Taking cats camping is not really all that difficult. The difficulty comes primarily in letting it free roam outside. There are ways to train your cat to return to camp on call, and it can be a challenge due to a cat’s nocturnal nature. If your cat is not used to traveling in a vehicle, that too can present challenges.
How to Take Your Cat Camping
Many full time RVers and full time boondockers already keep cats as indoor pets. Because cats are easily acclimated to living indoors full time, it’s largely a non-issue for most people. Most boondockers with cats generally keep their cats inside their vehicle full time. They only let their cats outside on a leash.
But if your cat is used to free roaming outside frequently, then you have two choices…
- Convert your cat to indoor only, or
- Train your cat to return to camp.
Training Your Cat to Return to Camp
- First things, first. Cats are not so much attached to their owners as they are attached to their home. You, the owner, are simply a part of their home. Thus, when you continue to pack up camp and move to a new one every week or two, it really confuses them.
- Cans of sardines (buy small cans), or those single-serve envelopes of tuna, along with a familiar noise (or call) are a great way to lure them back home. Don’t rely on ordinary cat food to lure them back, cats will instead come back when they smell something highly irresistible. From day one, always associate the lure with the same call. Use a singing voice when calling their name, so as to associate the lure with positivity. Avoid calling them with a distressed or worried voice. Even if you cannot see your cat anywhere, they can usually still hear you.
- It’s better to let cats roam free when they are hungry. By contrast, when they have just finished eating, it may be more difficult to lure them back home.
- During the first day or two of arriving at your new camp, don’t let your cat roam free. Instead, introduce your cat to the new campsite while on leash. Walk all the way around your campsite, and walk a good distance. If your cat will not walk on leash, then carry your cat.
- Cats are nocturnal creatures. They prefer to return home late at night, sometimes in the wee-hours of the morning. Be prepared to let them back in during that time of the night.
- Use a Ring Camera to notify you when your cat has returned. You can get battery-operated versions of these cameras (see it on Amazon). Stick the camera to your car or RV and have it pointed where your main camping area is. The camera will notify you when it detects motion.
- Use a GPS collar on your cat (see it on Amazon). These collars run on battery power and usually last for about 3-4 days on a full charge. You can look on your phone to see where your cat is. These GPS collars require Internet access.
Tent Camping With a Cat
The above tips for training a cat to return to camp are the same with tent camping.
However, the main issue is where inside the tent do you put the litter box? Get a bigger tent. Push it as far away from you as possible.
Will My Cat Get Attacked by Wild Animals?
It’s very possible. Coyotes are everywhere. Hawks and eagles are everywhere too. We know of boondockers whose cats never came back. Read, “Will My Cat Be Safe When Boondocking?“
If you can accept the notion that one day your cat will never come back, then go for it. Your cat will love being able to roam and explore. But if you want to hang on to your cat for as long as possible, then you really ought to keep it inside your vehicle and take it outside only on a leash.
Cat Camping in Developed Campgrounds
For starters, practically all campgrounds require you to keep your pets leashed, or at least under control.
But if you want to buck the rules and let your cat free roam anyway, then expect other campers to lure your cat and keep it for themselves. They will have the assumption that your cat was abandoned. Also, crowded campgrounds usually means there are dogs nearby, and your cat could end up being chased away.
If you keep a tag on your cat’s collar, and that tag has your phone number on it, then expect someone to give you call and complain about not keeping your pet under control.
Use a GPS Collar to Track Your Cat
GPS collars are more often used on dogs, but are just as effective with cats. You can monitor your cat’s location on your cellphone using Google’s Satellite View. Monthly subscription fee is required with most manufacturers.
Tractive makes the most popular GPS collar (see it on Amazon). The unit uses GPS satellites to identify your cat’s position, then transmits that position to whatever cellular network is strongest in the area. That information is sent to Tractive who in turn sends it to your phone. Thus, Tractive needs a cell signal to work.
Other manufacturers work the same way, however most only connect with AT&T, whereas Tractive connects to any cellular network. Thus, Tractive has a better chance at finding your pet.
Keep that Collar Snug
A loose collar will get caught up on a branch and get your cat stuck. The cat will struggle and will eventually pull itself out of a loose collar. Thus, you now have cat wandering around with no tag or GPS.
Use a Ring Camera to Notify You When Your Cat has Returned
Ring Cameras, as well as other competitor cameras, have motion detectors in them, and will notify you when it detects movement. Thus, it can tell you when your cat has returned.
Mount the camera on your RV or car, and have it pointed at your campsite or tent. You can get battery-operated versions of these cameras (see it on Amazon).
These cameras come with an app that installs on your cellphone so that you can receive notifications, look through the camera in real time, and watch previous clips of movement it detected.
Taking a Cat on a Hike
We’ve witnessed other hikers on trails with cats. They’ve often had them on leashes. If your cat likes doing this, then great. But here’s what we’ve also witnessed…
- Keep the cat leashed or confined at all times. This is because when you are hiking, you will end up walking far enough away from camp that a cat will not remember how to find its way back home should it get lost.
- There are often dogs on these trails. Dogs will go crazy when they see a cat. If the cat is on a leash, the cat will go insane because it feels restricted by the leash.
- Cats do better on hikes when they are carried in a backpack. You can get backpacks specifically made for carrying cats and small dogs (see it on Amazon).
Best Place to Put a Cat Litter Box in an RV
The best place to put a cat litter box in an RV is inside the shower. Keeping it in the shower confines the smell to the bathroom of your RV.
- You will have to leave the bathroom door of your RV open, however.
- You will also want to place a shower mat over the shower drain to prevent cat litter from falling into the drain.
Where to Dump Old Cat Litter When Boondocking
Most cat-loving boondockers we know of will dump their used cat litter on the ground. Technically, you are not supposed to do this. It’s the same as dumping raw sewage, while the litter itself is considered “littering”.
You are supposed to dump used cat litter in a trash can or dumpster, the same as you would when dumping it at home.
If you choose to dump it on the ground while boondocking, we recommend digging a hole, and dumping it in there. Cover up the hole so that it doesn’t look bad for the next camper. Also, do not do this right along the shoreline of a lake or river. Dig and dump at least 200 feet away to minimize impact on aquatic species.
What Are the Laws and Rules for Camping with Cats?
All of the federal agencies that manage recreation lands have regulations in place addressing the issue of pets. Read our other article, “Must Dogs be Kept Leashed When Boondocking?“
The same regulation applies to cats.
Read More About Cats and Boondocking
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These tips are based on our experiences. It is my hope that they will offer reassurances in your decision to RV travel with cats, whether you're planning on RV full time cats or simply wanting to take your feline family on vacation with you.
Note: the above book is not endorsed by Boondocker's Bible, but is recommended because it provides information relevant to this article. Boondocker's Bible will earn a commission on the sale of this book to help support our goal of providing free boondocking education to the public.