Understand your cat’s stress
The best thing you can do for cats is to understand what causes their stress. That way, when unexpected bumps in the road pop up during your move, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to make the right decisions.
Stress has two root causes for cats: they aren’t fans of change, and they’re also territorial critters. That means that a sudden jolt from their regular routine or a rash introduction to a place that doesn’t feel like their domain can stress them out and lead to some not-so-fun events like accidents in the house or even escape attempts.
The core piece of cat advice for moving is this: do everything you can to keep moving days predictable and routine, and make their surroundings as familiar as possible. While there are certain things to do consistently throughout your move (like making sure you barricade off all possible escape routes), there are specific preparations and precautions you can take during each distinct phase.
Prepare your cat for a move
Some cats don’t need a carrier and will happily sit in your lap. Keep in mind that most cats are skilled escape artists (even more so when stressed), and cat owners should plan on using a cat carrier during the move.
Start getting your cat accustomed to a carrier before the big move, especially if it’s new or your cat hasn’t spent much time in one. Here are some tips for getting started:
- Leave the carrier on the ground of the old home with the carrier door open for them to explore, coming and going at will.
- Try putting a few treats inside and walking away—the key is to let cats explore on their own, giving them the feeling of control over the space.
- Feed your cat in the carrier to trick them into spending time there. Start by placing the dish at the the carrier’s entrance and moving it farther back every day until your cat has to go inside to eat.
- Block the cat flap to keep your cat inside and make them more interested in checking out the cat carrier.
Things get trickier when it comes to outdoor cats. Since they’re used to more independence, it’s a good idea to start confining them to the home a few days before your move, especially because there’s a higher chance for them to take off when trucks full of strangers (a.k.a. movers) start showing up in your driveway. Once they’ve been inside for a bit, you can start getting them used to their carriers and ready to make the journey to the new home.
While the carrier situation is probably the most important pre-move preparation, there are a few other tips to keep in mind:
- Starting your cat on a routine will significantly increase predictability when you’re on the road. If you’ve already got a routine for your cat, put in a little extra effort to stick to it.
- If you have a particularly anxious cat on your hands, make an appointment with your vet to talk through options and discuss anxiety medication or sedation options before you move.
- Bring moving boxes into the home a week or two before you start to pack. While the clutter can be annoying, it’s important to let your cat get familiar with its presence.
- Make sure your cat’s identification tags are up to date and get a collar if they don’t already have one, just in case. If you’re moving far away and need a new vet, get all of your cat’s veterinary records before you go. They will be necessary when you arrive and handy if you have to make a vet stop along the way.
- Speaking of identification, it’s a great idea to make sure your cat has a microchip and that the information associated with the chip has your updated information. This is usually the first thing the shelters and vets check for when a pet is lost.
How to transport your cat on a plane
If you plan on moving your cat by plane, a fair amount of prep goes into it, so start the process early. First, you’ll likely want to consult with your vet to make sure that your cat is healthy enough to fly. Airline travel can be especially strenuous and hazardous for cats, so you want to be sure that your cat will be okay before you make all of the arrangements.
Once your cat is in the clear to fly, you’ll next want to consider finding an appropriate carrier for the trip that meets your airline’s specific regulations and requirements. The carrier you use will depend on whether your cat is coming with you in the cabin or is going in the cargo hold.
Sometimes airlines won’t accept pets as cargo because of extreme heat or cold conditions. You’ll want to clear this up beforehand and monitor the weather leading up to your flight, since the last thing you want is a surprise rejection of your cat on the day of travel.
Because flying with your pet is its own can of worms, the Humane Society has put out a lengthier guide to help cat owners navigate the process—it’s a lifesaver.
Comfort your cat during your move
When moving day arrives, you have a few options for keeping your cat calm. You can keep your cat in one room with lots of nooks and crannies (like an extra packing box or two) where they can hide out during the shuffle. If you don’t have a room that’s a good fit—or you’re worried that the door might accidentally get opened anyway—you can always keep your cat in the carrier or have a friend come over to hang out with your cat while the move is underway.
When it comes to hitting the road, feed your cat a slightly smaller breakfast than normal to reduce the chances of an upset tummy in the car. If your carrier has a cat litter pan, make sure it’s full of fresh kitty litter and consider covering the carrier with blankets. The dark can be soothing to cats—just be sure to account for weather conditions if it’s a warm day. If your carrier doesn’t have a litter tray, make sure to add in some time every two to three hours to let your cat out to relieve itself.
Also, make sure and food and water are properly secured—kibble flying all over the place certainly won’t help your cat stay calm. Even though your cat might cry, try your best to resist the urge to open the crate and soothe them—remember that scared cats are likely to bolt, even if that’s just into a small space in the car that is hard to get them out of.
Pro tip: Keep a bit of packing tape with you in the car if the carrier needs emergency repairs.
Can’t bring your cat on a plane?
Some airlines won’t let you ship cats or other animals unless you’re going through a pet shipping company. If you’re moving with a cat and are unable to transport them yourself, considering hiring repurtable a professional pet transportation company to ship them for you.
Introduce your cat to the new home
Cat proofing your new home is the key to a successful transition for your furry friend. Look through your new place and plug any holes or nooks where a cat could get stuck. If they’re stressed during the transition, they’re likely to try to burrow away. Double-check that the place is free of chemical treatments like pesticides and insecticides that can harm cats.
Once it’s time to bring your cat inside for the first time, find the quietest room in the house and fill it with your cat’s food and water dishes, litter box, cat bed, and toys or other familiar objects. Make sure the cat food and water are in different areas of the room away from the litter box—cats often won’t eat or drink if these items are too close together. Keeping cats in this safe space for a few days will give them time to get used to the sights, sounds, and smells of her new environment without overwhelming them with access to the whole place.
Once your cat is ready, place a second litter box where you plan to have one permanently and open the door to your cat. Let them start to explore gradually, but keep everything as it is in the safe room, so there’s a familiar space to return to for at least the first few weeks.
Keeping outdoor cats inside for the first few days is a good way to get them used to the new surroundings and to reaffirm that this will be their new source of water and food, which keeps outdoor cats coming back. You can even hide treats around the house that they’ll have to hunt for if you’re worried about having your cat indoors. However, if you’ve ever wanted to transition your outdoor cat to an indoor cat, moving is an ideal time.
Read, plan, and you (and your cat!) will be fine