RV life with cats: cattifying your RV for maximum feline happiness

A black and gray cat, sitting on his low back with his belly and big feet facing the camera, looking off to the side.
What people think we do all day when we tell them we’re full-time RVers.

Before we moved into our RV, we spent about 3 months cattifying it so our four-legged family members would have an easier time adjusting to living in a tiny home. They’d always had larger apartments (and most recently, a 3 bedroom house), where they used more of the space than we humans did. They had shelves and many cat condos to climb, and we were going from about 1500 square feet to about 250 square feet (give or take).

A very fluffy black and white cat in a purple harness sitting on the ground beneat a flowering bush, sniffing the flowers.
Tycho stopping to smell the flowers.

Preparations included teaching Tycho (the most rambunctious) how to walk on a leash, so he could get out some of his energy more safely while enjoying the changing sights. We also put a lot of thought into our litter box situation.

view of the finished cat box area with Tycho checking it out
Tycho inspecting his litter box area.

Here are some other ways we incorporated cat-friendly design into our living space:

Scratchers everywhere!

Cats love to scratch. It’s just part of what makes them awesome. Scratching has all kinds of health benefits for cats:

  • improving their claw health: cats “sharpen” their claws by stripping away outer layers, revealing new, healthy nails underneath, similar to how we humans trim our jagged rough nails and the split ends of our hair
  • marking their territory: the physical appearance of a scratched surface is a signal to other cats and animals that “hey, a cat lives here, and he’s sharp!,” but cats also have scent glands in their paws, so they’re marking their territory chemically, as well. Encouraging healthy scratching may actually prevent cats from spraying, because they’ve got a healthy outlet for staking claim of their territory.
  • stretching, exercising, and relaxing: It takes some physical effort to reach up and dig their claws into a solid surface, and cats need a little enjoyable movement in their lives, just like humans. The physical act of scratching is a nice, satisfying stretch for cats, which is as good for their muscles as it is for their minds (just like humans).
  • stress relief: all of the above benefits result in a more relaxed and happy cat who is able to call their home their own. Relaxed and happy cats have fewer health and behavior problems, which means their humans are more relaxed and happy, too.

Important public service announcement: Please, we BEG you, if you think cats shouldn’t claw things, and you think it’s okay to declaw a cat, please, please, please research The Paw Project and all it’s done to shed light on the cruel and barbaric practice of declawing cats. Cats need their claws.

While we aren’t excited about the vinyl couches in our RV, we aren’t ready to replace them just yet. We knew the cats would love to shred these things if we didn’t give them some more enticing alternatives, so we got creative with the scratchers.

The trim on our slide-outs is somewhat wasted space, because the texture makes it hard to hang anything, and anything we put there needs to stay out of the way on moving days. David (our cat furniture expert) covered some sturdy plywood with thick, plush carpet we purchased as remnants from a big box hardware store. He capped the ends with some nicely sanded and finished wood, so they’d blend in. Since we weren’t sure how much the cats would enjoy them, or how much we wanted to commit to permanent modifications, we stuck these to the trim with removable velcro. (We have found the Hyper Tough brand to be easier to use than the 3M Command line, when it comes to removable velcro.)

We put 2 of these in the main living space (on 2 slides), and one in the bedroom, and they’re very popular spots. One of the boards was a bit warped to start, so after nearly a year of kitty love and use, we finally fastened the warped one to the wall with actual screws. The velcro is doing well with the others.

a carpeted scratcher along the length and width of the slideout trim, in between a small closet and a TV over a fireplace.

Additionally, David made a custom-sized scratcher (also with carpet and wood) for the side of the dresser in the bedroom. This is probably the most popular scratcher in the house, because it’s in a high-traffic area, and it’s where we sleep, so they can leave all their kitty messages in an important place. They can also launch off it onto the bed or down the hall.

In our sticks-and-bricks homes, David had made climbing poles that were extremely popular with our cats. Instead of jumping from point A to point B, they could use their claws and climb right up to the highest points of the house. (They also doubled as super tall scratching posts!) We knew they’d be a little sad to give up their climbing posts in the RV, so we wanted to incorporate one in their new home, too.

the side of an RV dresser attached to the wall, with the side covered in carpet for cat scratching.
Not only do the cats love this scratching surface, but they also love the Catit self-groomer (more on that below).

Our rig didn’t come with a bedroom TV, but it had a shelf for one. We decided to give the cats this space, and not only built a climbing pole (carpet wrapped around two 1×2’s with notches in each end to secure them to the dresser and the tv shelf), but David also carpeted a specially made shelf insert, so that the front trim would be a good vertical surface for back feet to grip when climbing or jumping. These can be removed with no damage to the TV shelf.

a cat on a shelf scratching the carpet of the shelf, with a post connecting down to a short RV dresser.
One of Kepler’s favorite spots.

Why would we want TV, when we can just watch the cats?

Provide cat-friendly surfaces!

Since the cats are going to find their own favorite places, we have a stockpile of inexpensive fleece blankets that we can put down when someone discovers a new favorite place. That makes cleaning easier (we just wash the bedding, and the chairs stay relatively hair-free), but it also gives the cats somewhere cozy to call their own.

a brustly cat rubbing surface mounted to the corner of a kitchen island in an RV. the stove and fridge are in the background.

Lillian is a rubber. She loves to rub on anything, and she loves to get brushed– except, she just wants you to hold the brush so she can rub-rub-rub her cheeks on it for hours. So we installed these little Catit self-groomer toys in several high-traffic areas. Lillian will sit and rub her cheeks many times a day. It relaxes her, and afterward, she usually takes a nap. This was an amazing $3 investment.

Since we fear commitment when it comes to RV modifications, we attach these to the corners using removable velcro or 3M Command strips. They do fall off after 6 or 8 months (or after a particularly rough wrestling match between Tycho and Kepler), but they’re easy to replace, and if one corner becomes too boring and unused, we can move it to a more interesting spot in the house.

Variety is the spice of life for cats, too.

While cats enjoy routine in their daily life, they like variety when it comes to mental enrichment and playtime. This is also what I tell myself every time I see some super cute cat toys on clearance, even though they have a houseful of unused toys. (Lillian, if we’re being honest, actually prefers a small aluminum foil ball over just about any other toy in the universe. I know this, because that’s approximately how many toys we’ve bought with her in mind.) Once we moved into a tiny space, having a basket full of cat toys in every room of the house just wasn’t feasible any more.

So now, we have rotating toy boxes. We really love these 6-quart Sterilite shoe-box-sized containers for just about everything in the RV. They work well in our cupboards and cabinets, and they’re only 99 cents apiece. (And as a bonus, if you use Shipt to shop at Target, you can have them brought to your door, along with your groceries, the same day you need them! Not gonna lie, we’ve done this several times during our earlier organizational frenzies.)

two open shoe boxes filled with cat toys.

We keep two of these shoe boxes full of toys, and we rotate them out every 1-3 months, based on when the cats seem to be getting bored with their toys. We also go through the toy boxes periodically, getting rid of toys that are ignored or unwanted, taking care to keep old favorites (like Miss Kitty’s toy sushi, which is about 8 years old and looks it, but is still one of her favorites). Whenever the toy box gets swapped, it’s like a party around here, and they play with old toys like they’re new again.

Cheap cat toy tip!! Of all the fancy toys in the world, Miss Kitty’s favorites include the cheapest. Do your cats and your wallet a favor, and pick up a pack of pompoms and have a pack of the cheapest, most durable cat toys you’ll ever own.

Find a good dope dealer (for your cats).

Not all cats respond to catnip, but many do. Sprinkle or rub catnip on new surfaces you’d like your cats to call their own, or just to encourage them to have a little fun. Any time we bring a new scratching surface into the house, we put catnip on it as a signal that it’s okay to scratch the heck out of it and have a good time.

We highly recommend Yeowww catnip, because our cats love it better than any other ‘nip, and it doesn’t contain any sharp bits of stem cats can choke on, like some other brands we’ve tried. It’s also 100% organic, which is very important to cats.

If your cats aren’t super into catnip, or you’d like them to try something new, they might be interested in silver vine. Silver vine is a relative of the kiwi, and it grows in the mountains of Japan and China. And for some reason, most cats LOVE it. It can be purchased as silver vine twigs for them to play with and chew on, or you can get silver vine mixed with catnip for a next-level kitty high.

In our house, catnip and silver vine are VERY special and rare treats, because it turns out that our fluffiest feline, Tycho, can’t handle his ‘nip, and he gets pretty mean with the other cats whenever he’s had too much of it. The small amount sewn into toys is about all he can handle.

Have you done anything special to make the transition to RV life easier on your cats?

2 thoughts on “RV life with cats: cattifying your RV for maximum feline happiness”

  1. We are going to be full time in a couple of years with three cats in a fifth wheel toy hauler and was going to put the litter boxes in the garage and sisel rope on the ladder to the bunk. Do you have an enclosure for them outside? How long did it take for them to acclimate to driving and the trailer?

    • Hi Tammy! The sisal ladder sounds like such a great idea. We don’t have an outside enclosure for them but it’s on our list! We have been looking into pre-made enclosures and haven’t found one that’ll fit the bill yet, so we think we will be constructing our own when we’re in one place with nice weather for a few months. As for acclimating to the driving: I’ll let you know when that happens! LOL. Our two girls (both senior cats) are GREAT in the car. They’re quiet and relaxed, and just like to watch the world go by. They’ve always been good in the car. But our two boys… wow, are they little terrors. We raised them from kittens and we really regret not taking them for weekly car rides! Even before the RV, every relocation and vet visit was miserable for all of us. We’ve been taking Tycho for walks and that’s desensitized him a little bit to changing surroundings, but he’s still not excited about the driving part of RV life. Kepler meows the whole way and he sounds like a Siamese cat, if that says anything. Heh. It’s definitely improving, but the acclimation part is still in progress.

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