May 172016

Terry and I love animals and always have. I’m partial to German shepherds and have been owned by several fine ones over the years. When we got together Terry had two dogs, an Australian Shepherd and a Siberian Husky, as well as several cats. When we hit the road we found new homes for all of them except one cat, Sasquatch, who traveled with us for many years before he passed on. That’s been about 10 years ago, and we made the conscious decision not to have any more pets after she lost him. As working RVers, we spend a lot of time away from the motorhome and don’t feel it’s fair to a pet to have it spend a large portion of its life alone in the small confines of a motorhome.

That’s just the choice that works for us at this point in our lives. But we know many RVers who travel with one, two, or even more pets. Something that a lot of new RVing pet owners don’t understand is that there is a big difference between living in a sticks and bricks house with pets and doing it on the road. Let’s look at some of the things you should be aware of if you decide to travel with pets.

1 – In a traditional house you may have a fenced yard where you can turn your pets loose and not have to worry about them. You may even have a doggie door so they can come and go as they please. It doesn’t work that way in the RV lifestyle. You can’t just open the door and let them go, you have to put them on a leash and walk them, whether it’s a bright sunshiny day or it’s cold, windy, and pouring rain.

2 – Some dogs who have been allowed to run free in a yard adapt to being on a leash quite easily and it’s not a problem. Others may fight the leash and give you a real workout until you are able to teach them who’s the boss. And yes, surprisingly, I’ve known several cats that wore harnesses and seemed to be quite content going out for a walk on leash with their owners.

3 – When you’re living in a sticks and bricks house with a fenced in yard, if your pets get out somehow, there’s a very good chance that they will come back home once they’ve gotten bored or hungry. Or your neighbors may spot them and let you know where they are. If a pet gets out of your RV while you’re traveling, it’s in a strange environment with all kinds of scary noises like traffic, diesel engines, and other things that may panic it and cause it to run even farther away. Even if you think there’s no chance your pet will ever get out, accidents happen. Do you and it a favor and get it micro-chipped.

4 – Besides the danger of getting lost or hit by a car, every year RVers lose pets to coyotes, bobcats, and other predators when they’re parked in rural places. And don’t forget the hawks and eagles from above! It doesn’t only happen in the desert. Last year someone we knew lost their small dog to a coyote in Michigan!

5 – Pets who have never traveled can find it quite traumatic. They can get carsick, they may go hide somewhere where they could be injured by a moving slide room, or they may bolt out the door once it’s open and head for the hills, never to be seen again. Your veterinarian might recommend something to help with car sickness, and starting out with short trips around the block, with constant reassurance from you, can help ease them into being in a house that is noisy and moves down the highway.

6 – Just as unsecured items in your RV can become deadly missiles in a crash, gravity is not enough to hold your pet down if you get into an accident, or even have to make a sudden swerve to avoid a road hazard. The safest way to travel with a pet is to secure it in a cage while on the road. If you approach it right and introduce them to it gradually the cage will became a comfortable, safe haven for them.

7 – As pets get older it can be very difficult for them to climb stairs or steps. Your traditional home may be on one level, but most RVs have steps that can be steep and difficult for an aging pet to navigate.

8 – Houses, even mobile homes, are usually much better insulated than RVs. If your pet is home alone and the power goes out during the summertime it can usually find someplace in a house that is tolerable until you get home and deal with the problem. Just like in a closed car, an un-cooled RV can quickly become a death trap in hot weather for pets.

9 – Depending on the size and breed of your dog, you may find some RV parks will not allow you to stay. This is usually because of restrictions placed upon them by their insurance companies, aimed at so-called “aggressive breeds.” And unfortunately, due to a few very inconsiderate pet owners who don’t pick up after their animals and allow them to become a nuisance to other guests, there are RV parks that don’t allow pets at all.

10 – Nothing will tick off your campground neighbors more than a dog that barks its head off while you are gone. We know, because we’ve been parked next to way too many of them ourselves. If you have a pet you have an obligation to your neighbors not to let it annoy them with endless barking. And surprisingly, it’s not only when the owners are away from the RV. More than once we’ve had neighbors who I assume had to be deaf because they simply ignored their dogs that barked on and on.

11 – Along those same lines, socializing your animal is important. It’s going to meet strangers every day. How is it going to react to those people? A dog that growls and snarls and barks at somebody new isn’t going to win you any friends. On the other hand, a shy animal is not going to appreciate somebody it never saw before wanting to pet it.

12 – Back home, you probably had a vet that you knew and who was familiar with your pet and its health history. On the road, you may have to depend on suggestions from local people to find someone to care for your pet. This could make an emergency situation even more stressful for both you and your animal.

13 – The same goes with groomers. Do you have someone you use at home that you’re comfortable with? How will you find someone as reliable on the road?

14 – What happens if there’s an emergency and you have to fly or drive back home in a hurry and leave the RV in a campground? When you live in a house you know your neighbors or have friends who can come by and check on your animals. That may be problematic in an RV environment. You may have to find a pet boarder, and hope they will provide the proper care for your pet while you’re gone.

15 – Crossing borders can present challenges for pet owners. If you’re going to Alaska, or traveling to Mexico, do your homework ahead of time and know what documents you must have with you concerning your pet, such as shot records. You don’t want to get to the border crossing point from either direction and then realize you don’t have what you need with you.

All this is not geared toward trying to convince you not to travel with a pet or pets in your RV. But forewarned is forearmed. With some advance preparation, patience, and understanding of how such a dramatic change in lifestyle can affect your pet, you’ll both be better off.

On another note, how cool is today going to be? I’m having lunch with my friend science fiction author Stephen Arseneault, that’s how cool! Stephen lives about an hour away in Oviedo and is driving up for a visit. I’m looking forward to it.

Thought For The Day – I hate to be accused of lolly-gagging when I’m obviously dilly-dallying.

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Nick Russell

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  5 Responses to “15 Things RVing Pet Owners Should Know”

  1. I’d like to add one more …. as much as you might like to get your dog or cat out from under your feet because there’s just not enough room in your RV, DO NOT tie them up outside!! More often than not, they get loose and chase after other dogs, including mine, not to mention the barking. I’ve even seen cats tied up outside, making the entire site a nice stinky litter box. If you really don’t like your animal enough to keep it inside with you, please leave it at home.

  2. Nick, I just know that you are talking to me! We are preparing “just in case” we make the decision to give it all up to live and travel in an RV. Like many others we flip flop. Bear will be thinking NO while I’m thinking YES. Then it flips, and he’s thinking YES while I’m thinking NO.

    But the one thing we both agree on, wherever we go and whatever we do, the dogs are not expendable. They are a lifelong commitment in addition to being our friends, protectors, family, and entertainers.

    I have considered the downside for them, not having a yard any more being a biggie. And power outages with us away being the other biggie. And dogs running loose bothering them while they are on leashes being yet another biggie. We had that happen in the Outer Banks where this black dog charged us angrily as we walked past his beach house. Had to back the dogs into the ocean to get away from him. Rude people. Politely not adding the descriptors.

    On the positive side, they are excellent travelers and have traveled extensively. One time from Georgia to Upstate New York and the dogs aced it. Two weeks ago, however, we had a scare with Sierra while traveling and had to take her to an emergency vet on a Sunday. That was NOT fun. It was scary as all get out and we still don’t know what caused her symptoms (bloody nose). We wondered if some chemicals in a dog friendly motel room caused it, or a bacterial or fungal infection while traveling, or chemicals in a relative’s house we stayed at and discovered belatedly that they’d had a pretty intensive insect treatment a few weeks before we arrived.

    I kept thinking, if we had our own RV, the dogs wouldn’t be exposed to indoor surprises like pest chemicals in exposed places, although they’d be exposed to Way Too Many outdoor surprises, like other people’s dog poop full of worms, and other dog’s hookworms, and fleas with tapeworms, and mosquitoes with heartworms, a lot of worms, all of which can be deadly.

    Our dogs are on various worm controllers but I know the exposure is massive when following other people’s dogs. Our have picked things up before while traveling. Fleas carry tapeworms, mosquitoes carry heartworms, and hookworms are so contagious that a dog can catch them through the pads of his feet just by walking on an infested patch of grass. So be prepared to keep your dog on preventives.

  3. Great advice Nick. I have been traveling with my Australian Shepherd for over two years. While he is great company for me, there are issues that come up along the way. I deal with those as I go. Fortunately I am retired so I am with him almost 24/7.

    For those planning on traveling with your pet take heed to Nick’s advice above. Think through situations you will be in like wanting go for a hike in a National Park. Most trails don’t allow dogs. While others do, how will your dog react to people and other dogs on the trail? A pleasant hike could turn into a miserable, back wrenching time.

  4. I will second everything you said. We had a 14 year old cat when we went fulltime in a 5th wheel. She escaped more than once. She used to travel in the 5th wheel, she had some teeth broken by being thrown around. She got into the area under the bed and couldn’t find her for several hours. One day the ac went out when we were gone, she almost died. She developed kidney disease and trying to find the prescription food she needed was a challenge. She passed away 5 1/2 years ago at 18 1/2.
    We didn’t want to get another pet for a long long time. A few months ago we adopted a shitzu/yorkie mix dog from a rescue group. It has been an easy transition and it’s been nice having a pet again. I took him to a new groomer and she didn’t listen to what I wanted and just scalped him. It’s definitely easier without a pet but they are pretty entertaining.

  5. We attended a pet safety seminar at the first Escapade we attended 8 or 9 years ago. At that time, it was thought that safety harnesses provided the best protection. However, consumer testing of these products in recent years demonstrates that that’s not necessarily true.

    Pet safety products have a high failure rate as demonstrated by the attached test video.

    Harnesses also fail, so it’s important to do your research. Unfortunately, there are no bargains when purchasing pet restraints that do well in testing.

    We have always used a harness. This report will cause us to re-evaluate how we protect Freeway, our Cavachon, when we travel. For sure, as much as our fur kids mean to us, we want to provide the best protection we can.

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