Guides

5 Tips for Camping with Cats

by Kendra Clapp OlguínOct 29, 2021

Leaving the furry members of our family behind when heading out on a camping trip is difficult for many reasons. The emotional toll of leaving a loved one behind combined with the logistical nightmare of finding a catsitter might make you cancel that camping trip you’ve been looking forward to. But, before you go and do that, know that you can have it all! Ok, not exactly all, but it is possible to go camping and bring your cat with you, which is like having it all. Am I right, cat people? Here are five tips for camping with cats:

  1. Start Slow
  2. Create a Familiar and Comfortable Environment
  3. Practice Positive Reinforcement and Patience
  4. Be Prepared
  5. Mange Your Expectations
A cat looks out of an Airstream trailer while camping. Another cat sleeps on the couch.

1. Start Slow

Cats aren’t exactly known for liking change. Yet, it’s not necessarily a circumstance of like or dislike; it’s an adjustment process. By starting slow and acquainting your cat with the car, motorhome, or trailer bit by bit, you’re setting yourself and your cat up for a successful camping experience.

RV Introduction

When our cats were kittens, we introduced them to the RV while parked in the driveway. Assuming you have the space to do so, bringing your cat into the motorhome or trailer when it’s parked in your yard or driveway is a great way to start the process of adjusting your cat to a camping environment.

A small grey kitten looks around the inside of an RV trailer.

The first time Luna, our grey cat, was in the trailer, we were doing some renovations to it. She walked around, inspecting every nook and cranny, making sure there weren’t any threats inside. This enabled her to feel more secure the next time she visited the trailer, as she previously surveyed the area. As she was going through the space, we fed her treats and gave her a lot of love and pets. By the fourth and fifth time inside, you could tell she felt more confident and secure.

Two cats sit inside of an Airstream travel trailer while camping.

If you cannot access your trailer or motorhome before your camping trip, you’re at a bit of a disadvantage. You’ll have to rely on creating the most comfortable and familiar environment for your cat, which I’ll go into in step two.

Driving

Whether you’re in a motorhome or towing a travel trailer, your cat will have to experience the sensation of driving. I should mention that some cats get such lousy motion sickness that camping might not be in the cards. Every cat is different, so proceed with an open heart and mind.

A cat sits in the passenger side of a truck that is towing an Airstream travel trailer.

I’ve read online that those driving a motorhome put their cat in their crate as they go down the road. Some have found that their cat absolutely despises this and instead finds a small hiding place they feel safe in. Others feel as if the crate is their safe space, preferring to stay there.

A fluffy cat sits in the driver's seat of a truck.

If you are towing a trailer, you should not leave your cat, dog, or any living animal or human being inside the trailer while going down the road. This is a big no-no. Therefore, you’ll have to transfer your cat to the towing vehicle. We put our cats in a collapsable crate that latches to the seatbelts in our backseat. With our previous cat, she could not handle the crate and preferred to burrow under the back seat or under our legs in the passenger seat. I feel safest knowing they are strapped in, but I understand that the stress of an experience might do damage, leading owners to allow their cats to go where they feel most safe.

A fluffy cat sits in the passenger seat of a truck that's towing a trailer and going camping.

Start by taking your cat on a short drive around your neighborhood and town, unhitched. Slowly work your way up to longer trips, and when you’re finally ready to go camping, head to a nearby campground just an hour or so away. Again, working slowly is critical here. The process goes a lot faster than one would think, and the payoff is worth it: a happy cat going camping with you!

At the Campground

When you arrive at the campground, park your rig, and start setting up, transfer your cat to the trailer if they were riding in the tow vehicle.

Slide Outs

If you have slide-outs, I recommend bringing them out or in when your cat is not in the RV. Cats, dogs, and even kids, for that matter, risk being crushed if they are in the way of a slide-out. Let’s say the cat rode with you in the motorhome and is therefore already in the RV; make sure they aren’t near the slide-out when setting up or tearing down.

The Great Outdoors

Two kittens run out of an REI tent while out camping.

Many have seen images of cats camping outside, hiking a mountain, or sitting in a kayak. While that may be possible for some, it’s likely not possible for most cats, especially when first starting out. Some owners feel comfortable allowing their cats to roam outside. This is dependent on the trust and relationship built between them and the cat. Additionally, many campgrounds have leash requirements when it comes to pets being outside. Be courteous and respect the campground rules.

A woman sits on a campground picnic table while holding a small kitten and with a pet crate next to her. A campfire pit with food in a cast iron pan is in front of her.

We felt more comfortable keeping our cats inside the RV and allowing them outside with extreme supervision when camping. They were tiny kittens when we first started, after all! Eventually, we realized that they enjoyed being outside but in the safety of their crate. When they want to go back inside the trailer, they meow at us, and we bring them in. If crating your pet, be mindful of where you put the crate and what direction the smoke is heading if you have a campfire going.

A woman sits in front of a campfire in a campsite, petting the cats in the crate next to her.
A cat looks out of the window of an Airstream RV travel trailer while camping.

Again, the circumstance is based on what you and your cat feel comfortable with. Some might prefer to stay inside, watching you from the window, and that’s totally ok too.

2. Create a Familiar and Comfortable Environment

A cat sits in the entryway of an Airstream RV travel trailer while out camping.

Blankets, Scratch Pads, Toys

Hello, this is your cat speaking. If you’re thinking of putting me in a new and smaller environment, you best be decking that place out with all my favorite things!

To help move the adjustment process along smoothly, bring in some of your cat’s items that remind them of the comforts of home. These items could include their favorite fuzzy blanket, toys, scratch post, and beds. We found some inexpensive scratch posts online that we mounted on different areas of the trailer.

A tiny kitten sits on fluffy blankets on the couch of an Airstream RV trailer while camping.

The one key ingredient to make for a mischievous cat is boredom. By providing ample options to satisfy their curiosity, you’ll guide their playfulness away from scratching the couch to chasing a ball around the RV instead. Additionally, campgrounds are exciting places! Give your cat a good perch, and they will entertain themselves for hours. Those nosey little critters.

A cat sleeps on a little bed with a cat toy next to it.

Litterbox

A cat door leading to the litter box inside of an Airstream RV.

One of the most frequent questions we’re asked when camping with our cats is where we put their litterbox. We had a cat door installed in our bedframe, leading to a storage area underneath our mattress platform. This was ideal for us as it’s accessible from the outside, enabling us to scoop the litter outdoors and not have to track it through the inside of the RV.

Cats in the storage compartment of an Airstream RV travel trailer, going into their litter box.

3. Practice Positive Reinforcement and Patience

Treats and Praise

Have I mentioned that camping with cats is an adjustment process? Oh, I have? Let me reiterate that again. It’s a process, and it’s circumstantial to the cat and its personality. One of the best ways to guide the process is to positively reinforce good behavior. Is your cat food motivated? Having treats handy might be the key to helping your cat adjust. Our cats love attention and vocal praise. We might sound obnoxious when using our baby voice, but we’ve found that our cats respond positively to the affirmations and even see their hesitancy or nerves ease with each pet.

The more positive you make the experience, the better for all!

A woman holds two cats up, smiling with a hammock and campsite in the background.

Time

When I look for guides or how-to instructions online, I’m usually in a time crunch. Camping with cats, unfortunately, isn’t one of those things you can do quickly. You and your cat need time to adjust to the new environment of camping. It may come quickly for some, and it might take several camping trips for others. Patience isn’t exactly my jam, so I feel for those wanting immediate results. Yet, if you take the longer, more patient route, your cats will pick up on your calm and positive energy, helping them with the new camping environment.

A fluffy cat rubs its face on the door of an Airstream RV travel trailer.

4. Be Prepared

Have Medical Records Handy & Scope Out Emergency Veterinary Services

Not just a very intense song from Lion King, be prepared is an applicable motto when camping with cats. Accidents can happen, so be ready with your cat’s medical records. Whether digital or hardcopy, having your pet’s health history can only help when unfortunate situations arise. We’ve found ourselves out in the boonies with a sick kitty, needing to visit the small town’s only veterinary. By some miracle, I was able to find the vet’s name with one teeny tiny bar of reception. By looking through Luna’s records, he was able to determine that whatever was causing her to vomit all over the trailer was just a temporary ailment instead of something more serious. That experience taught us to look ahead for vet services in case of an emergency or without reception.

A man pets a fluffy cat while sitting in a hammock and camping.

5. Manage Your Expectations

Leash Training

Another common inquiry regarding camping with cats is whether we’ve leash-trained ours. Leash-training your cat is a whole thing, and I recommend researching a step-by-step guide. We find our cats respond better to a collar leash, but I know that others prefer a harness.

I will say that walking your cat is super fun, but it’s not like walking a dog. Where a dog might follow you, you will most likely be following the cat. There are ways to train your cat to follow you, but we haven’t gotten to that point yet.

A woman walks a cat on a leash around a campground.

Finding the Right Combination

Like I said in the beginning, camping might not be suitable for your cat. Throughout the process, check your expectations and observe your cat. Maybe your cat hates going outside but loves staying in the RV. Or perhaps your cat likes to sit on your lap outside but not stay in a crate. Your cat might be happiest looking out the RV window at all of the birds in the trees! There are a variety of combinations, and one may just be the ticket for your cat. You just have to find it.

A cat goes into a cat camp tent, with its tail sticking out.

In Conclusion

It’s entirely possible to go camping with cats. I hope these five tips set you and your cat out on the right path in figuring out the best way to go out and enjoy camping. Sure, it might take time, and it’s quite the process, but I hope you find humor and light in it. Watch and listen to your cat. They’ll communicate what they need to adjust. Lastly, give them love so that they know they are safe with their humans, whether they are camping or not.