Herding Cats

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Editor’s Note: Kurt and Teresa Pennington are members of LTV’s sponsored content team, The Leisure Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

Many RVers have critter companions they travel with. I would venture to say that most who do travel with a critter have chosen the canine species. For us, the opposite is true; we travel with two cats, Fletcher, our black cat, and Riley, our grey one. Though there are many cat owners who travel in a RV, we typically see most owners with a dog… or two… and in some cases, more! But let’s get back to traveling with cats!

Riley checking to see if it’s okay she goes out.

For those of you who have never owned a cat, I’m not really sure that it’s possible, because in the cat’s mind you’re just another cat… a very large cat. Cats are funny animals. They have interesting habits and ways of showing you affection, which can be at times painful. Cats with claws like to dig in when you’re cuddling them and also provide what we call “love bites”. It’s easy to understand why some individuals don’t care for cats because, unlike a dog, who wishes to please you at every moment, a cat wants attention only on their schedule.

The Decision

When we first got our Unity about five years ago, we never gave much thought to traveling with the cats. We had a comfortable home the cats enjoyed and had neighbors to watch our cats for us when we were off having adventures. Most of our trips were of shorter duration, so we always knew the cats were fine being left behind with someone to tend to them. But after we moved to Colorado and really didn’t have any long-time friends in the area, we knew we would have to consider traveling with our cats more. This year, we’re also on an extended three-month excursion trip, our longest single adventure, and wanted our furry friend with us the entire trip.

Traveling with our cats was a learning experience, for them and us. Our cats have never enjoyed being in a vehicle, so every trip typically begins with their expression of letting us know how displeased they are. Over time it’s gotten a little better, though on occasion we’ve prepared by getting a relaxer from our veterinarian to help ease their anxiety. These can be purchased over the shelf or from your vet. They may come in many forms, from pills to treats and even liquid. CBD options are also available, but be warned: DO NOT cross the Canadian border with these, or you may not make it across.

Things to Consider

If you’ve never traveled with your cat but are thinking about it, consider what habits they already have at home that may or may not change in the RV. As an example, is your cat more active at night versus the daytime? Riley is perfectly content curling up and staying put at night, whereas Fletcher is a night roamer. This caused some issues in the confines of the RV, because he would be up all night. We learned we had to keep the shades up on a few windows so he could see out and get used to his constant moving from area to area, which basically meant he would be leaping on and off the bed all night.

So, what did we learn from having cats travel with us? Here are a few things:

Temperature Control

Regardless of whether it’s a dog or cat, you must plan some method of keeping the temperature acceptable within your unit. In a cooler climate, it is most likely not as much of an issue, as you can open windows and set the vent fans. Plus, they have fur – a huge advantage over us humans. The issue comes when the temperature goes through dramatic changes during the day. It may be cool in the morning, but when it gets hot outside, it gets HOT inside.

We will typically set the cooler to an adequate temperature like 77-78 degrees, and know that as the day heats up, eventually the cooler will kick on to maintain a cooler temperature inside our Unity. But this is in a situation where we have shore power – the entire situation and dynamics change if you have no shore power. Last year, we had to leave our Unity with the generator running for an extended period so that the cooling system could remain running while we were gone. But there is always the risk that something could go wrong.

As a side tip for anyone who uses their Dometic air conditioner and wants to maintain a more consistent internal temperature, change the cooling unit setting to “Lo” or “Hi” and then set the desired temperature. This allows the unit to continuously circulate air but cycle on the cooling compressor as needed. This seems to keep the internal temperature of our Unity more consistent, without the wide temperature swings that can be experienced when the thermostat is set to “Auto”. Something that may be of interest is that the newer units have self-start propane generators. This means you can set the air conditioner to a specific temperature and the generator will automatically start to maintain the desired temperature.

Cat Litter and Box

The issue we hear regarding this is, “Where do I keep it?”, and obviously it may differ based on the floor plan. Well, after many traveling experiences, we’ve decided on two locations that work for us within our Unity Corner Bed unit. The first location is right behind the passenger’s seat. This location is only used while moving. We have, on occasion, put the litter box in the shower while traveling, too.

Once we are at our destination, we relocate the litter box to just in front of the passenger’s seat. At this time, the passenger seat is swiveled around to face the lounge area, so this area becomes an un-used space anyhow. It’s easily accessible by opening the passenger’s door for placement and cleaning.

There are many types and forms of litter boxes – automated, disposable, covered, and open. We use an open-top litter box. For a while, we used a closed box (one with a lid), but this didn’t seem as acceptable to the cats and seemed to actually create more odor, plus with the lid it takes more space. The open-top container is easier to maintain and works well for our cats.

The key with the litter box is you MUST keep it maintained. This means scooping it and replacing the cat litter more frequently. I use a 40-50 gallon outdoor trash bag, laid flat within the litter box to line it. These outdoor construction or leaf bags are typically 2 millimeters or thicker, making it difficult for the cat to tear through. It makes cleaning the litter box much easier!

No matter what you do, cat litter does get tracked out. We have a small bathmat just outside the litter box where the cats enter and exit. This helps collect most of the litter, but somehow, they still manage to spread a bit throughout the unit. We sweep every morning to gather the previous night’s litter remnants, but the bathmat has helped to reduce this.

New litter is stored inside one of our outdoor compartments, inside a plastic container.

Food and Water

We’ve found a convenient nook for the food and water dish right behind the driver’s seat where the slide and the curved wall meet. It’s pretty much out of the way of traffic. Since we use a Petsafe electric water dispenser, there is an outlet right within that location to plug into. Extra food is kept in a plastic container, making it easier to store and pour.

Scratch Post

Both of our cats have their claws, so providing a scratch post location was essential. Fletcher’s first response would be to stretch and dig his claws into the easiest accessible item… which, of course, would mean the soft ultra-leather upholstery. That was not going to be tolerated. We quickly came up with a solution similar to their scratch post at home. I purchased some Cat Scratch Pads. I was then able to wrap this around our small center table post and secure with zipties.

Table post which doubles as the scratch post.

Cat Toys

I’d venture to say that every cat has its favorite toy. For our cats, it appears to be the PetCandy Squirrels Catnip Toy. We’ve purchased a few of these but have one that stays in the RV. This way we are sure there will always be a toy for them and we don’t worry about forgetting to pack it. If your feline friend has never had one of these, trust me, it’s crack for cats! Riley will lay there and lick on it till it’s completely drenched.

Riley on a high from her cat toys.

Going Extreme

Some of us may go beyond what seems reasonable to the average pet owner, and then others will only dream they could treat their travel companions so well. A case in point is something I just learned about on our last travel adventure…. the Catio!  You know, cat plus patio – Catio! I had never heard of the Catio or seen one, but it was an amazing thing! It’s basically an enclosed area that allows your cat or cats to live in luxury protection and confinement, with tunnels, ledges, and other assorted cat entertainment features to climb about… basically, it’s cat heaven. The twist with this one is that it was actually an RV Catio. This one was not on a Leisure Travel Van, but an A class RV. I can’t imagine how much storage space it consumed or time it took to assemble at each spot, but I’m sure they were the envy of every cat in the RV park.

An extravagant Catio we saw in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Is It Worth It?

After five years of owning our Unity and taking our cats on many of our adventures, I would say “yes”! Even though it requires patience, extra equipment, cleaning, and sacrifice at times, having our kittens with us on the road has been a great experience and comforting. They may not enjoy the ‘getting there’ part, but I’d venture to say they’ve enjoyed the new sights and smells once we’re there. I worry about them less when they’re with us and know they are being cared for properly… and besides that, they are part of the family.

Fletcher exploring at a Harvest Hosts location.

This past year was a little tough because Fletcher left us. He was always the curious one and will always have a special place in our hearts, but I do know he had some great adventures seeing new places with us and we are glad that we got to spend even more time with him by taking him on our adventures. We miss you, Fletcher.


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