Most cats aren’t big fans of change. They’re like that grumpy old guy who goes around saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This is especially true of my feral rescue cats right now. Despite moving to new homes several times, it seems to get worse.
With cats the best technique for introducing any change is slowly and bit by bit. Check out the pre-trip tips for preparing your cat for travel.
Put out some moving boxes a week or two before the big day and observe your cats behavior. Does your cat try to explore or hide in the boxes? Or does your cat seems skittish and nervous when you wrap a few things in paper and put them in the boxes? In any case, not only does pre-packing give you a clue to your cat’s reaction to the change, but it will give most cats something stimulating to focus on as everyone else prepares for moving day.
No matter how your cats reacted to the pre-move packing boxes, secure your cats in a bathroom (that you’e already emptied) with a litter box, bed and water. I put treat in my cat carrier and place it in the room with the cats. The cats get used to the carrier. I also use non-catnip toys to distract them such as crumpled packing paper. Often my most frightened cats hide in in the carrier — which makes it a lot easier to catch them!
Put a sign on the bathroom door telling everyone — particularly the movers — to keep the door shut and not to let the cats out no matter how much they demand it. You don’t want your cat either dashing out a door while people are going in and out or hiding in a box or other location.
Feed your cats only a tiny amount of food on moving day to prevent an upset stomach. Your cat will be stressed and the risk of carsickness is always present. I place a few treats in the cat carrier left in the isolation room to encourage them to hide there.
At Your New Home
Upon arrival, immediately take your cat to a room that will be relatively quiet. Do not open the cat carrier and release the cat just yet.
Choose a room that will be the “cat room” and “cat base station” for several days (if not years). I often like to make this a bedroom, and if it’s not the master bedroom, a room I can spend time in each day.
Inspect the “cat” room thoroughly for any possible escape routes, electrical cords, poisonous houseplants, pest control traps or poisons and unscreened, opened windows. If large furniture or boxes need to be put into this room, have the large items put into the room first, then inspect a second time.
Inspect the rest of the new house or apartment for any potential hazards to your cats or possible escape routes. Do this before anything is shoved up against a wall and possibly hiding a potential hazards.
Once your certain there is no more need to open and close the door to your cat’s new “base station” room, set up your cat’s food and water dishes, a litter box, bedding and possibly favorite cat toys. This might also be where you’re planning to put a cat tree or scratching post. Hide a few cat treats around the room as “Easter eggs” to encourage exploration.
Once you are certain the new “home” is ready, release your cat into the room. Take a moment to see how your cat reacts. If she runs and hides, leave her alone. If she comes to you seeking reassurance, take a moment to talk to her softly, give her pets and a scratch, maybe a little brushing or combing. Whatever she likes. Then leave and secure the door. Place a sign on the door warning people that the cat is in there and to open the door with caution and not let the cat out.
Keep your cat in the “cat room” for the first several days in the new home. This allows the cat to get used to the new smells, sounds and atmosphere gradually. We don’t want to overwhelm out cats with too many changes at once. It gives the cat a greater sense of security by having a “safe” room and makes it easier for the cat to find his food, water and litter box in the new environment.
Spend time with your cat in his “cat room” during those first few days or weeks while doing some mellow activity like reading, watching TV, going through your mail, sorting paperwork, or texting. As your cat acclimates to the new surroundings, offer him treats, attention or playtime with an interactive toy. (Mine love going after small paper balls or chasing the “snake” or “feather” toy. I’d save the laser pointer until your cat is completely relaxed, possibly even bored with the new surroundings.)
Once the first frenzy of moving in and unpacking is done, begin to letting your cat explore more of the new home. Ideally, you should be able to limit access to one or two new rooms at a time, but if you can’t limit access, then keep a close eye during your cat’s exploration and lure her back to the “cat room” with a favorite food or treat so you can confine them.
I let my cats explore a new place at night while I’m sleeping, it’s quiet and there’s very little chance of someone opening an outside door. In the morning, I refill the food dish (giving the signature “food and treat” whistle) and close them back in the safety of the “cat room.”
To put the permanent litter box in a location other than the “cat base station” room, add a second litter box in that location. Keep the one in the “cat room” for a few weeks. As the cats become comfortable with the rest of their new home, you can remove the first litter box. Or you can gradually move the litter box to its permanent location. So your cat doesn’t lose the litter box, move it just a foot or two towards the permanent location each day. (I find this a bigger hassle because I keep forgetting where it is and tripping over it.)
By viewing it from the cats’ perspective, moving with cats can be easier and less stressful for all of us. A little thought and care reduces the risk of panic, bad behavior or lost cats.
Remember, our goal is to make the move as comfortable and less stressful on our cats — and ourselves — as possible.
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