So you want to know about travelling with your furry friend? If so, this might be the blog for you. In this blog I talk about how I got my cat Kali used to van life and how we do daily life now. I share the essentials such as food, water, temperature, toilet, play time and more.
Please note that these are based upon my experiences living van life with my cat for almost 15 months full time. It will hold some relevance for other furry friends too like dogs, rabbits and other little critters you may like to travel with. I am not a furry friend expert but I am a lover of animals. I should add here, when I picked Kali up 7 years ago from the pound she was extremely skittish and still is to a certain degree so I have tried to cover as many bases as possible to ensure her health and wellbeing are top priority.
Click here to watch the vlog
So let me take you back to over a year ago when I started preparing Kali for van life.
The ease in
Step 1 - I parked the van up in front of the house so she could get used to it visually, then started it up so she could get used to the sound.
Step 2 - During this time I had placed her comfort items in the van, blankets, toys, items that had both mine and her scent on them. This ensured there was familiarity in her new home.
Step 3 - I took her outside to show her the exterior of the van, slowly ventured inside and as she seemed curious I put her down to let her explore. There were little hiding spaces for her which obviously cats absolutely love. I then did this over the course of a week or so taking her inside for a few hours, letting her explore and chill in what was to be her new home. (I also used a pheromone spray 30 mins before entering the van which is known to help ease distress in cats.)
Step 4 - Time to start the van up and boy she didn't like that one, way too noisy. So over the course of the next couple of weeks I would start the van up, reverse a little, go forward and eventually go for short drives.
Hot tip - Start spending quality time here, make it a safe space for fun, love and connection.
How we do things on the daily
Food and water : It's pretty easy with Kali, I just ensure I have a good space to store food and water when I’m driving around. Ensure your furry friend doesn’t eat too much before and after travel times as they may get a tummy upset. Also, if your cat ventures out into the wild its best to watch them at all times so you know what they are eating. There are many places especially in the outback which have baits lying around as well as poisonous plants and grasses etc.
Outside exercise playtime
In our home before this one, Kali was mostly an indoor cat apart from time spent in her little outdoor enclosure. She loved to get outside though and feel the fresh air on her skin and watch the birds at a closer distance etc. Living in a van makes it even more important to get outside, stretch, dig around in the earth and connect to nature's elements. When we first moved into Kalypso I made an outdoor enclosure for her. She liked it but I really wanted her to experience a little more freedom to move around, so I trained her to walk on a harness. She rarely uses the enclosure now, much preferring to walk on the harness.
When Kali is on the harness or in the enclosure she is always within my sight. I've heard too many horror stories about cats going missing in a storm never to be seen again. Kali is microchipped however as I'm normally out free camping in the bush I don't think this little princess kitty would last very long. If you choose to have your furry friend off leash or are afraid they will escape from their harness there are tracking devices you can purchase to put on collars etc.
Hot tip - Always make sure the area is safe before letting your furry friend out, no sharp objects, aggressive or territorial furry animals etc and watch them closely to see if they are fearful or perhaps have seen something dangerous that you have not picked up on.
Indoor exercise/playtime : Play time is seriously important, especially in a smaller van or when the weather isn't suitable and outdoors isn't an option. I know when Kali needs to exercise or have indoor playtime as she will start running up and down the van like she's getting ready to race speedy Gonzales. In these times I get out her play toys and she goes for gold. We usually have play time every couple of days; however it really should be a daily thing to ensure she is mentally and physically engaged.
Temperature. Kali and I here in Australia have hit low temperatures of -5 and the high temperatures well into the 40s. Both can be a challenge for your cat and conditions need to be monitored during these times. For extreme cold weather I have a diesel heater however most times in the colder weather I make sure she has plenty of blankets and a hot water bottle if its really cold. I recently added an electric blanket to the mix mainly when we get into the minuses and she's keen beans for that. In high and extreme heat conditions I use the aircon (with the generator). This has honestly been a lifesaver. Other ways I have reduced the heat are with window coverings to bring the temperature down and sirocco fans. I have also put Kali outdoors in a shady area with wet towels over her enclosure, the fan on her and in desperate times I have pat her down with cold water. Obviously being a cat she definitely isn't down for that.
It's really important to make sure you park up under a tree or somewhere cool in these conditions as they can be deadly for our furry friends. There are many methods to monitor the temperature whilst you are out of the van if you have wifi however I never leave Kali unattended in the heat.
Companionship - Your furry friend may be a friendly critter who loves to meet other animals and get their play on or maybe they are more like Kali who is the quiet observer. Either way it's great for them to have this mental stimulation with other animals whether that be just watching or interacting. I know that Kali really enjoys watching all the other animals she has come across on our journey. It has really been quite an amazing thing.
Safety : When driving ensure you have a safe enclosure or harness that is secure and they feel safe in. Kali still fears driving due to the noise and movements and its the only downfall we still have living full time on the road. What made this worst was when we first started out there were numerous items which were not completely locked in and had fallen making loud banging sounds when we drove off.
On a deeper level, what makes your cat feel safe? I use key words, singing, eye contact, physical body gestures and a calm and firm energy depending on what she needs at the time.
I will mention again here that your energy is really important, to create a safe space for others. You need to be creating that vibe yourself emotionally, mentally and physically and if you are feeling out of whack, sure thing your furry friend will also be picking up on your vibration.
Grooming : Kali is a short haired cat which makes it pretty easy for me. She grooms herself and whilst I get hair lying around here and there it's not a big deal. The big deal I have is that she doesn't always use her scratching post and has scratched up the furniture. I have placed tape and coverings on the furniture and that has helped.
Nurture : Many cats have loads of love to give, Kali not as much as others but we most certainly get our doses of love and nurture in that's for sure. We created a routine which I think we are both pretty happy with. Either she or I will head to bed at night and await the other and when we are settled in I will give her generous amounts of pats and sometimes even read her a bedtime story. She absolutely loves it as do I! At times we fall asleep holding hands/paws and when I am deep in my sleep she gets up and goes back downstairs to watch out the windows before returning again in the morning when it's snuggle time.
Now. look I was always a dog person, never a cat lady and never thought I would be one especially one that pampers her kitty as I do but I have learnt to realise what great companions they are especially when living on the road. It is a relationship based upon deep love and connection and I am forever grateful for this.
Toilet : Many people ask me where to put the kitty litter. All van layouts will be different so you really need to work out where it will be out of the way but easily accessible for your cat. Perhaps somewhere with good ventilation and lighting so they can see what they are doing. I put Kali’s in the shower of the bathroom and use bicarb and essential oil to mask any odour. When it comes to empty times I add it to the bag of rubbish and place it in the bin.
Healthcare : Kali gets her yearly vaccinations to protect against cat flu etc and is wormed and flead regularly. It's always good to know how far away you are from a vet especially when travelling to more rural areas. Kali had her vaccination this year and it made her severely ill. I needed to take her back the next day to receive more treatment.
Exploration : Having spaces they can explore within the van is important but also outside the van too. One of the biggest tips I had when watching a vlog before I started out on the road was to park up near shrubs and trees, places where there is wildlife and little critters for Kali to watch. If we are in an open field with only grass surrounding us it gets a little boring for Kali. Kali being the curious cat she is loves to see not only what the wildlife are doing but also our neighbours if we have any.
You have the opportunity to explore vast lands whilst living on the road and I'm sure your furry friend would love this too. Take them out and let them sniff around if its safe but be mindful your furry friend isn't harming the wildlife. If you want to explore without them there are many pet sitters and agencies out there willing to help out for a fee. I will raise it again, leaving your furry friend unattended in the wrong conditions can be deadly but if you do, It is crucial you take into consideration the size of your van, the time spent away from your furry friend, the temperature, their age etc.
I hope this blog has given you some insight as to what life on the road looks like with a travelling furry friend.
May you and your furry friends Stay Safe and Stay Present!
TamSun & Kali x