Is There a Pet On-board?
I frequently seem to get questions about our travels with our pets. I will try to answer questions as generically as I can, although we have only lived fulltime with dogs. We do have many friends who travel with cats and even one who travels with a bird so I will address as much as I can on the subject of pets in general, and then specific to particular pets.
I do believe that the vast majority of pets can adapt to life on the road, if the owner understands their needs and how to find ways to fill them. Most pets are really quite flexible and just want to feel safe and loved. The first issue that must be addressed is where the pet is going to travel. Since we live in a motorhome, that does narrow it to some degree. For those who have chosen one of the styles of travel trailer, where the pet is to ride must be one of the first issues addressed, starting with which vehicle. I know of no dog owner who has not chosen the tow vehicle for this answer, while many cat owners do leave the pet in the trailer. If you do this, understand that there are extra risks involved since a towed RV can occasionally collect exhaust gasses that could harm the pet. I would make very sure that the RV is well sealed if I were to make this choice. Loss of your pet can ruin a very nice trip!
Once you choose which vehicle your pet is to travel in the next issue is one of safety. Remember that in an accident your pet could become airborne just as quickly as could a child. Some type of safety harness or other protection is an important consideration. That safety must be balanced against the comfort and happiness of the pet involved, weighed against the risk. We have come to some middle ground for Muffie. At first she traveled in her crate with that crate seat belted into a chair. In time she began to really dislike travel and that was not good. As a result, today Muffie rides on the floor, under Pam's chair and near the front of the motorhome. There is a clear risk involved in allowing her that freedom in the event of a serious accident, but life is full of risk and this was the choice we have come to. There are pet harnesses available which attach to a seat belt that we now wish we had tried while she was still a small puppy, but hindsight is always great!
It is much easier to prepare your pet for travel if it is very young when you begin to travel. Most dogs do adapt pretty easily, but for cats it can be more of a challenge if they happen to be senior citizens. Because of their ability to move about and to jump, I would advise that your cat travel in a pet crate at least when you first start to take it with you. One thing that experience has taught us is that when the pet is a baby, it is very tempting to let it do most of the travel in a lap, but as it gets larger this can lead it to believe that is it's place and this can become a problem for the owner of the chosen lap. It is much easier to train the new pet to ride where you intend them to be as soon as they join the family, than it is to change that location once they reach full growth. Muffie came to us at 3 lb. 1 oz. and today she is ten times that size. Training a new pet is much like planting a new tree. You need to consider mature size when choosing the proper location.
Sleeping arrangements are as important to your pet as they are to you. If your pet has lived with you for some time, it probably has it's established pattern and you should duplicate that as nearly as possible in the RV. It your pet sleeps on the floor in your room, train it to sleep in a location where you will not step on it, should you get up in the night. If you have a pet bed, try to locate it in as similar surrounding as possible to where it is in the stick house. Most pets sleep best when in the RV if they are located near enough to hear you breathing at night. Your pet will probably take an active part in his choice of sleep location. Try to accommodate him as much as you can.
Health care is just as important for your pet as it is for you. We carry a complete health record for her, just as we do for ourselves. Annual shots are very important because of the fact that they travel. We keep Muffie on heart worm medications year around because we walk her at times in public pet potty areas where there is a high probability of exposure. We take her to the same vet for her annual physical when we go through Texas each year, just as we return to the same doctor and dentist. Of course, proof of rabies shots is also something that you will need to keep with you. It is common to have that checked as part of crossing an international border. Should your pet become ill while traveling, nearly any place that you stay will have staff members who can recommend a good vet.
If your pet is to be outdoors it is very wise to make sure that it also enjoys being on a leash. We frequently see cats as well as dogs walking happily on a leash and I have even seen a rabbit being walked that way and we knew an RVer who walked his bird on a leash! The fact is that if you start your pet when young it is very seldom that one will not train to the leash and most reach a point that they become excited when they see you get it out. Make the leash a fun thing and never punish the pet while on one, or use it for discipline. Both of our dogs since we have been on the road have come to the leash even when where they could run free. The leash always means that we are about to have fun and we work to keep it that way. Leash rules do not say that only dogs must be on one, but that all pets should be. Never allow any pet to roam free, for your neighbors and also for the safety of your pet.
I would also work hard to socialize your pet as you begin to travel in your RV. Unfriendly pets are not well accepted by other RVers and RV park owners. In addition, your pet can get to where it enjoys meeting other pets just as much as we enjoy meeting other RV folks. It is important that your pet be at least tolerant of other pets and of strangers and the more friendly and socially active pets are generally best liked and most welcome. Of course it is also important to remember that there are people who just do not like pets and we should always respect that. It is also important to remember for your pet the fact that there are pets out there which are not friendly and that will become aggressive.
With all pets, toilet accommodations are also critical. The problem of locating the litter box is frequently a challenge for cat owners. With dogs, the problem of clean-up when out walking is the key issue and the larger the dog the more it can be a problem. It is very important that pet owners always clean up after the pet has taken care of its needs. No person enjoys the discovery of what your pet has left behind with a foot when out walking. If we wish our pets to be welcomed as we travel, we must strictly observe both the rules of such things but also the rule of courtesy to other people around us. We always keep a supply of small plastic bags in our RV, our car and in a pocket.
Most things related to travels with a pet are really very little different than they would be when living in a fixed house. You will have to make some adjustments in your pet's lifestyle but more of the adjustments will be things that you must do. You will need to keep pet comfort in mind when going out for a day and there will be times that you will not have the freedom to do some things because of accommodations for your pet. Over heating of an automobile is probably the gravest danger to most RV pets. When we leave our pet at home, we always have air conditioning on and we have a thermostat controlled vent fan which is kept on and set to operate should the air conditioners fail. Our motorhome has two air conditioners so that does help to lessen the chance of failure, but power could fail so the 12V vent fan adds additional security for our pet's comfort. There are times when we visit attractions that we enter separately to have one stay with Muffie for her comfort. There are also times that we do not visit some attraction on a hot day because of her welfare. We believe that the extra effort needed for her are small payment for the pleasure that she gives to us in return. Since we follow the weather most of the time, we are usually in a position to leave he in the car for short periods. We go to great lengths to find a parking location with shade and we consider the direction of travel of the sun when we choose a spot. We also take turns returning to the car to check on her to avoid leaving her in the car for longer than a couple of hours at a time.
The exact issues that must be dealt with can vary with the choice of a pet and with the pet's age as well. When you choose to travel with a pet, you do need to remember that your kitten or puppy will grow up and develop other needs and in time it will also become elderly with all of the extra problems that elderly pets or people develop. We have friends who carry a ramp for their elderly dog to use to go in or out. We have had friends who lived with occasional messes on the floor from elderly pet incontinence. And we have had the experience ourselves of the loss of a pet to a sudden health problem that could not be corrected. For us, it is no different than it would be for any other member of our family. The price we must pay is a small sacrifice for the wonderful love and loyalty that we receive in return.