Written by Adam Lee-Smith
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 05/04/2022, edited: 05/04/2022
Cruising across the country with your fur-babies in tow is the adventure of a lifetime — but, like all big adventures, RVing with pets requires careful preparation. Before you even step foot in the rig, you’ll need to train your pets to behave, invest in some pet camping gear, and ensure you’re prepared for accidents and emergencies.
Meagan is a pro at RV camping with dogs and cats, with more than 5 years of experience under her belt. Her Cavaliers, Teddy and Pippa, were the first to join her on the road. She even drove her RV from Colorado to Kentucky to pick them up. Talk about a dedicated pet parent!
Two years later, Meagan decided to add her Maine Coons, Prada and Scout, to the mix:
Between all the RVing Meagan does for work as well as play, she’s got a ton of advice for newbies planning to bring their canine and feline friends along for the ride. Let’s dig in!
We asked Meagan to share some less-than-obvious camping advice to help novice campers prepare for the truly unexpected. Pet parents, you’ll want to make a note of these 3 tips!
RVing with pets requires flexibility
Even well-prepared pet parents like Meagan know that life on the road can throw you curveballs.
"You can't predict when your dog will have an upset tummy and need treatment for a bug bite," says Meagan. "We've had to change our plans or extend our stay somewhere because one of our pets didn't feel well."
Preparation is key for staying cool and collected in an emergency. Before hitting the road, consider investing in pet insurance to protect your vacation fund against unexpected vet costs.
Stock up on pet supplies before you hit the road
Picking up supplies or specialty items for dogs can be surprisingly difficult in some places, especially during peak season. Meagan shared with us a recent experience in which she had trouble finding dog boots:
"A few weeks ago, we were at an event where the ground was covered in goatheads. The dogs were miserable because they couldn't put their paws down without getting thorns in their paws. Because of the goatheads, you couldn't find dog boots in stock within 100 miles of the campground."
Make a list of pet supplies you think you’ll need, and check it 3 times before setting out. Dog booties in “pawticular” will come in handy not just for terrain hazards, but also extreme weather conditions.
Pets take time to adapt to new environments
From the hustle and bustle of a crowded campground to the scary sights and sounds of the RV, your pets will need some time to adjust to the #vanlife. Meagan’s advice? Be patient.
"Some dogs won't do their business while on a leash or go potty on gravel, dirt, or asphalt surfaces. My dogs will go potty on any surface since we raised them in an RV, but if that surface is wet? It might take them longer than usual to find a spot they like.
“I have to remind myself to be patient with them when they have new smells, sounds, distractions, or for Cavaliers, dreaded rain puddles."
Scout patiently waiting for dinner in the Airstream!
This is a common conundrum for pet parents, considering most campgrounds don’t allow pets to be left alone in an RV. Unfortunately, though, you can’t take your dogs and cats with you everywhere you go.
So what’s a pet parent to do? Meagan shared 5 questions pet parents should ask themselves before leaving their pets alone in an RV.
#1. Does your pet have separation anxiety?
“RV walls are thin, and pets can hear what goes on outside their rig, which could make their separation anxiety worse,” Meagan explained.
“While some pets may be entertained by just looking out the window, others may bark or meow constantly, which is upsetting for the pets and may disturb fellow campers.”
Severe separation anxiety can be difficult to manage, even with medication and behavioral training. Need tips for managing your pets’ separation anxiety? Chat with a veterinary professional via Wag! Vet Chat for expert advice, day or night.
#2. Is electricity available at the campground?
Proper temperature control can be tricky to achieve in a camper. "RV air conditioners can [only] lower the temperature by about 20 degrees cooler than the temperatures outside,” says Meagan.
If you're camping without electrical hookups and it's very hot or cold outside, leaving your pet in an RV isn't safe, even with the windows open.
#3. Can you monitor the conditions inside the RV while you're away?
Campground electricity isn’t always reliable, and power outages could be deadly to a pet left without air or ventilation. That’s one reason why Meagan invested in a fur-baby monitor:
"I recently bought a Waggle* pet monitor, which alerts my phone if the power goes out at the campground or the conditions change inside my RV. Before I had Waggle, I connected my wireless router to a camera with a built-in temperature sensor, and I'd check the temperature inside my RV using an app."
*Waggle is not associated with Wag!.
#4. Does the campground permit you to leave your pet unattended?
“Some campgrounds don't allow pet owners to leave their pets unattended inside or outside an RV,” Meagan says. “If you plan to take your pet with you on an RV trip, read the campground's rules ahead of time."
If your fur-baby needs some TLC while you’re away from the RV, consider booking a Pet Caregiver with Wag!. When you book a Walk or Drop-In, you won’t have to worry about breaking any campground rules by leaving Fido behind.
#5. Are you camping in bear country?
Think a bear isn’t strong enough to break into your RV? Think again. Although it’s rare, bears have been known to break into RVs.
That’s why Meagan reiterates the importance of taking extra precautions when camping in bear country with pets. “Bears can smell food, body-care products, and trash, and [they] can enter locked vehicles, coolers, and even RVs.
“If you are unsure if leaving your dog or cat unattended in a campground with elevated bear activity is safe, speak with the camp host and err on the side of caution.”
Scout showing off her leash skills at the campground!
Meagan also has experience traveling with elderly pets. Her senior cat, Prada, spent the last 3 months of her life on the road, and Meagan said Prada was “never happier or healthier than when RVing.”
Here's a list of tips Meagan shared with us about traveling in an RV with elderly pets and what to do in a medical emergency:
Keep a pet first aid kit in your car and your RV.
Download a pet first aid app on your phone to help you recognize and handle health emergencies quickly. Meagan uses the Pet First Aid app by the American Red Cross.
Keep a copy of your pet's medical records with you. “I always upload and save my pets’ vaccination and prescription records for easy access while I'm on the road,” Meagan says.
Save your vet's number in a place that you can find easily, preferably offline so you can access it anytime. A tip from Meagan: “Don't rely on Google because campgrounds may not have a signal to surf the web.”
Find pet care close to every campground along your route. “Most campgrounds hand out literature when you check in,” Meagan explains. “Almost always, these handouts include pet information. We love when a campground recommends animal hospitals, vets, groomers, and doggy daycare facilities. We know if we need to take our pets somewhere, these facilities are trusted by the campground and other pet parents.”
In case you need to leave the RV quickly for an emergency, pack a pet “go-bag” ahead of time with food, water, medication, and anything else your pet might need to feel comfortable.
Stay calm in an emergency. “Medical emergencies are scary, and when they happen, it's important that you and your pet remain calm because your fur baby can sense when you're upset, too,” says Meagan.
Meagan shared with us a particularly bad experience she had while camping with her pets that all RVing pet parents can learn from.
Meagan attends an annual ladies' camping weekend, with some of the attendees bringing their pets along. One year, they were sitting around the campfire, and one woman had her Chihuahua mix alongside her.
At one point, the woman got up to hug another lady, and that lady's bigger dog attacked the Chihuahua mix. The larger dog grabbed the Chihuahua mix by the neck, severely injuring the dog.
Thankfully, the group quickly called 911 and used a pet first aid kit. The sheriff turned out to be part of the K9 unit and knew pet first aid. He stabilized the dog and took the pup and their pet parent to the closest animal hospital. The Chihuahua mix survived, but the event took its toll on the campers:
"No one slept that night, and we replayed the incident to decide how we could have handled things differently,” Meagan recalls.
“We learned the importance of carrying a pet first aid kit and knowing the numbers of who to call in a pet emergency. We also learned to always keep your pet on a leash, no matter how well behaved.”
She goes on to reflect on the importance of knowing how your dog will react in all situations:
“In a traumatic event, pets might not behave the same way they would in everyday situations. The bigger dog was a rescue pup, and the new mom hadn't seen them respond to other dogs enough to know if they had aggression issues.”
Meagan also says aggression is a relatively common problem for campers with pets:
“Unfortunately, many [pet parents] don't worry about their dog's aggressive behavior until it's too late. Small signs of aggression might multiply in a campground. Also, it doesn't matter how well-behaved you think your pet is off-leash. All dogs and cats should be on a leash in a campground."
To recap, Meagan has 2 main tips for novice campers traveling with dogs and cats:
Tip #1: Be as prepared as you can in case of an emergency.
That means packing pet safety supplies and first aid kits, identifying pet stores and vet clinics along your route, and knowing how to stay calm in an emergency.
Tip #2: Work on obedience training with your dogs and cats to reduce the chance of behavior-related issues and injuries.
Even well-behaved pets may act out in an unfamiliar environment or situation. Proper training can prevent those issues from arising in the first place, which means a fun and stress-free trip for everyone.
Now that you’ve got some expert advice to guide you, there’s only one thing left to do: start planning an “unfurgettable” road trip with your fur-babies!
For more advice on solo camping, national parks, and more, check out Meagan’s RV and travel blog.
Related: How to Rent a Pet-friendly RV
Wag! is proud to partner with RVezy, the largest and safest RV rental company in North America. We share a common goal of making pet parenthood easy, affordable, and — most importantly — fun! Start searching for the perfect pet-friendly RV rental and get ready to “em-bark” on the journey of a lifetime!
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