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Everything You Need to Know About Van Life with Cats

Ever thought about van life but don’t think your cat will welcome the open road? Tiny living isn’t just limited to dog owners, as shown by Chelsea and Nick who live with their cats in an Airstream. But let’s get even tinier with a van. Dan and Kenz from @vanziehatlieb share everything you need to know about van life with cats!

Woman sitting with a cat in her lap in a camper van
Photo courtesy of @vanziehartlieb

All About Van Life with Cats

We are asked several questions while living on the road, some more frequently than others; however, the most frequently asked question by people revolves around the two cats we live with. Whether asked by people already living this lifestyle or by people dreaming of taking the plunge into van life, our answer is that living in such a small space with a cat seems like more of a challenge than it actually is. Through a lot of trial and error, we have come to understand our cats’ needs while they travel with us full-time. They have adapted to this lifestyle and seem to prefer it over the sedentary life they once lived in our Center City Philadelphia apartment. In this blog, I will address some of the more frequently asked cat questions we have received while living on the road.

Van life with cats - 2 cats sleeping on a van counter
Photo courtesy of @vanziehartlieb

Is a van enough space for a cat?

Before moving them out of our apartment and into the van, we did a lot of research which included personally speaking to several veterinarians about if this was safe for our cats. We posed the question: “Would they be happier living in a bigger home without us or in a small home with us?”

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The answer was consistent from every source: pets’ lives are built around their owners, especially if you have had them from a young age. Cats are unbelievably adaptable and do not need a lot of space to thrive. In fact, an individual cat only needs 18 square feet of living space to live comfortably. Our Promaster 159 Extended has 82.22 square feet. So space is not a problem, especially if you can train them to also utilize the outdoors as their living space. This brings us to our next question…

Do the cats go outside?

YES! All the time.

Jimmy and Lua were city cats before living the van life. The only time they went outside was when we adopted them and when it was time to move them into the van. We introduced them to the outdoors very slowly with a harness and came up with some tricks to train them to trust the van as their safe haven. After less than a month, both Jimmy and Lua were off their harnesses and free to roam around outdoors (in safe, unpopulated areas) oftentimes laying just out front of the sliding door of the van.

They each have a Tile and an Apple Airtag on their collars to track their location and plays a tune if we are unable to locate them. We associated the tune played by the devices to their food. If we can’t see them or if it is time to go, we simply trigger their devices to play a noise and they both come running back to the van. 

What do you do with the litter box in a van?

We tried several systems for their litter box before developing a system that works best for them and for us while eliminating any smell and allowing for an easy cleaning process. Their litter box is now located in the ‘garage’ area of the van just in front of the backdoor. We carved out a small walkway for the cats to get from the cabin/front of the van to the back where they can do their business. When it is time to clean the litter box, we simply open the backdoor and clean it.

We tried two other approaches to the litter box prior to this but found this has worked unbelievably well.

Does it get too hot for the cats in the van?

Cat sitting in a camper van bed with the back doors open with a dessert view
Photo courtesy of @vanziehartlieb

Short answer, no. Even in the Florida sun or the Arizona desert, we come back to the van to find both Jimmy and Lua basking in the sun on the dashboard.

We have two windows on the backdoors with screens that we leave open for them and have two vent fans in the ceiling. One pulls hot air out and the other sends cooler air in.

We also have a few small USB-powered fans that we leave on for them if it is especially hot. The van is insulated with sheep wool and has an extra layer of 1-inch thick foam board insulation over top of the wool. It is a very comfortable space for both them and us. 

Can I pet them?

Yes, just be careful of Jimmy – he has a little bit of an attitude at times. 

Like humans, every cat is different and has different needs. Be patient with your furry friend and give them the space and time to adapt to this ever-changing lifestyle. For more van life with cats tips and tricks, you can follow our Instagram @vanziehatlieb.

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1 thought on “Everything You Need to Know About Van Life with Cats”

  1. I really like your hack of using a radio collar on your cats to call them back to your van. When I worked at a state park campground in the redwoods of NorCal, I spotted a beautiful white persian cat that had either been abandoned or ran away from its owners. I don’t know how long it had been loose – it was in good condition without matted hair – but it was skittish and I could never get close to it. Scared cats can be very difficult to call back… The idea of my pet going rogue has always bothered me, but I think your hack might just be the workable solution, especially if it means FOOD! There’s nothing like the sound of a can being opened to bring a non-responsive cat running to the kitchen from the other end of the house…

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