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Ashley Mann spent three years living full time in a 38-foot, 5th-wheel RV with her husband Josiah and their cat, Kitty. Her favorite thing about RV life is the challenge of finding the perfect way to organize a space, and she loves seeing all the creative and clever ways people come up with to customize their RVs.
One of the most challenging aspects of moving from a house to an RV was helping our cat, Professor Theodore William Rochester I, who goes by “Kitty”, get used to spending most of his time in a comparatively small space after he had formerly been an indoor/outdoor kitty who had spent his days happily roaming the neighborhood.
When I first started keeping him indoors for longer periods of time, even before we moved into our RV, he would become very stressed and start pulling out his own fur whenever he was begging to go outside and I wouldn’t let him. It’s been a gradual process, but at this point he seems pretty content and no longer displays signs of stress.
In this article I’ll share some of the RV modifications we’ve done to make our RV a cat-friendly place as well as help Kitty be comfortable when we’re on the road.
Travel Comfort Part 1: Collapsible Pet Carrier
We are mostly stationary RVers and don’t move our fifth wheel often, but when we do move it, or when we take Kitty with us on a road trip, he travels in this tent-like collapsible enclosure which comes with a folding litter box. We put his favorite soft gray blanket inside, and we also spray a little bit of Feliway pheromone spray inside to help calm him before we put him in it.
Kitty’s travel enclosure fits in the back seat of our car and has straps for the the seat belts to go through which hold it in place. We bought the larger of the two available sizes, and in the picture below you can see how there’s plenty of space for a large cat or a couple of smaller cats in addition to the litter box. You could also open the side windows and let your cat sit in this “tent” outside to enjoy some fresh air.
The travel enclosure folds down flat, similar to a collapsible laundry hamper, and we store it in the trunk of our car.
Because it’s flexible, the large travel enclosure really isn’t ideal for carrying a cat in. We do still have a traditional plastic cat carrier that we got when Kitty was small, but he’s really too big for it, and it’s never been easy to get him to go in it; it’s usually a two-person job. But I recently found a carrier that both Kitty and I like a lot better….
Travel Comfort Part 2: “Cat-in-the-Bag” Carrier
After seeing an advertisement for Cat-in-the-Bag cat carrier online, I decided to try it, and it works really well for us. It is essentially a canvas bag that unzips on three sides with a hole for Kitty’s head to poke through so that he’s immobilized but doesn’t feel panicked since his head is free. (It reminds me of swaddling a baby. 🙂 )
The bag has a strap so you can carry it like a purse, although I usually carry Kitty with both my arms around him since he’s so big. You can also run a seatbelt through the strap to secure it in a vehicle.
Below is a picture of us at his most recent visit to the vet; Kitty liked being able to sit on my lap and be petted and comforted while we were waiting instead of having to sit by himself in his carrier to wait. Once the vet arrived, she was able to do much of the exam with him in his bag. And he was much calmer in the car, too. Usually he meows a lot as soon as we start driving, but in his cat bag he just curled up and rested.
Another good thing about the cat bag was the lack of drama with putting him in it. I just slipped it over his head while he was taking his morning nap on my bed, and as I zipped it up he just snuggled inside. He seemed to feel like he was being wrapped in a blanket.
A few times since living in an RV we’ve experienced a tornado warning and had to quickly take Kitty to an underground shelter in our mobile home park that’s full of strangers with barking dogs, and I believe if we have to do that again the Cat-in-the-Bag will make it much easier to quickly get Kitty ready to take with us and help him feel calm while we wait out the storm.
The Litter Box
A white back I wrote a blog post that you may want to check out about lots of ideas for storing a litter box in an RV, but here’s how we store ours….
Before we got our RV I had seen pictures online of how some RV owners kept their cat’s litter box in the storage area underneath and installed a cat door in a wall in their RV so their cat could access it, so I was determined to come up with a way to do the same thing. It turned out that in our RV, the best place to create a point of access was through the stairs.
Our steps had wooden vent covers, so we removed one and used a cardboard tube from Lowe’s to create a tunnel through the wires and pipes that were located under the stairs. We used a scrap of carpet to cover the front of the stairs around the hole, and we used some foam-core poster board we had on hand with a hole cut in it to replace the panel that covered the back of the stairs.
Here was our first get-by version of Kitty’s tunnel; it wasn’t pretty but it did the job:
We spent summer of 2018 in the Dallas area where it was a lot harder to keep the RV cool under the blazing sun, and during the afternoon I started noticing a hot wind coming out of Kitty’s tunnel, so I decided to figure out a way to install a cat door that keep the warm air from our storage area from blowing up the tunnel.
The stairs were actually made from an aluminum frame that was too narrow for a cat door, plus the round tunnel wouldn’t allow a cat door to swing freely, so I ended up routing the tunnel through a plastic file box which I happened to have on hand and had planned to get rid of.
The tunnel/box works well, and is actually one of Kitty’s favorite places to hide during stormy weather.
Our Favorite Brand of Cat Litter
Nobody wants to walk into an RV and be smacked in the face with cat box odor, and even though our cat’s litter box is under the RV, if it begins to smell we can still smell it inside.
Something that has really helped us keep the cat box odor under control is using Pretty Litter cat litter, a silica-based cat litter with a sand-like consistency that absorbs urine and dries poo into hard little nearly-odorless lumps that can be easily sifted out with our sifting litter box (ours is no longer available, but this one is similar).
This cat litter comes with two added bonuses that we really appreciate:
- Because all the moisture is absorbed and the odor neutralized, we can go longer without needing to scoop or change the litter than we can with other brands of cat litter.
- The litter changes color if the cat becomes unhealthy. This feature seemed like a gimmick to me when I first heard about Pretty Litter…until one day I noticed that the litter had turned blue instead of its normal urine-yellow color. Kitty wasn’t acting sick, but I went ahead and took him in to our vet, and it turned out he had crystals in his urine, which could have developed into painful bladder issues if we hadn’t caught them in time. I ended up being quite grateful that the litter alerted me to the problem.
The one thing I don’t like about this brand of cat litter is that it’s rather pricey, and even though the company advertises “one bag per cat per month,” I find that we really need two bags per month. Sometimes I mix the Pretty Litter a cheaper brand of micro crystal cat litter to stretch the Pretty Litter farther, but I don’t feel like any of the cheaper brands I’ve tried are quite as effective at remaining odor free, and I also don’t like how dusty they are. Pretty Litter isn’t at all dusty.
So cost aside, Pretty Litter is for me the perfect cat litter.
UPDATE 1/21/2022: You can now purchase Pretty Litter at Target! I recently ordered some in a grocery delivery when I had run out of litter and needed some faster than I could order it.
Food & Water
Ever since he was a kitten, Kitty has preferred to drink running water. At our last house, whenever I would get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, Kitty would run in and jump up on the counter hoping for a drink out of the sink. I wanted him to drink plenty of water, so of course I would turn on the faucet for him, but it was annoying to have to stand there waiting for him to finish drinking when I really wanted to go back to bed.
I thought moving into our RV would be a good opportunity to change Kitty’s routine, so I decided to buy a pet fountain. The first one I got was a white plastic one that doesn’t seem to still be in production, and it worked pretty well but was difficult to clean, so when its motor finally died after two years of use I wasn’t too sad to replace it with this one, which is more attractive looking IMO and a lot easier to disassemble and clean.
This slow feeder is the most recent addition to our collection of cat supplies. I bought it because our vet wanted Kitty to go on a diet, and he tends to eat too quickly and will scarf-and-barf wet food and will go through his daily ration of dry food in just a couple of hours. This feeder has slowed him down so that his food lasts much longer and we’re no longer constantly having to clean up piles of regurgitated cat food. I chose the ceramic version because I thought it would be easier to clean, but you can also buy this style of feeder in a silicone version.
I guess all cats are different when it comes to what type of scratching surface they prefer, but Kitty has always preferred something upright. When he was an indoor/outdoor cat, he did all his scratching outside on tree trunks, but now that he spends most of his time indoors, we’ve found a sisal scratching post to be the best substitute.
We set his post right next to the arm of our couch which he was immediately prone to scratching, and to prevent him from choosing the sofa instead, I covered end of the sofa arm with clear vinyl.
Recently Kitty developed a habit of scratching the carpet right in front of our coffee table, so I bought this natural fiber rug for him to scratch instead. He likes it so much that the day I bought it he just rolled around on it. I hope to gradually move it to somewhere a bit more out of the way.
My biggest concern for Kitty moving into our RV after being an indoor/outdoor cat with the freedom to explore outside was whether he would become bored, so one thing I’ve done to try to help him have an interesting indoor life is give him plenty of places in our RV to sit and watch out the windows.
Usually when he’s begging to go outside or insisting on sitting on my chest and cuddling while I’m trying to work on my laptop, all I have to do is open a window and he will immediately go to it and watch contentedly from that vantage point.
One such place is a shelf I added behind our sofa. I mostly made it as a place to set plants and beverages, but Kitty likes to sit on it too. The shelf is just a piece of painted 1″x6″ lumber hung with shelf brackets, which are screwed into the wall with drywall anchors that hold them very sturdily in place.
In the summer, I like to hang a hummingbird feeder on this window so I can watch the hummingbirds while I sit on the couch and write articles for RV Inspiration. 🙂 I used this suction cup hanger to hang my feeder, and it has never fallen down.
In the winter, I’ve hung bird feeders from the ladder on the back of my RV as well as on the window where it’s easy for Kitty to sit and watch them.
I hung the feeders from the ladder on the back of my RV as well as directly on the window using adhesive hooks, and though the adhesive never failed, the hooks eventually broke from the hot sun weakening the plastic, so this past winter I bought a bird feeding station to hang my feeders from.
My aunt gave me this adorable vintage camper bird feeder which she bought at a gardening event. 🙂 It has a solar powered light inside that illuminates the windows at night. 🙂
Safety During Extreme Temperatures
It can be scary to leave pets alone in an RV when the weather is extremely hot knowing they could die if the power were to fail and the air conditioners were to stop working.
There are several temperature monitors on the market that you can purchase that will let you use your cell phone to remotely check the temperature inside the RV, but most of them depend on WiFi, which can be spotty in an RV.
However, last summer I found out about Waggle, a pet monitor system that doesn’t use WiFi; instead it uses the Verizon cellular network to communicate between the sensor and your phone. But you don’t have to have Verizon cellular service or any kind of Verizon account; all you have to do is order the device from Waggle and go on their website to activate it.
When I set mine up, I was surprised that the whole process took about five minutes and didn’t require a phone call or any type of customer service. And it provides so much peace of mind. You can set up phone alerts that will notify you in case of power failure as well as if the temperature goes above or below a number you set.
Being in such as small space, we try to give Kitty plenty of indoor exercise with toys. One of his favorite interactive toys is the fishing pole style cat toys that have a toy on the end of a string. I like this one because the telescoping pole collapses down to a small size so it takes up less space, and it comes with several different styles of toys that we can swap out when he gets bored with them.
Another toy that has been a big hit with Kitty is this ball tower. I did end up giving the orange one to my brother when he got a kitten, and replaced it with a white one because I liked the color better. For some reason though, I think Kitty liked the orange one better. 🤷
The most fun toy we’ve bought for Kitty so far, which we only take out for very special energy burning needs, is actually not really a cat toy–it’s a garden decoration that I decided SHOULD be a cat toy. It’s solar powered (but since I use it indoors I put a battery in it) and has a little styrofoam bird with real feathers that flies around on a wire. I stick it in a pot of cat grass as a base.
I always supervise Kitty while he’s playing with this since it’s not actually intended as a cat toy, and then I put it away after the play session. He may eventually break it, but the small amount I paid for it will be worth the amount of fun we’ve already both gotten from it. And so far it hasn’t broken!
No matter how hard we’ve tried to keep Kitty happy inside the RV, after three years he hasn’t stopped desperately wanting to be outside. So we’ve tried several different ways to help him be able to do that.
Since we were going to be in the same place for several months, I bought some wildlife netting at Lowe’s and hung it from the same hooks we used for hanging our homemade vinyl skirting, completely enclosing the space under our RV. Then I staked it at the bottom using landscaping staples. We made a ramp for Kitty to climb out of a window and under the RV where he was able to play underneath the RV.
This worked for a few months, but there were some cons as well:
- Twice the netting got hit with a weed eater and had to be repaired with zip ties.
- Kitty started pooping under the RV instead of in his litter box. Not fun for under-the-RV maintenance projects.
- Eventually, Kitty figured out how to climb out over the top of the netting, and I didn’t have the energy to figure out a permanent way to solve this problem, especially since winter was coming and we would need to hang our skirting again.
I still think this concept has potential, and I would be interested to know if you try it and figure out a way to improve on it.
We tried leash training and one point and ended up giving up because it didn’t seem like it would work for Kitty, but when we moved to an RV park in Texas we decided to try it again, and that time it worked.
At first whenever we would put on his harness, Kitty would crawl around on his belly and acted like thought he couldn’t move, but I was determined to stick with it, so every day for a week or so I put it on him every time I fed him his wet food to hopefully build a positive association with it.
After a while, I decided to try taking him outside with it.
At first he would only sit at the top of the steps, and if I closed the door, he would meow until I opened the door and let him go back inside to safety.
Eventually I started carrying him out in the yard and setting him down, and at first he would immediately slink back toward the RV, but after a while he started becoming more interested in exploring.
Finally he got used to it and very much enjoyed being outside and exploring. I got a long retractable leash that I could hook to something sturdy so I could sit in a lawn chair while supervising him instead of having to follow him around the yard. I also got an elastic extender for the end of the leash so that if something startles him and causes him to bolt, it won’t jerk when he reaches the end of the leash.
Eventually, the day came when Kitty tried to escape his harness, and he was able to do so without much trouble, so I replaced his old harness with the Kitty Holster, which is much harder for him to wriggle out of.
It’s been nice to have a way to take Kitty outside for some exploration time, but I still wanted to figure out a way for him to get some fresh air on his own schedule even when I’m busy.
One of Kitty’s favorite things to do outside is to just sit inside the storage are under our RV, next to where we keep his litter box, and enjoy the sunshine, so I decided to figure out a way to create a fence or screen cover that would allow him to allow him to sit there unsupervised, since he already has access to this area via his tunnel through the stairs, and since this area can be open without affecting the temperature inside the RV.
After a few failed attempts, I was finally able to complete this project after seeing a photo on Facebook that gave me the idea of using metal screen door protectors to create panels that slide open so we can access the storage area.
Here are some additional photos demonstrating how I assembled everything. I used mounting tape to attach aluminum trim channels as a track for the panels to slide in. For the area above the step, I created a smaller panel by connecting two kitchen cooling racks with zip ties, which I then hung from adhesive hooks and attached at the bottom with cord clips. This panel is sturdy yet can be removed when we need to clean out the litter box.
Other RV Catios
A few other RV owners have come up with some wonderfully creative ways to build a “catio” that hangs from the side or back of their camper or motorhome.
This first amazing catio was built by Jacqui and Joseph of the YouTube channel RV Adventures with Pets. They made a video explaining how they built it and attached it to a window of their motorhome, which you can watch here.
Here’s another great little “catico” that I love because of how easy it is to take down for travel. The RV owners who built it wrote up a helpful document with detailed instructions and a list of materials used which you can read here.
Other RV Cat Ideas I’ve Seen
In this next section, I thought I’d share some ways I’ve seen other RV owners help their kitties enjoy being outdoors and getting fresh air.
Believe it or not, you can buy a stroller for your cat. And to be honest, I’m very tempted to buy one! But I can’t yet bring myself to push my cat around the neighborhood in a stroller…and, I’m not sure whether or not he would enjoy it or feel scared. Several RV owners I’ve met on Facebook who have cat strollers say their cats really enjoy it, though.
Aren’t these boys in their double pet stroller just the cutest? They look exactly like our kitty. 🙂
Tents & Tunnels
Another way some RV owners let their kitties spend time outside is with the use of portable cat tents and tunnels.
One product that I’ve considered myself is this system of tents and tunnels which can be used individually or zipped together to form a maze. These tents and tunnels fold up compactly for travel. In the picture below you can see a couple of RV kitties enjoying their screen tent on the beach!
Another example is the Pet Gear pet enclosure, shown in the picture below of RV owner Lisa’s cat enjoying some sunshine. This soft-sided pen has a removable top and comes in three different sizes. (You can see more of this kitty’s adventures at Instagram.com/normanribar.)
Well those are the best ideas for RVing with cats I’ve come up with and come across so far! Have you come up with a clever cat accommodation in your RV? Share a picture in the comment section!
RVing with Other Types of Pets
For more ideas and tips on RVing with pets (including some great ideas for dog kennels in RVs), check out my RVing with Pets Resource page!