Is it possible to do van life with a cat?
Maya, our now van life cat, was just a 2-month old street kitten when we first found her wandering a shipyard in Guatemala. We thought about adopting her and bringing her into our camper van, but we were unsure about traveling with a cat. Cats were household creatures, we assumed, and not adventurous and curious of the outside world like dogs.
After days of discussion, we ended up adopting Maya and has happily been traveling with us all throughout our Latin American journey. Though we were concerned initially about what her life on the road would be like, Maya has turned into the perfect van life cat companion.
What we’ve learned in our 3+ years with our cat is that although some adjustments and considerations are required, your cat will eventually learn to adapt to your on-the-go lifestyle.
In this post we share practical tips and hacks for living in a van with a cat. These are suggestions that we’ve learned over the last three years of camper van living and hope it convinces you to bring your furry companion with you.
1. Slowly Introduce A Camper Van To Your Cat
Cats are territorial creatures and feel comfortable in places where they can smell familiar scents. And so if your cat has been a house cat for most of its life, it may be overwhelming for your pet to be in your camper for the first time.
Here are a couple tips to help introduce your camper van to your feline friend so that they can become acquainted with van life.
Let Your Cat Roam Freely In Your Camper Without Driving
Make your cat comfortable during van trips by gradually introducing them to the new environment.
First, park the van outside your home and let your cat explore inside. If your cat is nervous at first, you should start with shorter trial periods and gradually increase their freedom over time.
In Guatemala, when we first adopted Maya, we parked our camper van for two weeks without moving. During this time, she was able to freely leave and enter our van, which really helped Maya to feel at home in our camper.
How To Make Your Cat Feel Comfortable While Driving
To reduce stress in your cat while traveling, it’s important to get them used to being in a moving vehicle.
Start by taking short van trips and then gradually make them longer. This could initially be going to the grocery store or just to a nearby gas station. Doing this not only helps your cat get accustomed to traveling in a van but also helps the cat to NOT associate moving vehicles with necessarily going to the vet, which can be stressful for them!
Also, give your cat treats and extra love while driving to make them feel more comfortable. You can also help your cat feel safe by putting familiar things in a carrier or seat.
Our cat, Maya, likes to rest between the front seats, so we put her favorite blanket there to make her feel more cozy.
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2. Create Hang Out Spaces For Your Cat
Monitor your cat and see where he or she feels safe and likes to hang out when inside your camper van. Cats are intelligent creatures and know the best spots to sleep and chill. Once you have an idea of where your cat likes to be, you can establish the place by bringing his or her favorite bed and blanket, and placing their favorite toys around it.
In our case, Maya loves to relax and nap on the front dashboard. She loves the big window where she can look outside and knows that nobody can get to her.
Also Read: 10 Tips To Keep Your Cat Happy In Van Life
3. Where To Put A Litter Box
We understand that interior space in a camper van is limited. But as much as feasibly possible, try to choose a location that is both convenient and hygienic.
Ideally, place the litter box away from food and water bowls. And if you can fit it, consider using a covered litter box to contain any odors.
In our van, we didn’t have space of a large covered box, so we removed the front of our bottom drawer and placed an open litter box inside. Since the box is in a semi-hidden and enclosed space, Maya is able to do her business comfortably with (some) privacy.
Also Read: RV Cat Litter Box – Storage Ideas & Tips
4. Variety of Toys & Scratch pads
To keep cats happy and healthy during your camper van travels, it is important to provide diverse toys that stimulate their bodies and minds during the many hours they will spend confined inside a vehicle.
Toys can stimulate a cat’s natural instincts, encourage exercise, and provide mental stimulation. And having a variety of toys also prevents boredom, as cats can quickly lose interest in a toy that they’ve played with for too long. Different types of toys, such as interactive ones, puzzle toys, and toys that mimic prey, spark different responses and behaviors from cats, keeping them engaged and interested in playtime.
It is also a good idea to keep scratch pads in your van to prevent your cat from scratching your furniture. Scratch pads also help keep their claws healthy by removing old layers. This can stop them from getting painful nails.
5. Temperature Control For Van Interior
Keeping a cat cool in a camper van during the hot summer months is one of the biggest challenges for pet owners.
Though cats are generally better than dogs at dealing with larger temperature swings, if your van is parked in severe temperatures, there’s always a limit to what your cat can handle. That’s why we always put up window shades, turn on our vent fan, and place lots of water in Maya’s bowl.
And during the cold winter months, we set a minimum temperature on our diesel heater’s thermostat so that the heater turns on if the internal van temperature falls below the set limit.
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6. Harness & Leash Training
It would be a shame to do van life but to never let your cat see the outside world! Training your cat to walk on a leash allows them to safely explore the outside world and experience new sights, sounds, and smells beyond their familiar environment.
It also gives them the opportunity to exercise, which is important for their physical and mental health. Leash walking can reduce boredom and stress in indoor cats and increase bonding time between owner and feline. As with any new activity, it’s important to start slowly and gradually build up the cat’s comfort level with the leash and outside environment.
7. Name Tag & Trackers
Name tags and trackers allow for quick and easy identification of cats that may become lost, which is critical in returning the a cat to its proper home.
Trackers can provide a real-time location of the animal, which significantly increases the chances of finding the lost pet. If cats are allowed to roam freely outside then there is always a chance that they get lost. And the use of name tags and trackers can help to ensure their safety.
Below are just a few popular trackers available for cats.
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8. Manage A Routine For Your Cat
Even though van life requires you to be constantly traveling and moving, it’s important to take control of your cat’s routine, just like at home. You decide your cat’s meal time, outdoor time, and sleep time.
If you don’t, they’ll decide for you!
Keep Your Cat Active During The Day
Cats are night creatures and that’s when they’re usually the most active.
I often see house cats taking long naps during the day only to get ready for their midnight adventure once the sun sets. And in a limited space, like a camper van, this could be a nightmare while you’re sleeping.
For you to have a good nights sleep during your van travels with a cat, it’s crucial to keep your cat active during the daytime. Play time with a variety of toys, setting up scratching posts, or go on a walk on leash outside, for example. By keeping your cat engaged during the day, you’ll have a more peaceful night’s sleep for both you and your furry friend.
Do Not Free Feed Your Cat
Although it may seem convenient to leave food out all day, free feeding your cat can cause obesity and numerous health issues. Instead, monitor their food intake by setting specific meal times and portion sizes. Not only will this ensure that they are receiving the appropriate nutrients, but it will also prevent picky eating habits.
Additionally, cats have an excellent internal clock, so setting a regular mealtime helps your cat come home from outside when they’re hungry. By providing your cat with a healthy diet and routine, you can help them maintain a healthy weight and live a long and happy life.
9. Proper Vaccinations & Medications
This almost goes without saying, but make sure your cat is up-to-date on its vaccines. This helps to keep your cat safe from diseases they may pick up from other cats and animals they meet along their journey.
Additionally, flea & tick medication is a must have item for adventure cats! Make sure to consult with your vet and set a reminder on your calendar for putting your cat a flea medication. Not only do you not want fleas on your precious feline, but you also don’t want them bringing these little critters back into your bed.
Micro-chipping is important because it can help reunite lost or stolen cats with their owners. If a cat is found and brought to a shelter or veterinarian, the staff can scan the microchip to identify the owner and quickly return the cat to its rightful home.
Also, make sure to complete a microchip registration. It ensures that the owner’s contact information is linked to the chip number, allowing for instant access to identification when the pet is found.
11. Spay / Neuter Your Cat
Taking care of our pet cats is not just about providing them with food and shelter. It is a responsibility that goes beyond that. By taking the decision to spay or neuter your cat, you are not only reducing the number of homeless cats but also actively contributing to their health and happiness. It can prevent certain cancers and behavior problems like spraying or being aggressive. Cats who are spayed/neutered tend to live longer and better lives.
Besides eliminating the possibility of unwanted pregnancies, spaying (female) or neutering (male) you cat helps to keep your cat safe by preventing them from straying too far away from your camper at night looking for ‘action’.
Spaying Maya has been one of the best decisions we’ve made with her because she now has ZERO interest when a male cat approaches her. And she never goes off looking for males either.
Pros & Cons About Van Life With A Cat - From Our Experience
She is usually the reason to start a conversation with people we met. Everyone loves cat, and even with “no pet allowed” signs, often time she gets exceptions.
She has been a great van life companion, and even in the tough times she always makes us smile.
Smelling new scants, climbing trees and chasing after butterflies….As long as she has her home on wheels nearby, she loves exploring new places and she is never bored! She gets a lot more excise than she stays indoors, she sleeps better at night too!
Cat litter sand and her hair can be all over the place if we procrastinate about cleaning. Van life with her encourages us to clean our van daily.
We had to give up some of our space and storage for cat litter & sand, food, toys and so on. Maya has A LOT of toys ( can’t stop spoiling our girl) and sometimes we have a hard time finding extra storage.
Everytime we cross a different border she needs to go to the vet to get a health certificate. The costs can vary ( at least not so expensive in Latin America) but some countries require export certificates which adds another extra costs. Traveling to Europe & USA requires anti rabies blood test that can take some time ( About 4 months preparation) and higher costs.
Sadly you have to be ready to skip some national parks, hotels, airbnbs where pets are not allowed. You will need a bit of planning ahead, and oftentimes it is hard to be spontaneous.
There are so many factors that can harm outdoor cats. The more outside the cat is, the higher the chances of getting hit by a car, scratched or bitten by other cats, dogs, and other predators. Even with an extra caution, sometimes things happen and there is nothing we can do. For us, this is the hardest thing to accept about van life with a cat.
Our Cat Maya's Story
Maya, a tiny little kitten, was a fighter. She was alone and hungry, yet she persisted and never gave up. When we met her at a marina in Guatemala, we couldn’t help but feel a connection to her. Even though we had said goodbye to many pups and kittens before, Maya had a different kind of spirit; she wouldn’t leave us alone. So, after careful consideration, we decided to adopt her and named her ‘Maya.’ (Named after mayan civilization of ancient Guatemala)
It’s been almost 3 years, and Maya has traveled to 15 countries with her humans. She has grown up to be a healthy, sassy queen that brings joy and love wherever she goes. Maya’s story is proof that we can all persist and overcome difficult situations in life. She was alone, hungry, and facing an uncertain future, but she didn’t give up. Instead, she fought and found a family that loves and cherishes her. So, whenever life gets tough, remember Maya’s story and keep pushing forward. Who knows what joys and adventures are awaiting us!
Final Thoughts About Van Life With A Cat
Van life is indeed the best way to travel with your furry friends. While cats tend to be more sensitive with environment changes than dogs, having a home on wheels – safe, familiar space everywhere they go is a perfect solution.
We had no idea what to do at first when we adopted Maya, she is unpredictable sometimes as she grows up and everyday is a learning process even now.
One thing we can say is that it is definitely doable to travel with a cat in a campervan and knowing how much joy and laughers she could brings into our tiny home, we would not make different decision about adopting her.