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A Guide for Camping With Pets: What You Need To Know


My wife and I have been on the road with our two cats — Kia and Kekovar — for two years straight. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by RV travelers who bring their beloved dogs or cats on their journey. I’m going to share what you what we have learned ourselves and what we’ve learned from others about camping with pets.

Campground Rules

Every commercial campground I have ever visited has allowed pets. A good many of them have designated fenced-in dog parks for playing with your dog. The rules for pets are also pretty universal.

  1. All pets outside the trailer must be on a leash.
  2. All pets outside the trailer must be accompanied by their owner at all times
  3. You must clean up after your pet
  4. If your pet consistently disturbs other campers, you may be asked to leave

If you have cats that are used to going outside, then you will have to leash train them. I’ve seen a number of campers walking their cats. Sadly, abandoned cats at RV parks are a real problem that I’ve encountered first hand. Please don’t just let your cats roam free in unfamiliar surroundings, it is not safe for them.

National Parks

National parks may be more restrictive when it comes to pets. Some national parks do not allow pets in the park while others do. It depends a lot on the sensitivity of the wildlife to domestic animals. Before you book parking at a national park or take your dog there for an adventure, be sure to check the park rules on their website. Those that do allow dogs to be walked will always require that they be on a leash at all times. It is expected you will clean up after your pooch as well.

National forests nearly always allow pets on a leash. National Monuments sometimes allow pets, sometimes not depending on the type of monument it is. BLM lands almost always allow pets and even allow off-leash dogs in some cases.

Campground rules for pets
Seriously though, follow the rules with your pets out of respect for our national parks and other wild places.

On The Road

Some pets love car rides, some don’t. If you want to take your pets camping, you want to make them as comfortable as possible while staying as safe as possible. With both cats and dogs, I strongly recommend you limit their ability to move around the vehicle. If you drive with other human passengers that can see to your pets, that may be less essential. But if it’s just you, you need to stay focused on driving for the safety of you and your pets.

Most pet stores sell enclosures that can work for small dogs or cats. For larger dogs, ideally, you can cordon them in a portion of the vehicle. If you are driving a Motorhome, the pets can hang out in their usual favorite spots while you drive. If like us, you have a trailer, then I strongly recommend you take the pets in the tow vehicle rather than the trailer. Your pets will feel safer if they are in the same space as you while traveling and you can better control the temperature for them.

If your pets don’t take well to motor trips, I recommend the following. Give your pet a special treat shortly after arriving at your destination. After just a couple of trips, their attitude can change dramatically as they know that treat is waiting for them at the end of it. This trick worked wonders for us.

Making a Safe Place

Both cats and dogs like to have a space that makes them feel secure. It can be a hiding place for cats or a nice soft bed for dogs. Whatever yours likes best, try to make a special place in your RV where your pet will feel safe and comfortable. If you can get your pet to see your pet carrier as such a place, that can be ideal. Then it becomes far easier to transport them when needed. Since our cats are indoor cats, we have to use the carriers to move them about fairly often. In addition to their carriers, we made a nest for our cats under the bed of our trailer for when things get really scary.

traveling with cats
Our kitty, Princess Kia Thistledew reposed here in a beam of sunlight ensuring the safety of her kingdom.

Climate Control

You can’t always take your pets everywhere you might want to go. When you do need to leave them back at the trailer, it is very important that you keep their climate needs in mind. Just like a car, a trailer can get very hot or very cnew before long if there is no climate control. We always leave our automatic climate control on when we leave the cats in our Airstream. We also insulate and shutter our windows just in case the climate control fails. It’s rare we leave them for longer than a half day, but we do everything we can to ensure their safety when we are out exploring.

Bugs

The more traveling you do with your pet, the more likely it is that you will encounter bug issues. We have indoor only cats, so I’ve not had to face this head on, but each region of the country has some kind of parasite that might take a liking to your furry friends. Your first line of defense is knowledge. Read up about the pests in the regions you will travel to. Ticks are of special concern in the south and east due to Lime Disease.

Chemical protection can be a good defense, but vigilance and good grooming can also go a long way towards keeping you and your pet’s pest free. When in tick country, my wife and I would always do a tick inspection of ourselves after coming back from a hiking trip and swap out our socks and pants just in case we had any hitchhikers. We also made sure to brush our cats frequently to check for fleas and ticks.

check your pets for bugs
Kia and Kelovar are brother and sister. They don’t see eye to eye on much, but warm places to snooze can be shared.

Emergencies

Should an accident or illness befall your beloved pets there is a silver lining. Nearly everywhere you go, there is likely a vet within an hour drive. Some rural areas don’t have a lot of services, but vets are needed as much in the country as in the city, so they are not typically hard to find. It is always a good practice to identify key emergency services in any area you travel to. Get the number of emergency medical services for both you and your pets and keep them handy.

Having your pet chipped is a good safety measure in case they somehow get away from you. It is going to dramatically increase the chances that you will be able to recover your pet. Remember that it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t register your pet and chip information. Your vet can tell you all the details and recommend a good chip for your pet.

Finally, you might want to consider medical insurance for your pet, especially if you are headed somewhere that has poisonous snakes or other hazards that could lead to injury. I used to work for Trupanion and can vouch for their love of pets and willingness to pay claims for accidents and injuries. There are many other reputable insurers, they are simply the one I’m personally familiar with.

Border Crossings

Taking standard pets across state lines is never an issue, but if you want to cross into Canada or Mexico from the US, there are rules you need to take into account ahead of time. For Canada, cats need to have a certified rabies certificate ensuring they are not infected. Dogs will be inspected and should have recent vet records. For full details, see the Canadian Government guide here. Mexico is a bit more stringent and requires both a recent vet certification and proof of vaccinations. The official site is in Spanish, but PetTravel.com provides a good list of the details in English.

Not only do gators make terrible pets, furthermore, taking such animals across state lines and into other countries is typically against the law.

Poop

If you have pets, it’s one of the things you will have to account for. Normally this is not difficult. If you have dogs, keep a good supply of pick-up bags and be good about using them and throwing them away. If you have cats, you will need to find a place in your RV for a litter box and you will need to clean it frequently to keep odors down in the small space. You can read about the one we use on our website: Trail and Hitch. We clean ours pretty much whenever the cats do their business.

The Pet Pack

When you are out traveling, it really helps to organize your supplies. We keep all our cat stuff in one bag so that wherever the cats go, we have everything we need to take care of them by just picking up that bag. That may be a little more challenging if you have a large dog, but you can keep the basics of food, water, leash, pick up bags, treats, and toys in something that is easy to grab and go with. This is also a great thing to have in case of a weather emergency or RV breakdown when you need to pack up and find alternate accommodations.

The Tail End

That is just about everything you need to know. Every pet is unique, some take to the life of travel naturally, others have to ease into it. The rewards of having your furry companions share your adventures are well worth the preparation needed. We have not regretted our decision to bring our two kitties along for our travel adventures for a second. I bet you won’t either!

 

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