Cats don’t like change, and moving probably ranks high on their list of least desirable activities. If cats had their druthers, they’d stay in the place they’re alredy comfortable in for the rest of their lives.
Moving is stressful for humans, and it’s even more stressful for cats. Unfortunately, at some point in their lives, most cats will have to make a major move with their humans. Making the transition as stress-free as possible for your cat can go a long way toward avoiding problems associated with moving, such as fear-based house soiling, hiding, and aggression.
There are three phases to helping your cat through a move with as little stress as possible: preparation, the actual move, and settling into the new home.
Get your cat used to his carrier. Leave the carrier out where the cat can always see it. Leave a few treats in the carrier every now and then so your cat can discover them on his own. You can also try feeding your cat in his carrier so he will associate it with something pleasant. If your move involves a lengthy drive, start taking your cat on increasingly longer rides in the car so he can get used to it.
Put moving boxes out several days, or even weeks, before you actually start packing so you cat can explore the boxes, and get used to their presence. Most cats consider boxes fun toys, and allowing them to become familiar with the boxes can create a pleasant association. When you actually start packing, watch your cat closely. If she seems to become agitated or nervous watching you pack, you may want to confine her to a quiet room away from all the action.
If your cat is easily stressed in general, this is the time to think about using anti-anxiety medications or natural anti-anxiety products. I highly recommend Stress Stopper, a holistic remedy developed by feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy. I also like Composure Calming Treats. Some people also have good success with the Comfort Zone Feliway Diffusers when it comes to managing stress for cats.
Confine your cat to a quiet room or bathroom that the movers do not need to access. Post a sign on the door asking so movers keep out of that room. Make sure your cat has a litter box, fresh water, and comfort items such as a bed and favorite toys in the room with him. If you have multiple cats who get along, place all of them in the same room together. However, if you have cats that don’t get along, make arrangements to keep them in separate rooms.
Some people recommend boarding your cats for moving day, but unless your cat is used to and loves the boarding facility, I don’t recommend this. It adds yet another layer of stress to an already stressful situation.
When it’s time to move your cat, place her in her carrier while she’s still in her safe room. With all the furniture and boxes gone, the rest of your house will no longer be familiar territory, and your cat could get spooked and bolt.
Settling in your new home
Before you even move your cat into your new home, cat proof the entire house. Check window screens and make sure they’re secure and can’t be pushed out by an excited kitty who’s not used to the new sights and sounds yet. Close off any nooks and crannies where a scared cat could hide. Make sure that any chemicals such as pest control traps or cleaning supplies that may have been left behind by the previous owners are removed.
Set up a quiet room for your cat that includes a litter box, fresh water, and his comfort items. This can be your bedroom if you cat sleeps in the bedroom with you. Scatter some cat treats around the room before you let the cat out of her carrier to explore. For the first few days in the new home, especially while you’re still unpacking boxes, it may be a good idea to confine the cat to her quiet room. Moving in is a busy time, but make sure you spend time with your cat in her safe room to reassure her that some things in life haven’t changed. Play with her, or just sit with her while you’re reading.
When the initial rush of unpacking is done, start giving your cat access to the rest of the house and let him explore gradually. Supervise your cat during these exploration sessions until he’s comfortable. Place litter boxes in their permanent locations in the house during this phase so that you can eventually eliminate the litter box in the safe room. Alternately, you can keep the litter box in the safe room and gradually transfer it to a permanent location.
Let your cat’s temperament be your guide as to how long this initial settling in phase needs to be, and how quickly you can move from one stage to the next. As with new cat introductions, no two cats will react to the stress of moving the same way. Some cats will immediately explore and take over their new house, while others will take weeks to venture out of their safe room.
Photo ©Ingrid King