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The Ultimate Guide to Vanlife with Pets: 6 Practical Tips

Pawdrick with Big Red Van in background at Goose Creek State Park

Our pets are our family. Those lovable little fuzzballs on four legs are glued to our sides, tails wagging and purring louder than an engine motor. It’s no surprise that vanlife has expanded to more than just road-tripping with our human companions, but traveling with our furry companions as well!

Vanlife with pets is an experience that can build a rock-solid bond with your four-legged companion, be it a dog, cat, snake, rabbit, or something else! So, how to live in a van with a dog? Or cat? There are plenty of challenges to bringing your pet on your nomadic adventure.

This ultimate guide to vanlife with pets will explore the multi-faceted challenges of traveling with your furry companion. We’ll traverse the ins and outs of van living with pets, including making your van pet-friendly, going over practical tips to keep your fuzzy pal happy, and discussing how to keep our pets safe while traveling.

Let’s embark on this adventure! Get it? Bark? Because it’s about…pets…

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An Overview Of Vanlife With Pets

2021 North American Camping Report found that 86.1 million people in the United States owned a recreational vehicle in 2020. While not all of those folks have campervans, it goes to show that many people are interested in traveling, camping, and seeing beautiful sites.

Vanlife with pets has exploded in popularity. You don’t have to scroll far on social media before seeing someone with an awe-inspiring view out of the back of their van. They’re sitting in the back, drinking coffee with their dog by their side. 

Luna experiencing Vanlife with Pets

For me, leaving my pet behind while I enjoy sightseeing, hiking, and rock climbing isn’t even an option. They’re coming with me! So, why do so many people share the same opinion?

Why People Choose To Travel With Their Pets

Leaving the dog or cat at home means opening up space in your backpack or luggage bag, not worrying about bathroom breaks, and no need to look for pet-friendly accommodations. 

Despite these perceived benefits, vanlifers throw them out the window and bring their cats, dogs, snakes, and rabbits along for the adventure. 

Here’s why:

Changing Views Toward Animals

In the past, animals were viewed as workers. Horses carried you places, cats hunted rodents, dogs herded and protected, and mules carried supplies.

Views have changed drastically in the past few decades. Now, cats and dogs (and other animals) are considered a part of the family, to be loved and cherished just as much as fellow humans.

Paws riding on our laps while we vanlife.

To put it in perspective, Michigan State University tells us that in the United States alone, $72.1 billion was spent on pets in 2018. That’s a billion with a ‘b’ people!

Health Benefits

The advantages of having a pet go beyond that warm fuzzy feeling when you hear your van life cat purr or see your dog’s tail wagging. There are plenty of studies proving that taking care of a pet has astounding health benefits:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce stress
  • Raise oxytocin levels (oxytocin promotes positive feelings)
  • Reduce pain
  • Decrease the risk of heart disease
  • Decrease the likelihood of depression
  • Decrease effects of dementia

Dog owners (and adventurous cat owners) get the additional benefit of exercise when they walk their pets around the block or take them on a hike. 

Robyn and Pawdrick at the beach

Societal Changes

Another reason why people choose to travel with their pets has to do with changes in societal views toward animals. More and more people are fighting for animal welfare rights, going vegan, and encouraging businesses to be pet-friendly.

It’s relatively common to see people sitting on the patio of a restaurant or brewery with their dog. Cats are becoming more popular on hiking trails. It’s just downright easier to travel with pets nowadays!

Businesses are becoming far more accommodating to pet parents, with some places even offering doggy beer, ice cream, and meals at their restaurants.

The Pros And Cons Of Vanlife With Pets

This overview wouldn’t be complete without a pros and cons list. While most pet paw-rents are willing to ignore the cons, it’s beneficial to consider them and plan ahead to ensure your pet stays happy, healthy, and comfortable while living on the road.

And, let’s be honest, the pros are plentiful!

9 Pros Of Vanlife With Pets

  1. Never Alone: With your furry (or scaly, or feathery) best friend by your side, loneliness on the road is a thing of the past. They’re there for the sunrise hikes, the campfire snuggles, and everything in between!
  2. Built-In Adventure Buddy: Whether exploring a forest trail or lounging by a lake, having your pet along for the ride makes every adventure twice as fun. Plus, their excitement at discovering new places is downright infectious!
  3. Routine Keepers: Pets, with their feeding and exercise schedules, give a sense of routine and normalcy that can be comforting when constantly changing locations. It’s like a little piece of home that travels with you.
  4. Safety First: A dog’s keen hearing and territorial nature can provide an extra layer of security at night. And let’s be honest, there’s nothing quite as reassuring as a canine guard when you’re parked in a remote location.
  5. Health Boosters: Regular walks and play sessions with your pet keep them in shape and you too! Plus, their companionship and unconditional love can work wonders for your mental health.
  6. Ice Breakers: Pets are great conversation starters. You’ll find it easier to connect with fellow travelers and locals when you have your adorable pet. They’re like cute, fuzzy ambassadors!
  7. Teach Us Mindfulness: Pets live in the moment, and their joy in the simple things can remind us to slow down and appreciate the beauty around us. After all, isn’t that what vanlife with pets is all about?
  8. Build A Strong Bond: When it’s just you and your pet versus the world, your bond becomes unbreakable. All that time together builds trust, reliance, and a sense of companionship you can’t have when you leave them at home for a 9 to 5.
  9. Your Pet Gets To Explore: Most pets never see more than their backyards. Taking your pet with you lets them see more of the world, explore new smells, and experience breathtaking adventures with their favorite human.
Jarrod can't move since Pawd and Luna are both laying on him while he sits in his van.

8 Cons Of Vanlife With Pets

  1. Temperature Control: Vans can get hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Maintaining a comfortable temperature for your pet can be challenging, especially when you’re out exploring, and they’re in the van.
  2. Limited Space: Living in a small space means less room for pets to move around. This can be a significant consideration if you have a larger breed or active pet.
  3. Finding Pet-Friendly Spots: Not all camping sites, national parks, or public places are pet-friendly. Researching and planning are essential to ensure you and your pet are welcome.
  4. Healthcare Access: Finding reliable vet care can be tricky on the road, especially in remote areas. Regular check-ups, vaccinations, and emergency situations require careful planning.
  5. Travel Stress: Some pets don’t handle travel well. The constant movement, new environments, and changing routines can cause stress for certain animals. Living in a van with a cat can be particularly challenging with travel stress.
  6. Bathroom Breaks: This can be tricky, especially during long drives. Regular stops are needed, and sometimes, accidents happen. Be prepared for some extra cleaning duties.
  7. Increased Expenses: Traveling with pets can add to your budget. Think food, toys, grooming supplies, and vet bills. Plus, some campgrounds charge extra for pets.
  8. Limited Spontaneity: Having a pet may limit some spontaneous adventures like long day hikes, non-pet-friendly attractions, or going out for dinner in a city. While dogs are more flexible, vanlife with cats and other pets may make this more difficult.

So, are there the best pets for van life or the best dogs for van life? Not really. Every pet is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. But with proper preparation and a flexible attitude, the challenges of vanlife with pets can be managed, and the rewards are immeasurable!

Tip 1: Preparing Your Pet For Vanlife

Now, onto our 6 tips for vanlife with pets! Did you ever imagine you’d be taking Fluffy on the road trip of a lifetime? While social media would have us believe that all pets love traveling full-time, this just isn’t based on reality. 

Pawd sitting in the driver seat of the van.

Most cats despise traveling in a vehicle, and some dogs get carsick. Our original furbag, Gatsby, always got car sick. Whether we drove 10 or 100 miles, he’d always have an accident in the back seat.

So, how do you prep your furry, scaley, or feathery friend for vanlife?

Assess Your Pet

First up, let’s take a deep dive into your pet. Here are a few things to take into consideration during your assessment:

  • Age: Consider your pet’s age. Will your puppy, who needs bathroom breaks every 30 minutes, thrive in an enclosed vehicle? Will your 16-year-old cat with arthritis be able to jump in and out of the van?
  • Temperament: Every pet is unique, as is their temperament. Is your dog friendly? Reactive? Hyper? Will your bird squawk every time you hit a bump in the road? These things should be assessed before you decide your pet is ready for vanlife.
  • Health: Health is a big concern for vanlife with pets. If your pet has health issues already, the stress of vanlife may increase those issues or cause them to flare up.
  • Quirks: Is your pet afraid of thunder? Gunshots? Loud motors? Does your pet drool excessively or have smelly toots? Again, these are all things to consider before plunging into vanlife with pets!

These qualities can help you determine if your pal is suitable for vanlife. Remember, pets are for life! Just because they don’t fit your lifestyle perfectly doesn’t mean you must abandon ship.

Training Your Pet For Travel

Let’s talk about preparing our furry co-pilots for the open road. Just like you wouldn’t set off on a long hike without breaking in your boots, you shouldn’t expect your pet to adapt to vanlife without some preparation. 

Start With Short Trips

First off, start with short trips. Van life dogs aren’t made overnight. These mini-adventures can be as simple as drives around town or quick overnight camping trips in your backyard. The goal is to let them sniff out their new surroundings and get comfortable with the idea of being in a moving home. 

Of course, it will take a few tries before they start wagging their tail at the sight of your van.

Travel Manners

Next up, let’s work on their travel manners. Like people, pets need to learn the dos and don’ts of being a good traveler. This includes staying calm during the drive, not barking at every passing squirrel (I know, it’s tough!), and understanding basic commands like ‘stay’ and ‘come.’ 

Training classes can be a big help here, but consistency is crucial. Practice makes perfect, after all.

New Environments

Now, onto tackling new environments. Each place you visit will be a sensory explosion for your pet – new sights, smells, and sounds. It’s important to let them explore at their own pace. Keep them on a leash initially until they feel secure. 

Hiking at Goose Creek State Park North Carolina with Pawd, Robyn and G the Cat

Also, watch for any signs of stress, like excessive panting, drooling, or loss of appetite. If they seem overwhelmed, give them some extra TLC and consider spending a few more days in the same spot to help them adjust.


Finally, let’s talk about sleep. Sleeping in a van can be a significant change for pets used to stretching out on a comfy living room floor. Or, let’s be honest, most pets sleep in our beds! Help them transition by bringing along their favorite blanket or bed from home. Familiar smells can be incredibly comforting and help them settle in quickly.

Luna sleeping on the passenger seat of the van on her favorite blanket.

Remember, every pet is different, and it’s all about finding what works best for your four-legged friend. So take it slow, keep it positive, and you’ll have a happy, well-adjusted travel buddy ready to hit the road with you before you know it.

Pre-Travel Vet Visits

Ah, the dreaded vet visits. If your pets are anything like mine, they loathe the vet, the drive to the vet, and the vet office, oh, and they’ll throw in a few pukes along the way for added spiciness

However, as much as our pets dislike the vets, this is a crucial step before you vanlife with pets.

A pre-travel vet visit is beneficial for several reasons:

  • The vet can determine if your pet is healthy enough to travel.
  • Your pet can receive essential vaccinations for possible region-specific diseases.
  • A clean bill of health can set your mind more at ease about traveling with your pet.
  • You can monitor your pet’s weight while on the road and compare it to their weight at the vet to ensure they are not losing or gaining weight excessively.
  • A visit before you leave means you have longer to be on the road before returning for yearly vaccinations.

Before traveling with your pet in a van, a pre-vet visit is highly recommended. Not only is it good for your peace of mind, but it’s also essential for your pet!

Pet Packing List

Let’s get into the fun of planning for our four-legged (and no-legged) friends. Remember, traveling with pets is not just about packing their favorite toys but also ensuring their safety and comfort throughout the journey.

This list is a great starting point, but you know your pet and what they need better than anyone, so feel free to add anything you deem necessary for your sidekick.

Van Life Dog Essentials:

  1. Leash and Collar: These are must-haves for those exciting walks and hikes. Flagline Dog Harness & Crag Leash from Ruffwear are our personal choices.
  2. Food and Water Bowls: Collapsible ones save space! Our favorite is the Bivy Dog Bowl.
  3. Quality Pet Food: Pack enough for the trip and a little extra, just in case.
  4. Dog Bed or Blanket: Something familiar to make them feel at home. Pawd loves his Mt. Bachelor Pad.
  5. Toys: To keep them entertained during downtime.
  6. Poop Bags: Because nature calls!
  7. First Aid Kit: Include bandages, tick removal tools, and necessary medication. Adventure Medical Kits for you and the furbag!
  8. Medication: Remember to bring any medication your dog might be on, including flea, tick, and heartworm medication.
  9. Nail clippers: For when your dog needs a nail trim.
Ruffwear collapsible bowl we use in vanlife

For a more detailed guide, check out our article on dog hiking essentials.

Van Life Cat Essentials: 

Vanlife with a cat can be particularly challenging due to their rascally nature. But rest assured, it can be done!

  1. Carrier or Harness: For those moments when they need to be secure. One of our favorite of many different carriers is the EliteField Expandable Soft Airline.
  2. Litter Tray and Litter: A compact, portable tray can be a lifesaver.
  3. Scratching Post: To save your van’s interior!
  4. Catnip Toys: For playtime and relaxation.
  5. Cat Food and Bowls: Don’t forget their favorite treats, too.
  6. Leash: If you plan to let your cat walk around, secure them on a leash.
  7. Medication: Bring flea, tick, and any other medicines your cat might need on the road.

For a complete list, head over to our article on cat hiking gear essentials!

We also are big fans of Chewy! We get a lot of our gear for the animals and most of the medication as well!

For Van Life Snakes:

  1. Secure Terrarium: With a lock to prevent any surprise escapes.
  2. Heating Pad: To keep their habitat at the right temperature.
  3. Hide Box: For when they need some privacy.
  4. Water Dish: Large enough for them to soak if they wish.
  5. Snake Food: Depending on the species, this could be insects, mice, or small rats.

Essentials For Vanlife Rabbits:

  1. Cage or Hutch: With plenty of space to hop around.
  2. Hay: For feeding and bedding.
  3. Water Bottle: A drip-free one can keep the cage clean.
  4. Toys: To keep them busy and satisfied.
  5. Pellets and Fresh Veggies: For a balanced diet.

For Van-Living Birds:

  1. Cage: Make sure it’s secure and comfortable for travel.
  2. Perches: Of varying sizes to promote foot health.
  3. Cuttlebone or Mineral Block: For beak maintenance and added nutrition.
  4. Bird Food: Seeds, pellets, or a specific diet, depending on your bird species.
  5. Toys: To provide mental stimulation.

Essentials For Van Life Fish:

  1. Portable Aquarium: With a secure lid to prevent water from splashing out.
  2. Battery-Powered Air Pump: To keep the water oxygenated.
  3. Water Conditioner: To remove harmful chemicals from new water.
  4. Fish Food: The right type for your fish species.
  5. Net: Just in case you need to move your fish.

Remember, every pet is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. But with this list as your starting point, you’ll be well on your way to a successful, fun-filled campervan adventure with your pet. 

Tip 2: Designing a Pet-Friendly Van

G laying in the back of the van in front of her cat tunnel.

Whether you’ve got a playful pup, a curious cat, a sociable snake, or a bouncy bunny, designing a pet-friendly van can make your journey much smoother and more enjoyable. 

So, let’s jump right in and get our paws dirty!

The Essentials of a Pet-Friendly Van

Creating a dog-friendly van conversion (or any pet-friendly conversion) is about balancing comfort and safety. You want your furry friend to feel at home, but you also want to ensure they’re secure even when the road gets a bit bumpy. 

Here are some key features to consider:

  1. Temperature Control: This is a big one, folks! Vans can get hot in the summer and chilly in the winter. Consider installing a fan, air conditioner, or heater to keep the temperature just right. You can also read about van life insulation here!
  2. Secure Spaces: Whether it’s a carrier for your adventurous cat or a terrarium for your slithering friend, make sure everyone has their own safe space.
  3. Pet Beds: Make your pet feel at home by including a comfortable bed or blanket that smells familiar. We used our cat’s favorite little cave bed, and she used it a lot while driving to feel safe.

Designing a Safe and Comfortable Space

Designing a pet-friendly van is like piecing together a puzzle. Every inch counts! Here are a few tips to help you maximize the space:

  1. Use Vertical Space: Add shelves or hanging storage for pet supplies. Just make sure everything is secured for travel.
  2. Keep It Cozy: Soft, comfortable materials can help muffle the sounds of the road and make your pet feel more comfortable. Bonus for using blankets and bedding from home, as the familiar smell can make your pet feel more at home.
  3. Think Safety: Non-slip surfaces, secure harness points for travel crates, and child locks on cabinets can all help keep your pet safe while the van is in motion.

Essential Equipment and Modifications

As you start to put together your pet-friendly van, there are a few critical pieces of equipment that can make a big difference:

  1. Pet Beds: Whether it’s a plush dog bed or a heated mat for your reptile, having a designated spot for your pet can help them feel secure. If you have more than one cat, spread out beds and blankets so they can have their own ‘territory.’
  2. Secure Carriers: A secure carrier or terrarium is a must-have for our exotic pet friends. Consider custom-built options to maximize space.
  3. Temperature Control: From fans to portable heaters, maintaining the right temperature is crucial for your pet’s comfort and safety.
Pawd and Luna chilling in front of the Van.

Dealing with Pet Waste

Let’s face it, poop happens! But with a bit of planning, it doesn’t have to put a damper on your adventure:

  1. Litter Boxes: For cats, a compact, portable litter box can be stowed away when not in use. Remember the litter! You can also designate a covered spot in your van during the build – we have ours underneath our stove with a little cat door on it! I recommend scooping it daily, at a minimum.
  2. Portable Potties for Dogs: These can come in handy, especially during those middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks. However, they can get messy, especially in such a small space. 
  3. Waste Bags: Always have these on hand for quick and easy clean-up while outdoors. Check out the Tuff Mutt Leash attachment to hold any poo bags. We have one on each leash, so we are never without bags.

Remember, designing a pet-friendly van is all about understanding your pet’s needs and making them a priority. With some planning and creativity, you’ll be well on your way to creating a comfortable, safe, and fun space for you and your pet.

Tip 3: Traveling with Pets In Your Campervan

Planning Your Route: All About the Pet-Friendly Spots

First, let’s talk about planning. Just like you wouldn’t head out on a hike without checking the trail map, you shouldn’t hit the road without a pet-friendly plan. 

Look for campsites and rest areas that welcome pets and have space for them to stretch their legs. Websites like BringFido can be super helpful here. And hey, why not plan a few stops at pet-friendly beaches or parks along the way? It’ll add some extra fun to your journey!

Walks and hikes are no longer just for dogs, either! Bring your cat out to stretch their legs and get some fresh air. If you’d like, you can read our guide on the simple steps to harness train your cat.

For vanlifers, finding a place to sleep at night is one of the most challenging parts. Use apps like iOverlander and Campendium to help you find pet-friendly secluded spots. Pets will appreciate the peace and quiet at night instead of camping overnight in a Walmart parking lot.

Long Drives: The Art of Keeping Your Pet Entertained

Vanlife with dogs and other pets is rewarding, but we all know long drives can be a bit tedious. Puzzle toys are a big hit with dogs, keeping them occupied for hours. Fill them with a tasty treat, and voila – your pup has a job to do! 

Here are a few other suggestions for dogs:

  • Kong filled with peanut butter: Pro-Tip: Freeze the kong to make this treat last longer! We have three in the freezer!
  • Puzzle games: Instead of giving your dog food in a bowl, place the kibble in a puzzle they must figure out. Pawd loves his puzzle game!
  • Lick mat: fill a bowl with your pup’s favorite foods, add water, and freeze it. Give it to them during long car rides to keep them entertained. Same as the Kong we have multiple lick mats!

For your campervan cat, consider a window perch. Cats love a good view, and watching the world go by can be fascinating for them. And let’s remember our scaly buddies – a few new items in their terrarium can provide much-needed stimulation.

Feeding and Hydrating on the Road: The Fuel for Your Adventure

Next up, let’s chat about food and water. Hydration is vital, especially on hot days. Collapsible water bowls are great for saving space and perfect for on-the-go sips. Remember to offer water regularly, even if your pet isn’t indicating thirst.

Regarding food, try to stick to your pet’s regular feeding schedule as much as possible to avoid upset tummies. Pre-portioned meals stored in airtight containers can make feeding times a breeze!

For dogs and cats with an open food dish, try using anti-slip bowls with silicone bottoms. These will stay put, even while you’re driving, offering them food whenever it tickles their fancy!

Regular Stops: For Exercise and Those Necessary Bathroom Breaks

Just like us, our pets need regular breaks from the road. Plan stops every few hours for bathroom breaks and a bit of exercise. This is where those pet-friendly spots come in handy! 

A good run around a dog park or a leisurely stroll through a rest area can do wonders for breaking up the monotony of a long drive.

Your pets will let you know when they’ve had enough. We have found that our cats can stand about 2 hours of driving before they need a break. Test your pet’s tolerances, and remember, vanlife isn’t about racing from one destination to the next. Make your pet feel comfortable and stop as often as needed.

On the Road Safety: Ensuring Your Furry Co-Pilot is Safe and Sound – Tip 4!

If you’ve ever dreamed of hitting the open road with your furry sidekick, you know that safety is paramount. After all, our four-legged friends rely on us to keep them safe and sound, whether we’re summiting a mountain or cruising down Route 66. 

So, let’s buckle up and dive into some essential safety considerations when traveling in a campervan with pets.

Driving with Pets: Safety First!

When it comes to driving, your pet’s safety is non-negotiable. There are two ways to travel with pets:

  1. Secure your pet in a well-ventilated crate or carrier large enough for them to stand, sit, lie down, and turn around. This not only keeps your pet safe from sudden stops or turns but also prevents them from becoming a distraction while you’re at the wheel. 
  2. Allow your pet to walk freely in the cabin, but set some boundaries. No pets under the feet while driving, no pets on the dash, and ensure your window and door locks are on! 

This was a lesson I learned first-hand. Our feisty cat Luna jumped up near the front window and hit the window down button while we were going 70 miles an hour down a highway! Luckily, she was fine, and we could put the window back up and get her down safely, but it was still a heart-pumping experience!

Dealing with Emergencies: Preparation is Key

The open road is full of surprises, and not all of them are the fun kind. In case of emergencies, like a sudden illness or injury, it’s a good idea to have a pet first-aid kit on hand and be aware of the nearest vet clinics along your route. This is especially important for those living the solo van life with a dog or other pet.

And what about the unthinkable – a lost pet? It’s a heart-stopping moment no pet parent wants to experience. That’s where tech can lend a helping paw. Consider investing in a byte tag or GPS tracker for your pet’s collar. This nifty gear can help you keep track of your pet’s whereabouts and give you peace of mind during your travels.

Another possible emergency is what happens when you’re hiking or exploring outside of your campervan. Your pet may get bitten by a snake, fall, or injure themselves. We carry the Fido Pro Airlift Emergency Dog Rescue Sling on every hike, just in case. 

Additionally, we always carry their adventure cat backpack when our cats are hiking with us. If they get injured (or just plain old tired), we can place them in the backpack and carry them back to the van.

Weather Woes: Keeping Cool and Staying Warm

Mother Nature can be unpredictable, so planning for all types of weather is essential. In the summer, keep the campervan well-ventilated and cool to prevent overheating. Portable fans or AC units can be lifesavers here to keep your dog cool! (Or cat, or rabbit, or whatever you have!).

Weather concerns don’t stop at just the van, either. Remember to bring plenty of water on hikes to keep your pet hydrated and cool. We have an excellent guide on the best dog cooling vests as well!

When winter rolls around, ensure your pet stays warm with plenty of blankets and even a pet-friendly heater if necessary. Remember, if you’re cold, your pet probably is too! We’ve found that a 12V electric blanket is a lifesaver! We use the IGNIK heated blanket

Since our cats mainly sleep on me or the bed, we turn the electric blanket upside down (so the heated surface is facing up). It still keeps us warm but gives the cats a nice heated surface for a cozy night’s sleep.

Wildlife Encounters: Keeping the Peace

One of the joys of traveling is experiencing wildlife up close. But it’s essential to protect our pets from potential dangers. Keep your pet on a leash when exploring new areas to prevent unwanted encounters with wildlife or other pets, and follow these tips:

  • If you see wildlife, keep your distance
  • Never approach wildlife
  • Make noise while hiking to alert wildlife of your presence, especially bears.
  • Train your pet to respond to your commands in case of a wildlife encounter.

And let’s remember our fellow humans! Always respect others’ space and remember that not everyone is as comfortable with animals as we are. A well-behaved pet is a welcome pet, so keep those manners in check!

Tip 5: Ensuring Exercise, Mental Stimulation, and Socialization While You Vanlife With Pets

The Importance of Regular Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Whether you have a bounding Border Collie or a curious Cockatiel, all pets need regular exercise and mental stimulation to stay healthy and happy. Regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight and keeps muscles strong, while mental stimulation keeps their minds sharp and reduces the risk of anxiety and destructive behavior. 

An article from the Journal of Animals (Basel) found that environmental enrichment (such as bonding, using a bubble machine, playing with other dogs, interactive toys, etc.) increased the frequency of relaxation and reduced stress and alert behaviors in dogs.

Plus, it’s a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your pet!

Pet Exercises in Different Settings

Adapting to different environments is part and parcel of vanlife, including your pet’s exercise routine.

Here are some ideas for keeping your pet active in various settings:

  1. Beaches: From chasing frisbees to splashing in the waves, beaches offer endless fun for dogs. Cats might enjoy a leisurely walk on a leash, while birds will appreciate a safe flight in a pop-up aviary.
  2. Forests: Hiking trails provide excellent sniffing opportunities for dogs and leashed cats. For our bird friends, try hanging a feeder outside their travel cage for some bird-watching fun.
  3. Deserts: Early morning or late evening walks can be great in cooler desert temperatures. Always check the ground temperature to protect your pet’s paws!
  4. Rainy Days: Indoor games like tug-of-war or hide-and-seek can keep dogs entertained, while cats might enjoy a new toy or puzzle feeder. For birds, try some new toys or a little training session.

If you’d like more tips on hiking with your dog, head over to our guide on mastering hiking with your dog!

Interactive Toys and Games for Mental Stimulation

Keeping your pet mentally stimulated is just as important as physical exercise. Here are some of our favorite interactive toys and games:

  1. Puzzle Toys: These are fantastic for dogs and cats alike. You can fill them with treats, which will keep your pet occupied. Start with easy puzzles and increase the difficulty as they master each level.
  2. Feather Wands: A big hit with cats, these can stimulate their natural hunting instincts. Some dogs also love chasing cat toys (ahem…our dog).
  3. Foraging Toys: Great for birds, these toys make them work a little for their food, mimicking their natural behavior.
  4. Training: Another great way to stimulate your pet is to do training sessions with them. Dogs especially love to learn new things (and get treats!). A quick training session can help your pet calm down when restless on rainy days and stuck inside.

Some of the tricks that we’ve taught our dog with relative ease include:

  • Sit: Obvious
  • Leave it: Train your dog to only take food, treats, or toys once you give them the ‘okay.’
  • Spin: Teach your dog to spin in a circle.
  • Down: Train your dog to lie down.
  • Heel: Teach your dog how to heel by your side.
  • Center: Train your pup to sit between your legs while standing.
  • Wave: This was special to our dog, who is a tripod. He can’t do ‘paw’ because he is missing his front leg! So, we taught him to wave, which is just him sitting on his haunches and lifting up his one front leg.
  • Bang bang: We taught our tripod to pretend like he’s been shot when we do the finger guns. This is our absolute favorite trick, and it took less time than you think to teach!

Socialization: Meeting Other Vanlife Pets

Luna laying on the beach.

Just like us, many pets enjoy the company of their own kind. Regular socialization helps pets learn to behave well around others and can provide valuable mental stimulation. 

Consider arranging playdates with other van lifers’ pets or visiting pet-friendly parks and campsites where your pet can meet others under controlled conditions.

In our next section, we’ll detail living with exotic pets on the road. Because not everyone is a dog or cat person!

Tip 6: Living the Campervan Life with Exotic Pets

If you’re an intrepid explorer with a taste for the extraordinary, you might find yourself sharing your campervan with a slightly more unusual companion – think slithering snakes, lounging lizards, or hopping rabbits. Even fish! 

So, let’s dive right into the fascinating world of living on the road with exotic pets.

Special Considerations for Exotic Pets

When venturing out with exotic pets, there are some special considerations to remember. Unlike dogs and cats, many exotic animals have specific environmental needs that must be met. 

For example, reptiles like snakes and lizards need a carefully controlled habitat with the right temperature and humidity. Rabbits need space to hop around, and fish, well, they need water!

Before hitting the road, thoroughly research your pet’s specific needs and consult a vet specializing in exotic animals. They can provide valuable advice and help you understand what you need to do to keep your pet healthy and hoppy…I mean happy…on the road.

Creating Suitable Habitats in a Campervan

The challenge of living in a campervan is making the most of a tiny space. But don’t worry. With a bit of creativity and careful planning, you can create a comfy home-on-wheels for your exotic pet.

  1. Snakes and Lizards: Reptiles need a terrarium with proper heat and light sources. Consider installing a small, secure enclosure in one corner of your van where you can control the temperature and humidity. Remember to include hiding and basking spots!
  2. Rabbits: These furry friends need a safe, enclosed area for when the vehicle is moving and plenty of time to roam around the van when it’s safe. A collapsible playpen can be a great solution here.
  3. Fish: A small, sturdy aquarium with a secure lid is essential. Consider a battery-operated air pump to keep the water oxygenated and a solar-powered heater to maintain the right temperature.

Feeding and Caring for Exotic Pets on the Road

Feeding exotic pets while traveling can be a bit tricky, but it’s definitely doable. Here are some tips:

  1. Snakes and Lizards: Many reptiles eat infrequently, making things easier on the road. Pack a cooler with frozen food like mice or rats for snakes or canned insects for lizards.
  2. Rabbits: These guys love fresh veggies! Stock up whenever you can, and consider bringing along a small supply of hay for fiber. We love stopping at local farm markets in our travels, so this can be an excellent opportunity to stock up on rabbit treats and munchies!
  3. Fish: Fish food is easy to pack and only takes up a little room. Just remember to feed sparingly to avoid dirtying the water too quickly.

Remember, caring for exotic pets also includes keeping them mentally stimulated. Interactive toys, new scenery, and time out of their enclosure (when safe) can all contribute to your pet’s well-being.

Additional Tips And Tricks For Vanlife With Pets: Our Personal Experiences

If you think your van is packed with animals…we have two cats and a three-legged dog! So, with all our pets and all their different personalities, we’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the road that can make your life easier.

First up are dog tips:

Morning And Evening Potty Breaks

We have learned that morning and evening bathroom breaks are essential for our dog. He is used to getting up and going to the bathroom around 7 am. While we’re not the most thrilled to be exiting the van that early, we have a system:

Whoever takes the dog out, the other person prepares the coffee and stores the bedding away. When it’s cold, my husband always ‘volunteers’ to take the dog out. He’s the best!

Let Them Outside As Much As Possible

Pawd kissing his dad in the grass after playing with his frisbee.

When the weather allows, let your pet outside as much as possible. This includes letting them lay on a dog or cat bed right outside the van. Cats, in particular, do not like being closed up. 

So, while you don’t have to walk them at all hours of the day, you can still let them leisurely lay down outside the van under close supervision. This has been a massive help to our traveling pets, especially the cats.

We have some fantastic tips for hiking and rock climbing with your pets here!

Be Patient

Your pets are only here for a short time. Let them sniff every blade of grass. Let them walk at their own pace. Let them meow and bark if they want. After all, this is their adventure, too.

Our original furbag, Gatsby, loved smelling everything. Like. Everything. And we used to get angry with him because our half-mile walk would take an hour and a half. Later, we realized that his sniffing was a way to stimulate his mind and get his energy out. Gatsby taught us so much; now we let our dogs and cats go at their own pace!

Realize Their Fears

Even though you know exactly what’s going on, your pet may be confused by the sudden change in lifestyle. They may not understand why they’re now in a small car all the time, why they have a new environment every day, and so on.

If your pet is uncomfortable with the changes, acknowledge their fears and work with them to make their life as enjoyable, happy, and healthy as possible.

Be Ready For Setbacks

As much as we would love to have those picturesque moments with our pets, not everything is sunshine and daisies. You may start traveling with your pet and realize they get car sick or have accidents.

Or, you might realize that your cat hates traveling and meows for 24 hours straight (this happened to us!). 

No matter the setbacks, there are always ways around it and steps you can take to fix or improve the situation. Just be ready for setbacks and avoid getting aggravated or angry at your pets for reacting to a challenging situation.

Set Your Pet Up For Success

The final message I can send to any vanlifer who wants to bring their pet along is to set your pet up for success.

If you know your dog is triggered by other dogs, avoid busy trails and populated areas. If your cat is terrified of loud noises, ditch the city for a tour of the countryside. Set your pet up for success. 

Our dog, Pawdrick, is reactive. It’s challenging, but we find less populated trails so he can enjoy the adventure without being triggered by other dogs. When we meet another dog along the trail, we make him sit and give him lots of treats when he doesn’t react.

Our one cat, G, is terrified of other people. We always carry our cat’s backpack when we walk her. If we run into people on the trail, I can quickly get her into the backpack where she feels safe.

Overall, vanlife with pets adds a new set of challenges. But it also makes the adventure so much more enjoyable. We wouldn’t have it any other way!

Wrapping Up The Adventure: Your Ultimate Guide To Vanlife With Pets

We’ve journeyed through the ins and outs of campervan travel with our furry (and not-so-furry) sidekicks. From safety considerations to ensuring they’re physically active and mentally stimulated, we’ve covered it all. And let’s not forget our friends of the more exotic variety, who bring their own unique flavor to vanlife.

Remember, safety is paramount when hitting the road with your pets. Secure carriers, emergency preparedness, weather considerations, and wildlife encounters are all part of the package. Variety is your best friend when it comes to exercise and mental stimulation.

For those of you with exotic pets, we’ve delved into creating suitable habitats in a campervan and addressed feeding and care on the road. It’s a challenge, no doubt, but with careful planning and a dash of creativity, it’s a rewarding experience like no other.

Are you traveling in a van with your pet (or pets!)? Let us know of any tips or tricks you’ve learned in your adventures in the comments below. After all, there’s nothing quite like sharing the joy of exploration with your loyal companions. Happy travels, everyone!


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