On The Road Again... With Your Four-Footed Friends

Traveling with pets can add some spice to a trip

Published: July 21, 2014
Photo by Dr. Teri Ann Oursler

“Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” called my dad. His trilling was interspersed with mumbling “You #$^%&^% cat, come here!” under his breath. Dad was trying to pickup our cat Sox, who was walking across a cemetery, just out of Dad's reach as he walked behind him. Sox had jumped out of our camper when we opened the door in our campsite after returning from a gorgeous afternoon fishing. I was 11 years old when this adventure in camping with our cat and dogs happened; to this day, the memory of dad and Sox tiptoeing across the cemetery causes my mom, sister and me deep belly laughs. My dad was not, and is not, quite as amused, but 40+ years later I finally coaxed a smile out of him when recounting the story!

Every weekend we loaded up the truck and camper and headed to the hills. Our dogs, Whimper and Sparky, were determined to not be left, so as soon as the camper door was opened, they were in and not budging! We had to pack around them. The cat did not go every weekend, and I don’t remember if he ever got to accompany us again after his foray into the cemetery.

My husband and I went car camping shortly after we got married. Just as I had learned growing up, I loaded my two dogs, Snowshoe and Cockles, into the car and added my cat Flash Dance after we finished packing. We had a great couple of days in Northern Wyoming, fishing and sleeping in our tent. Flash loved to help my husband fish and would accompany him as he hiked along the river looking for that perfect fishing hole. As we packed up to head back home, I started calling the cat. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty” I trilled, while looking all around. I was confused - the cat had literally just been there! Finally, Dale hit upon a solution: open the jar of leftover marinara sauce. Sure enough, Flash came running, right out of the sage brush at my feet. Flash would kill for homemade marina sauce. I have since learned that garlic is good for stimulating cats and dogs to eat, even though it's toxic to them in quantity, so no wonder he was willing to come.

Traveling with pets can be an adventure. It can add some spice to a trip whether you are ambling down the road less traveled or careening across the country to meet the moving truck. Just as traveling with kids requires advance preparation, so does traveling with dogs and cats.

Training. Before you start any trip, some training is important and will take time. Waiting to start training until the day before you leave (or as you tiptoe across the cemetery behind the cat) is not advised. First and foremost, it is important that your dog or cat come to you when called. All of my cats are trained to come to my trill of “kitty, kitty, kitty" (although they seldom come to “you #$^%&^% cat, come here!"). My dogs come to their name or a whistle. I have had a few cats who I trained to come to a whistle as well. Regardless of what you use, they need to reliably respond to you.

Know your pet. Pets that are always nervous may not be the ones you want to hang out with on a cross-country RV trip because at some point along the way, oh, maybe half an hour after departure until you reach the other coast, you may somewhat regret the caterwauling, vomiting, or bouncing about like a frenetic beach ball. (As a friend said, "I almost threw Fred out the window somewhere around Philadelphia.") The average dog or cat may need some desensitizing to allow them to ride in a vehicle without feeling anxious. If the only vehicle trip they get is to the vet, they may be somewhat less excited to travel than you are (cue the caterwauling). There's always better living through chemistry with sedatives, but training is much better.

Control your pet. My stories above not withstanding, these days I would never intentionally let my dogs out without having them on a leash, and the cats in a leashed harness. It may take some time and training to convince your cat that the harness does not cause his legs to quit working, but it can be done. You can also keep your cat or small dog in a carrier when outside of your vehicle. Dogs and cats need to have a collar with tags and contact information on them (including your cell phone). Microchipping is a great idea.

Choose your destination with care. I do a lot of camping and take my dogs whenever possible. California beaches and national parks are dog unfriendly, so we left our dogs home when we visited that state for a vacation. Oregon beaches are much more dog friendly, so the dogs got to accompany us. Most national parks are NOT dog friendly, especially Yellowstone, my backyard. Wildlife tends to attack more if there is a dog (because they see dogs as predators) and given the millions of visitors to that park every year, it's a lot of work to keep everyone safe.

Plan your route and overnight stays. Many motels accept pets, but most have a limited number of dog-friendly rooms, so planning and making reservations can be key to a stress-free trip. In addition, if you are traveling in the summer months, it is too hot to leave your pets in the car while you run into the restaurant for a meal. Pack a picnic lunch, so your companion and you can stretch your legs in a park while eating.

Pack appropriately. Be sure to pack food and water for your pet, and don’t forget the bowl to pour the water into. We have what my husband and I call a “golden pan” for dog water; we purchased in a Yellowstone store for beaucoup bucks after I forgot to pack the dogs’ water dish. If you'll be gone for more than a day, consider bringing water from home so tummies won't get upset from the water change. Your pet may also be more comfortable if you pack his favorite bed, blanket, or toy.

Potty breaks. Most rest areas have dog areas designated. Some are grassy, some are all rock. If your dog will not eliminate on anything but grass, start some training before your trip. Cat boxes can be placed in a carrier with a cat. Cats that travel in an RV can have a 24/7 cat box available. Don’t forget extra litter if your trip is going to be long, or a plastic bag for used litter. There is nothing like being caught in a car for mile after mile with a smelly litter box.

Grooming. Plan on needing some dog brushes (nothing like fine hair to attract burs - poodles and long-haired cats, do you hear me?), and include some dog towels for drying off muddy feet and cleaning up Fido after he goes for a walk with you in the rain. You know you'll be living with a bit of hair, bur-free or not, as you cruise down the highway.

My camping with cats ended when I had children as I could not keep track of two boys, two dogs AND a cat, although I remember those trips with much laughter. My nest is emptying this year, however. I wonder what Rocky would think about going camping? Hmmm. Where did I put the big cat carrier?

1 Comment

Marlene Crumley
June 24, 2016

Drove from Washington state to Arizona with my two lovelies.  Found out "pet friendly" does not mean "cat friendly".  After a night at a biker motel (really cheap and bikers love cats), a gas station clerk told me Motel 6 is a welcoming place for felines and the cats had peaceful nights without motorcycle revving the rest of the trip.

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