I keep a list of post ideas. And because traveling with pets comes with unique challenges, today’s topic is one that has been on the list since I started RV life. In December, I became intensely pet-focused when Solstice went from her happy-go-lucky Lab self to standing at death’s door in a six week period. It was a terrible six weeks. In January, it’s not an exaggeration to say, I was certain she would be gone before March.
But, after a second opinion and a different diagnosis with different medicines, the light in her eyes returned and slowly she made her way back to me and to her old self. Anyway, since this experience continues to be in the forefront of my mind (because I am still hypervigilant, watching for symptoms), I decided it was time to dust off the idea and share some of what I’ve figured out on the road.
It’s no surprise that the biggest overarching challenge is simply the never-ending newness of continuous travel. And the challenge applies to much more than pets. In fact, it pretty much applies to all aspects of RV life, even something as basic as grocery shopping.
What this means for pets is you don’t have an established relationship with a vet or a vet clinic. Plus, from town to town, you don’t know if you’ll find their brand of food or a nice place for a walk. You don’t know what in the new environment might harm your pet, from predictors to poisons.
In other words, traveling with pets is work.
No question, veterinary care is the most important on the list. In a pinch, you could feed your pet another brand of food, even human food. But if your pets gets sick, you want to feel confident you have resources for getting them well again.
Unfortunately, there is no magic answer here. You simply educate yourself and do the best you can. When I get to a new town, I try to make a mental note of the location of the vet hospital in case there is a real emergency. But of course, in this electronic age, your phone will get you to one easily.
If I need a vet appointment, just like with RV parks, I look at online reviews to find one. A personal recommendation from a local is even better. You can also put the question out on social media, but as a traveler this can be a shot in the dark because the majority of your “friends” will likely be from communities where you lived previously So you might not have any social media friends in the area where you are staying. But it’s worth a try.
After that, you just hope the recommendations and reviews are accurate. When I was in Oregon (when all the bad stuff started with Solstice), both vet clinics in the closest town had good reviews. I felt good about seeing either. Then, neither had an opening for three weeks. So I started over expanding my search grid. I ended up in a much larger town an hour away. And, honestly, I ended up there because they were the only one I could find with a same day appointment. Sometimes, that is the best you can do.
Your Pet’s Records
Before I left for RV life, each pet had a folder where I kept all their medical-related information. But during the downsizing process, I scanned everything and tossed the files. This proves helpful when your previous vet offices cannot get records to the new vet as quick as you might need. Plus, without a reminder from a regular vet, you’ll need to track when they are due for exams, vaccinations, teeth cleanings, etc.
If you had a long-established relationship with a vet before RV life, you might still be able to call for advice or meds. I give Solstice an allergy shot every three weeks. The formula is specifically mixed for her allergies. Before I left Alaska, I spoke with her allergy vet and made arrangements to have her vials sent to me as needed on the road.
On the road, think and plan ahead when it comes to pet supplies, particularly food. If you typically buy pet food at the grocery store, not every store will carry your brand. And in smaller communities, there might only be one grocery store so there won’t be other places to search for your brand.
In sticks-and-bricks life, I always bought both of my pets’ food at Petco. Because I know Petco carries Science Diet (for Solstice) and Natural Balance (for Kitty). To keep things simple, on the road, I also buy their food at Petco.
But not every town has a Petco. You find box stores in larger communities. (Walmart is the exception.) I don’t know the population cut off, but I’m guessing it’s around 50,000. At least for Petco. Places like Dubuque and Huntsville (both 60,000) had a Petco while the smaller places have not.
This means I need to make sure the food bins are full when I leave a larger community if I’m heading to a smaller one. Going to a store’s website for the “store location” feature makes it easy to plan ahead.
Now, having said all of that, I have to acknowledge that most pet food can be purchased from Amazon. I’m a big fan of Amazon though I’ve never purchased Solstice’s food from there. Not sure why. Maybe it’s because the bags are so heavy, bulky and big.
And one final tip on the subject. Keep an eye out because you never know where you might find your brand. Check out local pet stores as well as vet offices. I discovered Tractor Supply Company, which is in a lot of small farming and ranching communities, carries Science Diet. By the name of their company, I never in a million years would’ve guessed they carry pet food. I was in the store for something else when I made the discovery.
Speaking of Food Bins
I keep both pets’ food in secure bins rather than in the bags in which I purchase them. The reason? Mice and bugs. The bins have a place in the van. Then I fill small containers every four or five days from the bins and those comes into the trailer. You might need to do something similar based on space. And, probably, also on the size of your pet. The bigger the dog, the bigger the volume of food needed.
Fear of creatures is also why it’s necessary to plan ahead. It wouldn’t be a good idea to purchase multiple bags of food (unless I had multiple food storage bins), no matter how much more convenient this would be.
Before I arrive in a new community, I do a lot of research. I research everything from RV parks to adventures. The process leads me to all kinds of sites. But one bit of information I’ve never seen is things to be careful about in the area. All the “visit us” sections of sites want to attract tourists so they aren’t going to tell you about the bedbug problem in the community or how many snake bites happen in a year.
So, when you check in to a new campground or RV park, ask the front desk (or camp host) what you need to look out for when walking your dog. Not a bad idea to ask for the humans in your family either.
In general, I find that state and national parks post relevant information. Take a minute to read their information boards. It often includes plants, animals, bugs and weather information, and can be a big help in deciding where to walk and what to be on the lookout for. I have yet to see a similar information board at an RV park, so be sure to ask.
My cousin told me the story of a trip she took with her family in their Class A RV to Washington DC one June. If you’ve ever been to the area in June, you know the temperature is high and the air is wet. They were at a campground with full hookups and left for the day’s adventure. When they returned their two little dogs were a half hour from being dead from the heat. My cousin knew to submerge them in cool water to bring their temperatures down. And, in the end, they were fine.
Turns out, the RV park filled with 700 rigs running air conditioners caused a power surge which resulted in a brief power outage. When the power came back on, their RV reset but the air conditioner didn’t kick back on. Their two dogs got hotter and hotter. While the pets were fine without the television and lights on, they were not okay without the air conditioner.
I shudder every time I think of it. Or when I visualize what the family could’ve come home to had they been gone longer.
To avoid this situation, many RVers monitor their rig or pets when away. There are two options that RVers use.
- A nanny cam for pets lets you set up a camera to visually monitor the RV. The bonus is it works as a security device as well. I’ve known people who get a camera and point it at their thermostat as a way to keep tabs on the rig’s temperature.
- A temperature / humidity monitor (not a camera) will send text and email alerts to you. These are often used for wine cellars and walk-in food coolers, but are a great device for knowing the temperature of your rig when you are not there.
I don’t have a monitoring system yet but, as I look toward taking more workamping and regular work assignments, a temperature monitoring system is on my list of future purchases.
Literally, one can save the life of your pet as my cousin’s story illustrates.
Enjoying the Great Outdoors
One of the great pleasures of RV life is sitting outside the RV in perfect weather. Imperfect weather, too. A comfortable camp chair is a great place for working, reading or just relaxing.
To include your pet in on the fun, you will need a way to secure them. I’ve seen a wide array of options. You might have to experiment to find the best one for you and pets. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Wire fencing. By far this is the most common thing I see. Some people use a small amount of fencing to create an area for the pet to hang out. While others run the fencing around the full edge of their site to include their rig.
- Crates. I’ve seen soft-sided collapsible ones, wire ones and the hard plastic ones used for air travel.
- Secured leash. Pound a stake into the ground and tie their leash or a rope to it. You don’t need a stake though, any secured item will work. Two things I use are the ball from the van’s hitch and the stairs of the rig.
- High wire. Instead of securing them down low, if you run a high wire then attach their leash, it can prevent them from tangling the leash around themselves, others and pretty much anything.
A few additional things that can help:
- Keep pet CPR and first aid info on hand. I have both an electronic and physical version.
- Keep a well-stocked pet first aid kit. The good news here is a lot of what’s recommended for pets is the same as for people, so you don’t need two separate kits. In the future, I’ll share what I carry in my RV life first aid kit.
- For cats and other non-leash animals, carry a pet crate for visits to the vet. Yes, they take up room but when not in use, use them for storage. Most dogs will walk into a vet’s office on a leash.
I started this post by saying traveling with pets is work. But the truth is owning a pet at all is work whether in a stationary life and a traveling life. The considerations and solutions might be a bit different on the road but what you need for a happy healthy pet is the same. They need vet care, exercise (physical and mental), food and love.
Sure, it can be a little more challenging in RV life but there is no question what you get in return more than makes up for those challenges. But, of course, anyone who has ever loved a pet already knows this.
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