Moving House with your Cat

Printer-friendly versionMoving house can be a very stressful experience for us, but it is even more traumatic for our cats. Moving away from an environment where the cat is surrounded by familiar sights, sounds and smells, to a house that looks and smells alien is a very unnatural experience for cats. There are, however, some things that you can do to make moving as stress-free as possible for your feline friends.

Before the move

You need to plan the move itself will in advance, so that it is as stress free as possible for your cat. You have two options:

  • Book him into a boarding cattery for a few days;
  • Keep your cat with you during the move.

Both options require some prior thought and planning, including allocating a secure room at your new home where puss can relax quietly away from all the upheaval.

Boarding your cat

A stay in a reputable cattery for a couple of days may well be the least traumatic option for your cat, especially if you have used the cattery for holiday times etc. If you have not used a local cattery before, or if you are moving some distance and want to board your cat near to your new home, check the cattery first to make sure that your cat will be safe and comfortable there. For a list of local catteries, please click here. A list of approved catteries nationally, can be found on the Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB).

Unless your cat is familiar with dogs, it is generally better to select an establishment that boards cats only, as the noise of dogs barking can be quite stressful. Don’t forget to ensure that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date, as you will have to produce a current vaccination card at the time of admission, and allow plenty of time to book your cat in, to discuss his or her preferences.

Keeping your cat with you during the move

If you decide to keep puss with you, carefully plan the removal day well in advance. Clear a small room of furniture, making sure that this room is not one that the removal men will need access to, and that it has a lock, or some method of securing it to prevent your cat accidentally being let out. About a week before the move place your cat’s bed, scratching post, litter tray, toys and, so it becomes familiar to him, his cat carrier, in this room. Over the week also start to feed him in here, so that he becomes accustomed to it being a ‘safe retreat’ before the day of the move.

It is best to confine your cat to this room whilst you are packing, particularly if you are moving furniture or cases around, as these changes in routine and movement of physical items within his territory area are upsetting for your cat. The evening before your move, make sure that your cat is in his room.

Even if your cat does not normally wear a collar, it is a good idea to pop one on for the journey, with your new address on it.

All cats dislike car journeys, and we are frequently asked for something to ‘quieten’ cats down during the move. On the whole, most cats travel better without sedation. However, if you think that your cat will need sedation, then it will require a thorough veterinary health check and prescription, prior to the moving day.

Moving day

Before the removal men arrive in the morning, feed your cat a small meal (especially if you have a long journey), clean the litter tray, and then lock the door, keeping the key with you so that the door is not opened by mistake. Let the removal men know where your cat is – they are usually very helpful about not disturbing pets.

As many cats dislike traveling and may feel travel sick, covering your car seat with newspaper or plastic sheeting is a sensible precaution in case your cat has an accident during the move.

Leave your cat in the house as long as possible, particularly if it is a hot day. Only put your cat into its carrier, and into your cat, once the removal van is loaded and on its way. Pack the food bowls, litter trays, beds and toys somewhere where they will be easily accessible at the other end.

Just before leaving, ensure that your old cat flap is shut and locked, and that there are no other access points for other cats to come into your house, particularly if it is going to be left empty for a while.

During the journey, keep your cat in the carrier – it is very dangerous to have a loose cat inside the car whilst you are driving.

Arriving at the new house

When you arrive at your new home, take your cat directly to a secure room, and set out the food bowl, litter tray, bed and toys – all the things with a familiar smell. Again, make sure that the removal men know which room to avoid, as you don’t want your cat to escape. Leave your cat in this room with the door shut until you have finished the basic unpacking.

Once the house is reasonably straight, and you are less stressed, then you can allow your cat access to the rest of the house. Make sure all doors, windows and cat flaps to the outside are securely fastened. Ensure that everybody in the household knows the importance of not allowing the cat to escape outside during this period. It is vital that your cat feels relaxed and secure in your new house, and considers it to be the core part of his new territory before you let him out. In this way, once he does go outside he will tend to run back to the house if he is nervous or scared by something.

You should keep your cat indoors for at least two weeks before letting him venture outdoors. If let out too early, he may try to return to his former home. Observe your cat closely, and when he appears to behave in a normal, confident way around the house, you can consider starting to let him outside – but not before the two weeks are up!

Some Dos and Don’ts of letting your cat outside

  • Ensure that your cat is hungry when letting him or her out for the first time;
  • Do not carry your cat out, but encourage him to follow you. This allows him to follow his own scent back to the house;
  • Whilst your cat is outside, leave the door open, or tie up the cat flap;
  • Once your cat has been in the garden for a short time, call him in, and then feed him his favourite food;
  • Do not force your cat outside if he is not initially interested. Try again the next day;
  • Let your cat out for a little longer on each succeeding day.

Territory issues

One of the main problems for cats moving into a new neighbourhood is the presence of other cats already living there. Because cats are territorial animals, it is very stressful for them to ‘land’ in the middle of another cat’s territory, and, in order to establish a territory of their own, they often have to push back the boundaries of the territories of other resident cats. This can lead to conflict, sometimes including outright fighting, and you should prepare for this when first moving to a new neighbourhood. If you hear a fight, or you are concerned that your cat might have been fighting, check him over very carefully for wounds or abscesses, which may require veterinary treatment to prevent serious infections.

If you have a cat flap, be careful that other cats are not coming through. Your cat will be very threatened by this, and it could lead to changes in behaviour, such as toileting in different places, spraying, or excessive grooming. If you find other cats entering your new house, you may need to close off their point of entry for a while to break this habit.

Over time, your cat should establish himself in his new feline neighbourhood, and incidents of fighting and chasing should settle down. If he remains fearful of going outside, is persistently threatened by other cats, has a prolonged change in toileting or marking habits, or does not settle into your new house for a long time, then the help of a feline behaviourist may be required.

If your cat has been microchipped, don’t forget to inform the central database of your change of address.

For more information on creating a cat-friendly garden, click here.

This article has been based largely on a Cats Protection League leaflet – our thanks to them.