Camping with Cats

Lots of folks take their dogs with them when they go camping, but taking cats along is a different story.  Dogs are much more content on a lease than cats, and if they happen to get a chance to run away you can be pretty certain they will return.  With cats you can’t  be so sure – they get scared and who knows where they might go.

We have taken our cats camping on several occasions.  Last fall we were camping in our tear drop trailer and the cats slept in the car.  This year we took the Westy and they slept inside with us.  Although they ride very well in the car, living with them inside such a small vehicle for a week turned out to be a bit more challenging that I imagined.  The biggest issue was the mess they made.  Why is it that a cat can never use the litter box without tracking the litter out when they’re done!  Someone should invent a litter that will not stick to the cats feet!  Then there was also the problem with white cat fur sticking to everything.  Our short hair gray cat, PD doesn’t shed so bad, but the part Siamese long hair cat, Foxy, sheds constantly and we found her fur on the counters, the curtains, the upholstery and of course on the carpets.  If we had been gone much longer I think we would have been forced to go to a car wash to use their vacuums to clean the interior!

So if you can get past these couple issues, camping with cats is definitely doable.  Here are some tips to help make it work for you and your cat(s).

The first thing you’ll need is a lease and harness.  We have 2 types of harnesses and believe me, the one with the 2 buckles is by far the better choice.  Both cats have managed to get out of the single buckle harness, but unfortunately, I’ve not been able to locate another 2 buckle variety.  PD is the least likely to wiggle loose, so she wears the red single buckle one, but our “wild one” Foxy is better constrained by the purple one with double buckles.

For leases we bought the 3/8 inch 5 or 6 foot variety available in any pet store and then added a carabiner to the end so we can attach it to a high line.

A high line is a piece of rope that you attach between a couple trees .  With two cats it works best if you can make 2 high lines so they don’t tangle themselves up.  We use some inexpensive 1/4″ rope and stretch it about 3-4 feet from the ground or even on the ground depending on circumstances.

You’ll want to be sure your cat tolerates the harness ok before you even try the lease.  Put the harness on the cat several days before the trip.  He or she will likely plop on the ground and not move at first.  Don’t worry, they eventually figure out they have to learn to move with this odd contraption on and will start moving around, kinda funny at first, and then after a few hours will likely get used to it to where it doesn’t bother them anymore. Once they are used to the harness, you can try the lease, but trust me, cats will never learn to walk on a lease like a dog. The lease is more of a constraining devise, or you can use it to follow your cat as he or she explores, but don’t expect the cat to follow you.  If you try to walk ahead of the cat, you might end up dragging her, so be watchful!

Ok, next you have to see how the cat reacts to the car. For that you’ll need a cat carrying container. We have two types. One is a hard plastic shell with a wire door and the other is a soft sided zippered case with a nice soft fuzzy interior. The cats seem to like the soft cases better – probably because of the fleecy lining and the fact that there is more room to stretch out inside. But we did find one problem with the soft sided cases. When the front door is unzipped, there is no support for the roof and it tends to naturally collapse a little and completely if the cats decide to walk on the top which they do when we let them loose in the car. Even so, I think I’d still opt to take the soft sided cases in the future since the cats seem more comfortable sleeping in them.

We feel pretty fortunate that our cats actually seem to enjoy riding in our vehicles. Some cats go sorta crazy, but keeping them confined in the “safe haven” of their carrier is the best way to get them used to the car. Once they get to where they ride ok, try opening the door of their carrier and let them come out on their own to explore. Our cats always come out and look around a bit, but after a while we find they’ve gone back to their carriers and settled down for a long nap. How is it that cats can sleep so much? I don’t know, but when we’re traveling, I’m glad they do!  If you do let them out of their carriers be aware of where they are in the car.  Ours are prone to jumping up on the driver’s lap with no warning which can be a bit dangerous.

Also, always know where the cats are in the vehicle before you open a door.  I don’t know if our cats would bolt and run so I just won’t take that chance.  When we’re going to be opening and closing the doors a lot, we generally lock the kitties into their carriers just to be on the safe side.  This is especially important when you’re stopping at photo stops along busy highways.  It’s not as dangerous in campgrounds, but even so – I prefer to not worry that they get lose, so when we’re unpacking or packing up the van they are either leased on their high line or inside their carriers.

Some other things to remember to bring along when you’re traveling with cats would be a litter box with litter. Make sure you use the clumping litter and don’t forget the scooper! You’ll need an adequate supply of cat food and bowls for their food and water. You might want to also include any grooming supplies and cats toys that you think you’ll need. We also bought a large dog size nylon collapsible kennel to set up outside the camper to contain the cats. Foxy does fine it that, but PD is constantly trying to dig her way out of it, so we haven’t used it too much.

I always keep their food and water bowls filled and available when we’re driving and of course, the litter box is also available at all times.  At night we pop-up the tent on the Westy and put the cat beds and their food and water up there.  The litter box goes on the floor of the front seat so it’s out of the way.

I hope these tips and ideas will be helpful as you contemplate taking your cat(s) on a camping outing.  But after all is said and done, I have a confession to make.  We had a good experience with the cats on our last trip to the Oregon coast, but after spending a week with them in our small Westy van, we don’t think we’ll be doing it again soon.  The main reason we take the cats is that we hate to ask someone to take care of them while we’re gone, but in reality, I think the cats are probably happier staying home in their comfort zone than heading out into unknown places.  We have a very nice neighbor who has helped us out in the past and in exchange we feed his cat when he’s gone, so it’s likely that the cats will stay home on the next trip.

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