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RVing with Cats: Taking Your Adventure Pets on the Road

Two cats resting in outdoor enclosure
There are many well-documented health benefits of owning cats or other pets. Perhaps most obviously, they provide companionship. Life on the road can be lonely, especially when you first start, and bringing along a feline friend is a great way to reduce loneliness. Life on the road can also be stressful. You can’t always count on a spectacular sunset or breathtaking view to calm your nerves. Cats are a great source of comfort and stress relief, and they’re great for your overall happiness and well-being.

But most importantly, cats, like most pets, are part of the family. When you hit the road, you want your family there with you. Cats do bring some unique challenges, though. There isn’t a single right answer for how to address those challenges, but we hope that sharing our problems and solutions can help other RVers feel more confident and comfortable traveling with their cats.

My partner Sushila and I adopted our two cats, Ollie and Mango, while living our sticks-and-bricks life. When we decided to hit the road in an RV, we knew they’d be joining us.

Where to Put the Litter Box?

If you have cats and are planning to take them on the road, your first thought was almost certainly, “what will I do with the litter box.” They’re messy, smelly, and, especially in a tiny space, they can really get in the way.

 

One of our big goals was to not need to move the litter box on travel days. Our first six months on the road included a lot of those (oops), and we have enough to pick up and move out of the way without the litter box adding to it. We were also a little concerned that moving the litter box around, especially on moving days, would cause additional stress for the cats, and we wanted to avoid that possibility.

 

Our second goal was to minimize the mess the cats could make tracking litter around the RV. If you own cats, you’re probably laughing at how futile this effort was, but nevertheless, the fewer times per day I need to vacuum litter, the better.

 

We travel in a fifth wheel, and we opted to carve out a space in our basement (the pass-through storage area under the bedroom) to keep the litter box. We cut a hole in the steps leading to our bedroom, and a walkway leads the cats to an enclosed space in the basement for the litter box.

There are a couple downsides to this approach. First, we lost some high-value space from our primary storage area. Second, it required extra effort at the start to build an enclosure for the litter box that could keep the cats from roaming free in the RV’s underbelly. For us, the benefits far outweighed the costs.

The biggest benefit is that the litter box is out of the way. It has a dedicated space that is usable and accessible whether we’re stationary or on the move. Importantly, we can access the litter box by opening our outside storage bin, and this greatly reduces the mess associated with scooping litter. It also reduces smells inside the RV living space. Finally, it helps reduce the litter that is tracked into the RV since the cats are forced to walk a few feet across a litter-catching pad before they are back inside.

While our particular setup is pretty specific to fifth wheels, we’ve seen similar setups in Class A’s using a hole through the floor or Class C’s with a space under the bed. If you can find a way to give the litter box a dedicated space where it doesn’t encroach on your living space, it can go a long way to making traveling with your cats more comfortable.

Making the RV Interior Cat-Friendly

If your cats are anything like ours, they prefer to find the highest spot available to look down on us and sleep. Our sticks and bricks home had a couple good perches for them, and we wanted to give them the same thing in the RV. Our fifth wheel has a large back window that is the perfect place to mount a cat bed. Of course, we also want to be able to close the window shades at night. A suction-cup window seat seemed like a good option; however, we quickly discovered that sticking and unsticking the suction cups every day rapidly decreased their ability to stay on the window. Instead, we slightly modified the bed so we could easily disconnect it from the suction cups, leaving them stuck to the window, so we can close the shades. It is a low maintenance solution for us, and it’s our cats’ favorite place to lounge.

Outdoor Access for RV Cats

Some cats are perfectly happy spending their entire lives indoors. Ours certainly seemed to be prior to RVing. We tried taking them outside a few times, and to say it went poorly is an understatement. We know it’s important for our cats to be active, though, and we know that environmental enrichment is important for their wellbeing. The RV doesn’t provide much space for either, so we persisted in training them to enjoy the outdoors.

We started small. A few minutes of harness training here and there; a few minutes of sitting on the RV steps. Before long, they were used to the harnesses and hooked on exploring outside. They come running to the door when they hear the Velcro of their harnesses now. They love going for walks and exploring our ever-changing surroundings.

Their love of the outdoors turned into a bit of a problem, though. Our lives and locations don’t always allow for much outdoor time, and the longer we go without taking them out, the more likely it becomes that they’ll sneak out the door and go for an adventure on their own.

We started searching for solutions that would allow the cats some outdoor time and space even when we can’t take them out for walks.

We had a few requirements:

  • The cats should be safe when We can’t always be watching, and we’ve already had a dog go through our screen door trying to chase the cats.
  • It needed to be compact and We don’t have a lot of space, and we’re closer to our weight limit than we’d like to be.
  • No more holes in the We added enough when we installed solar. We really didn’t want more sources for leaks.

 

We searched for a commercial solution, but nothing quite fit the bill. Cat tents wouldn’t be safe unattended. A metal enclosure would be safe, but it would either need to be prohibitively large to reach any of our available windows, or it would need new mounting points in the side of the RV.

Making A Catio for Your RVing Cats

Instead of trying to adapt one of the existing products, we designed our own outdoor enclosure: the Catio!

It uses 1” PVC pipes for the frame. A few key joints are glued together for stability, but the rest can be easily disassembled for storage. The floor is an outdoor carpet that can be removed and rolled up. The whole thing is wrapped in screen door mesh which is strong enough to keep the cats in but otherwise light and compact. The whole assembly sits between our two slides and is held in place by gravity. The cats can access the catio from our bedroom window.

 

The cats love it! They can nap in the sun, and they can hear and watch the birds. It gives them an opportunity to safely go outside whenever they’d like. It has been enriching for the cats and rewarding for us.

Traveling with our cats has been very rewarding. Trying to keep both them and us comfortable seemed a bit challenging at first, but with a few modifications to the RV, we’ve been able to give them many of their creature comforts while keeping it easy and low maintenance for ourselves.

There are many easy ways to make space for them in your RV. It will be worth it for both you and them.

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Author

William Harkcom | SKP# 140333

Will and Sushila own a fifth wheel RV and have spent over two years traveling full-time with their adventure cats, Ollie and Mango. Mango has nibbled grass in 25 different states and three countries. Ollie has stalked birds in 27 national parks. They now own a home base in Salida, Colorado, but they have no plans to stop traveling. You can follow them on Instagram  @awesomervadventure.

17 Responses to “RVing with Cats: Taking Your Adventure Pets on the Road

  • Nice catio! We have only 1 slide on each side 😳. We went w/ an outdoor room, which works when we’re going to be outside anyway, and have a leash/harness for Zoe for walks she takes us on. We did have a rattlesnake come exploring when it sensed Zoe out in her enclosure (“yurt”), but since we were out by her we ‘discouraged’ it adequately. Too bad I can’t post a pic of the snake after it had coiled up under our coach steps. If you want, send us your email & I’ll send some pics of us walking Zo as well as of the rattler.

  • Do you need a ladder to assemble this when you get to your destination or can you assemble it from the window?

  • pete Letourneau
    10 months ago

    Over the years we have had 5 cats who RV with us. The first 2 were full timers who travelled from the Florida Everglades to Fairbanks Alaska. We start all of our cats young with a harness so we can walk them wherever we go. They like to go out so much that usually after we set down the jacks and push out the slides they are standing at the front door, ready for a walk. One of our little guys was such a good mouser that he would go out and within minutes, stuck his paw into the grass and pulled out a play toy. We have a couple of places to put litter boxes and found that having a Dyson rechargeable vacuum was great to clean up the litter and the dust which we used every day. Having pets with us has truly been a wonderful thing!

  • We typically assemble it on the ground and then lift it up into position. We have a walkable roof, so one of us climbs up the RV ladder and the other lifts the catio up to them to put into position. It’s very light weight, though, and a single person could pretty easily do it from a ladder.

  • We do need to get up to the roof to install the catio. We use the built in ladder on the back of the fifth wheel. It is probably possible to design one that could avoid getting up on the roof but this worked for us.

  • Melanie H
    10 months ago

    How awesome! Loved the article. And the catio is brilliant. Something like that would be great even in a bricks and sticks dwelling!

  • Stephen R Edwards
    10 months ago

    Loved this blog. Such great advice and creative solutions to the most common issues with RVing and taking cats. Thanks for sharing. God Bless and Hapoy Trails to you both.

  • Thanks! Great article. We’ve been traveling with our cat, Sunnie, for eight years. He does exceptionally well but hates riding in a car or truck. Therefore, he rides in the 5th wheel. He LOVES cardboard boxes so we put two different-size boxes on our bed for him. The bed sits directly over the 5th wheel hitch, so is not as rough a ride as elsewhere in the rig. We put towels that smell like us in the boxes along with a couple of catnip mice. He is so used to traveling with us that when we are ready to travel, all I have to say is, “It’s time to get your boxy box,” and he hops up on the bed and settles in. As with all family members, we need to stop at rest areas or big store parking lots to use our facilities. We feed him and give him water at those intervals and give him time to use the cat box (which lives in a stackable washer/dryer closet in our bathroom–not W/D obviously). You can’t hurry a cat, so it can be a 15-30 minute break, which is good for us as well. When he’s done eating and using the potty, he goes back into his box. He is not an outdoor cat, but we open all the shades for him when we arrive at our camping destination. I usually take him outside on my shoulder for a walk around the rig so he can see and smell where we are. If it’s a beautiful day and we’re home, we open up the windows, too.

  • We full timed 2 summers working at state parks with our cats (and LARGE dog); interesting…. but it worked. Each time we had 3 cats and the dog; the most excitement was the night we came home, opened the door, and our young grey tabby shot out and straight up a tree – in the dark! My darling husband never hesitated; went right up the tree after him, and despite being scratched pretty good, came back down triumphantly bearing Squeaky. He said if he hadn’t done that, he could have been killed, so he did what he had to do. Surprised we’re married 27 years?

  • David and Rachel
    10 months ago

    Our cats never traveled but we live on 65 wooded acres they freely roamed. Your black cat is a ringer for one of ours. We had two black cats. A brother and sister from the same litter. Skunker and Skunkette. They have passed now, but we had Skunkette for 18 years. Really enjoyed your photo.

  • hipQuest
    10 months ago

    Great Catio! How much weight will it hold? We have 2 cats but one is a 30+ pound Maine Coon. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  • William Harkcom
    10 months ago

    We haven’t pushed the limits, but our cats combined are a bit over 20 lbs, and it doesn’t seem to flex too much. I’d guess it would hold 30 lbs without much trouble. If you wanted to be safe, you could increase the size of the PVC a bit for more strength and rigidity.

  • Thanks for your informative blog! We are getting ready to hit the road with one large dog, one small dog, and one tuxedo cat. All are indoor – outdoor pets and Batman the cat free roams. I love the Catio, we will come up with something similar for sure. Since he is not lead trained we will get a vest and start ahead of time. He loves to go for walks when we walk the dogs for exercise, usually follows along, so hopefully if we start soon, it will be normal by the time we hit the road. Our special guy is funny in that he will poop in a litter box, but he won’t pee in one. He likes to ‘spray’ when he pees even though he is fixed. He marks our 5 acres I suppose. But I see lead training as the only solution for that. Thanks again, you will be part of our careful planning as we set up our FT RV life!

  • Tamara Connelly
    8 months ago

    I’m very curious about where you found the halters you use to walk your cats outside. Do you have info you can share about the source? I’m trying to adapt my cats to road travel and teaching them to walk on a leash is part of my plan.

    • William H
      8 months ago

      It’s the Kitty Holster Cat Harness, and you can buy it on Amazon.

  • Thanks for the article and tips. We are embarking into the lifestyle 10/1/21 and will be bringing our “at least 12 year old” per the vet, black cat. Loved seeing your mini panther enjoying the lifestyle! When we adopted him on 3/20/20 the humane society listed him as 5 years old. Anyway trying to figure out how it will all work has been challenging and we hate to distress an already old man/cat. We’ve been reading facebook postings and think we have a solid plan. He’s been using his harness for outdoor adventures and seems to really enjoy it. The saying of 1 more liter box than your total number of cats is a question I have. Do you have 3 boxes for your two cats?

    • We only have one litter box for the two cats. We were a bit worried at first that it would cause problems, but we decided to give it a shot and see how they did. It ended up being fine, so we never added a second (or third). We just make sure to keep it clean, and the cats seem happy with it.

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