Van life has given many the chance to break free from traditional patterns, hit the road, and live freely and adventurously. For many, nothing could enhance this lifestyle more than bringing man’s best friend along for the ride. But if you are ready to introduce your dog to the open road, you’ll want to be sure you’re well prepared.

Committing to a longterm van life starts with a well-thought out plan and adequate preparation. Adding a dog into the mix means an extra level of ingenuity in order to keep your pet safe along the way. If you’ve got the basics down but want to be prepared for anything on your journey, check out the following recommendations on how to keep your dog healthy while living van life.

1. Keep vet records together.

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First off, be sure to collect all of your vet records together and keep them in a safe place. It’s also a great idea to save a digital copy of these records in case something happens. Here, it’s helpful to have not only vaccination records, but also records on microchip tracking, pet insurance, or any reviews of your dog’s demeanor by their veterinarian or boarding facilities. All of this information is useful when the time comes to find a pet sitter.

2. Keep a dog-specific first-aid kit.

One rule of the road, expect the unexpected. Accidents happen, and whether your pet has a small cut or sore paws, you’ll want to be sure you’re prepared.

You can always combine your usual first aid supplies with those of your pet, but be sure to keep some specific items handy. Different sized gauze, for example, can be used to stop bleeding, brace fractures, or be used as a makeshift muzzle if needed. Self-clinging bandages that won’t stick to pet fur are ideal. Hydrogen peroxide can be used for more than just minor cuts and scrapes. If your pet ingests something toxic, having hydrogen peroxide on hand to induce vomiting can save your dog’s life if you are far from a proper vet.

Don’t forget to include extra medications for the road. Having an extra supply of prescriptions, flea and tick medicine, antacids, or approved sedatives for traveling will allow you to keep your dog healthy and happy.

3. Use veterinarian clinics.

For longterm travelers, your yearly vet visit could pose a logistics problem. Home is on the road, and you never know where you’ll be when it’s time for your pet’s vaccinations. Luckily, nearly every major city hosts vet clinics.

Clinics, small operations that run on a limited schedule, offer an affordable and convenient way to vaccinate your pet. With the popularity of clinics such as PetVet Clinic or PetCo Veterinary Services, you will be able to get your dog up to date wherever you may be, at a low cost and usually without an appointment. If you find yourself in a small town without these major names, call around to local vets and ask them about clinics — often you will even find free vaccination clinics held a few times a month.

4. Make sure they get lots of exercise.

Dog with person surfing

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Although obvious, your dog’s health depends greatly on the amount of exercise they get in a day, and it can be easy to get into the habit of short potty breaks for your pooch. Van life is not just beautiful sunsets and wide-open spaces, often you have a destination you’d like to see which takes hours of driving. Traditional runs can be good for you and your pet alike and are an easy way to stay active while on the road. Hiking, long walks, and fetch are other great ways to keep your pup young and fit.

Dog parks and pet-friendly beaches offer great options for your dog to run freely. Even better is that while national and state parks have strict pet enforcement restrictions, national and state forests, as well as Bureau of Land Management recreation areas, offer multi-use land where not only can you get a good night’s rest, but your pup can get in some open-air exercise. Always be aware of local leash laws, respect local wildlife, and clean up after your pet.

5. Take advantage of pet bathing stations.

Keeping your pet clean is imperative to a healthy van life experience. In such a confined space, dog hair, dander, mud, and dirt are enemies of the longterm modern nomad. While it’s smart to keep towels, wet wipes, and brushes at hand, it’s not always possible to keep extra water or enough to supplies to properly bathe your pet.

A great alternative to storing all these extra materials is to take advantage of DIY pet bathing stations. For a small fee, you can wash, dry, and groom your pet on your own, with all materials provided. Shops provide specialized tubs suited for any pup, shampoos, soaps, brushes, dryers, and even nail stations sometimes. This option is amazing for travelers with limited storage space or water availability. Not only do you get a chance to groom your pet, but you keep the mess of bath time away from your home on wheels, and you give your dog a great opportunity to socialize in a new environment.

6. Keep them on a healthy diet.

Choosing what to feed your dog is hard enough, but maintaining your dog’s nutritional health while on the road is even harder. A dog’s diet can be highly differentiated depending on what pet-parenting style you have, but we all want our pets to live long healthy lives, and their diet is a main contributor. Avoid feeding your dog what you eat, stick to their vet recommended diet, and keep to a specific schedule. Often, van life promotes a lifestyle outside of traditional schedules, and so feeding time might become dependent on which activities you have planned each day. Establishing a feeding schedule builds trust with your pet, and reduces their anxiety about where their next meal will come from.

Keep healthy snacks on hand for when you want to spoil them. Instead of sharing your French fries, have treats prepared just for them to be sure you’re only giving them foods that support their well-being. That way, you don’t have to feel guilty about eating in front of them when it’s not their mealtime, you can simply treat them to a healthy snack. It’s important to first know what treats your dog prefers, but some healthy options that work for most dogs include nonfat cottage cheese, sweet potato, baby carrots, apples, green beans, eggs, yogurt, and of course — peanut butter.

7. Maintain a comfortable temperature for your pup.

Dog on sand

Photo: Trotskaya Nastassia/Shutterstock

In any van build, insulation is key. While converting your vehicle can be a longterm project, even simple builds should include an insulation system. Using reflective insulation in your windows is a simple way to maintain a stable temperature inside, while also adding privacy to your converted home.

Winter can be a cozy time for a van lifer, especially with a pet. Insulation, blankets, and long snuggle sessions can keep your family warm and comfortable throughout the season. Be sure to keep extra towels and blankets for the cold, as well as pet jackets and booties if you are traveling in snowy environments. Hot water bottles also come in handy for extra warmth.

Summer, on the other hand, can pose a huge challenge while living out of a vehicle. To beat the heat, install a vent fan to keep air circulating. Solar-powered vent fans are perfect for sunny summer weather, as these can be run without using your car’s battery or fuel. In addition, cooling towels and ice packs offer a direct way to cool off your pup when the weather is extreme.

8. Plan your routes with your dog’s comfort in mind.

Wherever the call of van life may take you, be sure to keep your dog’s comfort in mind as you plan your next trip. Keep an eye on the weather around you to be sure you won’t drive into any unwanted difficulties.

In the summertime, be wary of rising temperatures, heat waves, and dry spells. If possible, stick to destinations with dog-friendly bodies of water to keep your pup refreshed. In the winter, keep an eye on big storms, and be sure to clean your dog’s paws after jaunts in the snow. If you plan your trip according to the weather, you have control of what sort of environment you expose your dog too, taking care to keep them in areas suitable for their health.

9. Use pet sitting.

It is never a good idea to leave your pet in the car alone. Mild temperatures outside your vehicle can translate into deadly circumstances inside, and many states prohibit leaving a pet inside an unattended vehicle regardless. No matter where you are, there is always the chance a concerned citizen will break your windows just to free a trapped animal, so avoid leaving your beloved friend behind at all costs. For short stints, we recommend bringing your dog along. This will take a little extra planning, but many restaurants, shops, and public areas are pet-friendly. Provided you have phone reception, call ahead at restaurants and do online research to confirm pet-friendliness for your destinations.

For any long, pet prohibitive trip, such as sightseeing in national parks, don’t hesitate to take advantage of pet sitting. Many pet-sitting options are available outside of traditional boarding, and you can enjoy your excursions at peace, knowing your dog is in the care of a screened caretaker in their home.

10. Train your dog.

Dog giving a high five

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A key way to keep your dog healthy and happy on the road is to keep them well trained. Interacting with your pet in a formal way gives them a pathway to communicate with you, to understand your needs and to tell you theirs. For instance, a trained dog who knows how to indicate that they need to use the toilet will never have an accident in your vehicle, reducing stress and anxiety for both of you. Training your dog in basic commands is imperative if you wish to take them into towns, shops, and public areas.

The most efficient way to train your pet is with a clicker. A small device that makes a clicking noise is sounded, and immediately after you give your pet a treat. Over time, your pet will associate the sound with a reward, and slowly you can introduce commands into the mix. Eventually, replace the sound of the clicker with the command for the desired response, and watch as your pup performs, ready for their treat at the end. As you train your pooch, you will eventually limit the use of treats, but always keep them on hand to keep your dog motivated to learn and obey.