Questions about having pets in an RV pop up on the forums daily, and many of my readers email me for advice, too. Whether you are solo or traveling with other people, pet concerns are the same: Securing pets during travel, temperature control, litter boxes for cats, and not running afoul of park rules and regulations. Here is the tiny bit of wisdom I’ve gleaned from traveling with dogs and a cat in an RV for two years.
SECURING ANIMALS WHEN UNDERWAY
If you are in a Class A, B, or C, you must decide if you want to secure your pets inside the rig in some fashion while moving. I have not found it necessary when it comes to my dogs. They usually lay on the sofa or ride up on the dashboard while I’m driving. Some people use seatbelts for their dogs.
Some folks crate dogs, or put them in the bedroom and close the door while driving. That might be necessary if they won’t leave you alone while you’re behind the wheel. For me, it hasn’t been an issue. When I first adopted Rocket and Pinkie, they would sometimes stand on the dashboard directly in front of me while I was driving; the cat liked to do that at times too. A few squirts from a water bottle by the captain’s seat solved that problem. Now, they totally know the difference; when we’re parked they will lay on that part of the dashboard, but when we’re moving, they don’t.
Regarding cats, I thought long and hard and internally debated about whether to put Boss Tweed in a carrier when we were moving. In the end I decided to try it without a carrier. Imagine spending your whole life thinking you’re going to the vet.
For the first two weeks on the road, Boss hid under furniture, yowling loudly. Whether the trip was two hours or six, he caterwauled the entire way. His little voice was hoarse from his plaintive cries. Then, one day he came out of hiding and sat on the floor next to the captain’s chair. Soon thereafter he tried jumping up on the dashboard, only to jump down again immediately because the whole, big world was going by in a flash. Over time, those jumps up to the dash lasted longer and longer, until he was riding up there.
My biggest fear of traveling with an unsecured cat was that he would get under my feet, and sure enough, he tried. I was still rather new to driving the rig, and Boss Tweed, in an attempt to hide, tried to burrow under the pedals. A lot of screaming and yelling and kicking ensued, and that was the one and only time he attempted it. If you have a cat that chronically tries to nest by your feet and the pedals when you’re driving, you have no choice but to secure the cat in a bedroom or bathroom or put it in a carrier. Safety first.
Not all cats adapt well to riding in a motorhome, and I have read that some people put their cats in a carrier for the cats’ own comfort and safety. Only you can make that call. If Boss had not acclimated to the environment, I would have put him in a carrier.
If you are towing your home, such as a trailer or fifth wheel, your animals should ride with you in the towing vehicle. If you are one of those people who insanely believes your animals are quite comfortable in a trailer being towed down the road, spend a few hours back there yourself. There is a reason why most states declare it illegal for humans to ride in a moving trailer, which can feel like being in an earthquake. In the hot months there is no temperature control, and heaven forbid there is an accident. If you pull your pets behind you, stop.
The Eternal Litter Box Debate
Under the bed, in the shower, in the basement with a secret passageway from inside the rig – there are as many places to put a litter box in an RV as there are places in an RV. For me, it’s a small space that opens up when the bedroom slide is open. When we are underway, the box goes in the bathroom.
One word of warning if you are keeping the litter box in the shower: Place a mat or covering under the box to keep the litter out of the drain!
When we transitioned to motorhome living I purchased a top-entry litter box.
I did not want litter flying out when we were underway, and it limits a dog’s access to the “kitty rocas.” For the first four days I left the lid off the box, and Boss took to that immediately, jumping right in. Then, I added the lid with the hole in it. He jumps into the box and sticks his head out of the hole to do his business. There is less litter tracking, as most of it falls back in the box as he jumps out.
To control smell in a small space, I clean the box on average three times per day, placing the used litter in a sealed container in between trips to the garbage (a big coffee can works well, and I use a plastic container that held laundry detergent pods).
A vehicle sitting in the sun can get hot, whether it’s a car or an RV. With a rig you can regulate the temperature somewhat with shades, awning, opening windows and ceiling vents/fans, and parking in shady spots, but when it’s really hot out there, air conditioners are a necessity when you have pets on board.
When leaving pets alone in a rig in hot weather, loss of power is a concern. Perhaps you use a surge protector, which detects low or high voltage and switches itself off. Maybe the park has a brown out or a black out. I ask RV parks about their policies in the event of a park-wide electrical problem; at a minimum, they should phone all campers. Regarding a tripped breaker or loss of power to my rig alone, I use a baby monitor app for the iPad and iPhone, turning the iPad toward the thermostat to keep an eye on it remotely from my phone. There are many free apps for that, but beware: they require Wi-Fi, which can be really spotty in RV parks, and if you have your own Wi-Fi, it eats up data. It works for me because I have Wi-Fi in the rig and an unlimited data plan.
Nowadays there are several remote temperature monitoring devices for homes, and RVs. I have not done the research, but if you are concerned about your animals in a hot motorhome, there are many options to help prevent that. Feel free to share your research here.
Park Rules And Pets
Many parks have a policy on the maximum number of allowed pets. Usually, that number is two. Be sure you know the rules before you commit to a reservation. (Generally, when I tell front desk folk that I have two dogs and a cat, they tell me the cat doesn’t count as long as it doesn’t go outside.) A few also limit the size/weight/breed of dogs (I read about this on the forums, although I’ve never encountered a park that did so), so be sure to know the policies before arriving.
Pretty much everyone knows that dogs cannot be left outside at a campground unattended, but some parks take it a step further – dogs may not be left unattended, at all. Period. Inside or out. If you have dogs that are barkers or will generally cause a commotion while you are away, this policy will become a big problem for you, fast. No one likes constant barking emanating from an RV. Other campers will lodge a complaint with management, and soon your phone will be ringing. Read park websites and park reviews thoroughly before committing to a reservation.
How can you avoid leaving your pets unattended when you go out? One way is to take them with you, as long as your activities are dog-friendly. Many restaurants allow dogs on outdoor patios, and many hiking trails and beaches allow dogs on leashes. Do your Internet research before you go. And, a word of warning about leaving dogs in a car: State laws are getting more and more strict about this, and in many states it is perfectly legal for someone to break the windows to get a dog out of a hot car. Don’t do it for all these reasons, and because it’s a douche thing to do. Oh, and your best friend could die a horrible death.
Another option is boarding, or doggy daycare. Boarding and lounges require proof of vaccinations, and I keep all of the dogs’ veterinary records in the car, in case I drop them off for an afternoon of fun and frolic while I take in the sights. (This is a good habit generally, as vets want prior records, and many RV parks also ask for proof of vaccinations. When your animals go to a vet on the road, asked for a copy of all records when you check out.) The best part of doggy daycare is the pooches come back good and exhausted and sleep like babies!
Rover.com and Craig’s List are good places to find pet sitters. In Key West for New Year’s Eve, I wasn’t sure what time I would get back to the campground due to traffic and bus schedules, or if fireworks would be going off near the RV. I found a pet sitter in Big Pine Key, miles away from the action, and dropped the dogs off on NYE afternoon, picking them up on New Year’s Day. The sitter was great about sending photos. I especially like this one, when they encountered a Key Deer.
Back at the campground, if you are outside the RV with your dogs, you can keep them at your campsite with temporary fencing or tie outs or pens, but just stop thinking about that invisible fence already. They are not appropriate for RV parks. Really.
You know what chaps my hide? A park that charges a per animal fee but offers zero pet amenities. Not even so much as a poop bag! In my experience the fee is anywhere from $4 per animal to $10 per animal (per stay, not per day). Be sure to review RV park websites carefully and ask when you call.
The most extreme pet fee I ever encountered (I did not stay there!) was an RV park in Florida. At the cost of $80 per dog, you submitted your dogs’ stool samples for DNA analysis. If any unscooped poop in the park matched your doggies’ DNA, you were fined some ridiculous amount of money.
Regarding doggy amenities, not all parks are created equal. Some off-leash areas (if the park has one at all) are nothing more than a postage stamp-sized piece of urine-soaked Astroturf. Others are all gravel or lava rock. Some “RV Resorts” require that dogs do their business only in designated areas, so don’t you dare walk them there! I’m unfortunately not kidding; I wrote about it here.
Don’t rely on an RV park having an off leash area, but most towns have at least one. It’s a great way to meet the locals!
If you are considering full-time RVing and are having anxiety about your pets, I hope I’ve answered some of your questions and allayed some of your concerns.