ASK THE VET: Don’t assume cats will be happy to hit the road in an RV

Q: My spouse and I want to take our dog and two cats on a monthlong trip across the United States in our 30-foot recreational vehicle. The dog is no problem, but we are concerned about whether this is feasible with the cats. What's your advice?

A: Your family can make this work, but only if the cats are amenable. I suggest you first take an overnight trip with them to be sure they enjoy traveling as much as you do.

Assuming your recreational vehicle, or RV, is a motor home rather than a travel trailer you tow, you'll need to confine your cats while you drive so they don't venture under the brake pedal or get thrown around if there's a wreck.

When you leave your pets alone in the RV, make sure the temperature there is safe for them. As with a car, an RV can quickly become an oven that causes heat stroke and death to pets left inside.

To prevent your cats from escaping their home on wheels, make sure the screens are firmly affixed and your screen door latches securely.

When you're outside, invite your cats to join you in a mesh tent or on a cat harness and leash. If they prefer to remain inside, entertain them by affixing a suction-cup bird feeder to a window.

Each of your pets should have a microchip and a collar displaying your cellphone number. Before your trip, make sure your microchip contact information is current. Keep photos of your pets on your cellphone in case one of them gets lost.

Pack a carrier for each cat in case your RV breaks down and you have to move the cats into temporary housing. Include a can of Feliway relaxation pheromone to spray on the towels in their carriers.

Take your pets' rabies certificates, medical records and enough medication to last an additional month, in case you extend your trip. Federal law requires every pet crossing state lines to have a health certificate, which your veterinarian can provide, to certify that the pet is free of contagious diseases.

Talk with your vet about conditions specific to the areas you'll be visiting. At minimum, your cats and dog should be protected against fleas, ticks, heartworms and intestinal parasites.

Enjoy your trip!

Q: My dog Greta is healthy and has had no diarrhea or other problems. However, her veterinarian found an intestinal parasite called Giardia during routine testing of her stool. He sent home medication for her and told me Giardia can spread to humans. What can you tell me about this parasite?

A: Giardia are microscopic, one-cell protozoal parasites that have been reported in 15.6% of dogs seen at veterinary clinics and 30% of shelter dogs. A recent study found that 74% of U.S. dog parks are contaminated with Giardia.

Dogs become infected when they ingest water, grass, soil or food contaminated with Giardia organisms excreted in the feces of infected wildlife, dogs, cats or other mammals.

Although some infected dogs show no clinical signs, many have diarrhea. Young dogs are often severely affected.

Treatment of Giardia infection, called giardiasis, is challenging, and many veterinarians recommend multiple medications.

It's important to dispose of Greta's feces immediately. The Giardia organisms she excretes will persist for many months in the environment, where they can reinfect her and spread to other animals.

As your veterinarian noted, Giardia also can infect humans. Most cases occur when humans drink contaminated water. Still, bathing Greta will remove the microscopic Giardia organisms from her fur and could decrease your risk.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

[email protected]