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On the Road: RV’ing with your Pet

by Lexiann Grant

Do you travel with your dog ? Maybe so, but how about in a recreational vehicle (RV), such as a motorhome or camper ?

“People who like pets are going to have them whether it’s in a house or motorhome,” said Ventura, California based Ron Epstein, editorial director of Highways magazine, a publication of the Good Sam RV Club. According to Epstein, about 41% of all dog owners who head out on the roads in their RVs, take the family pet with them.

With a little preparation, your dog can become a happy camper too. Just follow the tips below to make their RV trip a safe and pleasant experience.

  • For newcomers who have not yet purchased an RV, pick a configuration that will work for you and your dog’s needs, like a low entry with fewer stairs for an older, arthritic dog.
  • If your dog isn’t used to traveling, get them accustomed to short car rides first. Next, let them become familiar with your RV. Finally, take your dog in the RV for a drive around the neighborhood, then try a one- or two-day outing before going on longer trips.
  • Take your dog to the veterinarian for a pre-trip check up. Bring all vaccinations up to date and keep heartworm preventative current. Purchase all medications which your pet needs. Ask your vet to recommend a safe and effective flea and tick preventative. If needed, get a supply of motion sickness pills. Ask for copies of your dog’s health and shot records to carry with you in case you need them while you’re away from home. Consider taking a pet first aid course. Know how to locate a veterinarian while you’re away from home.
  • Plan and organize your trip. “To make an RV trip with a dog a pleasant experience for everybody, the most important thing you can do is plan ahead. For example, find out before your arrival if pets are welcome where you want to go, and, if there’s a limit on the number you can have. Make a list of items to pack,” said 20-year veteran RVer and dog trainer Barbara Foley of Newport News, Virginia , “Walk through your plans and ask yourself, ‘what would I do if…?’. You can prevent problems if you’re prepared.”
  • Write up instructions for your dog’s care in case you become incapacitated.
  • Never transport your dog in a camper. Always place them in the tow vehicle with you.
  • Order a magnetic sign for placement on the rear exterior of your RV. Drivers who read the sign will be cautioned to maintain a safe distance from your vehicle.
  • Keep your dog confined during travel. In a motorhome, they can climb on the dashboard or crawl under the driver’s feet and cause an accident. If your RV should be involved in an accident, a loose pet could be seriously injured or even killed. Secure a crate in a safe location and place your dog in the crate. If crating is not possible, buckle your them into a pet seatbelt harness or restrict their movement to a small area away from the driver and the door.
  • While en route, stop about every three hours so that your dog can relieve themselves, stretch their legs and get a drink. A final stop before checking in at your campsite is also a good idea. Vince Drexelius, owner of the RV-Midwest Connection information and advice Internet site said, “Pets need routine opportunities to get some fresh air and exercise just like people who travel.”
  • Always keep current identification tags on your dog. Place home and temporary travel information on separate hooks on their collar. Temporary tags should contain your cell phone number, e-mail address if applicable, a local phone as well as your campsite or lot number and should be updated for every change in location. If your pet is micro-chipped or tattooed, keep a copy of the registration and related numbers in your RV when you travel. It’s a good idea to place a color photo of your pet with these papers.
  • Be careful that your dog does not escape when you open the door of your RV: block exit doors with a baby gate; keep doors locked, fasten your dog’s leash on his collar before opening door. A sign on the door can alert visitors to the presence of pets in your RV.

If your dog does get lost, immediately call the services you use for pet registration. Notify the campground office and ask other campers for assistance in locating your pet. Copy fliers with your dog’s photo and your contact numbers, and distribute them in area veterinary offices, pet supply and convenience stores. Notify the local animal shelter, police agency and obedience club. Leave a personal item, such as clothing you’ve worn which contains your scent, outdoors at your site.

  • Provide your dog a space outside of the RV. Set up an exercise pen in the shade under your awning and away from the rain. Pre-treat ground with a safe flea and tick spray, then lay down a mat or vented tarp on which you can set the pen or cage. Use another vented tarp or light-colored sheet fastened with clamps or clothes pins to provide extra shade. Place a fan where it can blow on and cool your dog in their space. In the winter, place extra mats on the ground and provide a wind-blocking tarp to keep your pet from becoming chilled. When purchasing pens, be certain that they will fold and fit into a storage area or exterior rack on your RV.
  • Provide your dog it’s own space inside the RV. Put a blanket or pillow on which your dog can sleep under the dinette, along with some of their toys. Keep their belongings where they won’t be in the way. Place your dog’s food and water bowls in the same spot each trip.
  • Carry a sufficient quantity of your dog’s usual food. Do not switch brands while traveling as this may lead to digestive distress. Store the food in non-spillable, sealable containers that will keep out bugs and humidity, and prevent spoilage. If possible, feed your dog at their regular times, using non-breakable or disposable bowls. Pick up and put away any left over food to prevent spills and keep out insects or mice.
  • Also carry water from home for your dog to drink, particularly if they are sensitive to dietary changes or if you are uncertain of the water quality where you will be traveling. (A 40-pound dog will drink about a gallon per day.) Water can be stored in plastic milk cartons that have been thoroughly washed. Furnish your dog with non-spillable, unbreakable containers such as a pet water bucket fastened to their crate with a clip or a lidded bowl that has a small hole for drinking.
  • Remember not to feed or give a large quantity of water to your dog one to two hours prior to travel time.
  • Always scoop the poop! Waste control is an important aspect to traveling with a pet. “Be courteous to others and clean up after your pet,” Drexelius said, “It’s not a pleasant job, but it’s part of responsible ownership.”

Carry sandwich bags to pick up feces. Pooper scoopers, stored in a bucket of water mixed with disinfectant, are another good way to remove your dog’s waste from their ex-pen or around your RV site. Away from your site, allow your dog to relieve himself only in designated pet walk areas.

  • Try to maintain your dog’s normal exercise or activity level. They will sleep better at night and be more relaxed travelers during the day. When you exercise your dog keep him on leash at all times. Avoid walking in areas where there may be spilled chemicals that are hazardous to your pet such as oil, anti-freeze or transmission fluid. Watch out for skunks, porcupines, snakes and other animals and protect your pet from stinging or biting insects.
  • Teach your dog traveling manners. Don’t let them run loose in campgrounds or into other people’s sites, and keep them quiet. “Be responsible, be an example,” said Foley, “Remember that you are an ambassador for people who travel with pets.”
  • Before leaving your pets alone in your RV, make certain they are safe and that campground rules permit them to be left unattended. In summer, don’t rely on the power supply or a generator to keep your air conditioning running. If an air conditioner malfunctions, temperatures in an RV quickly rise to levels that are lethal for your dog. Park in a shady spot and leave windows open enough for air to circulate. Consider installing a heat detection and alarm system. And leave a key with a willing RV neighbor. In case there is an air conditioning failure, they can open your windows and watch your pet until you return. While you’re gone, leave out safe toys with which your dog can entertain himself.

“We’ve been places where there was no spot cool enough to park our RV and safely leave our dog. We had to pass visiting those places,” said Drexelius, “But some attractions allow you to take your pet in with you or provide kennel space in an air conditioned environment while you spend the day. It’s a good idea to check ahead for this.”

  • Know when to leave your dog at home. If pets are not welcome where you plan to travel, if you’ll be attending a noisy event or be away all day on a regular basis, or even if the weather’s bad, your dog may be happier if they don’t go on the trip.
  • Take time to focus your attention on your dog. Hold them, brush them, spend some quality time each day with them. Take your dog for a hike or use the new environment to practice obedience training. Make the trip enjoyable for your them too.

Having your dog with you will require some extra work, but most people feel that it’s worth the effort in order to enjoy the companionship of their pet during an RV trip. “I went on camping vacations as a child and we always traveled with the dogs. We never considered not taking them,” said Foley, “Taking your pet in your RV is not that hard and can be fun for everyone.”