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Traveling With Pets

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

It’s been said that RVing is not so much a nationwide pastime as it is a national passion. This makes sense in a society that was largely built on the fortitude and success of spirited explorers and adventure-seeking pioneers. Americans have been RVing now for more than half a century and it’s still all about exploring and adventure seeking. After all, with an RV, you don’t need reservations, a tour guide, or even a destination. All you need is a sense of adventure, a reliable map and a good dog. At least that’s what John Steinbeck thought in 1960 when he took a three-month road trip across America with his poodle, Charley. In his now-famous Travels with Charley, Steinbeck described the 10,000-mile journey he made in his custom-built truck camper. Although Charley certainly wasn’t the first dog to go RVing, he’s probably the most famous.

Since then, lots of pets have made their way across the nation in an RV. According to a recent survey MotorHome conducted among its readers, 44.3 percent traveled with their dogs, and 13.6 percent with their cats. If Charley were still on the road today, he would have plenty of company.

Dogs in particular make ideal travel companions. Besides providing protection and good company, dogs encourage us to pursue healthy activities, like hiking and exploring. In addition, with so many dog-owning RVers on the road, dogs are a terrific way to meet people.

Designed specifically for RVers with pets, the following tips will help you to have a safe and enjoyable trip.

1. Call the campground before you arrive

Even if a campground states (in an ad or a directory) that it is pet friendly, always call ahead to make sure they will actually accept your dog(s). I have occasionally arrived at a supposedly pet-friendly RV park with my two German shepherd dogs only to find that “pet friendly” meant only accepting dogs that weighed less than 20 pounds. Similarly, some campgrounds prohibit specific breeds while others tag on excessive fees for families that travel with a dog. RV parks that are genuinely pet friendly tend to have reasonable pet policies. Some even have special provisions for dogs, including fenced-in play areas, pet-friendly hiking trails, family dog shows and more.

2. Come prepared

Before your next RV trip, have your pet examined by a vet to make sure it’s in good health. Above all, make sure its rabies vaccinations are up-to-date and well-documented. Some campgrounds may even request a copy of your dog’s vaccination records so make a few extra copies and bring them along. If you plan to visit Mexico, have your vet fill out a health certificate. Make sure your dog’s tick and flea treatments are up-to-date and have your dog checked and treated for heartworm. If your pet is taking prescribed medications or is on a specialized diet, be sure to bring plenty of each just in case your trip home is delayed. For extended stays, be sure to get written prescriptions for all your pet’s medications. That way, you’ll be able to get them filled while on the road. Other than that, bring plenty of their regular food, some toys and a comfortable bed for them to sleep on.

3. Anticipate problems on the road

Then it comes to RVing, your pet is as dependent on good planning as you are. For starters, make sure that you have an emergency road service policy (for example, Good Sam RV Emergency Road Service). Getting stuck in the breakdown lane of a busy highway isn’t nearly as stressful when help is on the way. On that note, devise a backup plan for your pet if your RV has to be taken in for repairs. For example, dog-show professionals typically travel with large groups of expensive dogs that are kept in cages. Because RVs are their preferred mode of transportation, they have to be prepared for problems on the road. If their RV breaks down, they will have a rental truck delivered to their current location. They can count on this option because they have already contacted the truck rental companies that serve the area they are traveling in. Make sure you have enough fire extinguishers and take the time to perform a fire drill before you leave. In the event of a real fire, you won’t have the time to look for a leash or figure out what to do with your dog. Likewise, determine your plan of action if your pet gets hurt or becomes seriously ill while on the road. If you can, prepare a list of emergency-care facilities in the area, or travel with a ready-made directory such as the Pet E.R. Guide (see sidebar). Organized state-by-state, city-by-city, a directory such as this one ensures that you always have the information you need on hand should you be faced with a crisis.

4. Make sure your pet can’t get lost

No one ever expects their pet to get lost, but every year thousands of RVers suffer the anguish of losing a dog or cat when they are away from home. The trick is to be prepared. Make sure your pet’s collar fits snugly and has an ID tag that includes its name, your phone number and the name of your vet. Some owners also add an e-mail address. In addition, find a vet who will microchip your pet. If someone finds your pet and takes it to a vet, the chip will enable the vet to contact you. In any case, always bring a photo or a cell-phone picture of your pet in case you need to put up “Lost Dog” or “Lost Cat” posters. Also, have a picture of you and your pet handy so you can prove the animal belongs to you if it is lost and found. Don’t leave the screen door open – a curious cat or determined dog can slip out before you’re aware it’s gone. Last, if you want to make sure that your dog never gets lost, put its leash on while it’s still inside your motorhome. Then, whenever your dog is outside, never let it off its leash.

5. Take full responsibility for your pet

The biggest complaint about dogs at campgrounds has nothing to do with their bark, their bite or their behavior. If you pick up after your dog and keep it on a leash, you won’t give people much to grumble about. In addition, experienced dog-owning RVers use a variety of techniques to remain good neighbors. For example, if your dog behaves aggressively toward other dogs, walk it in an area that’s away from others or take it out at odd hours when other RVers aren’t around. If your dog barks a lot, take it with you whenever you leave the campground. Also, when you arrive, ask if there are any sites that are relatively isolated. Life with a dog is easier with a little breathing room. If you leave your pet alone at a campground, there could be a problem if something were to happen to you while you were away. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to protect your furry friends in this scenario. Simply fill out two identical index cards with the following information: your name; cell phone number; campground location and site number; the type, number of and names of your pets along with any special care they require; and the campground contact information. Place one card in your wallet (or purse) and another in your RV, where someone can easily find it. Also, place a clearly visible sign on the door of your motorhome that lists all the animals that are inside. You can also purchase a ready-made “pet emergency info kit” (see sidebar) to make this even easier for you.

6. Keep your pets comfortable

Every year, hundreds of dogs inadvertently suffer and die when they are left alone in a vehicle that becomes overheated in warm weather. If you’re staying in an area that becomes warm, be careful when leaving your animals alone in your motorhome. Air conditioners occasionally stop working and campground power outages sometimes occur. When this happens, your RV’s interior may become too warm for your pet. To minimize this possibility, install thermostatically controlled roof fans that automatically operate when the internal temperature of your coach reaches a certain level. Likewise, always leave a few windows open in case of a power failure or a gas leak. Remember to leave some extra drinking water for your pets and use window shades and awnings to keep your coach as cool as possible. Finally, if possible, leave a key with the campground manager. If there’s a power failure, they’ll be able to open up your coach and take your dog out for some fresh air. If your dog is disabled, make it easier for your pet to enter and exit your RV by building a portable ramp that can be placed over your motorhome’s steps.

7. Learn about your camping environment

If you plan to RV in a location that is fundamentally different from your usual environment, research the area and be prepared. For example, if you plan on staying in the desert, bring a pair of pliers and a comb on all your hikes. They will become indispensable for removing pieces of prickly cactus from your dog’s paws. Also, talk to a ranger. They’ll tell you some of the tricks that coyotes use to “engage” your dog. Likewise, if you plan on staying along the southern New England coastline, learn how to deal with ticks. These small but insidious creatures can transmit Lyme disease to you and your dog. If you’ll be staying in bear country, bring pepper spray and learn how to avoid bears. Never let your dog engage or antagonize a bear. If you’re staying near a wooded area, never let your dog off its leash. Dogs regularly get lost when they chase a deer too far into the woods and then can’t find their way back to the campsite. Likewise, at dawn and dusk, be sure to keep your dog’s leash very short. This is the time that skunks dig for grubs and other treats. As a result, they are out in full force. If your dog does get sprayed by a skunk, he’ll be sleeping outdoors for a long time. In many cases, the campground owner should be able to fill you in on some of the local risks.

8. Learn some basic first aid

If a medical emergency occurs at home, you simply drive to your local vet. But if this same situation were to occur along a backroad in a strange town, it could be a different story. Although there are ways to get help while on the road, it always takes longer than you think. In the meantime, your ability to provide competent first aid could save your pet’s life. Your best bet is to first purchase a basic manual. Don’t waste your money on a comprehensive book – you won’t have the time to read it during a real emergency. The manual will also tell you how to create a decent first-aid kit. Don’t bother with ready-to-use pet first-aid kits – they tend to be filled with frivolous items and often lack the essentials. In a true emergency, the most valuable piece of information is the phone number of the nearest 24-hour emergency animal hospital.

9. Involve your dog in everything you do

Dogs like to explore new areas more than anything else. They also love the outdoors. As a result, your dog may enjoy RVing more than you do. So if you really want them to have a good time, include them in all of your activities. Take them on hikes. Let them frolic in the water. Throw a ball. Set up an obstacle course. Grill them up a hamburger. If you take the time to involve your dog in all the things you do, they’ll probably help you pack the next time you decide to go camping.  

Dogs really are man’s best friend. RVing and camping with your dog is a precious experience that will ultimately become one of your fondest memories. So the next time you’re sitting around a campfire under the stars with your family, your friends and your dog, take the time to appreciate the moment. After all, this is RVing at its best.


FIDO’S 4-1-1

One way to ease your mind while traveling with a pet is to carry a kit such as the RoadDog Pet Emergency Traveler Kit. The kit includes:

  • a supply of pet information cards for keeping emergency information current
  • a hang tag for your rig door with a spot to insert your emergency card in
  • a “Pet Inside” hang sign for your RV’s window that easily allows you to alert others of your pet’s presence should a crisis arise.
  •  The kit retails for $6.95 and is available from TedSaid Inc., (888) Ted-Said.


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