RVer’s Guide to Traveling With Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets

Considering RVing with pets?

  • Maybe you can’t bear the idea of leaving Mr. Schmoochie-Wiggle-Tums all alone during your weekend adventures.
  • Maybe you’re an avid duck hunter, and you don’t go anywhere without a 12-gauge shotgun and Buck the Deadly Duck-Hunting Hound at your side.
  • Maybe you’re gearing up for the full-time RV lifestyle, and you’d rather donate your left arm than re-home your collection of painted hermit crabs.

Whatever your reason, whatever your love – dog, cat, ferret or rabbit – you travel as a family, and that includes everyone. Everyone.

But your pet may not be as gung-ho about careening down a potholed highway at 65 mph as you are.

If you’re planning on RVing with cats or dogs, this guide will help you – and your furry co-pilot!

(If you’re planning on RVing with snakes, tarantulas, parrot, or other exotic pets, then this guide will also help you. Just not as much.)

Table of Contents

Be Honest, Now ...

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before investing a ton of money and time into traveling with pets, you need to honestly appraise the situation – both yourself and your beloved fur friend.

  • Will you enjoy sharing a small space with your pet?
  • Will your pet enjoy sharing a small space with you?
  • If you own multiple pets, can your RV accommodate everyone’s needs?
  • Will your pet be able to entertain herself for part of the day if you’re gone?
  • Does your pet have mobility or health issues that might hinder them from safely navigating an RV, campgrounds, or tourist destinations?
  • Does your pet have environmental constraints (heat lamps, aquarium) that wouldn’t be practical inside an RV?
  • Does your pet fare well with other animals and people? RV campgrounds are extremely social! And your neighbors will not appreciate a yapping dog.
  • Does your pet have separation anxiety? Will you be able to safely leave him or her unattended for a few hours?
  • How patient are you?
  • …. no really, how patient are you?

Meeting Your Pet’s Needs

Here’s the truth of the matter about RVing with your four-legged friends: Your world will revolve around your pet. Decisions about where you sleep, what you eat, where you travel, and what you do while you’re there will all be decided for you.

Some breeds may have particular needs. Brachycephalic dog breeds, for instance, should avoid extremely hot temperatures. Smaller dog breeds, like dachshunds and chihuahuas, may need to be bundled up in cold weather.

Many hiking trails and locations are closed to pets, especially dogs. This is true for many national and state parks. And many trails require dogs to be on a leash at all times. (If you’re traveling with a monkey or parrot, same rules apply).

However … there’s good news! You can use apps like AllTrails, Dog Friendly, and Bring Fido to find dog-friendly hiking trails near you.

And you can easily bike, kayak, and sightsee with your dog or cat! There’s a whole field of “cani-sports” dedicated to hiking, cycling, and skiing with your canine companions.

Don’t fret – with sufficient training, most pets adjust to and enjoy the RV lifestyle! But if your pet requires some extra time and training, just be honest! Work with a trainer to ensure you and your pet enjoy the transition. Don’t force the animal to accept a situation he or she isnt’ prepared for.

Please have a Plan B in case your pet really isn’t suited for the RV life. Some furry companions just can’t acclimate to the constant motion, stress, and stimulation of living on the road.

Help Your Pet Acclimate to the New Space

Unknown environments can stress your pet. To help your pet adjust, you need to familiarize her with this new, unknown space. Don’t rush the process; it takes some time!

  • Allow your pet to explore the RV with the doors opened, so she doesn’t feel contained.
  • Sprinkle some of her favorite toys around the RV.
  • If your pet loves a particular smell, try spritzing that perfume inside the RV.
  • Feed your pet treats while she’s inside the RV camper.
  • Stage some play sessions inside the RV! Praise your pet when she behaves properly.

Once she’s a little more comfortable inside the coach or camper, go on test drives. Start with a jaunt just to the end of your driveway and back. Your pet will get accustomed to the rumble of the engine and the whistling of the wind.

Be warned! Your pet will choose his or her favorite location in the RV, and it probably won’t be where you would prefer! Be prepared to step over a dog lying in front of the fridge, or a cat bed perched on the kitchen island. Cats may prefer the open view from the dashboard or the dark secrecy of under the dinette.

Pro Tip: Don’t go RV shopping with your pet. Dealerships won’t allow pets inside the units due to customer allergy or property damage concerns.

Shop Smart! Look for Pet-Friendly RVs

Shopping for a New RV

If you’re shopping for an RV, keep your cuddle companion in mind!

There are a handful of manufacturers offering special layouts or features for pet owners. These RVs may have:

  • Dedicated spaces for crates or kennels
  • Pet entry doors
  • Central vacuum systems
  • Vinyl upholstery
  • Outdoor showers
  • Hard flooring
  • Pull-out feeding stations
  • Pet tethers and crate tie-downs

Some pet-friendly RVs have dual entry doors, where one passes through a mudroom/bathroom. Then you’ll be able to clean grimy paws before they track mud through your living room!

Keep an eye out for bunkhouse models. Dog owners swear by these layouts, which typically have stacked bunk beds in the rear. Fixed beds are better than pull-out or Murphy beds.

If your RV has slide-outs, you should still be able to navigate through the main areas with the slide-outs closed.

Examples of pet-friendly RVs include:

  • A.C.E. Motorhomes
  • Highland Ridge Travel Trailers
  • Dutchmen Kodiak UltraLite

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of floor plans specifically designed around large pets, such as dogs. When you conduct a walk-through (or visit the manufacturer’s website for a 360-degree virtual walk-through), try to imagine you and Buster/Princess living in that space.

Renovating Your Current RV

You’ll need to pet-proof your rig or tow vehicle before going on long travels.

  • If you’re driving a motorhome, a pet can stay in the main living space while in transit.
  • If you’re towing a camper, everyone – pets included! – should be in the tow vehicle, not the camper!

Either way, you’ll need restraint and containment devices, like crates or carriers, inside the RV. These will help keep your pet safe and yourself sane!

It may seem natural to let your pet roam around the cabin, but you’re endangering their life in the event of a crash.

If you’re planning on full-timing with your furball, it’s a good idea to rip out any carpet and replace with sheet or plank vinyl. No matter how much you clean, it will get gross.

You should also purchase a carpet and upholstery brush and a lint roller to clean off your bedding and seating areas.

Make sure your RV has dedicated pet spaces. It’s cramped enough in there!

You should consider the mobility requirements of your pet, too. Can your dog or cat ascend the entry steps? How about any steps between floor levels?

And as a courtesy to other travelers, if your pet constantly barks at squirrels, leaves and postal service drivers, you should install sliding black-out curtains around the main windows.

What to Pack for Traveling with Cats and Dogs

  1. Bedding
  2. Pet food
  3. Treats
  4. Non-spill food bowl
  5. Poop bags, disposable gloves, and litter supplies
  6. Leash
  7. ID collar
  8. Flea collar
  9. Accident clean-up supplies and de-odorizers
  10. Grooming tools and brushes
  11. Toys!
  12. Storage bins for toys and accessories
  13. Warm clothing, if needed
  14. Upholstery brush and lint roller
  15. Baking soda
  16. Extra water (for emergencies)
  17. Vaccination and medical records
  18. Vet contact information
  19. Life vest (for water activities)
  20. Current photos
  21. Pet First Aid kit

Tips for RVing with Pets!

In the RV: Advice for Pets

It’s finally the big day! You’re about to embark on your grand adventure, and who better to share it than man/woman’s best friend?

  • Look for bathroom breaks. Your pet may need to go to the bathroom more often than you. Learn their signals, and don’t expect them to have an iron bladder.
  • Don’t dehydrate. Don’t go on an 8-hour cross-country trip and forget to give water to your pet! This is especially true for pets with increased respiration due to stress, as they can get dehydrated very quickly.
  • Don’t abandon. You would never leave a child locked into a car, would you? Well, don’t leave your pet inside a closed-up RV! They could overheat or even suffocate.
  • Clean often. Litter boxes, beds, and crates should be cleaned 2x as often as at home. Smells pile up quickly inside a small space! If your pet sheds, you’ll need to vacuum every day. Best to get a handheld pet vacuum rather than a cumbersome shop vac!
  • Learn what music your pets like. Dogs and cats can have musical preferences, just like us. Some even prefer podcasts or radio programs!

At the Campground: Advice for Pets

Following a few guidelines for campground etiquette will help you and your neighbors fully enjoy your camping experience.

  • Exercise your pets daily! Walks and play parks maintain their health and sharpen their minds. You’re camping, for Pete’s sake! Enjoy the hikes!
  • Don’t assume all campgrounds allow pets. All privately owned campgrounds have their own rules regarding pets allowed, such as leashing rules and left-alone restrictions. Some don’t allow dogs at all! (the curmudgeons). If in doubt, call ahead.
  • Pick up the poop. No excuses. Many campgrounds ban all pets just because a few lazy owners don’t want to clean up the crap. Just bag it and trash it, ok?
  • Be a good neighbor. If your dog barks incessantly “watching TV” (aka staring at the window), then consider closing the blinds during quiet hours. If barking is a concern for your dog, consider a bark collar, which is a humane method to discourage excessive barking. If your neighbors don’t like pets, don’t expect them to shower Fido with love and adoration. If they love pets as much as you do, then invite them over for dinner!
  • Stay by their side. Most campgrounds don’t allow pets off-leash (yes, that includes cats!) unless you set up temporary fencing around your campsite (… which not all campsites allow, either). Many RVs have a D-ring on the chassis or sidewall to attach your pet’s tether.
  • Watch out for ticks! The Great Outdoors isn’t always … so great. Brush and groom your pet frequently to check for ticks, fleas, chiggers, and other parasites and pests. The last thing you want is a six-legged hitchhiker to take up roost in your bed!

Sight-Seeing: Advice for Pets

Accessibility

First, let’s talk leash training.

No matter what kind of pet you have – dog, cat, monkey or parrot – a leash will likely be required. Thankfully, almost any animal can be leash-trained. Professionals recommend a short, nylon cloth leash and safety harness. Start leash-training your pet well in advance of your RV adventures!

Now, let’s talk accessibility.

If you’re considering an epic National Park road trip, here’s what you need to know:

  • Many National Parks do not allow dogs or only dogs in campsites and paved trails.
  • National Monuments are more lenient, but still often have strict rules.
  • National Forests usually allow pets on a leash.
  • BLM land almost always allows pets (and sometimes free reign!).

You can use apps like AllTrails, Dog Friendly, GoPetFriendly, and Bring Fido to find pet-friendly activities near you.

NOTE: We do NOT recommend certifying your family pet as a service animal to game the system and gain entry to unauthorized businesses. Abusing the allowances for service animals will only bring you, your pet, and real service animals a bad name.

Traveling Across International Borders

If you’re traveling into Canada or Mexico, special rules apply!

  • Mexico requires vaccination records and a current health certificate.
  • Canada requires rabies vaccination records and limits the amount of pet food to 44 pounds (they limit human food, too). Fun fact: Some Canadian provinces, like Ontario, ban certain breeds of dogs, like pitbulls!

Vaccinations, Meds and IDs

Vaccinations

All pets should be vaccinated with the suite of core vaccines to protect against common communicable illnesses:

  • Canines: canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies
  • Felines: anleukopenia (feline distemper), feline calicivirus, feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis) and rabies

You should keep vaccination records for all your pets. Some campgrounds may deny you entry if you can’t provide proof of pet vaccination!

Hint: You should also carry Proof of Ownership papers! Pet-knappers do exist.

Medicines

  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Deworming medicine
  • Flea and tick medications
  • Health and dietary supplements
  • Oral antihistamines

Don’t rely on sedatives to “train” your pet how to behave in a car! Sedatives don’t teach your pet how to relieve stress.

If your pet is prone to motion sickness, ask your vet for an approved anti-nausea medication. Or sometimes, just a simple peppermint will do the trick! Don’t treat your animal with any un-approved medication, such as essential oils.

Smaller pets, especially “teacup” breeds, can be particularly susceptible to allergic reactions to bee stings, wasp stings, etc. An antihistamine can help moderate the reaction.

Microchips and IDs

A microchip is an RFID device about the size of a grain of rice that is quickly, painlessly inserted underneath the skin of your pet.

Let’s be honest – pets get lost. They don’t have perfect senses of direction. When scared, they can bolt and dart in any direction. They can even lose their collars and ID tags!

If you plan on traveling often with your pet, you should get them microchipped. It’s the only permanent, reliable way to identify a lost pet. Your local vet can usually install the chip, which is then registered in a national database. If your pet ever gets lost, you’ll quickly be contacted. And you can easily update your contact information through the registry at any time.

If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of a microchip, at least ensure your pet has a collar with an ID tag with name, phone number and home address. You can print off an ID tag at a pet kiosk at a Walmart or pet store near you.

Another option is a smart collar, which has an embedded RFID or GPS device. You can link the smart collar with your phone and keep track of your pet 24/7!

Rules for Pet Safety While RVing

Monitor the Temperature!

If you’re leaving your pet inside an RV unattended for any length of time, turn on the roof vents to prevent heat buildup. Make sure your pet has water!

As long as you’ve taken the proper precautions, it’s OK to leave your pet unattended for a little while. Go enjoy that art museum or beachside restaurant. Just be sure to praise your pet upon your return!

But … and it’s a big but! … you need a pet temperature monitor! These are WiFi-enable temperature and humidity sensors that measure the conditions inside your RV. They’ll send you a text or message if the temperature or humidity rises or falls out of the safe range.

Big brand names include:

  • Marcell
  • Waggle
  • Temp Stick

There’s one big caveat with these temperature monitors: They only work when connected! You need Internet access at your campsite, and you need cellular or WiFi access wherever you’re going. Otherwise, the notifications won’t get sent!

Protect Your Pet While Driving

Don’t leave your pet free to roam around the cabin, particularly if it’s a larger animal like a dog. In a collision, the impact could send your dog through the windshield! And a sudden serve or emergency stop could cause serious harm as well.

  • If you’re driving a motorhome, a pet can stay in the main living space while in transit.
  • If you’re towing a camper, everyone – pets included! – should be in the tow vehicle, not the camper!

Either way, you’ll need restraint and containment devices, like crates or carriers, inside the RV. These will help keep your pet safe and yourself sane!

No one wants their beloved pet to feel imprisoned. Thankfully, many crates and carriers come in extra-large sizes, even big enough to accommodate food bowls, litter boxes, and sleeping beds!

Reviews for pet safety harnesses are mixed. These devices are not regulated, and many have failed during crash testing. Do your research carefully before selecting a product.

Be Wary of Predators

You’re not in Kansas suburbia anymore

  • Florida campgrounds may have alligators.
  • Montana campgrounds may have bears.
  • Texas campgrounds may have rattlesnakes.
  • Nevada campgrounds may have coyotes.

Protect your pet. Don’t let them wander around campsites without thoroughly inspecting the area first, particularly around water.

Watch the Weather

Your pet likely doesn’t have shoes. Remember that! For your dog, trotting on black asphalt on a hot day in southern Arizona can literally singe their paw pads. Be kind to your pet, and check the ground temperature with the palm of your hand. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your pet’s paws! If you frequent hot climates, consider buying some booties.

Conversely, your pet also doesn’t come with a built-in North Face coat (unless he’s an Alaskan Malamute, of course). You may need to pack booties or jackets for animals during cold-weather hikes.

Can I (Really) Take My Pets RVing?

Can you go RVing with your pets?

Yes, you really can!

People have traveled with dogs, cats, parrots, geckos, guinea pigs, spiders, snakes, rodents, and all animals in between!

Some brave souls even journey forth with three or four dogs and two or three cats! They’re halfway to their own P.T. Barnum circus.

Yes, RVing with pets takes some sacrifice. But it’s totally worth it. Pets only live in the here and now. That’s the lesson they teach us. And as the saying goes, happiness is only real when shared.

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