Cats in a Small RV

There are a number of things to think about when it comes to living with a cat in a small RV. The cat’s personality should be taken into consideration, vaccinations and parasite prevention should be up to date, and thought should be given to where the litter box, food and water bowls are going to go. All in all, Julie’s cat Fish has settled in quite well to RV living, and today I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned so far. Some of this is applicable to dogs as well as cats, and some is more cat-centric.

General Pet Suggestions

Think about the personality of your pet, and if it would comfortable living in a small space. Activity level is a good one to think about that will have a greater impact in a RV versus a house. Raising a kitten or puppy in 14′ of living space for instance would be a difficult task, there just isn’t much room for them to run around and be burn off that extra energy, plus they’d be into everything and there are a limited number of places in a RV to put items that aren’t cat or dog friendly.

Health considerations are another good one. Traveling presents a unique set of issues that aren’t going to come up living stationary. Is your pet up to date on all of it’s vaccinations? Did you check what parasites are prevalent where you are traveling to? Heartworm and fleas are the two big preventatives to think about.

Oh, and not all fleas are created equal either. In different parts of the country some brands of prevention work better than others, do a little research to or call and talk to a vet in the area you’ll be traveling in to see what they recommend.

You may plan on your pet staying in the RV all the time and never setting foot outside, but there is only that one door to separate your animal from the outside in a RV, and in a small space they’re never far from that door. Fish hadn’t been outside in years, but within the first two weeks of us living in the Casita he got out late at night when we were stepping out to dump the trash, and the next two hours of searching for him in the dark were nerve-wracking, which brings me to my next point.

Micro-chipping is also a great idea for people with traveling pets, so that if your four-legged friend ever does escape, your contact information is readily available if he or she ever lands in a shelter or vet clinic. We also keep a harness on Fish all the time and have a leash in the RV that is attached to the wall. Whenever we go outside we hook him up now so that even if he gets out the door he won’t run far.

I advocate having an emergency fund for full-timing whether you’re bringing a pet or not, but if you are bringing a pet it’s a good idea to have enough to cover any emergency care your animal may need. Don’t wait until you’re nearly out of food or litter (or medications if your pet is on any) to go shopping for more either, as depending on where you are it may be hard to find what you need. In many cases online stores can ship the food or medication you need to wherever you might be – but it takes some time.

Some campgrounds and RV parks will charge additional fees for having pets along with, and some won’t. These fees are more common for dogs than cats, and the amount varies substantially. Some places will also impose weight or breed restrictions, so if you are traveling with a larger breed dog it pays to inquire about this ahead of time. I have also heard of campgrounds that have a ‘pet section’ to keep RVers with and without pets separate.

Cat Specific Concerns

With space as limited in the RV as it is, the big question for small RV goers becomes where to put the litter box, food and water bowls, and scratching post.

Underneath the bed turned out to be a great place in the Casita for a litter box. There is about 14 inches of clearance down there. Fish needed a litter box with tall sides because he has a tendency to pee on the sides of the box and kick litter out of it. Of course no pre-made boxes were the right dimensions, so after a bit of online searching we bought a cheap plastic tupperware from Walmart that had sides just under 14 inches and cut a hole in it as a doorway.

Julie first attempted to use a scissors to cut it but the scissors broke and cracked the plastic. Then she borrowed a dremel from work and used that. It melted the plastic as it was cutting so it still wasn’t an ideal solution, but it worked better than the scissors.

There are other possibilities for the litter box as well. Some choose to keep the bathroom door open and put it in there – either on the floor or some people remove one of the cabinet doors under the sink and stash it there. Also one of the storage cubbies at ground level in the living area of the RV could be left open or modified for this purpose as well. If you aren’t afraid of a little carpentry work I have heard of cutting out a piece of the wall between the living area of the RV and a basement storage area and putting a litter box down there. This would give the advantage of being able to clean the litter from the outside.

To keep the odor from becoming an issue, Julie cleans the litter box out more frequently in the RV than she did in the apartment – usually the box gets completely emptied and filled with new littter every five days or so. It’s often enough that it doesn’t smell like cat inside the RV, and that’s good enough for me.

In the Casita the food and water bowls go underneath the small bed. For a while they went in the entryway which is right under the wall mounted AC unit, but then we kept having to change the water because stuff would blow out of the AC into the water. They could have also fit under the large bed with the litter box, but we just didn’t feel right putting his food right next to his toilet.

The scratching post was actually a new addition. For the first three plus weeks Fish had to do without because the one he had in the apartment was far too large.

Then Julie found one at Petco that was around $13 and it’s a siesel and carpet wrapped piece of wood with a feather toy attached on one end. It can be hung on a doorknob via the attached rope – here it’s shown hanging on the bathroom door of the Casita – or laid out on the floor. In typical cat fashion, I don’t think Fish has used it even once, but it’s there if he wants it.

A notable difference between traveling with cats versus dogs: cats are usually more set in their routines, and more likely to resent being upended from their familiar environment. Be prepared to give them more time to get use to staying in a RV that you would with a dog. To make the transition smoother, try bringing the cat’s favorite toys, blanket, etc. into the RV to make it seem more like home. Give the cat a place that it can hide in and feel secure. If you can manage it, bring the cat into the RV for shorter visits and first and then gradually increase the time.

You probably don’t notice it as much in a sticks and bricks or apartment, but cats are just as active at night as during the day. If your cat is being a nuisance at night at home, it’s easy enough just to shut him out of your bedroom at night, problem solved. Not so much in a tiny RV.

This has been the number one issue I’ve been dealing with staying with Julie in the RV in fact, and it has nothing to do with her. Fish frequently has a period of activity starting at around five in the morning when he first gets hungry. For owners who free feed this won’t be an issue, but this cat would be grossly obese if he was allowed to eat as much as he liked.

The first week and a half was awful, I often have a hard time getting back to sleep when woken in the middle of the night. Fish had been getting fed twice a day, once whenever Julie got up and once around 6:30 pm since he was adopted and she insisted that it didn’t matter if we started feeding him later, he’d still be up at 5 being noisy. Then we went to a party our second week living in the trailer and he didn’t get fed until we got back at midnight. Low and behold, he did not wake us up at five that morning and we learned a valuable lesson. Now we don’t feed him his pm feeding until after 9, and we given him more food during that feeding (and less in the morning). Sometimes he still wakes us up early, but usually later in the morning and not for as long.

I will mention one more quick thing about cats and RVing, this applies less to smaller RVs but is still worth a mention. If your RV has slides, be sure that your cat is present and accounted for before pulling them back in after camping.

This is a big category to cover, and I can only speak of what I have witnessed living in the Casita with Fish or heard from others. Do you have any other questions about pets and RVing? Want to share your own pet RVing stories? You know what to do, post below and answers will follow.

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17 Responses to Cats in a Small RV

  1. Marvin June 5, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    I travel with 2 Ferrets , one that I have had a very long time and a new baby that I recently rescued . I have a plastic container in a storage area that has everything ferret , plus an extra month supply of food .
    The food , water , and litter box are kept in the bath area for safety and ease of cleaning .
    When the on the go , I require them to be in a cage ( in the RV or the back seat of the truck ) for their safety .
    They are leash and collar trained – they do not leave the RV or truck without wearing them .
    One of my concerns in a CG is squirrels . Squirrels are usually friendly and used to people and begging for food , but they have razor sharp teeth and could accidentally injure a pet .
    I never state that I have a pet – if the CG manager has a problem with that , I will gladly move on down the road . When I leave a campsite , it is always cleaner than I found it .
    Be Safe , Have A Great Day

    • Becky June 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

      I had a friend back in Wisconsin who had ferrets, such fun little critters! Like you she always kept two at a time for companionship.

      I bet it must be even harder ferret-proofing an RV than cat or dog proofing since they can fit into such tiny spaces.

      When we go somewhere with the Casita, Fish will be riding in one of our vehicles. There’s no way to keep the trailer cool while in transit and the ride has to be rough. Plus we worry what would happen if we got into an accident and he wasn’t secured.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Misty June 7, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I’m still working on the litter box problem. Thomas is so big that there’s just not enough room for his litter box under the bed. There’s just not enough head room! Right now, the litter box is under the table, and I just have to remember not to stick my feet it in, and be sure to warn visitors!

    I ended up keeping Thomas’s scratching post. I had such a hard time getting him to use a scratching post until I found this one that I’m really afraid he’ll just scratch the walls like he did in one apartment I live in. It’s not too bad, though. I just push it back against the bathroom door, with the base under the crack in the door, and move it when I need to get in the bathroom.

    Sometimes if I’m not going to be going in and out of the RV, I’ll move it in to the doorway to keep it out of my way while I hang out in the RV.
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  3. Becky June 8, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    We worried that Fish would be too big to fit under the bed but he just clears it. I’ve told Julie that if I decide to adopt a cat to travel with me later on that it’ll be a smaller one.

    Fish doesn’t use the scratching post, but he hasn’t been scratching at anything else either really, except at the plastic grill on the A/C unit when he’s tweaking out or hungry. I think because it’s loud and gets our attention. We do have soft paws on him though just in case. I know some cats won’t tolerate them but they work pretty well for him.

  4. Catalina June 24, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Our feline’s name is Pumpkin, he is a large orange tabby sociable cat. We had been at an RV park where he adopted us, but he was used to coming and going. He stays outside for the night. We are at n RV park that does not like roaming cats so he has to be an indoor cat. So he is wanting out, I feel bad but no go. What do you recommend as tips to get him used to only inside?

    Thanks Catalina

    • Becky June 25, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

      Will the new RV park allow him outside if he is on a leash? I know several full-timers who have leash trained their cats for supervised outside visits ( One even has a lead attached to the door of their RV and they’ll let her walk around on it outside for periods of time unsupervised, but she could get out of the harness if she really wanted ( It would still be a transition form being able to go outside whenever he pleases but after being couped up inside for however many days you guys have been at the new place maybe that would be enough for him.

      I know other RVers who have a collapsible metal crate that their cat stays in outside for periods of time – again you probably shouldn’t leave him like that overnight and make sure the crate is in a shaded place on sunny days, but it gives the cat some variety of scenery without being free to roam.

      Just a couple of suggestions, hope this helps!

  5. greenminimalism July 21, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    I used to a have a beautiful tabby called Oscar. Unfortunately, I had to give him to somebody else when I moved into my RV, as he’s terrified of driving.
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    • Becky July 21, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      Yes. It’s true that not all pets can make the transition, although sometimes with gradually increasing exposure over time fear of traveling can be gotten over. A lot of times pets hate traveling because they associate it with going to the vet, because the only time they ride in the car is when they’re going to the vet. Show them that nothing bad is going to happen when they get in the RV repeatedly and slowly they’ll start to relax.

      For the ones who just refuse though, finding them a new loving home is a good option.

      • Catalina July 22, 2013 at 10:48 am #

        Thanks Becky, finding a loving home for Pumpkin will be our last resort, my husband would have a very hard time giving him away. I believe he will make it, he is doing good so far not great but there seems to be hope. As I said before he is being a champ. He loves being with us!

        One thing we have to be careful is over eating. He gets board and wants to eat! Last thing I want is a fat unhappy cat LOL!

  6. Catalina July 22, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    Thank you for the comments, pumpkin is adjusting. We are working with the leash and he doesn’t like it but is getting used to it. We have been driving and I found that pheromones spray seems to calm him down pretty good. It is natural and he seems to like smelling it. Pumpkin is a champ in our opinion, very adaptable.

    He didn’t like being inside all the time, but hopefully he will get used to it and we try to interact with him to keep him busy. He is a big cat 15lbs, so a small space is a challenge our rig is 34′ fifth wheel.


    • Becky July 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

      Glad to hear that Pumpkin is making progress! I think that’s the trick when it comes to cats, they get set in their ways and sudden change is very alarming to them. Making the transition slow so that they build up a tolerance over time seems to be the way to go.

      Does he like to play with cat toys at all? Fish liked wand toys with feathers on the end, it gave him exercise which was hard to come by in a small space, and kept him from getting bored at the same time, a win/win situation. Another cat I lived with loved to play with this toy that was a circular enclosed track with a few holes just large enough to stick a paw in and a ball inside, she enjoyed batting the ball in circles and in the center of the toy was a horizontal cardboard scratching surface that she made frequent use of.

      Keep me updated with how it goes!

  7. Catlover February 3, 2016 at 11:46 pm #

    Thank you for this post 🙂

    I am planning on cutting out a space in my cabinet for the litter box. It would be a square big enough for my cat to go through (like a cat door) that goes into the inside of the cabinet and the litter box placed on the floor. It’s hidden and in its own area. The cabinet is long enough its almost like a closet so I’m cutting the hole on the bottom area. Great for a small space.

    • Becky February 4, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

      Sounds like a good plan Catlover. I’m glad you found this post helpful and hope your cat(s) have fun on the road!

  8. Chelsea February 17, 2016 at 7:44 am #

    Hi! I’m transitioning to full time rv’ing from a small apartment. I have two Persian cats : jasper and avery and could not imagine giving them away. I’m worried that they will be terrified and unhappy! I’m at the early stage in living my dream… I haven’t bought a 5th wheel yet am looking and will have one soon. My problem is I will have a very short time to acclimate them. Once I get the vehicle I have to leave my apartment. This means only a week or two of getting them used to it before there’s no going back (for awhile at least). Has anyone had problems with their cats peeing outside the cat box. My two cats (both boys 9 and 5 years old) have never wet outside the box but I’m afraid fear might make them do crazy things! Avery, my 5 year old kitty, is afraid of loud noises at my apartment now… So I’m really worried he will be an unhappy traveller. Any tips on calming them? Someone mentioned pheromone spray…

    • Becky February 17, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

      Hello Chelsea,

      With any big lifestyle transition like going full-timing there are going to be uncertainties, and this is one of them. I haven’t heard of anyone who had problems with inappropriate urination from their cat who used the box religiously before they hit the road, but it could happen. Since cats are creatures of habit, this is more likely to be a temporary thing while they settle into their new surroundings and get use to their new home, but I can’t say for sure how your cats will react, no one can.

      Do you know anyone who has an RV that you could “test” them in ahead of time, taking them over for visits and seeing how they do in the more compact space? Or maybe just take them over to a friend’s apartment or house for a visit and see how they react to a different environment, that will give you some idea.

      Pheromone sprays can be helpful for some cats with chronic nervousness, or if your cats end up being fine in the fifth wheel while you’re parked but don’t like the actual driving part, there are medications for that too, I’d ask your vet for more information on the various options. If you can help it, make that week or two of acclimation as calm for them as possible. Don’t be moving stuff in and out while they’re visiting it.

      Do you have a backup plan in case they don’t take well to it? Having a backup plan helps a lot to keep the fear and stress down, I had several when I was preparing to hit the road. Otherwise you’ll just have to trust yourself to come to a solution if there does end up being a problem.

      For instance, the second cat I traveled with for 6 months in my Casita was fine when I was parked, but absolutely hated the driving. He’d meow for hours on end, nothing would stop it short of sedation and since he had health issues sedating him wasn’t an option. Giving him up wasn’t an option, he was my best friend’s cat and we were only traveling together for 6 months and then she’d be going back to her job and apartment where he didn’t need to travel. Holding him, letting him have free reign, keeping him in a carrier, putting a blanket over the carrier, feeding him treats, nothing stopped the meowing.

      So we adapted. he suffered less overall doing long driving hours in one day then having several days without travel so that’s how we moved from spot to spot, and we just got use to him making noise the whole way. As soon as we stopped and let him go back in the trailer, he was happy so we decided not to cut the visit short and did the full 6 months.

      This probably isn’t as comforting as you’d hoped it would be, but I’m trying to be realistic. Chances are, it won’t go as poorly as your worst case scenario, but it might not go perfectly either and then you’ll just have to adapt as I did. Best of luck!


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