I’m not exaggerating when I say that my husband Thomas and I have moved more times than I can count over the past 6 years we’ve been together. Since we’ve had Avery for 4 of those 6 years (took Avery in summer 2013), a lot of the moves we’ve made happened with our cat by our side. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the moves we’ve made with Avery off the top of my head:
- After a couple years living in a house with Avery, we moved into my grandmother’s house (30 min drive away) temporarily.
- Moved back into our house, renovated for a while, then moved back to my grandmother’s.
- Moved to live with my mum (not a far move) for about a month as we were readying ourselves to move continents with our kitty.
- Took Avery with us when we moved from Toronto in Canada to Bournemouth in the UK (you can read about our experiences with the cross-continental flight with our cat here). Stayed with my Thomas’ grandmother when we arrived.
- Once we got our own flat, we made one last move from her place to ours, and have been here since.
I’m not sure if there are any moves I left out, but regardless, I think you get the picture – we’ve moved a lot and so has our cat.
Over time, and with all of these separate experiences moving over the years, we’ve gotten better and better at making moves smooth for our kitty. Yes, you could argue that at this point, Avery’s gotten used to moving homes, but that doesn’t mean that if we just haphazard up and relocated him with no preparation or precautions taken whatsoever things would turn out smooth or even well. Each new trip is still a new trip, and each new environment can still cause stress and alarm.
I’d like to note here and now that I have never used sedatives or calming agents on Avery at all, not even before the cross-continental trip from the Canada to the UK. I know that some sites and vets recommend trying these out if you’d like to use them, but they make me uneasy, and I really do prefer not to use them, especially since there are so many other things you can do to help a cat out before/during/after a move with his/her moving anxiety. If you’ve personally had experiences with sedatives or calming agents, though, do chime in by leaving a comment down below; maybe I have no need to worry and am just anxious over using these for no good reason.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the step-by-step of how I’d recommend getting your cat through a move happily and with as little stress as possible.
Ways You Can Make Moving Easier for Cats
Long Before the Move
1. Get your cat to be okay being in his/her carrier.
This is a separate article in and of itself, so if you’d like to train your cat to become used to his or her carrier, find out how to do so here. Two things to note: yes it is totally possible, and it also takes nothing but time and patience to do. Getting your cat to be less afraid/anxious about getting into and being in his or her carrier will make trips to the vet and emergency evacuations (that you hopefully will never have to do!) easier as well.
2. Driving to your new location? Help your cat become okay with being in cars.
Yet again, one of those things that sounds impossible to get a cat to become okay with, and yet is actually quite simple to do with some time and patience. Avery absolutely hated cars at first – not just being in them, the sight of them terrified him. He’s a stray, and I have a sneaking suspicion was hit by a car during the time before we took him in because of just how much fear he had toward cars. Today – calm as a cucumber whenever he’s put in a carrier then driven around in a car. Took us some serious time to get him from Point A to Point B, but am really glad I took the time to do it.
To get your cat to be comfortable travelling in a car, it’s a good idea to first help him/her be calm in a carrier. Once you do that, half the battle is won, then you only have to follow these really easy steps to get your cat to be confident about car travel. The gist of my method is this: take short trips around the block with your cat in the car and give rewards (treats, cuddles, catnip!) straight after coming home from each trip. Make the trips longer and longer until your cat no longer cries when being carried into or driven around in a car for long periods of time.
3. Think you may use a portable litter box? Get kitty used to using it for as long as possible before the move.
Portable litter boxes are a godsend. You will probably think I’m crazy, but I think between here and Canada I probably own close to 3 or 4 portable cat litter boxes. Okay, I just checked out of curiosity, and I actually have 4 large SturdiBoxes (2 gallon – in my opinion, the perfect size) and 1 medium SturdiBox (1 gallon) in total, so I’m a bit “crazier” than I thought – only in brackets because I’m not actually crazy and I have used these so much I cannot tell you. Can you blame me for having so many of these when I’ve moved so often? I’ve used them during every move, for instances between getting proper litter boxes – they’re just great. And washable, and foldable – they honestly come in so handy.
But yes, it did take some time for Avery to be happy with using these, and yes, they are infinitely more messy than using a proper litter box. But who the heck cares when you’re desperate – they’re perfect in a pinch! Get your cat used to these before the move, though, because especially in cases where kitty is used to litter boxes with a cover – kitty may be anxious to try using something like this right off the bat.
While You’re Moving Your Stuff
4. Make sure you have two litter boxes: one in the old location, one in the new location.
If you’re using a portable litter box, it’s better to leave this one in the old house, and move the “regular” litter box to the new house. Kitty will be much more comfortable using something he/she has been using for ages, and that’s all that’s important during the move – increased comfort and familiarity even though the environment has of course changed.
5. Make sure you have cat food and catnip in the new location.
Making sure you’re stocked up on the items you will be needing for kitty just after your move helps you to be less anxious and will, I promise, in turn make kitty less anxious. The more things you can get sorted out for yourself in advance, the better, because then you can concentrate all your energy on being encouraging and comforting of kitty.
6. As much as is physically possible, have the same cat litter and cat food your cat is used to in the new location.
Now, if you’re moving countries like I did, this may not be possible, but do your best to not make changes where they’re not absolutely necessary. If you can’t find something the same, find something as similar as you can to what you had – so if you used salmon-based dry food, find salmon-based dry food in your new residence. If you are moving across continents and in with a relative temporarily like I did, buy your litter and cat food on Amazon and ship it to their house or have them go out and get you some in advance. Again, as much preparation as you can before the move date is advisable.
7. Move some of kitty’s favourite items: toys, blankets, fleeces, pillows, items kitty plays with and sleeps on, to the new house.
If you can’t do this until the day of, that’s fine, but do your absolute best to get as many of these items as possible, and preferably the ones kitty likes best. Avery has 2-3 blankets that he loves using, so we lined his cage with them on the bottom when he traveled to the UK in cargo. Worked to calm him more than us I feel like! We brought his toys with us in our backpacks as well, basically things we knew would indicate to him, “This is your new home – you’re welcome here.”
I’d advise, if you’re going to go the blanket lining the bottom of the cage/carrier route that you also bring separate blankets, fleeces, and other well-loved items with you, just in case kitty has an accident. You definitely don’t want the only thing kitty loved that you brought with you to be covered in cat pee. That defies the purpose of reducing anxiety and adding comfort.
8. Ready one small “safe room” for kitty with water, litter, and all kitty’s favourite items. Do not spread these items out in the house.
Everything in one room will make sense to you once we get into what should happen on the day of the move and just after it. But I promise, this is what I’ve found is the best way to do things.
9. Make sure the chosen safe room gives kitty easy access to a window to look out of.
I really do find that windows are some of the absolute best ways to reduce cat anxiety. I know some people think that cats hiding is a great way to reduce it, but I find that distractions like bird-watching and staring outdoors do better. My cat Avery is a very anxious cat, and I’ve found that whenever he hides, it tends to increase the amount of time he spends anxious. When he stares out the window, however, it tends to calm him to a point where he’s willing to take a nap after, then maybe have some food. Definitely do your best to place kitty near a window to peer out of if/when he/she is anxious. Of course have hiding spots available (which is my next point), but if kitty doesn’t mind looking out the window, encourage this behaviour.
10. Add cardboard boxes or a chair or two for kitty to hide under in the safe room, but try not to choose a room with a bed, or a place where if kitty hid, you’d have trouble getting him/her out.
Hiding places for kitties are really easy to make. Add a cardboard box or two to the room, grab a chair and put a long blanket on top so that kitty can have a “tent” in the bottom portion of the chair. It’s better to have access to your cat if/when you need to have that access, but that doesn’t mean your cat has to be without a hiding space. Create hiding spaces that leave your cat easy to reach, and this way, you won’t be spending hours with your head under the bed, worrying about how to get kitty out of there so you can distract him/her with a window view, cuddles, catnip, or some cat food.
If there has to be a bed in your safe room, try to block it off so that kitty cannot get beneath it. Stuff blankets, for instance, under the bed so that kitty can’t get underneath.
The Night Before Your Move
11. Give kitty a light dinner. Give kitty plenty of water and make sure he/she drinks.
Now everyone says different things about how much you should be feeding your cat before you leave, but at least the one thing I’m pretty sure everyone agrees on is to make sure to give your cat as much water as he/she wants. Many cats that are stressed sweat from the palms of their hands, and you don’t want kitty to get dehydrated. Besides, if kitty is stressed later, he/she will likely turn down water, so make sure hydration is not a problem by giving water when it will be happily received.
12. Play with kitty as much as you can.
Get all the energy that will be pent up throughout the move out as much as possible. This is really important, and do try to dedicate extra time to this. I know moves are really hectic most times, but the more energy you can get out of your cat, the less likely you’re going to have an antsy kitty, so please do set aside time for this.
On the Day of the Move
13. Do your best not to feed kitty much at all on the day of your move, though definitely give water freely.
I don’t like to give my cat food on the day of the move, as I’d be worried about nausea and vomiting while being in his/her carrier. I definitely don’t feed my cat at all if we’re moving in the morning, but if we moved in the afternoon or evening, I still did my best not to feed kitty. Developing an appetite is also good for distracting kitty for food later, once the move has been completed and you want kitty to be happy to settle in. Again – water, give freely and offer regularly if kitty will take, as you don’t want to end up with a dehydrated cat.
14. Just before your move, take a drive or walk around the block first with kitty in a carrier, then back into your old house.
In case kitty needs to go to the bathroom, this is ideal. Stress = accidents if kitty has nowhere to go but his/her carrier. I speak from experience here, you want to go on a short trip, then back, offer the litter box and preferably get kitty to go, and then be off on your “real” trip. You don’t want to go through a long drive or walk with kitty meowing because he/she needs to go to the washroom – let alone actually go in his/her carrier because stress meant kitty couldn’t hold it for long (happened to me once!).
15. As soon as you arrive at your new home, get kitty into his/her safe room and close the door behind you. Then open the carrier inside and either leave kitty til he/she comes out on his/her own or take kitty out of the carrier.
Small spaces that are easy to explore are much easier to get used to than big spaces, which is why a safe room is so important. I don’t see a problem with taking kitty outside of carriers, but if you do, please put your cat directly on top of his/her blanket, say, or in a hiding spot you created for kitty, or next to a window – or all of these combined. Make sure kitty feels as safe as possible.
Please note, if your cat begs at the door, he/she may be telling you he/she wants to go home. Try to discourage going to the door and begging, and instead, try creating a more comfortable spot within the room, or letting kitty back into his/her carrier to rest until he/she is more ready to explore.
16. Place kitty in front of the litter box, in front of food, and in front of his/her water to make sure your cat knows where these items are available if they’re wanted.
Cats aren’t stupid, and chances are your cat will figure out that these items are there immediately on coming into the room, but I like to give my kitty a direct plop in front of the litter, water, and food so that he’s aware of these items even if he’s too stressed to think about it at the moment.
17. Let kitty explore the safe room, but if your cat seems to get a little stressed, try distractions like favourite toys, catnip, cat food, and placing next to windows. If your cat will play, play. If he/she will eat, let him/her eat. If your cat keeps hiding, let him/her do so.
Go with the flow. Offer nice things one at a time to kitty and if there’s no interest, try petting. If petting is more stressful for your cat than not being pet, leave kitty alone for the time being and let him/her hide for some time, preferably with your company, though you can do something else like play on your phone in the meantime. If kitty naps, this is a great sign. If kitty starts sniffing around and exploring, even better! Just do what you can to make kitty comfortable, and encourage exploring and using distractions like toys, food, and window-watching with encouraging words, or if your cat likes petting, then petting.
Picture from post The Flight from Toronto to London With a Cat in Cargo
After Your Move
18. Don’t let kitty out of the safe room until he/she is very happy and comfortable in it.
If you need to do something in the house, close the door behind you to keep kitty in, though if you can, leave someone in the room at all times to monitor and keep your cat company while others do the moving.
19. Once your cat is comfortable in the safe room, and has been happy to eat, drink, and watch out the window in it, introduce your cat to another room.
It shouldn’t take too long for a cat to become used to a small safe room – I’d say a few hours or overnight tops. But in case your cat needs more time, give him/her more time.
If, however, your cat is chilling happily in this new space, introduce your kitty to a new room by picking him, her up, taking him/her to a new room to visit, closing the door behind you in that new room, letting kitty explore, then bringing kitty back to the safe room and closing the door behind you there.
20. Take your cat on trips to short trips to each new room, and then once kitty begins to get curious about leaving, finally open the door of your cat room to let kitty roam throughout the house.
Maybe the first visit to a new room will be stressful for kitty, but repeat visits are likely to be more and more interesting, because kitties are curious and do love to explore once they’re comfortable. Take kitty on trips over the span of a couple of days and chances are your cat will be asking to leave the room to explore for him/herself in no time. Always leave the door to the safe space open so that kitty can run back in in case he/she wants to hide after exploring. But once a cat’s gotten used to a safe space and has gathered up the courage to explore, you’re pretty much set for your cat to be happy in your new house.
Congratulations you’ve successfully moved with kitty!
Your Turn: Tips & Advice for Pet Owners Moving With a Cat?
Well, that was a doozy. Quite a lot longer than I expected this article to be, but I guess I had a lot to say about the topic!
Have you ever moved with a cat before? Known anyone who did? Have you had any accidents, disasters, or catastrophes in the past while trying to move a cat? Any advice for pet owners doing the same?
Leave your advice for us in the comments!