There are a few things you should always take care of before moving with your pet:
- If you’re moving to a new state, check that state’s pet licensing and registration regulations.
- Make sure your pet’s veterinary records are in order.
- Fully vaccinate your pet.
- Update your pet’s tags in case your pet escapes.
After you’ve taken care of all this busywork, you can start preparing your pet to move.
What to do when you're packing
Packing day is one of the most chaotic parts of the moving process, and people (either your movers or friends that you’ve enlisted for help) will be going in and out with boxes and furniture as they load the moving truck. We recommend locking your pets into a room far away from the action or leaving them with a dog-sitter to avoid any escape attempts or other mishaps.
In this guide, we’re going to focus on driving your pets to your new destination. It’s the most affordable method—and the one pet owners typically opt for when they move. However, we want to mention your other two options.
Flying with your pet is the fastest way to get them to your new home if it’s especially far away, but speed’s really all this method has to offer. Flying with animals can be just as stressful (if not more so) as driving with them, and it can even be dangerous for your pets. While it doesn’t happen terribly often, pets can get injured and die during flights.2 If you have to fly with your pet, make sure you check your airline’s regulations and talk to your vet about airplane safety.
Your other option is to pay a professional pet transportation company to escort your pets for you. Since this option entails professional handling and transportation, it is generally safer and easier than flying, but it can also cost a lot of money.
Now, let’s talk about driving with your pets. The tips below can apply to local and long-distance moves alike.
For the love of dog!
The cargo area of a moving truck is no place for an animal, even if the animal is in a durable carrier crate. It can get extremely hot or cold, stacked objects can fall on them, and your pet’s carrier crate can’t be strapped in. You should always keep your pet buckled in the passenger area of your car and avoid stacking anything on top of their carrier.
- Get a travel kennel, seat belt, or harness for your dog.
- Take your dog on a few car rides prior to moving day.
- Always secure your dog’s carrier with a seat belt.
- Keep chew toys in the car with you.
- Put blankets and stuffed animals in the kennel with your dog.
- Walk your dog at gas stations and rest areas along the way.
- Ask your vet for sedatives if your dog needs them.
First things first. Before you start packing, make sure that you have a sturdy travel kennel that your dog can ride in while you’re driving. If possible, wrap a seat belt around the carrier so it won’t shift or jostle in the event of a car crash. It’s also a good idea to take your dog on a few short car rides in the crate before moving day so they can get used to the crate.
If your dog hates spending too much time in a kennel, a dog seat belt or harness is a suitable alternative.
During the drive, keep plenty of chew toys within reach to entertain your dog. If your dog has a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, put it in their crate with them.
It’s also important to regularly give your dog a chance to get out and run around. These short breaks will prevent any messy accidents, and they’ll keep your dog from getting the zoomies in their kennel. Whenever you’re getting gas or taking a bathroom break, put your dog on a leash and take them for a short walk. You’ll both benefit from the exercise and fresh air.
If you know your dog doesn’t handle car rides very well, you can get your pooch a ThunderShirt or anxiety vest to calm their nerves, or you can ask your vet for mild sedatives that’ll help your furry friend stay calm throughout the car ride.
Keep your furniture
Many people like to throw out their old furniture when they move, but these old furnishings are great stress busters for territorial animals like cats and dogs. Try to hold on to as much of the old furniture as you can when you move so your pet’s new surroundings will be filled with familiar objects and smells.
- Get a travel crate for your cat.
- Take your cat for a few drives prior to moving day.
- Always secure your cat’s carrier with a seat belt.
- Spray your cat’s crate with calming pheromones.
- Put blankets and toys in the carrier with your cat.
- Keep a litter box in the car for your cat to use at rest stops.
- Ask your vet for sedatives if your cat needs them.
Just like you would with a dog, get a secure travel crate for your cat before starting your journey. You should also help your cat acclimate to their crate by taking them on short drives before moving day. Make sure that any time you’re driving with your cat, you secure their carrier into the car with a seat belt.
The best way to keep a cat calm is to spray their crate with calming pheromones a half hour before putting them into it. Make sure to test the spray on your cat before moving day, though, since not all pheromone sprays work for all cats.3
Putting beloved blankets and toys in the carrier with your cat will also keep them happy and comfortable during the trip.
For bathroom breaks, keep a litter box in the car with you so that you can pull it out at rest stops and allow your cat to use it outside the car. Keep your cat on a leash any time you’re taking them out of the car to prevent them from running away.
If your cat has extreme anxiety about riding in cars, you can always ask your vet for sedatives that’ll get them through the trip.
How to avoid car sickness
Lots of animals get carsick, and on top delaying your journey, it can add to your pet’s discomfort. Keep your pet from vomiting by withholding food for a few hours prior to driving. They’ll get a little hungry, and they might complain, but if you feed them during overnight stops and any time you sightsee along the way, they’ll be just fine.
- Get your bird a travel carrier they can see out of.
- Remove all hanging toys and food/water trays from the carrier.
- Always secure your bird’s carrier with a seat belt.
- Feed and water your bird at rest stops.
- Keep a blanket in the car to cover the carrier when your bird wants to sleep.
Get your bird a sturdy carrier designed for car travel before you move—their everyday cage probably won’t work. Most bird cages aren’t designed for traveling in a car, and they aren’t durable enough to withstand the trauma of a car crash.
Birds tend to feel safer if they can see what’s going on around them, so make sure you get a carrier they can see out of. If possible, try to put the carrier near one of the car’s windows so your feathered friend can look outside if they want to. You’ll also want to wrap a seat belt around the carrier for extra security.
The carrier should have a sturdy perch that won’t wobble or sway when the car moves. While you might want to put a couple of your bird’s favorite climbing ropes and dangling toys inside the carrier with them, you shouldn’t. These objects will swing around while you drive and can become a hazard to your bird.
Similarly, you should refrain from putting full dishes of food and water that could spill into the carrier. You can put in a small piece of fruit so your bird has something to snack on during the trip.
At rest stops and gas stations, give your bird water and birdseed so they stay hydrated and happy, but make sure that no car doors or windows are open when you’re reaching into the carrier or your bird may try to escape.
You’ll also want to keep a blanket close at hand so you can cover the carrier and let your bird take a nap on the road. Don’t leave the carrier covered the whole drive, though. Like we said, birds like to see what’s happening.
- Save at least 80% of the fish tank water in watertight buckets.
- Put your fish in these buckets with the tank water.
- Place an airstone in each bucket with fish.
- Wrap seat belts around the buckets.
- Put filters, rocks, and decorations in a bucket with tank water (but no fish).
- Put the empty tank in a sturdy moving box with packing peanuts.
Inexperienced pet owners think that fish are low-maintenance pets, but anyone with even a handful of tropical fish knows better. To veteran fish collectors, it should come as no surprise that fish are some of the most difficult pets to move.
The biggest problem actually isn’t the fish themselves. It’s their tanks or aquariums and water. For healthy living, fish need bacteria cultures in their tanks, and these cultures can take weeks to develop.4 Because of this, you need to save as much of the water as possible when you move—at least 80% is ideal.5
You can transport this water in large, watertight buckets. Distribute your fish collection between these buckets so that your fish can travel in healthy water. It’s crucial that each bucket has some extra room for air, or your fish could suffocate.6 In every bucket with fish, you should also place an airstone.
Remember to keep these buckets buckled in the car so they’re safe—and so you can feed and check on your fish regularly.
To preserve the bacteria on the tank’s filters, rocks, and decorations, place these objects into one of the buckets that has the old aquarium water—but no fish—in it.
Lastly, you need to pack up your fish’s tank, fishbowl, or aquarium. Make sure it’s completely empty during transport since any rocks or decorations inside it will rattle around during the drive and might crack the glass. To keep the aquarium intact, put it in a sturdy moving box with packing peanuts on all sides.
If your drive is going to take more than a handful of days, ask a local pet store if they will hold on to your fish for you and send them to you when you reach your new home. This will be very expensive, but fish don’t handle extended periods of travel well, so this is the safest way to transport them exceptionally long distances.
The easiest alternative
Moving with fish is so difficult that some collectors actually just sell all their fish and start their collections over when they get to their new homes. If you’re too attached to your fish to consider this option and you’re not sure whether the tips we’ve provided will work for your situation, then we recommend meeting with a home aquarium specialist for additional information.
What to do when you get to your new home
After the drive is over and you start settling into your new home, be patient with your pet as they acclimate to the unfamiliar space. For dogs and cats especially, the adjustment can be difficult and take a lot of time.
You can help them early on by taking them through the house on a leash, letting them explore the house or apartment as they will. You should also keep to the same routines you used in your old house; feed them, take them on walks, and play with them at all the same times you used to so they still have their familiar schedules in their new surroundings.
Also, be aware that even well potty-trained animals might have accidents as they learn the boundaries of a new home.
Traveling with other pets
If you have a pet that we didn’t talk about here, we recommend asking your vet how to travel with them. Also, if you have any tips for moving with your pets, we’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below telling us about your pet and how you move them!
Plan your route around pet-friendly hotels
Not all hotels will let pets stay in their rooms, and some that do might charge extra, so part of your planning process should be finding pet-friendly hotels to stay at during your trip. Call ahead to every hotel you intend to stay at and ask if your pet can sleep in your room with you. Whatever you do, don’t try to sneak your pets into a hotel or leave them in the car overnight.