Several years ago as we sped along the highway, I noticed a dog peering out from one of the windows of a large, passing RV. I turned to my husband and said, “Would you ever consider getting an RV so that we can take the dogs with us on vacation?” I always felt guilty leaving our animals whenever we wanted to go away. It could also be very expensive. One of our dogs was always traumatized by a visit to the kennel, thus we had a pet sitter come to our home to care for him, our cat, and the tank of fish; our other dog was a puppy at the time, requiring lots of interaction and entertainment to keep him happy and out of trouble. He was always happy to arrive at his kennel, which was primarily a doggie daycare facility with overnight service.
But my pet care woes were soon gone when in less than two months we bought our own – not so large — RV, which we nicknamed Rover. During the remaining summer and fall months, we took weekend mini-vacations, exploring the campground and tourist areas within a four-hour distance of our home. We had wonderfully relaxing weekends together with Jake, a ten-year old golden retriever, and Baxter, a two-year old chocolate Labrador retriever.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that many campgrounds allowed pets. Although, all had some restrictions regarding pets; the following are typical:
- All pets must be on a short leash (six feet or less).
- Pets should never be left unattended.
- All pets must have proper papers for vaccinations and appropriate licenses.
- If any pet is creating a disturbance or being a nuisance, the pet shall be immediately removed from the campground.
In addition to these typical rules, some campgrounds limit the number of pets you may have with you and others have restrictions about dog breeds and/or size. Animals are usually not allowed in the swimming areas or in the cabins. Always call ahead of time to find out the specific regulations of the campground you plan to visit.
At times we were given a site near other campers who were also traveling with animals. But this was not always the situation. As a result, it’s very important that your animals are well socialized with both people and other animals if they are to travel with you on vacation. If you are unsure of how well your pets will behave in these new circumstances, request a site away from the main camping and high traffic areas.
Of course, if you’re traveling with animals that will remain within the confines of your camper, socialization is not an issue. Many animals that live in cages — gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs — are fairly easy to bring along on a trip. But, you must be able to secure their cages or aquariums, as well as the items inside (bottles, dishes, toys, etc.) so that they do not slide, fall, or go flying when you are moving or braking. Also make sure that your type of pet is legal in all the states in which you will be traveling. For instance, neither a gerbil nor a ferret is welcome in California.
Although they are caged and might seem easy to bring along, birds can catch a draft very easily. If you’re a bird owner, consult a bird expert or bird veterinarian about the feasibility of adapting your pet’s lifestyle for travel. You need to also be careful to guard against their escape, extreme temperatures, and protect them from other animals. One seasoned camper traveling with her parrot notes that her bird “often got tired on bumpy roads because he had to hold onto the side of his cage.”
Some cats also enjoy traveling with the family. We often saw cats sunning themselves on the dashboards of neighboring RVs. Indoor cats will find it easier to adjust to the confinements of an R.V. Unlike dogs, cats are very place oriented and don’t like being away from their own turf. Additional preparation time may be needed to get your cat accustomed to traveling in the RV. It may be a good idea to take your cat in the RV for short trips at first, and then gradually increase the length of time you spend on the road and in campgrounds. (This is probably good advice for all your pets.)
Cats that like to be outdoors can sometimes be trained to walk on a leash (but not all will be happy about it). You may want to also consider a large crate that can be put outdoors for them to spend some time outside, away from the confines of the RV.
Unless you’ve trained your cat to use the toilet, along with any cat comes the litter box. Take extra care that this is secure while the RV is moving. Some travelers use the bathtub or shower stall for locating the box. Others place it inside a small, open door crate that can then be latched down more easily than the litter box. To help your cat adjust to her home on wheels, vets recommend not starting the trip with fresh litter. Taking litter that she’s already used is like putting out a little sign that says “mine.”
We eventually bought a 31-foot, class-A RV (bus-like) and lived in it for seven months, while traveling the country with Baxter. But no matter how large an RV you own, it is a very small amount of space compared to even the smallest of apartments, and pet odor is a constant concern.
Traveling cat owners suggest you scoop a litter box twice a day. For us, daily sweeping and vacuuming was necessary. Fortunately, because it is such a small space, this takes very little time. For rainy days, we brought carpet runners that were placed over the main carpeting to help minimize the wet dog smell from remaining later. As soon as the sun shone again, the runners were taken outside – along with the smell – and allowed to dry for the next time.
While the RV is moving, all animals should be constrained to prevent them from being injured or from becoming a hazard. Small cats and dogs can easily fit under the dash and obstruct access to the gas and brake pedals.
Before inviting your animals into the RV to explore their temporary home, closely inspect it for any small openings into which they might disappear if frightened. Pay close attention to the area surrounding the slide-out portion of the RV, if so equipped. Be sure you have crated your cat or small dog while you open or close the RV sliders.
Even if leashed or penned, your pet should never be left unattended out of doors, even if you are just inside your own RV. There’s always the possibility of an unpleasant encounter with other animals and/or travelers.
Every campground we visited had the rule about not leaving your animal unattended while you are away. The rule is there for both the safety of the animal, as well as for preventing a noisy disturbance for fellow campers while you are not there to contend with the issue. I admit, we did not always obey this regulation when we took short trips away from the campground. We are fortunate that none of our dogs have ever been barkers.
Some campgrounds offer doggie daycare for campers wanting to take day trips away from their RVs, without their dogs. The campground may also have a list of local pet sitters available to drop in on your animal to give them exercise, time to relieve themselves, and to generally check that they are okay. You could also use a local kennel for these times. Be sure you bring proof of vaccinations along on the trip. All reputable kennels will require such proof.
Regardless of your need for a kennel, you should bring proof of vaccinations, as well as:
- Take an adequate supply of your pet’s food. A change in brand may cause stomach problems.
- Take a pet first aid kit and know what dosages of medication to give your pets.
- Your pet’s collar should include identification along with basic information such as your name, address and a cell phone number. You can even include an e-mail address.
- Take your pet’s favorite bedding or crate, grooming tools, pet toys and treats.
- Have a recent photograph of your pet with you for identification should your pet become lost.
When you arrive at your destination, get the phone number for a local veterinarian. Also find out about the hazardous plant life in the area, including poisonous plants and those, like cactus, that can physically hurt your pet. (The people working in the campground office are often very knowledgeable.) Vigilantly check your pet for ticks, foot injuries, or dehydration. Give them fresh drinking water, and don’t let them drink from questionable sources found in the wilderness.
If you are feeding your pet outdoors, be sure you remove all remaining food when he is done. This will help prevent yet more insects visiting your site and help keep wildlife from visiting for a nighttime snack of leftovers.
We became very aware of the possible hazards of traveling with a dog, with respect to wildlife, while in Montana where bears are prevalent. After hearing numerous warnings from park officials and campground personnel, we made our dog wear a bear-bell on his collar whenever we walked him. This allowed a bear to hear us coming and to have time to move away. A surprised bear is not a happy bear!
Despite the additional time and considerations associated with traveling with an animal, it is well worth the effort. You will find yourself engaged in fascinating conversations with fellow travelers because your animal was there to start the conversation. You will not need to worry that they are stressed being at a kennel or that someone showed up to feed the cat. You will see more of nature and you will appreciate your pet more, having quiet, stress-free time to spend with them away from daily hassles.
After returning from our long trip and settling into a condo, it took several weeks for Baxter to realize we were again stationary. Until then, each morning when the door opened for him to go outside, he would stop and look in all directions. It was as if he was trying to recall where he had fallen asleep the previous night and was wondering if he was still there that morning.
Feature Photo Copyright: christingasner / 123RF Stock Photo