Anyone who owns a pet probably has zero trouble admitting that their animals (and birds and fish, too) are part of the family. Truly. And as such, their furry friends are entitled to all the perks and benefits of being a family member, including travel. Would you load up the RV for that trip to Yellowstone and leave your toddler at home? No, of course not, which is why so many travelers find the ways (often times, a recreational vehicle) and the justification (Fido will miss us terribly) to accommodate their pets on the road. Ask the fella in the next campsite with the iguana, Siamese cat, and Schnauzer and I’ll bet he’ll tell you traveling with his menagerie was one of the prime reasons he opted for an RV in the first place. And who can blame him?
The emotional, soothing effects of pets towards their owners is well-documented. (We assume the effects are vice-versa but my beagle isn’t talking yet). Studies have shown just the act of petting an animal lowers one’s stress and calms the body, so perhaps it’s a medical necessity Fido joins the traveling squad from this time forward. Doctor’s orders. And if we love something, we always want it near. You probably don’t need much more a reason than that. However, toting an animal in your home on wheels isn’t as easy as hoarding a supply of catnip and keeping their water bowl filled. No, just like you, proper thought should be given to your animal’s environment, acclimation process, and safety before departing on that maiden voyage. Here’s a few suggestions on how to make the transition.
Preparation is Key
When all is said and done, pets want to be with their owners. Even if it requires an angst-ridden period of adjustment – and leaving their scratching post at home – most animals will gladly sacrifice a bit of their push digs for quality time with the two-legged set. Sadly, the same isn’t always true for teenagers, but I digress.
However, it’s still best to put pets at ease, which is why we recommend baby steps to get them ready for life in the RV. It took you some time to bond with the motorhome, so give them a similar grace period. Have the family pooch spend some time in the RV in the driveway before hitting the road. Starting this a few days before the trip will probably do, gradually increasing the duration of time you both hang out inside. Cats are notoriously finicky about new settings, so let them take their sweet time.
Remember, the more comfortable they are, the happier they’ll be, so don’t rush it. And since all animals like to establish their turf, be sure to carve out their very own niche onboard, complete with bed, bowls, toys, and a few favorite objects. I’m sure they wouldn’t object to some treats thrown in for good measure or a new plaything or two. If you really want to expedite this touchy-feely phase, let them eat a few meals onboard. Like us, the fastest way to an animal’s heart is through their stomach. When they start opening up to the RV experience (a napping pet is a happy pet), try upping the ante by slowly introducing new sensations. The sound of the generator, the idle of the engine, the squeak that occurs when opening the roof vent. Just like my dog hates the vacuum cleaner – and balloons – it’s best to find out what irks them now rather than letting them break the silence at that quiet campground. But ultimately, just let them be and relax at their own pace. You’ll know when they’re ready.
Maintain the Rules
Eventually, your pet will come to see the RV for what it is – just an extension of home. I mean, will that lazy cat of yours really need much in terms of explanation of how to use a trailer’s sofa, bed, or chairs? We’re guessing instinct will take over and her 16-hour naps will reassume as normal. It’s for this reason that we recommend enforcing the same rules of home in your home away from home in order to prevent confusion. If it’s verboten for your pets to sleep on the furniture on home, then keep it consistent. If breakfast is served at 4:14 a.m. at home (like my dog’s), then maintain that schedule on the road. This type of thinking should also keep your 150-pound German Shepherd out of your bed – that is, unless he’s used to sleeping there. Again, normalcy is key, and you don’t want a confused animal running rough shot all over both the RV and home once you return from your trip.
We’re guessing most pets, particularly dogs, will adapt to RV living quickly. In most cases, it’ll probably be little more than just turning on the ignition and going. However, some, particularly older animals, might not like it so much, which is why we recommend a practice trip if you’re having doubts. Spend a night at a local campground to let her get a feel for things. This is also a good time to practice leaving your pets inside the RV for short periods, say 10-15 minutes or so.
Many campgrounds that allow pets are fine with them alone in the RV provided they don’t make excessive noise. (It’s imperative to learn a campground’s pet policies before you arrive, however). Your pet’s reaction to their owner’s absence should be determined before a longer trip is engaged. It’s possible they won’t like it at all. Separation anxiety may cause dogs to bark endlessly or tear up the place awaiting your arrival. Or she may be too unnerved by the animals prowling in the forest or the loud neighbors next-door or the humming of the furnace to mellow out. If you find the RV experiment is failing, you’ll need to weigh your animal’s needs versus your wants. It might just be better for everyone to go the route of the kennel or pet-sitter while you’re away.
Leader of the Pack
Give your animals enough respect to spend adequate time packing their stuff. Fortunately, most travel pretty light and can put up with a lot in order to be near you. However, don’t skimp on their gear, especially easily forgotten items such as plastic bags (for picking up after them), flea and tick medicines, favorite toys, collars (complete with name, address and phone number), leashes, bedding, and other indispensables. Some campgrounds require proof of rabies vaccination, so bring that as well. A call to the veterinarian is a good idea, if for no other reason than to run your destination by your doctor to see if he or she recommends any sort of special medication (anti-tick medications, etc.) for those parts.
Once you’ve established whether your pet can handle life onboard, it’s time to decide if a particular trip is right for them. Some animals quickly grow miserable if their days are spent cooped up in unfamiliar locales waiting for your return from the amusement park or Grand Canyon tour. Active vacationers should consider whether animals will be happier at home or with you. More sedate trips, those where you’re around much more than you’re away, will probably be more than agreeable to them. Also, why you’re considering places to stay (campgrounds with a game room for the kids, fishing hole for mom, etc.), give some thought to those offering pet-friendly features, such as walking trails, dog runs, and pro-animal policies to make for fun days for them as well.
Follow the Rules
It only takes a few cavalier pet owners to sour a campground owner’s attitude towards those traveling with animals. Be sure to check in advance to see if pets are allowed. Fortunately, most campgrounds are still favorable towards them – and their paying owners – but don’t buck the trend with poor behavior. Its imperative you pick up after your dogs. No, the rationalization that, ahem, feces are just part of nature is no good, especially when another guest stumbles upon it on the way to the swimming pool.
If leaving pets unattended is a no-no, then don’t do it. It’s no secret who has pets and who doesn’t, so your chances of getting caught are higher than you think. Finally, most everyone wants animals leashed. This is hard for some owners who let their pets have the run of the place, but consider it one of those non-negotiable items. You see, the leash rule isn’t for you – it’s for all those folks unnerved at the animals dashing their way. Remember, not everyone loves pets like you do. If you don’t own a collar and leash, it’s time to get one just for this purpose.
Comfort and Safety
It’ll only take one quick tap of the breaks for animals to realize life inside the motorhome or tow vehicle requires more solid footing than, say, dozing on the ottoman at home. Sure, buckling animals in isn’t an option, but making sure they’re napping in a safe spot is always a good idea for the longer driving days. Stay vigilant in terms of making sure they’re comfortable, since like the kids, animal’s objections are more subtle.
Are they cool enough in the back of the motorhome? Panting and excessive water drinking are good signs they could use some help. Remember, they’re walking around with fur on their backs. Run the air or open windows for good cross-ventilation if need be. Keep their water topped off and don’t overfeed (or overexert them) on hot, humid days. If it’s going to be warm where you’re going, we recommend never leaving animals unattended. While an RV doesn’t heat up as fast as an automobile, it can get warm to the point of danger to pets.
After a trip or two, you’ll be an expert in traveling with those four-leggers in your life. And despite their propensity to bark at squirrels and cough up the occasional fur ball, you’ll find pets require many of the same things as you – time to adjust, predictable routines, basic comforts, and companionship. And as a family member in good standing, we have no doubt you’ll oblige them.
Article written by Brent Peterson for the June 2009 issue of the Camp Club USA e-Newsletter.
Related Traveling Articles