Helping Your Cat Through a Move

moving with cats

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.

Preparation

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.

Moving Day

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

29 Comments on Helping Your Cat Through a Move

  1. Dave Sherron
    October 16, 2018 at 7:47 pm (1 year ago)

    Hi: We plan to move from Houston to Indiana in the next year. We’ve adopted three strays who choose to remain outside but are loving and hang out on our property most of the time. I’m afraid for them in our absence and would like to take them with us. Weather permitting, they’d be allowed to be outside as they wish. Do you think that our plan will succeed? Thanks for your time and advice!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 17, 2018 at 5:48 am (1 year ago)

      I would keep them inside at your new home initially and only allow supervised outdoor time until you can be sure that they’ve accepted the new house as their home, otherwise, I’d be worried about them getting lost.

      Reply
      • david sherron
        October 17, 2018 at 8:12 pm (1 year ago)

        Thanks, Ingrid, for your quick and encouraging reply. It appears that Mona, Sally and Annie can be moved interstate. May I also conclude that, given our relationship (consistent feeding, an open garage in bad weather), they’d be in trouble if we left them behind? Again, thanks. Dave Sherron, sucker for strays

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          October 18, 2018 at 8:58 am (1 year ago)

          Unless the people who move in to your house agree to continue to care for them, then yes, I think they would be in trouble.

          Reply
  2. Kellsey
    August 29, 2016 at 10:53 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi. I have recently moved with my 2 female cats. One is 3 and one is 1. Thy have lived peacefully together for the past year but letting them out into their new home the older cat has stated hissing at the younger one when she sees her again. Any idea why she would be doing this?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 30, 2016 at 5:55 am (3 years ago)

      This is most likely a case of non-recognition aggression. Usually, this happens when one cat goes to the vet and then comes home and the other cat attacks, because the returning cat smells different and he/she doesn’t recognize him/her. In this case, it may be triggered by the new and strange environment. You may need to separate the cats and reintroduce them to each other as if they had never met. Here’s more information on non-recognition aggression: http://consciouscat.net/2013/07/08/non-recognition-agression-in-cats-a-case-of-forgotten-identity/

      Reply
  3. laura aiken
    June 1, 2015 at 6:56 am (5 years ago)

    ingrid, i have also heard of putting a little crisco or butter on the bottom’s of the cats paws. it has helped with my move and just wanted to share. i had some wise lady give me that information many years ago. it has something to do with getting the ” new territory smell ” on the paws and the desire to go back home just kind of fades away ~~ hope it can help your readers !

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 1, 2015 at 7:59 am (5 years ago)

      It certainly can’t do any harm, Laura, and I suppose it makes sense in that it creates a positive association with the new place as the cat is licking the “treat” off her paws.

      Reply
  4. JP
    June 1, 2015 at 3:55 am (5 years ago)

    Hi Ingrid. We have just purchased a house around the corner from our rental and we are having trouble keeping our cat at the new address. We locked him inside for a week when we first moved and after five days he was going crazy and keeping us awake all night. What we have seen since is pattern where be will be really good for a couple of days and then take off again and need to be bought back. This happens roughly twice a week. We have tried cat calming pheromones, different feeding times and even butter on the paws but nothing seems to be working. Any ideas?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 1, 2015 at 5:48 am (5 years ago)

      Unfortunately, the only advice I have for you is to keep your cat inside all the time. You may need to take a good look at your new home and make sure it provides plenty of “catification” so your cat won’t get bored. This article may help: http://consciouscat.net/2014/11/12/keep-indoor-cat-happy/

      Reply
  5. Amy
    May 31, 2015 at 10:54 pm (5 years ago)

    Hello Ingrid!

    I am about to move out of my parents house for the first time in June. My mom has offered to keep my cat, Elton, at home for the first few days while we unpack I have a few concerns:
    1. Elton is leaving midnight, his big brother kitty who has always been there. Will going to a new home without Midnight cause more of an anxiety on Elton than the move will already?
    2. I am moving to a small 1 bedroom apartment. Is it still recommended that I keep him in one room at first? There is only one room that has a closing door in the apartment.
    3 Should I buy a few new items now, 3 weeks out from the move, like a cat scratcher and some toys that he can use with midnight and they can have their scents on? I was thinking having some familiar items might help make the place more comfortable.
    4 when should we consider getting another cat for Elton to have a companion? Is it possible that he will adjust to the new place and not need a companion? What are so,e signs I should watch for?

    Thank you!!!!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 1, 2015 at 5:54 am (5 years ago)

      Hi Amy! You’re asking a lot of good questions, but unfortunately, that’s more than I can answer in a comment. I’d be happy to schedule a phone consultation with you.

      Reply
  6. Connie
    May 31, 2015 at 9:29 am (5 years ago)

    I’m glad I read this as well. I have two move coming up in the near future. The last move made my boy Hook hide in my luggage for three days, as he was trying to get used to living in a small apartment. I’m doing another move in two months, and an international move in January, and it’s the international move where I can use the advice. He doesn’t like his carrier, and I’m certain no one wants to hear a yowling upset cat for a fourteen hour trip, including seven hours on a plane. Since I understand sedation is not recommended, what are my alternatives to make certain the long doesn’t turn my baby into a furry Caruso?

    Reply
  7. Penny
    May 31, 2015 at 9:15 am (5 years ago)

    Thanks for this article. couldn’t have come at a better time, as I live in Michigan, but am looking for a job in Florida. I’ve gone to the trouble of purchasing one of those bag carriers for cats, since my Meredith puts up such a fuss even in a nice cushioned hard sided carrier. I am hoping the bag type will alleviate some of the stress! No job offer yet, so I have plenty of time to go through these steps in order….thanks again for the help!

    Reply
  8. Michael
    March 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm (6 years ago)

    Ingrid,
    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I’m moving Sunday, and while we’re only going 100 miles south, I still always worry about Honey. Six months ago, though, she handled the move pretty well, so I’m hoping for the best. Her temperament seems to be one of acceptance, which surprises me for a Tortie. I have left all the open boxes out for her to explore, and the cat carrier. I think she knows something’s going on!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 28, 2014 at 5:28 pm (6 years ago)

      Michael, how nice to hear from you! I hope everything goes well with the move.

      Reply
  9. Kathie
    March 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm (6 years ago)

    I am bookmarking this for when the time comes. I have 4 cats and I can’t lie, I’m kinda dreading the experience.

    🙂

    Reply
  10. Robyn
    October 10, 2013 at 11:48 am (6 years ago)

    Ingrid,

    I have two furry babies and one that has anxiety through the roof, the other, calm as a cucumber. Baylee (the one with anxiety) has been peeing/spraying all over the house due to our moving situation but she has been doing it on and off for the past two years. She has just recently stopped grooming all together and is peeing just about any where. She also does it when we go to bed, but I have seen her do it on some packing paper about a month ago. She is at the vet now being checked out for undelying medical issues but she has previously been perscribed anti-anxiety meds and also I put a calming collar on her last night, did not help the situation, I found pee on a new bed I bought her this morning. I am thinking of just putting her in our dining room that has french doors so she is confined to one room with our other kitty with all her favorite things. Are there any other tips you can give me?

    I am at my witts end,

    Robyn

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 11, 2013 at 6:17 am (6 years ago)

      I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time with your cat, Robyn. If medical issues are ruled out, I’d consider working with a feline behaviorist. This is a complex issue, and it probably requires an in-depth consultation.

      Reply
  11. nina
    June 20, 2013 at 10:45 am (6 years ago)

    please help! I dont know what to do! we moved May 25th… I knew two of my cats would have a hard time so I let them be. I allowed to hide away in the cabinets and come out when ready. Well about a week later we found some poop upstairs no where near the litter box (its downstairs) no pee just poop. So someone told me to put the food bowl up there because that worked for them. Well I did and it didn’t work. This doesn’t happen every night and usually only happens when I am sleep or leave early in the morning. I need this to stop but not sure how. And my husband is growing very tired of them all together.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 20, 2013 at 10:59 am (6 years ago)

      I’m sorry your cats are so stressed about the move, Nina. To start with, I would put a litter box in the place where you’re finding the poop. I know this may not be a place where you want a litter box, and you won’t leave it there forever, but for now, this may be a good way to start getting them to use the box again. Once they consistently use it, you can start gradually moving it to a better spot – an inch or two at a time.

      I would also recommend using some calming remedies. Stress Stopper and Changing Times from Spirit Essences can work well in these situations. Use code CONSCIOUSCAT for a 10% discount.

      Reply
  12. Esme
    May 18, 2011 at 11:59 pm (9 years ago)

    Ingrid thank you for this information-great tips as usual.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 19, 2011 at 7:29 am (9 years ago)

      I hope some of it will be useful for your upcoming move, Esme.

      Reply
  13. Max the Quilt Cat
    May 16, 2011 at 9:42 am (9 years ago)

    This is important information. As we all know, I didn’t take my move very well, so it’s important for folks to know how to do it well.

    pawhugs, Max

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm (9 years ago)

      I remember from your book that moving was not your favorite thing, Max. I haven’t met a cat yet who actually enjoyed it!

      Reply
  14. Ded
    May 16, 2011 at 9:26 am (9 years ago)

    We are relocating our cat sanctuary. Forty-plus feral cats that were previously allowed to roam the woods and fields freely will need to be confined to a barn (now being built for them) and a fenced-in play yard. We tried to buy the property where we are presently located but the property owner would not sell as he wishes to turn the forest into a housing development and he does not want all these cats around. Much money has been spent getting them all neutered and vaccinated and they will not be abandoned.

    So in addition to the stress of moving, there will the additional stress in a complete change in living arrangements. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm (9 years ago)

      Wow, you’ve got a big job ahead of you, Ded. I don’t have any experience in creating a sanctuary, but I would imagine the same rules apply when it comes to creating an enriched environment for pet cats. Make sure that there is lots of vertical space (shelves, cat trees, etc.) available. Locate litter boxes away from food and water dishes. Some of your cats may need to be confined to crates initially before you an integrate them with the general population.

      One thing I would definitely recommend are the Feliway plug-ins – I actually just updated the post above to add a reference to them. I’ve heard some good success stories with Feliway, and we used it in the clinic I worked at with some success as well.

      Perhaps someone else, who has experience with creating a feline sanctuary, can chime in with more suggestions.

      Reply
  15. Anna
    May 16, 2011 at 7:58 am (9 years ago)

    Thank you for this informative and really useful article, Ingrid!
    I’m really worried at the thought of moving my Zoe from her safe environment some day, but your post gives so many useful tips and I will keep them in mind and… for reference! Your blog is such a GREAT source of information and help for cat parents!!! Thank you for your great work!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm (9 years ago)

      I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog, Anna – I love writing the posts.

      Reply

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