Camping with a cat might seem like a recipe for disaster, but it can be a fun adventure for your furry friend and a great way for you to bond with your cat. However, it will take some planning and preparation to have a successful camping trip.
Assess Your Cat’s Personality
Camping certainly isn’t for every cat. If your pet has never been outside, never walked on a leash, or doesn’t like being handled, find a trusted cat-sitter and leave your feline friend comfortably at home while you camp.
Most cats are creatures of habit and don’t appreciate being forced into a completely new situation. But, if your cat regularly explores the outdoors with you and is trained to wear a harness and leash, there is a good chance that she will enjoy camping.
Things to Consider Before You Go
Once you’ve established that your cat is trained and prepared to enjoy camping, you can begin planning your trip to include her. But, several factors can play a role in whether you can or should bring her along.
Type of Trip
If your trip involves sleeping in a trailer or RV, car camping, or a brief hike to a campsite, that’s the perfect opportunity to bring along your cat. However, a multi-mile backpacking expedition will be too much for even the most intrepid and outdoorsy cat.
Check the weather at your destination before you go, and don’t bring along your cat if the weather is going to be excessively hot, cold, or wet. Consider your cat’s fur length in relation to the weather as well, and pack a sweater or cooling pack if necessary. For hairless breeds and cats with thin or very light-colored fur, you may also need to bring pet sunscreen.
Check online or call ahead to see whether your destination allows pets. At some campgrounds, you may have to pay an extra fee to bring pets. National parks usually (but not always) allow pets in campgrounds and on some trails, but they generally aren’t allowed in the backcountry or in swimming areas or beaches.
Pets are allowed in all national forests if you prefer less busy campgrounds, or if you’d rather boondock in the woods. Camping in the off-season is a good way to experience the outdoors without crowds of other people and pets around and can ensure more moderate weather.
Do a Test Run
It’s hard to know exactly how cats will react to camping, so it’s a good idea to do a test run in a controlled location before you head into the wilderness. Test your harness and leash set up in a fenced area if possible, and set up the tent in a yard or in your home if necessary. The last thing you want is for your cat to panic and shred the tent, so introduce her to it slowly and ahead of time.
Additionally, if your cat has never ridden in a vehicle before, she will need time to get comfortable with that process.
Pack Everything You Need to Keep Your Cat Comfortable
Just like when you pack for yourself, you will need to bring all the essentials plus some specialized gear for camping for your cat. Let’s take a look at some of the most important items.
This is an obvious one, but bring the same food your cat eats at home, so she doesn’t get an upset stomach. This might mean you need to keep canned food cold after it has been opened, so bring Ziploc bags to keep it from getting contaminated in the cooler.
Bring enough food for every day of your camping trip, plus a little extra in case there are unforeseen circumstances. Keep in mind that if your cat is getting more exercise than usual while you are camping, then she might need to a eat more per day to maintain her weight. If you give your cat treats at home, be sure also to bring those to reward her good behavior.
Pack plenty of fresh water for yourself and your cat. Many campsites have fresh water taps, but it’s a good idea to always bring some water from home just in case. If you are in the backcountry, either carry in enough water for the entire trip or bring a water filtration device.
Do not let your cat drink from streams or ponds, as these water sources may contain harmful bacteria and parasites. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t want to drink the water yourself, don’t let your cat drink it either.
Cats should always be in crates to travel in vehicles, so they don’t get up to any mischief or escape. The crate can also serve as a safe hideout for your cat should she get overwhelmed in the outdoors.
Comforts of Home
Don’t forget to pack your cat’s bed and a few toys to help her feel comfortable in a new situation. Even summer nights can get chilly when camping, so bring a blanket for your cat to snuggle in as well, and a sweater if she will tolerate wearing it.
If you are camping in an RV or trailer, it’s easy to set up a space for your cat that feels like home with her bed, food and water bowls, crate, and toys.
However, if you are tent camping, it can be a bit more challenging. You will need to keep your pet’s food and water out of reach of hungry critters. If you are hiking in, you won’t want to carry a bulky crate, so look for a collapsible soft-sided one to bring to camp. We recommend keeping the crate with you in the tent at night, even if your cat doesn’t sleep in it. This can come in handy if you need to exit the tent in a hurry and don’t have time to find the leash.
Some cats are fine with doing their business in the great outdoors, but you will need to pick up feces just like you would with a dog, as they can contain parasites that will infect any mammal. Alternatively, you can choose to bring along a litter box. When you clean the litter box, bag it and dispose of it in a trash can or, if necessary, pack it out with you.
In an RV or car, it’s a good idea to have a small litter box inside for your cat to use during the drive or at night. Since your cat will be safe in her crate while you are driving, this will require stopping for kitty bathroom breaks on long drives.
In a tent, consider opting for a reusable, biodegradable, or collapsible litter box. Otherwise, you might wake up to an unpleasant surprise in the tent.
First of all, you should never take your cat outside at all unless she has been vaccinated and is on medication to prevent fleas, ticks, and heartworm. She should also be microchipped and wearing a collar (or better yet a harness) and identification tags.
Invest in an LED light that can be clipped on the collar or harness as well, and leave it turned on all night. While the light may be bright inside the tent, it will be a lifesaver if your cat happens to escape the tent in the dark, or if you both need to exit the tent quickly in an emergency.
Carry a pet first aid kit with you at all times so you can treat minor ailments. It’s also a good idea to have a current picture of your cat on your phone to show people in case the worst happens and your cat gets separated from you.
At the Campsite
The most important thing to remember while camping with your cat is to supervise her at all times. If this sounds like too much work, you are better off leaving her at home or with a trusted caretaker.
Keep Your Cat Leashed
An easy way to do this in camp is to set up a picket line–simply stretch a length of clothesline between two trees or between your car and the picnic table, etc. and then attach your cat’s leash so that it can slide along the picket, allowing your cat to move around and explore the campsite while keeping her within sight.
While setting up your picket line, clear the area of obstacles and look around for dangerous plants. Keep an eye on your cat as she explores and makes sure she doesn’t eat anything that could be dangerous. Scan the area frequently as well, for other pets and wildlife such as snakes, hawks, owls, raccoons, etc.
Never leave your cat alone in the campsite, even if she’s leashed or contained in the car. She will be easy prey for predators on a leash, and can easily overheat in a locked car.
Finally, always watch your cat around a campfire. She may not be familiar with fire and the accompanying hot surfaces nearby. At night, it’s best to keep your cat in her crate near you or on a short leash instead of the picket line.
Maintain Your Schedule
As we mentioned before, cats are creatures of habit. Try to stick to your routine as closely as possible while camping: wake up, feed her, and go to sleep around the same time. If you brought a litter box, clean it on the same schedule as you would at home.
With these simple tips, you can set yourself and your cat up for a successful camping trip that will be fun and safe for you both!