Cats don’t like change. They’re also territorial so imagine how they must feel when they suddenly find themselves in a totally unfamiliar location. Heck, moving is stressful for humans so you can certainly understand how unhappy the whole thing makes the family cat.
Even though a certain amount of stress will undoubtedly be involved with a move to a new home, there are things you can do to make the transition a little easier on the cat (and ultimately on you).
Prepare in Advance
If your cat doesn’t like being in a carrier, spend time getting him comfortable with the process. Since your move will likely involve either car travel or air travel, your cat will endure much less anxiety if he views the carrier as a safe place. Begin by feeding your cat near the open carrier, and then work your way toward being able to put his meals in the carrier itself. You can also use treats and offer a special treat in front of, next to, on top and then inside the carrier. Clicker training is also very helpful for teaching cats to accept being in a carrier.
Start packing well enough in advance so the moving boxes can be out and about for your cat to investigate. You can actually make the packing process kind of fun if the cat can enjoy playing in empty boxes for a couple of weeks.
If your cat reacts negatively to unfamiliar scents, spray the corners of the moving boxes with Feliway. This is a product containing synthetic feline facial pheromones (scent chemicals). The facial pheromones are associated with security and comfort for a cat. Feliway is available at your local pet product store and online.
If your cat is allowed outdoors, start keeping him indoors at least a week before the move. With all the packing and commotion associated with moving, it’s not unusual for a cat to get nervous and disappear while outside.
Have the cat’s new ID ready well in-advance of the move so you’ll be able to attach it to his collar on moving day (if he wears a collar). For added safety, make sure the cat’s identification contains your cell phone number and not a land-line number.
During the packing stage, make sure your cat’s schedule stays as normal as possible. It will only add to his anxiety if meals are late or he doesn’t receive the usual amount of attention from his family. In fact, incorporate some extra interactive play sessions to help with any increase in anxiety he may be experiencing during the packing stage.
If you’re moving far enough away that you’ll be switching veterinary clinics, get your cat’s records ahead of time to keep with you. When you get to your new location, be sure you know the location of the nearest pet emergency clinic just in case something unexpected happens in the middle of the night during your first few days in the new home.
Prepare a lost cat file containing your cat’s information and picture, as well as the names and numbers of shelters and veterinary clinics in your old and new location. This way, you’ll be prepared just in case your cat gets out the door during the move – either at the old house or the new house. Even though you’ll be taking every precaution to ensure your cat’s safety, if something tragic happens you want to be prepared with a picture so you can begin posting notices and contacting shelters immediately.
To make sure your cat stays safe and doesn’t bolt out the front door while you or the movers are carting boxes and furniture out of the house, keep your cat in a separate room. You can either empty the contents of that room ahead of time and just have his carrier in there and a couple of empty boxes (as extra hiding places) and his litter box, or make that the last room the movers will enter (you’ll put your cat in his carrier beforehand). Instruct everyone involved with the move where the cat is located and as an extra precaution, post a sign on the closed door. If you’re concerned someone might still open the door, keep the cat inside the carrier during the moving process.
If the moving process will totally freak out your cat, talk to your veterinarian about boarding him for the day if your new location will still be in the same town.
The New Home
Cat proof! Cat proof! Cat proof! Go through the house and look for potential dangers (window screens that aren’t secure, places where the cat can get stuck, etc.) and make the necessary preparations so it will be a safe home for your cat.
Set up a sanctuary room for your cat so he’ll have a safe and quiet place initially. Set up this room with some familiar furniture, his litter box, food and water bowls, scratching post, toys and some hideaways. Since the house will be totally unfamiliar, it’ll be less overwhelming for him to be confined in one room so he can get his bearings and start to create some familiarity.
Exploring the New Environment
Depending on whether your cat is stressed or frightened will determine when to let him out to gradually expose him to more of the new environment. When you do open the door to start letting him investigate, set up an additional litter box in the spot where you’ll permanently want to locate it (if the house has more than one story place at least one box on each floor). Keep the litter box set up in the sanctuary room so your cat will always have a safe place to return to if he isn’t comfortable venturing too far out of his comfort zone. If you don’t plan on keeping the box in the sanctuary room located there permanently, wait until he’s totally comfortable with the other box location(s) and then you can gradually move that box a few feet a day toward the new box location. You just don’t want to shock him by having the box disappear suddenly.
Engage your cat in interactive play sessions to help him form positive associations with the new house. If he’s very frightened you’ll have to start these sessions in the sanctuary room and then work your way into the hallway. Go at your cat’s pace. Don’t ask him to venture too far out if he’s not ready.
Use Familiar Scents
Help your cat become find familiar scents in the home by either using Feliway in the spray or diffuser form (available at pet product stores) or use my sock method. Take a clean sock, put it on your hand and then gently pet your cat around the mouth to collect his facial pheromones. Then, rub the sock on the corners of objects (at kitty’s nose height). He’ll think he facially rubbed there and that may help him become more comfortable in the environment. Do this several times.
Should Your Cat Go Outdoors?
If your cat was allowed outdoors in his previous home, this would be a good opportunity to make him an indoor cat. You don’t know what kind of outdoor territorial issues might be going on with other cats and he will be the new kid in town. He will also have no connection to his new territory so just letting him outside will greatly increase the chances of having him never return home.
Need More Information?
For more specific help on easing your cat’s transition during a move to a new home, refer to the book, Think Like a Cat.