Moving your kitty to a new home can be stressful, even traumatic, for both of you. Here’s how to ensure everything goes well.
Angela was ecstatic about finally moving into a home of her own. But her excitement was dampened by concern for how her cat, Lucy, would manage the trip and her new environment.
Lucy hated the carrier and car. Even during short trips she would get so upset she’d be sick and urinate. When Angela moved to her current apartment, Lucy hid under the bed, wouldn’t eat and used the carpet as a litter box. This usually laid-back little kitty was exhibiting behavior Angela had never seen before. She was very worried, par- ticularly about the serious liver condition that can occur if a cat refuses to eat for over 24 hours, so she took Lucy to the veterinarian.
The vet told Angela that Lucy’s behavior was typical of cats that feel extreme stress and are confused and afraid. He explained that cats are a big contrast to dogs when it comes to accepting new environments. Cats are akin to hermit crabs and prefer their familiar habitats. They are also wary of unfamiliar sounds and smells. While some adapt fairly easily to a move, they are the exception, not the rule. In other words, any change in environment is a big deal to a cat.
Angela was determined her little companion would not experience the same anxiety she did on their previous move. She phoned the vet and asked about giving Lucy a sedative on moving day. He told her that unless Lucy was at risk of injuring herself or becoming seriously ill, he pre- ferred Angela practiced desensitizing techniques. These techniques are a natural, healthier way to keep stress at a minimum and have a proven track record for calming the fears of many an anxious kitty.
The key was to show Lucy that the entire experience of moving can be positive. Overcoming the fear of two enemies – the carrier and car – were top priority.
Enemy #1 – The Carrier
During kittenhood, the template is often set for how cats feel about their carriers. Hidden from view except when it’s time to go in the car to the vet, the cat learns to resist going inside the carrier and is subsequently forced into it. She never forgets that experience and it often just gets worse each time.
Leave the carrier in plain view, with its door open, and put a favorite blanket, toys and treats inside. Most cats become comfortable with their carriers and some even adopt them as a sanctuary.
When the cat and carrier are friends, practice moving the carrier to a different area of the house, with your kitty inside, once a week. This helps her accept being lifted and taken in it to a different location.
Enemy #2 – The Car
Next, tackle the cat’s aversion to the car. Introducing short, around-the-block trips, gradually increasing distance and time in the car, greatly helps cats become more comfortable with the movement, sounds and smell of a vehicle.
Cover the carrier or crate with a sheet, leaving a small space for airflow. A darkened area often helps settle even the most nervous cats.
If a calming agent is still necessary, natural products such as KalmAid, which contains tryptophan, the “comfort” chemical in turkey meat, or Bio Calm, containing L-theanine, an amino acid proven to reduce stress, are very effective. These products can be mixed into a small amount of food; neither has side effects and they’re considerably safer than a prescribed sedative.
Upon arrival at your new home, set up a quiet spare room in which your cat and her necessities can go.
On the big day
If possible, arrange to visit your new home before moving day and bring along a towel or toy to pick up the home’s scent. Take it back home and give it to your feline com- panion. This will help introduce her to the new home’s smell. Better still, bring your kitty along for a prelimi- nary visit. Under supervision, allow her to explore small, closed-off areas. This serves three purposes: it helps her get more used to travel in the carrier and the car, and gives her a more tangible sense of how the new home looks, feels and smells.
- On moving day, keep your kitty’s routine as normal as possible. If she appears anxious, avoid over- comforting her; it will only reinforce her belief that she has good reason to be anxious. Routine and nor- malcy equal security. A great way to know how she’s doing is by looking at the size of her pupils. Large dilated pupils indicate she’s afraid or anxious. Normal-sized pupils mean she’s feeling calm.
- Upon arrival at your new home, set up a quiet spare room in which your cat and her necessities can go. With the exception of hourly checks, keep the door closed. The room is her refuge from all the activity and keeps her safely contained. Movers leave doors open and a cat can escape in the blink of an eye. Many cats get lost on moving day.
- Only let your companion out to explore once the house is quiet. Ease her into the larger space slowly and under supervision.
- Make sure your new home is “kitty-proofed” so she can’t find access to hard-to-reach hiding spaces such as a fireplace flue, open vents, unfinished walls or open ends of exposed piping. Ensure windows have tightly fitted screens without holes.
- Cats that feel afraid or displaced may have accidents. Put litter boxes in quiet corners around the home (one box per floor in a multi-leveled home), and show her where they are. This helps a kitty feel more secure and prevents accidents.
- Cats accustomed to outside exploration are best kept indoors for the first several weeks. A cat allowed to roam too soon can get lost or run away. If moving to a new city, ask about by-laws prohibiting free-roaming cats so she doesn’t become the charge of the local animal shelter or pound. When allowed to go outside, it’s best she do so under supervision or while wearing a harness attached to a long leash.
Angela’s vet cautioned her to take care when opening doors for the little next while. Cats have been known to bolt outside in a desperate attempt to make their way back to their previous homes.
He told her about one of his clients who moved to another city almost 300 miles away. His cat unexpectedly ran out the door one day. It was nearly three months later before the cat showed up in the garden of his former home, exhausted and in need of medical care. Thanks to a microchip to which his family’s new phone number and address were linked, a shelter was able to contact the client, who authorized medical care and was reunited with his feline companion.
Angela followed all her vet’s advice. The drive unfolded without incident, and the move was a success. Thanks to Angela’s care and foresight, Lucy quickly adopted her new home as though she had never lived anywhere else.
More Tips for a Smooth Move
- Ensure your cat’s carrier doesn’t have broken doors or hinges.
- Speak to a veterinarian if your cat is senior or frail; she may not fare as well during a move and might require some additional care.
- Take along an ample supply of her regular food, litter, and any medication or remedies she might be on — the days following a move are not the time to make any changes to her diet or health care.
- Give your veterinarian, pet insurance company and microchip database your new address and phone number.
- Make sure her medical records are up to date.
- Never feed her a full meal less than two hours before traveling. Feed her only one-third the regular amount.
- If moving to a new city or town, ask your veterinarian for a referral to another clinic and know where the nearest animal emergency clinic is.