Invest in a furminator. These combs are arguably the best on the market (and consequently can be a little spendy, although Amazon has them for quite cheap). Each brush has two sets of gentle razor teeth that actually cut out some of the excess undercoat. It doesn’t hurt at all (our dog loves it and sits patiently during his combing sessions), and it removes a huge amount of fur.
Get some microfiber towels to cover furniture. Most fabrics ferociously hold on to unwanted hair, making it very difficult to get fur out of the weave. These towels have been a lifesaver for us; the cloth repels fur well enough that all it takes is a simple shake outside to clean them off, and they’ll also protect whatever they’re laid over from inadvertent claw damage and dirt. We put them over the back of the couch, where Koa likes to prop himself to look out the window, and on the seats that he’s claimed as his own.
Find bedding that repels hair. There’s nothing worse than dog hair in my face when I climb into bed! Our dog sleeps on the bed with us (yes, we’re suckers), so we found a faux-mink blanket that repels hair wonderfully. With that laid over the top of our other bedding, a quick wipe or shake gets rid of all the accumulated hair.
Keep the protective plastic covers on your carpets. If your RV is new and the protective plastic is still there, keep it. It’s much easier to sweep the plastic than it would be to vacuum (and shampoo) the carpets. This is particularly useful for under the dinette table, around the bed, and in other high-traffic areas.
Cover the seats and floors in the driving area. Our dog LOVES to sit in the driver’s seat and stare out the window (when we have the blinds closed, this is the only spot where he can still keep tabs on the outside world), and he often sleeps curled up on the seats as well. We bought a couple faux-leather seat covers that are already showing wear and tear, but they’ve protected the seats beautifully. Be careful choosing your cover, as many are made from fabrics that attract fur like whoa. We also ended up duct-taping some plastic floormats down around the seats; however, if you have a calm cat or small dog, laying down a towel or blanket may be sufficient.
How do you clean fur off the furniture? I don’t know! I have yet to find a decent product that does this effectively, and the weave of most RV fabrics are definitely not fur-friendly. Currently I just use a soft bristle brush and actually brush the furniture with it, but this isn’t exactly a great solution — if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!
ALL ABOUT DOGS
How and where your dog(s) ride when you travel will largely depend on their size and temperament, but generally speaking there are three options: confined to their crates, secured in an extra seat using a pet seat harness, or roaming free in the vehicle. Many pet owners insist that pets should always be firmly secured while the vehicle is in motion… but in reality some dogs are much happier when they’re curled up at your feet, in your lap, or in the backseat on their travel bed. It’s your call.
For us, using a crate or pet harness weren’t really options; we don’t have an extra seat to use for a harness, and there isn’t space near the front of the motorhome to fit a crate. Our 40lb. border collie gets very nervous riding in vehicles (much to our delight as full-time RVers!) and it would have been traumatic for everyone involved if we kept him alone in a crate near the back of the RV. After much troubleshooting, we’ve found that he rides best laying down in the space between the two seats in the cab with bones to chew on.
KEEPING THEM ENTERTAINED AND EXERCISED
The biggest question we’ve run into while traveling with a young border collie is how to keep him adequately exercised while on the road. Border collies are one of the most intelligent and tireless breeds of working dogs, which is great in theory but also means a simple walk doesn’t do the trick; he needs to run. We try to thoroughly tire him out at least every other day, but he’d love us more if we made it daily. As such, we’ve come up with a lot of tricks and exercise options that might be useful for folks with larger or high-energy dogs.
Find a dog park. This is the first place to look for a safe place to exercise Fido, but they aren’t always available. Usually a simple Google search will show you the nearest options.
Find large empty spaces. Speaking from experience, you can make do with large parks, elementary schools, empty beaches, baseball fields, abandoned lots behind the grocery store, or even empty parking lots in a pinch (although it’s best to avoid asphalt if you can). Tuck a ball in your pocket and you’re ready to utilize any open space you stumble upon. This really only works if your dog has a great recall and won’t run away from you, though, as most of these places won’t have fences.
Take a bike ride. You can teach them to run alongside your bike while you hold the leash, or you can get a nifty bike harness that attaches them directly to the frame. Again, you’ll need a well-behaved dog to make this work, and be careful not to ride too fast or for too long.
Play soccer. This takes some patience, but it has been a life saver for us. I would recommend starting with a semi-flat and beat up soccer ball, as your dog’s first impulse is probably going to be biting it, but eventually they can move it with their noses, intercept, and even bring it back to you! Our pup loves playing soccer, and he gets thoroughly exhausted from just a short session since he has to think way harder than he does for basic fetching (and apparently sidestepping with four legs is more complicated than it is with two). It can also be played in a much smaller space than a game of fetch requires, so it’s great for those times when you don’t have a large grassy field at hand (we’ve successfully tired him out using the little green islands of grass in shopping mall parking lots).
Take them swimming. Most dogs love to swim and it’s great exercise, so find a pond, river, lake, or ocean and let them free. You can also get little dog life vests if you’re worried about safety.
Go for a hike. Just make sure you bring lots of water and a dog dish. If it’s particularly rough terrain you might want to consider little booties to protect your dog’s feet (they’re also great for snow). If you don’t, be sure to thoroughly check between their pads for stickers and mud when you’re done hiking (and always check their full coat for ticks!). Some parks prohibit dogs on hiking trails, so be sure to check before you head out.
Teach them a new trick. Dogs get more tired from thinking than they do from running, so use that knowledge to your advantage. Use clicker training to teach a random new trick, or teach Fido to run around trees or other obstacles. We taught our dog the cue “around”, so two people can stand some distance from one another and he’ll run around them. “Around Kali… around Christy… (repeat)… around that tree!” We usually do this before throwing the ball to get him more exercise, and it’s also another great way to utilize small spaces.
Keep your pup cool and well-hydrated. Overheating (and its more sinister sibling, heat exhaustion) is a much-feared possibility, so we do two things to combat it: we bring a doggie water bottle wherever we go and on hot days we use a Kool Collar as well. Dog-specific water bottles are mainly for convenience; they merge water bottles with dog bowls in a compact manner. We settled on one that can be easily carried and used by us as well, but they come in various forms. And the Kool Collar is the neatest thing since, well, since I discovered it. It’s just a little hollow mesh collar that you fill with loose ice (if you’re outside and don’t mind it melting everywhere) or the accompanying ice pack (if you want the drippings to be contained), but it works wonders and really does keep our dog cooler, so I highly recommend it.
When you’re RVing you don’t exactly have a backyard, so to let your dogs hang outside you have to get creative.
If there’s plenty of space you can use some long line (we just went to REI and had them cut a 75-foot section of rope). Clip one end to your dog’s collar with a carabiner and attach the other to a sturdy base — viola! Seventy-five feet is obviously waaay too long for most occasions, but we already had that length to use for training him at a distance so we just alter it as needed. Leaving your dog outside on a long lead only works in some situations, though; namely, where there’s abundant space and not too much going on (so NOT most RV parks).
Another option, particularly for small dogs, is to use an exercise pen. These are basically wire panels that interconnect to create an enclosure. You can get them with or without doors, at various heights, and with covers or mats. The best part is that they fold up easily for transport and storage, and often you can add as many panels as you’d like to alter the size of the pen. Some RV parks may not allow these outside enclosures, though, so check before you set it up.
DOING THEIR BUSINESS
Please, don’t put 100% biodegradable dog waste into plastic bags that can take over 100 years to decompose! You’ll need to clean up after your dog frequently, so I would suggest buying biodegradable pick-up bags in bulk (and using a handy little dispenser that attaches to the leash). If you’re feeling creative there are also more crafty options, like cutting the bottom off a plastic milk or juice container to make a “scooper” for depositing waste directly in the trash can, but you should also have some bags available as a back-up.
USEFUL COMMANDS FOR TRAVELING
We’re all about teaching our dog fun and useful commands. He knows a lot of ridiculous stuff, but there are a few things that routinely make our life easier on the road.
Boundary Training. Thankfully, our dog never goes out the door unless we give him the cue “free!” This is probably one of the most important safety commands I can think of, as it prevents him from dashing outside whenever we open the door (and since we routinely park side-by-side with semis at rest areas, this is really important). We’ve also “boundary trained” him to stay on grass or other surfaces we indicate. We use this while playing so that he won’t chase the soccer ball into a street; instead, he’ll lay down at the edge of the grass and wait for us to get it. I can’t emphasize enough how amazingly useful this is.
Quiet. No one likes a barking neighbor! RVs are often parked very close to other folks, and they have the added benefit of no insulation… which means you hear everything.
Go Now. A lot of dogs don’t like to do their business in a new location, so you can spend ages standing around outside waiting for them to just pee already! Getting them to go on cue makes the whole process much easier and a whole lot quicker. We use “go now,” though some folks prefer “go potty” or “do your business.”
Leave It. Things can get cramped in an RV, and most spaces serve multiple purposes. We routinely use our dinette table, which our pup can easily access, as a food-preparation area. However, he’s learned “leave it” so well that we really don’t even have to use the cue anymore; if he hops on the dinette seats and there’s food on the table, he won’t touch it. No missing food! Now if only we could teach “leave it” to his fur…
ALL ABOUT CATS
Traveling with cats in an RV is slightly different than doing so with dogs. Cats are usually less accustomed to being outside or to riding in vehicles, so they’re more likely to be nervous or scared… and in my experience, a nervous cat in a car results in a nervous cat wedged under the seat refusing to come out! In this case it might be a much better option to keep your cat safely stowed away in a carrying case or crate. However, many cats do enjoy riding in cars and love to ride on their owner’s lap or shoulders while in transit. Like most things, it all depends on their personal preference, but luckily cats aren’t usually shy about letting you know.
The other thing to consider when traveling with cats is the difference between a motorhome and a fifth wheel. With a fifth wheel, you have to get into a truck (or other towing vehicle) each time you drive. If your cats aren’t fans of the outdoors and dislike being repeatedly carted between home and car, you might consider getting a motorhome or at least spending some effort acclimating your kitty to its crate to ease the tension of transport.
Cats like to go outside, too! You can train a cat to walk on a leash (make sure to use a figure eight harness, so it doesn’t slip off), but without training most will just collapse into a puddle and refuse to walk if you put a leash on them. You can also use an exercise pen (similar to those used with dogs) with a wire top, or get a tall one with perches. There are many cat-specific outdoor equipment options, so you can probably find something your kitty enjoys.
DOING THEIR BUSINESS
One of the biggest challenges when traveling with cats is deciding where to put the litter box in the RV! This is really going to depend on your own rig and preferences, but I’ve listed some of the possibilities I’ve heard below. Regardless of where it’s put, though, everyone we’ve talked to recommends using a covered litter box to help keep everything contained on the road.
Tucked into an empty space, such as between the bed and wall.
In the shower (unless the shower is being used, obviously). This works best if you have a shower curtain, or you can get a small bracket that keeps the shower door open enough to let the cat in. The biggest issue with this space is that litter down the shower drain = BAD NEWS, so you’ll want to keep the drain covered and check for any excess litter in the shower before use.
In front of the driver’s seat (to be moved when driving).
As a decorative end table. If you have a tall, covered litter box you can drape a cloth over it for an instant end table.
Modifying the RV to fit the litter box in hidden spaces. Some folks use the storage space under the dinette benches or bed, which keeps things neat and tidy in the RV. Note that these projects require some minor carpentry skills, since you’ll need to cut a small entrance into the cabinet and come up with an accessible way to remove the litter pan for cleaning, but if you’re up for a bit of a challenge the reduction in clutter can be dramatic.