After a beautiful location, decent showers and nice people, every campsite needs a cat.
With ours left at home, we miss the special company of a cat. So, camping with cats is the answer. But is it possible? And is it kind?
Here’s our practical guide to camping with a cat.
Happy camping cats
Sam Bartlett travels everywhere in her motorhome with four-year-old Zazzie. In fact, they’ve recently come back from 10 weeks in Morocco.
For Terry Hannam’s 14-year-old Sadie, their motorhome is just like real home.
Martin and Julie Smith take Cleo and Jack camping in their tent.
We’ve come across lots of campers with cats on our travels in Europe (remember that cool place we used to be part of?). All loved their cats and didn’t like leaving them behind in catteries or with cat-sitters.
All but a few put cat welfare first – recognising that some pets prefer the familiarity of home or that trips to extremely hot or cold places might not be comfortable for an animal.
If your cat packs its little rucksack and then looks forlorn when you leave it behind, this is for you.
Read on for our ultimate guide to camping with cats.
Does your cat really want to go camping?
Not every cat is a born camper. They need to be confident enough to explore unknown territory without fear, unless they’ll be kept full-time inside the motorhome, campervan or tent and car.
And if that’s the plan, they need to be indoor cats to begin with, as no-one wants to coop up a natural explorer.
You also need to be able to get a harness on and off your cat without it struggling or getting distressed. Get your cat used to being on a leash with short stints around the house and then garden.
Slowly introduce your cat to travelling with short local rides. And do a test run. Sleep overnight in your campervan at home or pitch your tent in the garden. It’ll help you all get used to it and help you identify where the trouble spots may be.
- Don’t let your cat eat potentially dangerous plants.
- Watch out for dogs and wildlife that could attack your cat.
- Ensure he’s vaccinated and has had treatment for fleas, worms and ticks.
- Have him microchipped and give him a lovely collar with tag that gives your contact details.
- Don’t leave him in a campervan, tent or motorhome that could become hot. A cool camping spot in the morning could be baking by midday.
A cat changes your camping experience
Having our cat along can be fabulous fun and, if you get it right, can give you more peace of mind than leaving her in the care of others.
However, a cat changes the way you camp. If you’re going to be worried all the time about letting her out or about her safety, then you might be in for a stressful holiday.
It can be delightful watching your cat discover new things – they’re smart and curious after all. How lovely to have your cat curled up on your knee beside the campfire. And if you’re lucky enough to have a cat who likes hikes, you’ll slow your pace and notice what she notices.
But, think about how you usually spend your time when camping. Do you go off for whole day hikes or long excursions to visit museums or go shopping? Will a cat impinge on that free-to-do-anything pleasure? Will you need to rush back to feed her?
Is your destination cat-friendly?
- Not all campsites welcome animals, so check ahead of time. You may be charged extra too
- Nature areas where dogs aren’t allowed will be off-limits to cats
- Will the weather be a problem? If you won’t be able to give your cat shade or a place to cool off, don’t take her
Camping kit for comfortable cats
Whatever else you do, make sure you provide a safe place for your cat. It could be a carrier, a bed, a box or even the back seat of the car. It needs to be somewhere he feels comfortable and where he can hide if he feels the need. Familiar blankets and toys also help make him more at ease.
Harnesses and leads
The H-style or vest-style harnesses are the most comfortable and cat-friendly. Make sure your cat is happy by testing it out at home, gradually getting him acquainted with it. Let him smell it, leave it around and combine a treat with trying it on to make it a positive experience.
Get him happy with the harness before you move on to attaching a lead. Stay in the house to start with, leave it loose and gradually build up to steering him.
It’s obviously easier to train a kitten, but it is possible with some, not all, older cats. Just don’t try to do your training a few days before setting off – it takes time.
Don’t ever leave your cat tied up, but you can rig up a moveable line so that you have your hands free for setting up camp. Just tie a clothesline or similar between two trees and attach the leash so it can move freely along the line. That way your cat is kept close but can still move around and explore without getting tangled. Do keep an eye on him, though.
Fit is the most important thing. Measure your cat’s girth tight against his fur, and then 5-10cm for comfort. It should be snug, but not too tight. Test if you can fit a finger or two underneath.
Litter boxes and carriers
Even if your cat doesn’t use a litter box at home, it pays to get him used to one when travelling. There’ll always be occasions when doing his business outside won’t be possible.
Even if he does go outdoors, you don’t want to be leaving cat poo around campsites or public areas – it’s not healthy and it’s just not nice. So, you’ll need some biodegradable poo bags like those silly dogs need ALL the time.
A cat carrier is a useful piece of kit, especially if your cat isn’t lead-trained. Even with a harness-happy cat, a carrier makes travelling safer for both of you and helps if you choose to stay in a hotel or a friend’s house now and then.
The big plastic carriers are too cumbersome for most camping situations. Choose a soft-sided carrier that can fold flat when not in use. These can also double as a cat bed.
As a reminder why you might want one, even with a cat who stays close. Susan Tomlinson has travelled from the UK to Spain, driving through France, with cats Eric and Brenda. “I once had to stop at a services near the Spanish border and Brenda shot out of the passenger door. She ran into the bushes and refused to come back…heartstopping moments for a while, but I managed to capture her. On sites, they never seemed to wander far away from the van.”
Extra cat camping bits and pieces
Being able to find your cat using an app on your phone should give you real peace of mind. However, we struggled to find a failsafe cat-sized one of these.
Many are designed for dogs and the collar attachments don’t look terribly comfortable for smaller cats. GPS gives you a full search range, but if your cat isn’t likely to stray far, a cheaper wireless remote tracker might be enough for you.
These are the best we’ve found, but we’d advise buying from somewhere that will take them back if you find they’re too big or heavy. The links take you to Amazon, which is usually good on returns, but do check individual sellers’ return policies.
The Weenect cat tracker uses GPS and is very well thought. It’s designed for cats, so size has been reduced as much as possible.
There’s a subscription to pay for the service (around €4 a month), but that actually makes it seem more reliable. No distance limit and works in 100+ countries. Around £50.
Tips and advice from our cat-loving readers
Samantha Bartlett and Zazzie
Zazzie is coming up to four years old. She was a feral Spanish kitten who turned up at our door when she was a few months old. We first took her away when she was about six months old, once she’d been spayed. Since then, we’ve been all around Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
People shouldn’t be nervous about taking their cat away with them. Just be patient, introduce them to your motorhome or campervan and let them place their scent (not soil it, of course!)
Zazzie sleeps in the same carrybox-bed that she’s always had, along with her two toy frogs. She has a special blanket, food dishes and litter box just for travelling, though. We’ve never had any problems with her soiling away from her box, and it goes outside under the van.
When we first went away for about two months, she had a harness and a lead. Now, though, wherever we pull up – beaches, inland villages and remote places – we always just open the door and let her out. We don’t feed her beforehand so she’s hungry and knows to come back.
We’ve just been to Morocco for 10 weeks and, again, Zazzie was free to come and go. When we go out she sleeps in her box. At times, if she’s not back, we just leave her out…she’s always under the van when we get back.
She stands up to other cats or dogs that come near the van, arching her back and fluffing up her fur. We call her ninja Zaz, because she sidesteps and scares them off.
Zazzie adopted me and Simon. Humans don’t own cats; it’s the other way around! She’s definitely a special little puss.
Abbie’s tips for cat travel
“Just got back from a four-month trip with mine. She got used to it pretty quickly and also got used to staying in couch surfing places and AirBnbs etc. I had an extendable washing line attached to the van for when we where limited on time and didn’t want to have to wait for her to come back when I let her out for shorter breaks.
She generally wasn’t tied up in the van – mostly because she wrapped the lead around everything and hates the cat box. I used crystal litter most of the time because it absorbs the smell quickest and didn’t have space for enclosed tray (normally use biodegradable litter). One piece of advice – get a tracker! Mine always came back eventually but worried the hell out of me a few times and cost me several days waiting around for her (normally when travel buddies had let her out).”
Martin Smith, Cleo and Jack
We’ve got two cats, about 10 years old now, and they’re brother and sister.
We decided to take them away because boarding costs can get prohibitive and relying on people to look after them is a bit difficult as we lived on a canal boat at the time.
We’re all in France at the moment. They pretty much carry on as normal. Jack tends to clear off for the day, but always comes back in the evening. Cleo hangs around the tent or walks with us. We’ve been able to leave them to their own devices during the day and evenings without any problems.
Out of season is easier because there are fewer dogs and few people to apologise to if they soil near their pitch or just get too nosy about other people’s tents.
We’ve made no special arrangements otherwise, but I would say that our marvellous inflatable bed-settee didn’t last long.
The only real concerns are the actual travelling, Cleo takes a while to settle, and rounding Jack up to leave can be problematic. This has involved a trip to Shrewsbury station for Julie to get to work, and me going back to wait for him to turn up. Could have killed him!
Terry Hannam and Sadie
My cat Sadie is an American Ragdoll and almost 14. I’ve had her since she was a kitten. I was looking at another kitten at the time when her paw came out from under the box she was playing in and then she proceeded to jump on me, so I suppose she chose me!
We’ve been all around Devon, Dorset, Sussex, Hampshire and Norfolk together and we’re about to do the NC500 coastal route in Scotland. We’ll be I’ve got Sadie’s passport ready and we’ll be going to Europe soon.
She has her little igloo bed on the fixed bed, which I put a cover on. I put her food and water on a large mat on the bed as well. Her litter tray is placed in the shower cubicle on an old towel so that no litter goes down the waste.
She can roam around as much as she likes and gaze out of all the windows. Because of her age and bad eyesight – and how precious she is to me – I don’t let her wander outside if I’m not there. I have a small harness for her if she wants to go out. If she soils outside, I pick it up in a poo bag, like I do with the puppy.
I think you have to make your travelling home just like your house – toys, food, water, treats and, if you’re going out for the day, maybe some music or TV left on for company. Most important is that they have enough shade, air and water. Even a large motorhome can still get very hot inside.
Everywhere we go, people think she’s adorable and love that I take her with me.
The pet passport
Until we leave Europe at least, it’s fairly easy to take your cat to the continent. She needs to be microchipped and have a rabies vaccination, which means you can then get a pet passport. You have to wait 21 days from the date of the rabies vaccination before travelling, and make sure your vet records your cat’s microchip number on the vaccination record. Ask your vet for details.
You also need to travel using an “authorised carrier and an approved route”. By sea, this includes most of the mainstream ferry companies. Low-cost airlines like easyJet and Ryanair don’t allow live animals. Check with airlines, ferry companies or train companies in plenty of time.
Carey’s cat training advice
“My cat used to come out for runs in the car and camping in tents with us. But from a kitten he was brought up with three dogs so would come for a walk twice a day since he was a kitten. It then followed that he came out in the car to the shop with us and then further and further each time until we would go camping at Loch Morlich and Glencoe with him. It did make it easier with him copying the dogs though.
I think if I was to do it now with a campervan I would hang out in the van with him at home in the drive and garden with him following you independently into and out of the van. If he thinks of the van as another room that’s home, it will be his safe place to run back to if he gets scared when you are away on travels. Then building up to hanging out in the van at mealtimes going distances with his dinner being given at a place where you have the door open but still everyone else sitting indoors.”