All you need to know about vanlife with cats and dogs!
A quick introduction:
We are Those Weirdos - Dom, Missy and Rosie (12). We live on our van "The Sub" with two cats and two dogs. We've been travelling around Europe for 18 months.
Hogie (Bogie) is the big ginger three-legged fourteen year old dog. Juan is the little black and tan six year old former Spanish stray. Morph is the big black cat, ten, enjoys the outdoors and Leo is the pretty tabby, only two years old and a total homebody.
This blog is all about what vanlife looks like with four animals on board, how we make it work and what gear we have found to be really useful.
All links are Amazon affiliate, which means we earn a small commission if you buy from one of these links – at no extra expense to you. It's one of the small income streams we have keeping us in lentils and cat treats!
Harnesses and leads
Each of the animals has a harness that they wear most of the time. This means that they can quickly be clipped on to a lead, seat belt or carabiner clip point in the van.
The dogs have chunky ones with a handle on. It's useful for restraining Juan when he gets a bit too excited, and is how we lift Bogie in and out of the Sub (three-legged old boys can't jump in).
We have strong points to clip the dogs to around the van. One on the side of the metal box of the passenger seat, and one under the fridge that we use most - it's ideal for the dogs when the sliding door is open. They are clipped to it with their extendable leads so we can vary the length that they can roam on depending on whether we are sitting outside with them or are inside cooking.
The cats have soft fabric harnesses that they wear all the time. When we're parked and the door of the van is open, the cats are clipped onto long leashes that are attached to the van either by carabiner to the seat (the headrest pole) or to the bed. They are free to roam and can reach both beds, their food, the dashboard (a favourite snoozing place) and their litter tray. Occasionally Morph will jump out, but it's never an attempt to escape or run away - usually he'd like to sit under the van or on one of our camp chairs by the door.
Generally though, both cats prefer to stay in the van and look out at the world!
Cat harness (ours are from Pets at Home but have been discontinued. This one looks similar)
When we are driving both dogs usually sleep in the back on the floor by the sliding door. They are clipped on to leads that go from their harness to the under kitchen carabiner.
Sometimes one of them will sit on a seat, and then we use a proper seat belt.
Both cats travel in the front, also both clipped on, their leads go through a carabiner attached to the headrest so they have room to turn around and move about a bit.
Morph and Leo often sit and snooze together on a cushion on the front seat, and sometimes Leo prefers to travel sitting on the headrest of Rosie's seat in the back!
Morph can then take up the ENTIRE right seat, spreading out and reclining up the backrest. They usually sleep for most of the journey, but if we stop for any reason, they both like to sit on the driver's seat. We can't fathom out why... Cats!
Dom built a special box that is fitted in the sliding door's footwell. It houses dog toys and has a removable lid that is made of 2 planks of wood that are hinged together.
We flip the top open to cover the whole footwell when we drive and at bedtime so Bogie doesn't fall down the hole! It flips back on itself in the day so we can easily step in and out of the van.
Bogie sleeps here on a memory foam bed.
He became incontinent at night (occasionally) during our last few months in our house. It became an every night issue after about a month of vanlife. So now we put a couple of nappies on him each night before bed, and his bed covers are washable and waterproof.
We use teenage night nappies, opened at the sides and wrapped around his groin, secured with gaffa tape!
(He's been seen by a vet, it's likely dementia, but he's really happy and enjoying his retirement so nappies it is!)
Juan sleeps on the end of Rosie's bed, something he's done for years and really works in the van - one less thing to step over in the morning!
Food and water
We use collapsible dinner bowls, the cats eat their wet food in them each evening - always before the dogs because the cats often leave a few chunks. The dogs get their dinner on top of the cats leftovers and usually clean it all up. Less washing up is a bonus!
The cats have dry food available whenever we're parked and are not planning to move again that day - they get travel sick if they've eaten. We serve the biscuits in a resealable pot so none get wasted, we can close it up in the morning to drive and open it up again when we park.
For the dogs, we have a water bowl that is designed to prevent spills, either while driving or big slurpy dog tongues! The cats have a ceramic bowl on the kitchen counter.
During the first week of travelling we sprayed Feliway all over the cab several times a day, and around the van too. Its a synthetic copy of the pheromone that cats leave when they are happy by rubbing on you or their environment. It really seemed to help and we would recommend it for cats new to vanlife.
Our two hated car travel, we think because they associated it with either vet visits or cattery prison sentences. During the 6 months of the van build we took them out for short drives in the car. We started with one minute, then three, then five and so on. They did gradually yowl less and seem to be putting up with it.
The day before we set off for France, we did a 20 minute trial run and both cats were sick, Morph frothed at the mouth, they yowled... We were very apprehensive but it turned out to be fine!
They took a week to stop showing signs of stress (panting and refusing food) then another week to settle into a routine and find their way around their new home.
Now they have been travelling for over 18 months and they seem to really enjoy it.
Morph asks to go outside for walks at each new stop. He likes to do his toilette outside if possible, and he enjoys just lying down by the door if it's a peaceful spot. He sleeps on our bed at night, either curled up between us for warmth or sprawled on a pillow under the vent for cool air, and he comes for a morning cuddle every single day!
Leo likes to sleep in a cardboard box or on the stack of insulated window covers during the day and sometimes on a bed with us if it's cold. He's not keen on going outside, but loves to play so we have a laser pointer and lots of cat toys to keep him entertained. We were initially worried that he might get bored, but he loves to peer out of the window or the open door, and he seems to be a very happy cat.
We have a cat litter box built in to our cupboards. It has a removable front so that we can pull the whole tray out for cleaning. We use dog poo bags to put the dirty litter in and clean it twice a day - we don't have any problem with smells.
The cats also have extendable leads, smaller than the dogs' ones so the pullback is lighter. Sometimes we take a cat in our special backpack - Leo particularly likes this. We have two of them on board in case there's an emergency, they fold flat for storage which is ace.
Weather - Heat, Cold and Rain
We never ever leave our van unattended so there is always someone with the animals to keep an eye on the temperature and their comfort.
For hot countries we have window shades and a Maxxfan to keep it cool inside, we also have a large coolmat that Bogie likes to lie on.
The cats tend to retire to Rosie's bed if it's very hot out, it stays very dark and cool in there.
We also have a Chinese diesel heater for cold weather.
Life definitely isn't as peaceful as it would be without all the animals, but they are all enjoying it and give us so much love and entertainment, we wouldn't want to be without them on our epic travels!
Odds and Ends
Poo Bags - unscented, biodegradable, with handles on a roll - ideal!
Dog tie out stake - handy if you need to tether the dogs away from the van.
Cat Scratching Mat - ours is screwed to the front of a cupboard, although they also like to use our seat covers...