Tips for keeping your furry friends happy, healthy and safe when you travel
You’re hitting the road, heading down that long highway to wide-open spaces or just driving a short distance to a really nice RV park for the weekend. What could be better than taking along your best friends, especially if those friends have tails? But while bringing pets along on a vacation sounds like great fun, sometimes the pets themselves have other ideas. Even those that enjoy the journey need special care and consideration to keep them safe and happy while traveling.
Before You Go
Some animals have a hard time adjusting to the idea that “home” is moving and that the view out the window is constantly changing or that there are strangers walking by the site all day. Before you leave, get your pet acclimated to your RV. Transfer some daily activities like mealtime and playtime inside, so the RV becomes a place where happy things go on. Leave your dog inside alone for a short time to see if it is prone to barking. The barking might not bother you, but your campsite neighbors will probably disagree.
After your pet seems comfortable, go for a trial drive and watch for nervousness or carsickness. You might have to start with short trips and work your way up to longer stretches. Eating in the RV and playing outside it while tethered lets your dog ease into the idea of a longer trip. It’s important, too, not to get angry with nervous or scared dogs during this acclimation period. Remember, only happy things should happen in the RV.
Along with your own luggage, you’ll need to pack a bag for your pet. First and most obvious is food, preferably enough to last through the trip and get you home in case you can’t find your pet’s regular brand while on the road. This is particularly important for dogs, some of which suffer intestinal distress when a new food is introduced suddenly. Also pack bowls for food and water, toys, brushes, poop bags, litter and a litter box, leashes and collars. If your pet takes medication, stock up before you go and write down your veterinarian’s emergency information. Talk to the vet about potential problems like ticks or heartworm at your destination and points along the way, and vaccinate your pet accordingly. It’s also a good idea to have a record of your pet’s medical history and proof of vaccinations.
Make sure your pet’s collar has a license, tags for rabies and other vaccinations, an emergency contact tag with your cell number — there’s no point in the campsite next door phoning your landline to tell you they found your dog — and a “travel tag” with your RV’s make, model and license-plate number. If your pet is microchipped, know exactly where the chip is, and write down the number.
Dogs, especially long-haired ones, can quickly fill an RV with fur and, worse, odor. A pretrip visit to the groomer for a brushing, clip and bath makes your canine pal a much more pleasant travel companion, as do regular brushings to remove burrs and stickers from long fur.
One last pretrip chore is to make sure the campgrounds or parks where you’re planning to stay allow pets, and under what conditions. Some, for example, allow small dogs but not big ones or a certain breed, or charge a fee based on the size and number of four-legged guests staying with you. Once you’re there, abide by the rules governing where pets can go and how they should behave.
On the Road
Never leave your pet inside a trailer while you’re towing. Pets should ride with the humans, in crates, carriers or harnesses that prevent them from wandering around inside the vehicle and distracting the driver. The device should be secured in case of an accident to keep the occupant from flying around inside the vehicle. For the love of all that’s warm and fuzzy, don’t let your pet sit in your lap while you’re driving. You might think it’s cute, but it won’t be if you get in a crash and the airbag goes off.
Dogs are creatures not only of hair and drool, but of habit, too. More than cats, they like to stick to routines for food, walks and bathroom breaks. Try to keep to a schedule for these activities, but don’t rush it once you stop to take care of them.
Dogs get more information about their surroundings through their nose than their eyes, and to them, a leisurely sniff in a new place is as good as a tourist-information booth or a vista point to you. Take the opportunity to stretch your legs and smell the roses, or whatever is growing nearby.
Wherever you go, pick up after your pet. Many public parks and RV campgrounds have poop-bag dispensers, so you don’t have to carry bags with you, but bring some of your own for those rest stops in the middle of nowhere.
Every pet owner knows, or should know, how fast a car or truck with the windows closed can heat up on a sunny day, even if the air temperature isn’t that high. Keep this in mind if you leave your pet in the tow vehicle or RV while you’re buying groceries or gas, or sightseeing. Make sure there’s plenty of water within easy reach, and turn on the air conditioning, if possible. Also, don’t lose track of time and forget about the little guy back in the rig holding his knees together. Set the timer on your watch or phone to remind you someone needs to go outside soon.
Also, we’ve heard stories of the air conditioner failing because of a power surge and pets becoming dangerously overheated inside the RV.
A wireless temperature monitor lets you keep tabs remotely on the conditions inside your RV while your pet is waiting for your return.
In the Campground
Although your cat might not mind, your dog won’t want to spend the whole vacation in the RV any more than you do. A long, securely anchored tie-out line (preferably made of something too tough to chew through) gives your dog some leeway to explore your site without getting lost. A folding exercise pen for use in the campsite doubles as a barrier across the RV’s door to let the breeze in without letting the dog out. A water bowl nearby is mandatory in either case.
First impressions are valuable when meeting new people, and the way you relate to your pet says a lot about you. If your dog pulls at the leash and darts left and right as you trail behind shouting angry commands, your campground neighbors are going to wonder whether you or the dog is in charge. Basic obedience training shows everyone which end of the leash the boss is on, and few things are better at turning strangers into friends than a happy, well-behaved dog.
Dogs are welcome in some campgrounds and merely tolerated in others. When you and your dog are out and about, you’re representing everyone who travels with a pet, so be on your best behavior. Obey all park rules about where dogs can go, and never leave the RV with your dog without a couple of poop bags stashed in your pocket.
You can usually tell who likes dogs and who doesn’t, so steer clear of anyone who looks fearful or steps aside when you approach. Most small children love dogs and will run to them. If your dog isn’t used to this, ask the child, or the child’s parents, to slow down, and tell them when it’s safe to pet your dog and how to do it by first extending a closed hand, not outstretched fingers, to see how the dog reacts.
Some dogs don’t like a strange hand on their head and will shy away or even nip. Others will leap happily on strangers, which could lead to a fall if the stranger is a small child or an elderly or unprepared adult. Make sure you know how your dog reacts to new people before you leave on a trip so there are no unpleasant surprises later.
Don’t leave your pet tethered outside the RV alone in areas where wild animals live. With nowhere to run, a dog is easy prey for big cats, bears and other predators. Even in more densely populated campgrounds, a child might run through your site and scare your dog into a defensive response. Cats love to hide out in small spaces, so make sure you know exactly where they are before you open or close slideouts or latch a closet door. They’ll also dart out of the RV faster than you can react, if you don’t secure them first.
Older pets love to travel, too, but sometimes they need special help getting up and down steps. A ramp with a grippy surface or raised slats placed across the ramp for traction helps your old buddy get in and out on his own. A lightweight plastic or aluminum folding ramp is easy to deploy for use into getting into and out of the RV and tow vehicle.
If it’s your first time traveling with pets, the sheer amount of stuff you need to bring can be overwhelming. Pick the right stuff, though, and every vacation will be fun for all family members, regardless of whether they have tails and whiskers. Here’s a selection of products to help make every outing with your furry friends a memorable one.
The Nimble Pet Temperature Monitor (starting at $129) lets you keep track of the temperature inside an RV so your pet doesn’t get overheated. It sends a text or email alert through a cellular network when the temperature exceeds the permissible level and has a built-in GPS to track your RV’s location. It works with both Android and iOS systems for remote monitoring.
The Blustream Sensor takes temperature monitoring a step further, tracking both ambient temperature and humidity ($50). The small battery-powered device can be placed anywhere in an RV and wirelessly reports to smart devices with a free mobile app.
RVers can monitor the comfort of their pets as well as the security of their trailer with the HomeMinder Remote Video and Temperature monitoring system ($249). The RVT works with any iPhone, iPad or Android device to provide real-time video images along with sending high- and low-temperature notifications and motion-sensing alerts.
Another way to keep tabs on four-legged companions when you’re away from your RV is with the Pet-Peep PetCam ($99) with a motion detector. Recording, tilting and panning can be controlled via the iPhone or Android mobile app. The PetCam can be set up to alert you with emailed photos.
Eureka Products’ Marco Polo tracking tag can reunite you and your pet, should your furry friend go missing. The lightweight waterproof tag has a range of up to 2 miles, and the unique identification is expandable for as many as three pets ($234.95/one pet, $334.95/two pets, $434.95/three pets). Four “safe” zones can be programmed in to alert you when they’ve wandered off. The device requires a very small amount of RF energy that the company claims is
safe for pets.
I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) Products’ Collar ID ($15) is made of weatherproof material that wraps around a dog collar and secures with hook-and-loop strips. The pet owner can record contact, medication and veterinarian information and “wrap” it up in a durable and lightweight tag that’s portable from collar to collar. Should your dog amble off, your contact information is readily accessible by the finder. The I.C.E. collar comes in a two-pack so snowbirds can record a summer and winter address.
Sleepypod safety harnesses were top-rated in the Center for Pet Safety’s 2017 tests. Three points of contact reduce forward and lateral movement in the event of a crash or sudden stop. Two loops provide attachment points for seat-belt insertion through, then into, the vehicle’s seat belt. The pet-restraint harness comes in four sizes for small, medium, large and extra-large dogs from 18 to 90 pounds. The Clickit Sport ($69.99 to $89.99) has plastic buckles, while the Clickit Terrain ($89.99 to $99.99) has metal buckles. Sleepypod recommends that pets weighing less than 18 pounds be transported in a crash-tested carrier for safe travel, and offers three options.
Hofmann RV Products’ Telescoping Pet Ramps make it easier for your furry friends to get into and out of your RV and tow vehicle. The lightweight, collapsible ramps come in two models ($160 and $190) and support up to 400 pounds. A carry handle and high-traction surface are standard. The company also makes access gates and kennels.
The Retractable Cable Tie-Out Stake ($29.49) from Howard Pet Products rotates 360 degrees for maximum play area. Available in models for small, medium and large dogs, the coated, braided cable gives pets from 706 to 1,256 square feet to roam. Just push the stake into the ground to secure it in place. The reel has a reflective strip so you can see it at night. The company also makes a retractable bracket-mounted tie-out that can be attached to a tree, a post, a trailer hitch or a patio.
The MaxxLock Exercise Pen ($92.74 for the SplitDoor shown) comes in five sizes and encircles 16 square feet of exercise area. The folding pen includes ground stakes and corner stabilizers, and is easy to set up and take down with no tools. It can also be used as a door barrier to keep pets inside the RV and still open to the breeze on hot days.
The Good2Go No-Spill Dog Bowl ($9.99) keeps water from spilling when placed in a moving vehicle and reduces food spillover during feeding. The plastic bowl holds two cups of water or food and is dishwasher safe.
Pet Zone’s OdorLess Disposable Cat Litter Box and Liner ($11.22 for a three-pack) can be used as either a litter box or a litter-box liner. The waterproof box is claimed to eliminate odors faster than competing products. Made in the USA, it cleans up in a jiffy — just toss the box and replace it.
Flexi retractable leashes (prices vary) never slacken because they’re always under slight tension. Your dog can wander, but you can stop him with the push of a thumb brake.
There’s also a function that sets the leash at a fixed length. Flexi leashes come in a wide variety of styles and sizes for small to very large dogs. Accessories such as lights and a storage box for poop bags or treats are available.
The Come With Me Kitty cat harness and bungee leash ($19.99) applies no pressure to the throat when your cat pulls on the leash. The walking harness gently tightens along the shoulders as needed to help direct the cat, and the bungee leash provides gentle give when walking.
The Gunner G1 Intermediate dog crate ($499.99) was rated Top Performing Crate for 2015 by the Center for Pet Safety when used with Gunner reinforced connection straps. Gunner says it’s the market’s only double-wall roto-molded dog crate, and it comes with an escape-proof door, elevated feet and water-repelling windows.
The company makes five crates for dogs up to 110 pounds.
The Camco RV Aluminum Screen Door Standard Grille (part number 43980, $40.40) adds durability to flimsy screen doors to keep pets from charging through when they see something appealing outside. The 29-by-22.5-by-1-inch grille covers the lower portion of the existing screen, and installation is simple. The grille weighs less than 3 pounds, and the support brackets adjust from 20 to 29 inches. Camco also offers deluxe screen door grilles in black or white.
Camping World also sells a Screen Door Grille ($46.99) that keeps pets from clawing through mesh-screen doors and getting outside. The decorative 3.5-pound grille comes
in white, black or silver.
Jerry Smith has been a freelance writer for more than 30 years. He’s not picky about the topic as long as it rolls. If it has two, three, four or more wheels, he’ll write about it. He travels with his editorial assistant and morale officer, a golden retriever named Dickens, from their home base in Oregon to wherever the sun is shining that day.