7 Things to Keep in Mind If You’re Moving with a Cat

published Feb 19, 2022
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Have you ever moved with a cat? Most people find the process of moving stressful, and the same is true for cats. Whether you’re moving near or far, it’s important to prepare your cat for the move and make plans for how you will support your cat during the process. With some planning and prep, you can help your cat to adjust to moving with as little fuss as possible. 

Watch for signs of stress.

There’s a good chance your cat won’t be a fan of moving. Dr. Dora Ramos with the NorthStar Vets emergency and critical care team says you should watch for signs of stress such as hiding, vocalizing more, not eating or drinking, or changes in urination or defecation. If your cat starts to exhibit any of these symptoms of stress during your move, it’s important to try to calm them down, and if the symptoms persist, to talk with your veterinarian. 

Invest in a cat carrier.

Regardless of how you’ll travel to your new home, be it by car or by plane, it’s important to keep your cat’s safety as the number one priority during the moving process. Dr. Ramos advises that cat owners always use a cat carrier. 

I’ve moved cross country twice with cats, once driving and the other time flying. If you want to fly with your cats, be sure to plan and connect with the airline as soon as possible to make sure you have everything required for your cat, such as proof of vaccinations and other veterinary records. You’ll need to have an airline-approved carrier, and it’ll be important to ensure your cat is comfortable while wearing a harness and leash securely. 

While moving your cat by car, you’ll have more carrier options. If you’re driving a long distance, book hotels that are cat-friendly and make reservations in advance when possible. Either cat-proof each hotel room, or cat-proof the hotel bathroom and let your cat access the rest of the hotel room only on leash to prevent your cat from getting lost or hiding in hotel furniture, or darting out the hotel room door and possibly getting lost. 

Get comfortable with the carrier in advance.

Regardless of how you are moving, it’s important to work with your cat ahead of time. Teaching your cat to like their cat carrier is important if you’re moving across town or to the other side of the country. Start introducing (or reintroducing) your cat to their carrier as early as possible before the move. Start by putting the carrier out in your house so your cat can explore it on their own. You can add treats, food, or toys into the carrier to encourage your cat to explore it. Over time, your cat will voluntarily get into their cat carrier and see it as a positive place to be. Then, you can begin closing the door, at first for short periods of time, building up to as long as your cat will need to be in a carrier for the move. 

Try stress-relieving scents or medication.

If you have a cat who is struggling with the stress of a move, or who tends to be nervous with any changes in routine, over the counter anti-stress products can help. Dr. Ramos recommends “calming scents such as Feliway spray or a calming collar,” which can be helpful with supporting cats who are agitated. These scents have a version of feline facial pheromones that calms cats.

Dr. Ramos notes that for cats who don’t respond to the over-the-counter pheromone options, you could opt for veterinary prescription drugs for anxiety. Have a conversation in advance with your veterinarian to discuss possible prescription anxiety options that you can give your cat during the move. Remember that due to the pandemic, many veterinary clinics are experiencing significant delays in getting existing patients in for appointments, so you’ll want to call as soon as possible to schedule an appointment.

Designate a safe room.

When you first move, it’s important to gradually let your cat get familiar with your new home instead of just bringing your cat in and setting them loose to explore. Pick one room where you can set your cat up with everything they need. This will allow them to slowly acclimate to your new home. If possible, try to get your cat set up in their safe room before the movers arrive. While the moving is taking place, put signs on the door asking people to stay out — this will prevent movers, friends, or family from opening the door and accidentally letting your cat out. 

Give your cat time to acclimate first to one room, and then slowly to the rest of the house. And instead of buying all new things for your cat that match your new home’s aesthetic, Dr. Ramos encourages cat owners to bring the things they’re most familiar with into the new home, like their cat post, bedding, food and water bowls, and the same litter box.

Provide enrichment games.

Providing enrichment activities for your cat is important, but especially important for cats during times of stress. Giving your cats access to games and playtime is crucial for helping them to be more comfortable in the space. Providing your cat with physical and mental stimulation can also help prevent behavioral problems. A fun way to reuse moving boxes is to use them to create an interactive game and activity center for your cat. Take some small empty boxes and place cat treats and/or toys in some of them and encourage your cat to start exploring. This can help your cat to start playing and feeling more comfortable in their new space. For more adventurous cats, you can open empty boxes on both ends to create tunnels for your cat to explore and run through. Spending time playing together can help decrease stress for both you and your cat. 

Maintain consistency.

The key to helping your cat adjust to the move is to ensure they have as many of their things accessible to them as possible. “The familiarity of these items should help the new house feel like home,” Dr. Ramos says. Similarly, most cats appreciate their normal routines being maintained as much as possible. 

Especially if you have a nervous cat, it’s helpful to try to unpack and set up your new home as quickly as possible. “Every pet reacts differently, so monitor them closely for change in behavior and keep their environment and routine as close to their ‘normal’ as possible in the new home,” advises Dr. Ramos.

Moving isn’t always fun, but with planning you can help your cat adjust to your new home quickly. The key is making sure your cat is going to feel safe during the move itself, and then creating a safe space for your cat to slowly adjust and acclimate. With consistency and maintaining your cat’s routines as much as possible, you can help your cat adjust to your new home.