Van Life with a Cat — 10 Tips & Tricks to Get Your Cat Ready!
Interested in van life with a cat and not entirely sure where to start? To prepare for your cat’s new life, below are some tips and tricks to ease into it and make sure you get started with the right paw forward:
- Harness train
Training your cat to walk or at least comply with a harness is key to avoid potential dangerous situations on the road. Start this process before you move into the van preferably. Start by putting the harness on them every day before feeding them and leaving on for ten to fifteen minutes after (slowly working up to more time each day). They will begin associating the harness with eating and the more you do it the more used to the harness they will become. After they are comfortable wearing the harness around the house introduce the leash ending with taking them on a short walk after weeks to months of training (however long your cat needs to train!). Some cats are okay with walking on their own and will come back but with a moving home it is always good to have them comfortable with being in a harness/leash.
2. Think about your cat’s safety before you start
Temperature extremes are a big factor with this lifestyle. You could be in a place that is very hot or very cold which could be dangerous for your pet.
For hot temperatures I would recommend installing one or two (depending on the size of the van) rooftop fans for ventilation and cooling. The Maxx Air fan is a good one. There are a few different types — the 10 speed one I have in my current build is linked below:
To be extra safe, although expensive, I had an air conditioner powered by my solar system in my new van along with one fan. I figured I may be in extremely hot climates and did not want to risk it. I have the Dometic RTX 2000 12V but there are other choices.
For cold temperatures I would recommend that you try to avoid them in general but if not possible, an actual heating system installation is in my opinion the best. I have a Webasto where you can set the temperature and it uses the actual gas from the gas tank to power (about one gallon used per every 22 hours depending on the temperature set). You can use other more basic heating systems, but I have not had any experience with them. I would be wary and not leave these on when you are not in the van.
3. Introduce your cat to their new space BEFORE you move in
Unlike dogs, cats have a longer adjustment period when they are introduced to space for the first time. Begin by showing them their new surroundings (your vehicle) and not driving (yet). I would suggest at least three to four days as being a good amount of time before actually driving. My cat took about a week to adjust to driving. Additionally, making the van look as much like a home is also very helpful.
4. Clear out a spot in the van just for them; where they can hide, relax, hangout, and sleep
This is very important for the longevity of having your cat with you on the road. They should have a location in your van that is just for them, where they feel safe. Mine is a cubby underneath my bed area where I put their bed and toys. He can feel safe in it since it is low to the ground, and he does not bounce around too much while I drive.
5. Drive your cat around in your van in small increments at first
If possible, begin easing your cat into driving long distances for obvious reasons. They are not going to understand what is happening at first and may not have eaten or gone to the bathroom yet. It is always good to stop to give them extra food and/or let them use their litter box. I have a hidden litter box and a pull-out food and water drawer that I can pull out and put back in when I start driving again.
6. Get a tracker for them
If your cat does manage to get out of the van it is always good to have a tracker on them along with a collar with at least your phone number. I listed a few options of ones that are popular although I have not found one that I 100% love yet. These are not the only options, there are so many on the market.
- Tile: this is a Bluetooth device that is used to find lost items (it was not made for cat tracking specifically). Its range is 200ft (mate version) or 400 feet (pro version). I have seen a lot of people online using these for their cats and they seem to work okay although they seem a bit bulky on a cat’s collar in my opinion. This is one of the least expensive options.
- Apple air tag: this also runs off Bluetooth and is also not specifically made for cats. When it is in BT range, the range is about 30 feet, but the tag increases its range using other I phones in range to ping off the air tag and notify you via find my network in lost mode. Rather than putting it on a keychain on your cat’s collar, I would suggest putting it inside a collar made specifically for it to distribute the weight better. There are many companies that make these air tag holders for collars.
- Jiobit tracker: this is a Bluetooth tracker that the company boasts as being very light weight. They even note on the website that it is light weight enough for cats. There is a fee for the tracker as well as a monthly subscription fee, but the tracking seems to be top notch with its tracking capabilities.
- As mentioned, there are so many other options, but I decided not to list these as I felt they were too bulky, too expensive, or required a high-cost monthly membership or regular charging. I’ll let you do your own research (every cat has different needs), but a lot of people use the tile or the air tag, just be wary of the range/distance they work with.
7. Make sure your cat gets adequate exercise each day
In general, a cat should get about thirty or so minutes each day of physical activity. It stimulates them mentally, keeps them at a healthy weight, and improves their mood. In a small space it may be difficult for them to get enough exercise. Using the harness to take them on walks or let them explore on their own may be an option but if they are strictly an indoor cat, I would make sure the van is big enough for them to play/chase toys.
8. Consider the litter box
All cat owners know that litter boxes tend to get dirty quickly and need to be changed regularly. This is even more true in a van. I recommend putting the litter box in an easy to access area of the van (you will thank me later) where the cat still feels as thought they have privacy. Mine is right when you walk into the van underneath the bench seating. I put a cloth door on it, so it is easy for him to go in and out while still being able to do his ‘business’ discretely. Pine pellets will be easier to clean than clay and less of a mess overall although sweeping your van frequently is going to be required no matter what (it gets dirty quickly)!
I personally use four different strategies to control smell:
- Scooping the litter every day
2. Putting charcoal odor eliminating bags near the litter box
3. Sprinkling Arm and Hammer odor eliminator over the litter
4. Installing a cat litter deodorizer (USB charged) in the litter box bench
9. Add scratching post features for both you and your cat’s sanity
Cats instinctually scratch things to keep their claws sharp, to stretch/exercise, and to mark their territory. Once they find a spot that they like to scratch they are likely to return to it. For that reason, it is best to put a scratching post for them in your van before they takeover something else. I installed a cactus shaped scratching post to the side of one of my cabinets for my cat to use. He did not want to use it at first but after putting catnip spray and actual catnip on it he eventually decided it would be a good place to stretch and scratch.
10. Accept that you will most likely lose out on a lot of space in your van due to your cat and their needs
This is something I had not originally considered. I have lost about three cabinets worth of space due to the litter box, extra litter, food, treats, toys, and my cat’s unique cubby hole/hangout spot that is a spot only for him. If you are okay with having a little less space for necessities, you should be good.
Overall, a question you must ask yourself when considering van life with a cat is not whether you can do it, it is really whether you want to! Most cats should be able to adjust if you have the time and patience for it. I could not imagine my life without my cat and having him along for the adventure gives us more quality time together and him a chance to explore places he would never have been able see!