Van Life With a Cat – Is It Doable?
Short answer: Yes! It is totally doable, but there are some things you can do to make it easier on both you and your cat.
There are, of course, some challenges to van life with a cat. Firstly, what if your cat just doesn’t like vans? Some cats are not van cats. What if your lifestyle doesn’t suit having a cat in your van? If you’ll be away from your van for long periods without the option to take your little critter with you, it’s probably best not to have a cat in your van.
No matter how much you want your cat to come with you, you’ll need to be honest with yourself about your cats happiness and wellbeing. You need to be willing and able to accommodate them at your expense. It’s not like having a cat in an apartment where you can up and leave to go party with your friends knowing your cat is happy as larry chilling at home.
Preparing Your Cat For Van Life
Before you even consider taking your cat on the road with you you’ll need to figure out how they’ll be in the van. The best way to do this is to take it as slow as possible. Start sitting in the van with them with the engine off. Then when they’re comfortable like this, sit in there with the engine running, then drive around the block, then drive around the neighborhood and gradually increase the distance and speed you’re going until your at freeway speed (making sure your cat is comfortable after each stage first).
It might take a week, or it might take 3 months! You just need to be patient with them and give them lots of encouragement and treats while you’re in the van. They need to see it as an awesome place to be.
This is pretty much an essential if you’re taking your cat on the road. Cats like their creature comforts and don’t feel as comfortable as humans or dogs in new territory, so there is a greater risk of them getting spooked and running away in a foreign place.
Getting them microchipped means they could get lost in any state and if someone finds them and takes them to a vets, you can be reunited with your furbaby. If you’re not convinced already, go and watch those videos of cats getting reunited with their owners after being lost and tell us you didn’t tear up.
You also might want to consider attaching a pet tracker if you’ve got a little Houdini in the van. You might think this is overkill if you already have your cat chipped but microchipping doesn’t actually help find your cat if it’s lost, it only helps reunite you if someone finds them.
Nowadays there are trackers available that can pinpoint the live movements of your pet, check on their fitness/health and even give you a recent history of where they’ve been roaming. You can get trackers that work with GPS, bluetooth or radio signals; some are waterproof or have lights to protect them at night.
RAWR has a particularly high-tech tracker that’ll check your pets resting heart rate, resting respiratory rate and sleep patterns. They’ll alert you if there’s anything out of the ordinary so you can act fast. But there are plenty of options out there for all kinds of budgets and needs.
Harness and Leash Training
One of the most difficult parts of getting your cat ready for van life will be harness and leash training. Unless you have a huge RV, there’s probably not going to be enough space inside your van for your cat to get enough exercise, so you’ll want to take them out with you on a leash.
Let’s start with the harness. While you’re home start by putting only the harness on them, give them tons of love and treats and let them just roam around the house until they’re comfortable.
This is also the time to try out a few harnesses to see which one has the best fit and is the most comfortable for your cat. If you’ve ever tried to catch your cat, then you’ll know that they turn into liquid when they want to escape and so a properly fitted harness is essential.
Once they’re comfortable with the harness, now it’s time for the leash. This really just requires patience (and the obligatory treats, of course) on your part. Take it at their pace and make it as fun as you can for them so they see the leash as a positive thing.
When they’re harness and leash trained you can take them out with you on walks or adventures or just have them on a long leash attached to the van when you want to chill with the doors open.
Install Screens on Windows and Doors
Now, you probably don’t want to have to have your cat on a harness and leash every time you think about opening a window or door. What if you want to have your morning coffee whilst looking out the back doors at that beautiful mountainous view? Or you want to crack a window and feel that ocean breeze but your worried Dave (that’s the imaginary cat’s name in this scenario) will bolt it as soon as it’s cracked wide enough?
This is when screens are your best friend. They’re not too expensive and they’ll save you so much worry. Not to mention they’ll double up as bug screens too! Take that, Dave.
Most pets like to have their own safe space, even in a house. It’s a good idea to set one up in the van so if they’re feeling scared or anxious they have somewhere to go where they’ll feel a little safer. It doesn’t have to be a custom-made, super fancy boudoir, even just a cat crate with a blanket draped over it would be appreciated by most cats.
There’s also a soothing spray you can buy that’s supposed to help them relax when they’re anxious OR bring along their favorite blanket and toy so they feel more at home already.
Training Them Not to Climb on the Dash, Steering Wheel or Pedals
Speaking of safety, you should take some time to make sure your cats know that the dash in front of you, wheel and pedals are no-go areas. This could really cause a serious accident and there are plenty of other spaces in the van for your cat to sit while you’re driving. A simple solution is to keep a water spray bottle next to you and give your cat a little squirt every time they go in the “no-go areas”.
Of course, if you’re having your cat with you in the van then you’ll be putting a litter box somewhere too. There really is no nice way to say this…cat shit stinks! You might already use a litter box in your house with your cat and think it doesn’t smell too bad. Well, my friend, you have not had this litter box in a 10 x 5’ confined van. It really is…eye-watering.
There are things you can do to help reduce the smell. Firstly, change the litter EVERY day. Maybe even a couple of times a day would be better. To make dumping the litter easier, use a biodegradable litter and you can use the good old fashioned “bury it” method!
I would suggest placing the litter box near the back doors if possible. It keeps it as far away from you as possible and also makes it easier to sweep out litter that’s been pushed out. You could also get a litter tray with a lid to keep it as tidy as possible. Some cool litter trays also have fans and vents to reduce the stench. Don’t worry, there are ways to work around a van smelling of cat poop constantly!
Get Them Used to Van Life – Test Run
Okay, you’ve planned and you’ve strategized (mainly about poop smell) and you’re ready to start your awesome new nomadic lifestyle with the one and only Mr. Dave (sometimes he’s Mr. when he’s feeling fancy).
It is always good advice to go out on a test run or two before you start your full-time journey. It’s a great time for you to check how the van works for you and iron out any kinks and you can see how well all your training has gone with your little fluff ball. Take a couple of days or a long weekend and get away somewhere close to home.
Take it nice and slow with your cat, letting them get used to each new smell and sensation. Lots of treats of course and just try not to have too many expectations. It’s the first trip out and it will take your cat some time to adjust to this new life.
How Can I Keep My Cat Safe From the Weather?
This is a real concern when keeping your pet in your van. As you know, they can get extremely hot and extremely cold if you’re not careful and prepared. Don’t worry; there’s some simple solutions to keeping your cat safe in both the summer and winter months.
You should definitely get a thermostat for your van; some have apps that you can download so they’ll alert you if it gets to a certain temperature.
How to keep your van cool in the summer:
• Vent Fan(s): Installing a vent fan is the most effective way to keep your van cool in the summer. On longer vans, you can install one at the front and one at the back, set one to draw air in and one to push air out and you’ve got yourself a nice cool wind tunnel
• Reflective Sunshades: This is a simple and cheap solution. They probably won’t be enough on their own, unless it’s not too hot outside and you’re parked in the shade. You can get some shades that reduce the temp of your van by up to 10 degrees! You can also DIY this too to save a few bucks.
• Shade, Shade, Shade: Shade is your new best friend, okay?
• Plan Your Route: Sometimes you might notice the town you were going to visit is 100°, but there’s an equally cool looking mountain route that’s nice and cool…go for the mountains.
• Water: Make sure your cat has enough water, always.
How to keep your van toasty in the winter:
• Insulation: When you’re building your van, you don’t want to skimp on the insulation stage, especially if you’re planning on traveling through colder climates.
• Heater: There are lots of little campervan heaters out there now. Some run on your car battery and others use 12v or 110v electricity.
• Electric Blanket or Heat Pad: This will be your cat’s new best friend during those cold winter months. Word of warning, they probably won’t share.
• Hand Warmer Pads: You know those things we usually put in our gloves? Well, try sticking them under her bed or blanket for extra cozy toes (cats have toes, right?)
The reflective window shades you use in the summer will also be equally as helpful in the winter to keep the heat in rather than out. The same goes for planning your route. Try to stick to warmer areas during winter.
Last Minute Checklist:
So, you think you’re ready? Here’s a quick checklist to see if you’ve got all your bases covered:
• Does your cat have their own “safe space” in your van?
• Has your cat been harness and leash trained?
• Are they comfortable driving around in the van with you?
• Is your van insulated against the heat and the cold?
• Has your cat been microchipped and do they have a tracker?
• Is your cat’s litter box appropriately stink-proofed?
• Did your cat get a vet check-up with all the appropriate vaccines?
If you’re answer to all of these is “hell yes” then, congratulations! You’re good to go and set off on an epic adventure with the coolest ever co-pilot.
Pros and Cons of Traveling With a Cat
We’ve covered what you need to do to make your cat comfortable and safe in your van, but is it the right choice for you? What are some of the pros and cons of traveling with a cat?
• You don’t need to miss them, they’re right there!
• You won’t feel as lonely (especially as a solo van lifer)
• They make great company
• They can be awesome adventure buddies
• You can’t be as spontaneous
• There’s the possibility of them getting lost
• You’ll have to pay for a sitter if you need to leave for a few days or go somewhere they can’t go
• Cat poop smells…real bad
I think the enjoyment of traveling with your cat in a van really depends entirely on your cat and how much they enjoy the van and traveling. If they love discovering new places and being on the road and in the van as much as you, then I say go for it!