How To Help Your Cat Through a Move

Changes in a cat’s or their people’s routine can cause stress in a cat, which can lead to anxiety and insecurity and result in emotional and/or physical problems. Moving to a new home is probably one of the most stressful activities for a cat. Unfortunately, moving is probably one of the most stressful times for people as well. Therefore, it is important for cat guardians to pay close attention to their cat at this time and to be proactive in trying to reduce stresses and problems. Keeping your cat happy will keep you happy. These steps are helpful for single or multiple cat homes.

Step 1

Stick to your cat's schedule. Prior to your moving date, if your cat is used to a schedule (i.e., feeding times, grooming times, playing times, etc.), stick to it. Cats are creatures of habit. Nothing can stress out a cat more than if she is used to being fed or played with at a certain time and that starts to change each day. The only schedule you might consider adjusting is the outdoor schedule if your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat. As you get closer to the moving date, keeping closer tabs on your cat (i.e., keeping them indoors more) might be better option. This allows you to observe how your cat is adjusting to the packing (even if you are not packing, that sixth sense cat's seem to have might have already kicked in where the cat knows something is about to change in their life) and to take action accordingly.

Step 2

Try using Flower Essence to keep your cat calm. Flower essence can be used before, during, and after your move to keep your cat in a calm, secure state. The use of flower essence is highly versatile as you can use it before signs of stress to try to prevent anxiety or after signs of stress to bring the cat back to a calm state. Additionally, flower essence is popular among holistic veterinarians because while it can be extremely beneficial, using the wrong one won't cause problems. The most popular essence, and probably the easiest to find, is Bach Rescue Remedy, which can be found in most health food stores (i.e., Whole Foods). Rescue Remedy contains the essences of star-of-Bethlehem, cherry plum, impatiens, rock rose, and clematis, all of which are great for any kind of stress relief. Other essences that might be helpful during a move include Aspen or Mimulus. Just add a few drops to your cat's water dish each day. Or, you can apply the drops directly to your cat's tongue. This method is helpful prior to a car trip or when your cat is showing high signs of stress. The water dish application is the best for multiple cat households.

Step 3

Spend additional time with your cat. Spending more one-on-one time with your cat before and after the move will provide security and a calming effect. During this time, figure out what kind of activities help calm or de-stress your cat. For many cats, massage therapy is very calming. This can be as easy as stroking your cat in small, circular motions or rubbing her head and ears. For some cats, the release of energy is needed to remove stress. Energetic play with string toys or balls can help release pent-up energy.

Step 4

Make sure you have the proper moving supplies. Prior to the move date, make sure you have a collar with tag on your cat. Collars should be stretchy or break-away as cats can easily harm their necks with rigid collars. Make sure the tags have your current phone number(s) where you can be reached during and after the travel time. Having additional identification like a MicroChip or Tattoo is more fool proof (in case your cat loses his/her collar), but a collar with tag allow for faster contact if your cat does go missing. Other critical items include a proper carrier (large enough for the cat to be comfortable for the duration of the travel time) and/or harness with leash (don't just use a leash with a collar as a cat can easily slip out of her collar, ferret harnesses are rather full-proof and comfortable for most cats), portable food and water dishes, portable litter box(es), and toys. In addition, blankets or sweatshirts with your and the cat's scent can be a calming effect for the cat (place in the carrier or the seat of the car where the cat is lying).

Step 5

When moving, provide a secure environment by isolating your cat. During the loading and unloading days, keep your cat in single room. Usually, the smaller or least used room is best (i.e., a bathroom or already emptied bedroom). Make sure the room is big enough for a litter box, water dish, food, bed, and toys. Place the litter box as far away as possible from the food, water, and bed. This is a good time to put the travel supplies (carrier, leash, harness) in the room as well so that the cat is not stressed later by their presence. This is especially critical for the carrier. Cats love to sleep in areas where they feel safe. Sometimes, small spaces like a carrier provide comfort for napping, which means during the travel time the carrier should have a calming effect. Also, try to spend a little bit of time in the room with the cat throughout the day(s) (as discussed in Step 3).

Step 6

Keep identification on your cat, and have travel supplies ready for use. When traveling with your cat (via car, plane, train, etc.), make sure your cat is wearing her collar with tag and keep her in the carrier or with a harness and leash. This transition period will be one of the most stressful times of the move as your cat's sense to flee may be on high alert. The last thing you want to happen is your cat bolting from your car in a foreign environment and not being able to find them. For longer trips involving hotel stays, try getting a product with cat pheromones (Feliway is popular). Pheromones have a calming effect when sprayed in new environments like the hotel room and car (this can also be helpful in your new home before you bring the cat inside). Don't forget to have a litter box handy in the car (an aluminum roasting pan is really good for this or other shallow pan) and allow your cat to walk about during stops (some cats won't use the litter pan unless the car is stopped).  Have a water dish available as well as a little bit of food. Don't be worried if your cat doesn't eat too much during travel times; cat's tend to not eat when stressed. If your cat is prone to travel sickness, just feed her at the end of each day. Make sure to provide water throughout the day, however, as to avoid dehydration. Your cat should eventually eat at the hotel after she has relaxed (or before the start of the next day). If your cat is showing no appetite, even after being out of the car for a few hours, you might want to call your vet as this could be a sign of depression, severe stress, or some other problem.

Step 7

Carry a certificate of health and/or your cat's records. Having a certificate of health from your veterinarian can be helpful, and may be required in some states. If your move consists of travel between states, check the local laws to make sure you have proper papers on your cat(s). Carrying your cat's vet records may be beneficial as well.

Step 8

Properly introduce your cat to her new home. After the move-in is complete, depending on your cat, you might want to keep her isolated in a smaller room, move her to your bedroom for the initial night, or allow her to roam the new home. Which activity works best depends entirely on your cat's personality. Some cats prefer smaller spaces alone, while others will yowl all night if not allowed to be near their people, and others are explorers and just want to sniff and look around. Pay attention to the signs your cat is showing and adjust accordingly. Do not force your cat to explore, just open the door where she is being kept and let her come out at her own time and pace. If she starts showing signs of stress, try closing off some of the house so that the new area is smaller, or just bring her back to her room and let her explore again at a later time.  When you establish where the formal litter box and food dishes will be, make sure to bring your cat to each location so she learns where to go. You might want to keep the travel supplies out for the first week or two so that she can return to her place of comfort if she is still nervous.

Step 9

Wait to let your cat go outside for the first time at your new home. Regardless of how much your cat may be an explorer, if your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat, keep her inside for at least 1-2 weeks when you first get to your new home. During this initial period, you need to establish your scent around the place, and your cat needs time to realize this is her new home. When you initially let her out, always do so with supervision when will be home for a few hours. My cats start getting antsy after week 1, but even then I only let them out with supervision for the next couple of weeks.

Step 10

Have someone board your cat during the moving times. This will be more similar to when you go on vacation where the cat is removed from the home before you begin moving activities. When your move is complete, you can pick-up your cat and take her immediately to your new home. Follow Steps 8 and 9 to introduce her properly to her new home.

One very positive effect of moving is you can make changes to your cat's routine much easier than before. For example, adjusting food times or outdoor times can easily be made without resulting in your cat yowling or pacing waiting for their expected schedule. Decide if and what you want to change before getting to your new home. When you are there, it is a blank slate. Start feeding, grooming, treating, etc at the new schedule you desire. After the initial waiting period, start the outdoor schedule as you want. Since the entire setting is new to the cat, you can create the schedule of your choice. However, beware, as stated before, cats are creatures of habit. While you have a grace period when you first get to your new home, most likely it will be a short one. Don't be surprised if your cat has adjusted to his/her new schedule within days.


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