Moving With a Cat: Tips for Making it Less Stressful
A promotion. A transfer. A change of pace. Moving can be an exciting – if exhausting – adventure in a new stage of life. But as anyone who’s owned by a cat knows, our little buddies usually – ok, always – HATE change. Cats know their territory, and their territory is theirs. They don’t like being forcibly removed from their homes and dropped into a new place. New sights, smells, and spaces are overwhelming to their delicate senses, and because they need to feel safe and in control of their homes any upset sends your cat into hiding. To make matters worse, on the actual moving day there are people – lots of people – in and out and moving things and bringing unfamiliar sounds and smells, assaulting the sacred kitty kingdom. If you happen to be moving out of town…God help you all. Thankfully, not all is hopeless. Maybe you can’t make it all magically happen without any fuss (if you can, please share!) but if you know cats in general, and especially your own little friend’s personality and preferences, your move will go much smoother. Here are a few tips to make moving as painless and accident-free as possible.
Before the Move
Depending on your cat’s personality, you may want to start preparing her way in advance, maybe even as soon as you know your moving. For others, a few weeks will suffice, but in either case, preparation is key.
Prepare for the Worst
No one likes to think about it, but what would happen if your cat somehow pulled a Houdini and escaped during the move? Instead of panicking, start by making sure his tags are up to date, with an active cell phone number that you can be reached at. This is a basic precaution but not fail-proof because the collar the tag is attached to should ALWAYS be breakaway. If the collar should come off, what then?
Microchipping is the safest and most reliable way to make sure your fuzzball gets home safe. A tiny computer chip is implanted just under the skin, usually in the folds of the neck, and can be done by your vet. Then, when someone finds your errant friend and takes him to a shelter or a vet clinic, they can scan his chip and voila, there’s your contact information and you’re reunited with your furball.
Speaking of vet visits now would be a good time to make sure your cat’s vaccinations are up to date and that he’s in good health. Stress can make a minor medical issue into a huge one, so it’s best to make sure he’s in as good health as possible. This would also be a perfect opportunity to test out how your cat feels about his carrier and car rides.
The Dreaded Cat Carrier of Doom
Getting your cat used to the cat carrier well before the move will save both of you some headaches that day. Begin by setting your carrier out in a place where your cat feels safe and comfortable. If your cat is a heliophile (sunshine-lover) set the carrier near or in a beloved beam of light, or perhaps near her food and water. Sometimes she’ll jump right in, sniff around a little, and walk out again, in which case your job is cut in half. If she decides “oh, heck no, this ain’t happenin'” you’ve got some more work to do. Keep the carrier open at all times, and put some familiar objects inside, such as toys, a pillow or small blanket, anything with her scent on it, and see how she reacts. If she still won’t go near the carrier, try moving her food just inside so she has to step into the carrier to get at it. Gradually move the food farther in until she is comfortably eating all the way inside.
Once Smokey is used to the carrier, it’s time for the next step. Take her out to the car and just sit with her. No need to drive yet unless she’s doing well just sitting. Start the car, see what happens. Then take short drives around the block or down the road a bit, then work on longer trips. A word of advice on cats and cars – do NOT let Mr. Trouble out of his carrier, even if you have someone else with you. Do you want to suddenly find your brakes are hissing at you? No? Just be safe and don’t let your cat wander the car.
Along with the carrier, your cat is likely to be freaked out by the sudden addition of dozens of large cardboard boxes. Of course, if your cat is like my little buddy, he’ll be jumping into and on top of them without a second thought. But if your cat is box-shy, try easing the fright by spraying a bit of catnip on a flap or corner of the box. Don’t go crazy with the spray though, lest Claude destroy a perfectly good packing box (again, personal experience).
Stay on Schedule
While you’re busy with packing and updating all the addresses and notifying people and getting the electric turned off at the old place and the water turned on at the new, make time for your cat. They’re creatures of habit, and although you can’t avoid disturbing that during a move, you can minimize it by keeping to your routine as much as possible. Feeding, playing, and sleeping at the same time is reassuring to cats and it’s something they can count on in a whirlwind of change.
The Big Day
It’s here. Everything is boxed up and wrapped in paper and cellophane and the movers are about to knock on the door to cart everything away. Then it’s a drive – short or long – to a new home, and more movers to unload the boxes and then five months or more of unpacking and settling. Your poor cat doesn’t know what’s about to hit her. If you’ve prepared thoroughly, it’s less scary than you’d think.
The night before/morning of
Feed your cat a small meal to avoid any messy stress-induced accidents. At the same time, don’t withhold food as it can help to settle her nervous stomach. Half the usual amount of food will work just fine. Always provide plenty of fresh water.
Several homeopathic products on the market may reduce your kitty’s anxiety. Essential oils are too strong for cats and can be toxic if ingested, but there are products made specifically for cats to calm them down.
Before the Movers Arrive
Shut your cat in a small room that’s already been emptied, such as a bathroom or a large closet or small bedroom/office. Make sure he has food, water, his litter box, and his security blanket and toys so he has familiar things around him. You may hear crying, howling, pleading to be let out but resist the urge to open the door. As I mentioned before, cats are escape artists, and the last thing you want happening on an already stress-filled day is to lose your beloved pet. Two adjoining rooms such as a master bath and bedroom can be useful so you can close the bedroom door and then go into the bathroom to provide some comfort that you’re still there. That way, should catastrophe strike and he runs out the bathroom door, he won’t go farther than the bedroom.
Chances are your cat is completely freaked out by now, and even if you’ve spent months getting her used to the carrier she may be REALLY resistant to getting in. Put some toys in there and whatever she needs to be less stressed, but in the end, it just has to be done. It will be over soon enough.
Cat, Meet Home
You made it. Twenty hours of driving with horrific noises from the back seat and you made it to your new home. Even twenty minutes seems like an eternity with a stressed cat. After that, the next part should be easy: letting your cat out of the carrier. He would appreciate having a familiar setting, so go for another small room with his food, water, litterbox, and comforting things in as much the same configuration as before the move. Let him get used to that room while the movers are unloading, then introduce him to his new home a room at a time.
Just like it takes you time to adjust to your new home and set everything just the way you want it, it will take your cat time to get comfortable with the new surroundings. Let her explore at her own pace. She may surprise you with how quickly she claims the title of Queen of the domain. Or maybe not; she may be reluctant to venture outside her one “safe room” where she was first introduced. Give it time and just let it happen. Ideally, you’ll have the same furniture with her scent on it. If not, you can put it there yourself by taking a clean piece of cloth or put a clean sock on your hand, then rub her cheeks and behind her ears where her “marking spots” are located. Then you can rub the furniture with that to transfer the scent.
Keeping the outside in
Outdoor or indoor/outdoor cats have a special consideration: when do you let them go outside? If you want your cat to come back home, help him know that this is home now by keeping him indoors for a few weeks to orient him to his new surroundings. If you’re nervous about letting your cat outside in a new neighborhood for the first time, you can try a cat leash, found at pet stores.
When All Else Fails
So your cat hasn’t adjusted to life in the new home and she’s pretty miserable, which makes you pretty miserable, too. It’s been a month or more and things haven’t improved or have gotten worse. Time to talk to your vet about what you can do, and you may be able to get a dose of anti-anxiety meds for your cat, or your vet may suggest something simple to encourage calming behaviors.
Moving is stressful for everyone involved, especially if, like a cat, you don’t know what’s going on. With a little forethought, however, you can help your feline friend recover from his trauma faster and adapt easier to the new digs. Familiarize your cat beforehand with his carrier and with packing boxes. Keep as regular a routine as you can, and continually reassure your cat with affection and snuggles. Take every step to make sure he doesn’t bolt and disappear; keep him in a closed-off room during the moving process, and have some form of identification on him. When you arrive at your new home, let him explore at his own pace. And if things aren’t going well, seek a vet’s care. All this can’t guarantee a perfect transition, but it will ease the anxiety. Your cat will thank you, your family with thank you, and your new home’s carpets will thank you.
Here’s another related article about Moving with Pets: https://9kilo.com/national-moving/moving-with-pets