Moving can be an exciting and stressful time for humans – and their pets. Cats are especially sensitive to changes and are extremely territorial. While I don’t think it’s possible to completely remove the anxiety that accompanies a move, there are a number of things you can do to smooth the transition. We’ll take a look at how to plan ahead, survive move-in day and take action post-move to help your cat adjust. The tips below are some things that work for me, but don’t be afraid to ask other pet owners you know for advice.
And, because no move is complete without boxes and no box is complete without a cat, I bring you many pics of cats in boxes. Thank you to my Facebook and Instagram followers for providing the necessary visuals for this guide.
BOXING & PREPPING
No matter how many items needs to be boxed up, it’s important to lessen the stress for your cat by doing it all with a plan.
Box up your cat’s enrichment items and furniture last.
This means their favorite toys, beds, scratchers, trees, window perches, etc.
Don’t wash favorite beds, blankets, or towels before the move.
Preserve their scents so they have something familiar to smell in the new home.
Give your cat extra attention while packing.
As you’re boxing up belongs, your cat may stay close to you or look confused. They are seeing change, and they don’t like it because they don’t like unpredictability. Just talk to them throughout and even take play breaks to reassure them things are okay.
Talk to your vet ahead of time about the move.
Again, change is very stressful for cats. Ask your vet if anti-anxiety meds are an option for your fur baby on move-in day. If your vet thinks they make sense, ask for a few doses so you can test how your cat will act on it ahead of time (you don’t want any surprises during the big move). You can also use extra doses for the first few days in your new home if your cat seems stressed.
For multi-cat households, buy large carriers to move cats together.
Because of all the new scents in a new home, some cats don’t recognize other cats they’ve been living with for years, and require reintroduction. To decrease the chance of this, buy larger carriers so you can move multiple cats together. I also recommend putting items each cat likes in the carrier so when they arrive at the new home, they have something familiar close by.
Pick a designed room at each location to keep your cat on move-in day.
Ideally, you’ll keep your cat with their essential items (food bowl, litter box, etc.) in a room at the current residence until it’s time to move. Then, you’ll move them with their items to a designated room in the new home where they can adjust and decompress. In my opinion, this is a must, and will also keep your cat safe from going outside during all the commotion. Other things to consider:
- Noise level – Try to select rooms away from the front door.
- Current residence – Pick a room your cat likes to be in to lessen their stress.
- New residence – Bathrooms are great locations because they’re small and have less hiding spaces. Spare bedrooms are another nice option, but if there is a bed in the room, be sure to block off the bottom.
Turn the temporary cat rooms at each location into kitty spas.
Some of these methods can help your kitty relax in both rooms.
- Use calming pheromone diffusers or an essential oil diffuser with chamomile oil.
- Try a calming collar. If it’s effective, its benefits will last for about 30 days.
- Play meditation music. Amazon has a meditation channel that is my go-to for anxious cats.
This day will be a busy one. Here are your goals.
Don’t scoop the litter box.
Cats are very impacted by scent, especially when it comes to #1 and #2. Leave a little pee or poop in the box for the move so that at least something in the new home has that scent. It’s a way to remind them that the new home is their turf too, and no new cats are trying to compete with them!
Give meds at the right time to ensure they’re most effective when your cat is moved.
Follow the directions given by your vet to make sure the meds are strongest during the actual moving of your cat.
If your vet prescribed gabapentin, I recommend giving it to your cat two hours before moving them.
Remind anyone helping you move that you have a cat.
A lot of cats go missing during a move, but it is usually preventable if you take a few important measures.
- Tell everyone to be aware that there is a cat at the residence.
- Keep your cat in the designated room at both locations. Do not open the door until you have to, and if you have to, make sure the front door is closed.
- Ask movers, family, and friends not to open the door to the room where your cat is having a spa day.
Strategically time when to move your cat.
I prefer to move my cat last so that they won’t be in the new home without me at all; however, if you set up the room with their essentials at another time during the move, you can move them.
Once the move is done, visit with your cat a least a little each hour until bedtime.
They will be confused and may not want to interact. That’s okay. Just calmly sit with them for a little, and offer them things that are hard to resist – wet food, tuna tubes, or even human food you know they like. You want to create a positive association from the beginning and remind them that you are still with them!
POST MOVE-IN DAY
So, you’re in the new place … now what?
Unpack as soon as possible.
This is for a number of reasons, but the most important ones being:
- Get as much of your scent into the new place as possible by putting things away, hanging decor on the walls, etc.
- Boxes everywhere will likely be stressful for you, and your cat will feel your stress on top of theirs.
- The sooner things are back to normal, the sooner routines can start. Cats like the predictability and safety of routines.
It will take time for your cat to adjust to your new home, and that’s okay. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a long time. It’s all just part of their process, and each cat is different.
With the support of your vet, you can continue anti-anxiety meds as needed.
Controlling anxiety will help ease your cat into their new home. This isn’t the right choice for all cats, but it could be for overly anxious ones.
Determine the right amount of isolation based on your cat’s personality.
Although many will recommend keeping your cat isolated for a week or two, I don’t like a one-size-fits-all approach in any situation, because all cats have different personalities. I propose something different: Allow them to leave their designated room when you think they are ready.
Shy cats should probably stay put for a few days to a week, but explorer cats and curious alpha males will not want to be contained. If your cat seems happy in their room, let them be. If your cat wants to explore, let them. My cat Dolly hid in a closet. My cat Vito bolted out of the room when I opened the door and just started walking around like he owned the place. Pay attention to your cat, and follow their lead.
Ways to encourage exploration.
Leave the door to their room open, and let them wonder out and in as they see fit. You can also use treats or toys to guide your cat through the new space. Go very slowly for shy cats. In the beginning, stick to the same floor as their designated room. If they’re in a basement, leave the door open. You can move food bowls up a few steps every day to encourage them to go to the top of the steps.
Try to limit hiding places.
Although hiding for one time events, like a kitchen remodel or loud thunderstorm, is okay, hiding on a consistent basis when there is no threat is not. Why? Because it just adds to your cat’s insecurity, which does not create a balanced, happy kitty. Block hiding places to encourage your cat to interact with you, your family/roommates, and even guests. To learn more about improving the confidence of cats that like to hide, take a look at these tips.
Create routines and consistency with the placement of essential items.
Did your cat or you get into some bad habits at your last place? Now is the easiest time to change them. You also need to set up routines as soon as possible to get your cat back on a schedule.
- Litter boxes: Pick out-of-the-way locations, preferably one on each floor. They like privacy but they also don’t like to walk far for the bathroom.
- Food bowls & feeding times: Position food bowls where you want mealtime to take place and makes sure they aren’t too close to litter boxes. Select specific feeding times and stick to them. I always suggest a play session followed by a feeding before bed to lessen the chance of your cat needing a 3 a.m. snack.
- Water fountains: Find a place away from your cat’s food bowls to put their water fountain. Cats don’t associate eating with drinking, so it doesn’t make sense to put them next to each other. Their fountain will also stay cleaner if it’s not right next to their food bowl. If you have a senior cat, I recommend putting at least water fountain on each floor. Need help shopping for water fountains? Here are my three picks.
- Trees, scratchers & window perches: Place trees and perches near windows and in areas where you will spend a lot of time. Scratchers should be placed along routes where your cat will naturally walk to encourage use.
Congrats on Your New Place
Once you’re settled in your new place, you can leave out a sigh of relief. Now it’s time to make the space yours! Be patient when your pets as they adjust, and if your cat has significant issues adjusting after a month, reach out to your vet for more ideas.
Does gabapentin really work as an anti-anxiety med for cats that have to move? Read my last post.