Caring For Animals Across the Country

Mike and Brittany Ciepluch's cat peer out the window of their truck in the desert.

Our decision to pursue full-time RV life was the perfect culmination of random chance, great opportunism and a deep love of animals. It was 2016 when a major hurricane caused us to cancel a big windsurfing trip we had planned. Still in the mood for an adventure, Mike and I decided to rent an RV and visit Caprock Canyons State Park in Texas. Despite having no prior experience with RVing, we quickly and easily fell in love with the lifestyle. 

At this point in our lives, I was fully immersed in the 10-year grind of post-graduate training to become a veterinary surgical oncologist. Mike was an emergency veterinarian and was contemplating the shift to self-employment and freelance work. Both of us were being pushed to our limits and had almost zero control over our schedules. I was either studying, training or working, and Mike was making frequent trips back and forth between Texas and Arizona to work at various clinics. In an effort to save time and money, Mike started regularly renting RVs for these trips. This way he could avoid pricey flights and hotels, and our two senior dogs could travel with him.

As soon as I had finished my training, both Mike and I agreed our current lifestyle—and the pace at which we were operating—wasn’t sustainable. We thought back to our trip in the Caprock Canyons, and how convenient the RV was for Mike’s travels and our dogs, and decided that there was no better time to pursue freelance work and join the RV lifestyle. After moving out of our place in Texas and donating almost all of our belongings, we packed our lives into a 350 square foot Keystone Montana fifth wheel and set out to find work.

Although unconventional for the veterinary profession, Mike had proven to be very successful in finding freelance work. Luckily, both of us were able to find consistent jobs as we traveled from place to place. Mike took emergency shifts and I scheduled surgeries. Sometimes we worked in the same hospital and sometimes we drove an hour in opposite directions. We stayed in RV parks, state parks, Hipcamps, friends’ driveways, even oversized parking lots. It wasn’t always easy, and we learned some hard lessons along the way, but we finally felt like we had control of our lives again.

In addition to seeing more of the country, living in an RV has enabled us to explore the veterinary field in deeper and more unique ways. We’ve gotten to see location-specific diseases that we had only ever read about in school (fungal “valley fever” in the Southwest; tick-borne diseases in the Northeast; rattlesnake bites and heartworm disease in the South). We’ve learned from a variety of experts in countless different locations. We’ve taken lessons learned in Michigan down to Florida, and we’ve taught other vets in Arizona about our findings from Colorado. The broad range of regions, hospitals and resources have provided us with valuable, real-life experience that we can freely share with others. Truthfully, we’ve become better and more adaptable veterinarians because of our new lifestyle.

We’ve also been able to expand our volunteer work—a true passion for both Mike and I. Life as traveling freelancers has afforded us great flexibility and schedule autonomy. And because of this, we were able to take three weeks off and open a brand new spay and neuter clinic in Belize. We strongly value the lessons learned and perspective gained through exposure and immersion in other cultures, and we can’t wait to continue to share these experiences with others.

Living in an RV full-time has allowed us to open our minds both professionally and personally. We’ve broken a mold that doesn’t always work for every new vet trainee, and we’ve gained the confidence to tell others to “blaze your own career path.” Plus, our little family of five has never been closer and I think our three pets enjoy seeing the country as much as we do. 

For anyone who is living in an RV with pets, or is even considering taking a trip with their furry friends, here are some things to keep in-mind when traveling with pets:

  1. Know where the nearest 24-hour emergency clinics are located. Most major cities have at least one, and smaller towns are starting to get 24-hour clinics too. You won’t have your family veterinarian with you on the road, so it’s vital to know where these clinics are in case something comes up.

  2. Educate yourself about pet first aid. The American Red Cross offers a great 35-minute online course for dog and cat first aid and what to do in case of an emergency. We also recommend downloading the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) app. This will give you a list of common toxic substances and plants to avoid, along with any concerning symptoms to watch for.

  3. Think about climate control. If you ever plan to leave your pets in the RV, then make sure you maintain a reliable, climate-controlled environment while you’re gone. This means AC in warmer weather and heat in colder weather. For our rig, we use an electrical management system (EMS) to protect from power surges. The EMS should automatically reboot and restore power if there is a surge.

  1. Keep some basic medications on-hand. We’ve included a list of some common over-the-counter medications to keep on-hand. Be sure to always check with a vet before giving your pet any of the following:

    • Diphenhydramine 25mg tablets (generic Benadryl with no other active ingredients) is good for itchy skin, allergic reactions and has mild anti-nausea properties.

    • Meclizine 25mg tablets (generic Dramamine with no other active ingredients) is a good motion sickness medication.

    • Joint supplements (fish oil or Dasuquin) can help pets stay active and healthy, but they need to be given regularly and on a longer-term basis (they are not as effective on an as-needed basis).

  2. Get your pets vaccinated. Before you leave, make sure your pets are up to date on all vaccinations. Be sure to tell your vet where you are traveling to and any activities you plan to do with your pet so they can individualize and customize treatment. For example, if you are traveling to an area with a lot of farmland or plan to visit a farm with animals, then your vet may recommend a vaccination for Leptospirosis—a deadly disease that can be common among livestock and is spread through urine.

  3. Be aware of rattlesnakes. Always keep your dog on a leash during snake season (most bites occur between April and October) or if you know you’ll be going somewhere that has rattlesnakes. There isn’t any medication you can take to help prevent a poisonous snake bite (for example, don’t waste your money on a rattlesnake “vaccine”). If your pet does get bit, take them to an emergency clinic right away.

Brittany and Mike travel in a 2020 Keystone Montana.

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