Cats are territorial species who are influenced by their environment, so moving homes can be potentially stressful for your individual cat. Planning ahead will ensure the transition from one home to another goes smoothly with as little distress as possible for you and your kitty.
Carrier training is the first step in the planning phase.
Choosing an appropriate carrier and making sure your feline loves spending time in it will make all the difference between a pleasant or aversive experience for you and your cat during travel or when visiting the vet or groomer. Carriers that contain both a top and a front opening for access are best!
Once your cat is comfortable in the carrier, take your cat for brief car test drives. Ensure these drives are positive experiences, starting with a short distance and gradually increasing the distance as your cat’s anxiety decreases. Reward your cat verbally during travel with praise and a treat upon arrival.
Use of pheromone therapy
Synthetic analogues of feline pheromones can be applied preventatively or therapeutically and help in the management of distress, home relocations, travel and habituation to new environments by reducing anxiety while promoting the feeling of happiness.
Pheromones should be sprayed on towels, blankets, your carrier and bedding to make your cat more comfortable during travel and as he acclimatises to the new place. Spray a synthetic feline pheromone into the carrier 15 minutes before using it to encourage your cat to enter. Consider the use of the spray in the car at least 30 minutes prior to help calm your cat. Always cover the carrier completely with a towel, which can also be pre-treated with a pheromone spray.
Use of calming supplements
There are several supplements available from veterinary clinics and over the counter that hold precursors of neurotransmitters which may have anti-anxiety effects.
There’s some evidence that L-tryptophan, Alpha-casozepine and L-theanine are more than effective in reducing anxiety in a number of species, including the domestic cat. Zylkene is a great supplement which can be taken three days prior to the move and three days after the move to aid with any signs of distress. Always consult your veterinarian before introducing any supplements.
A Few days prior to the move
If you’re lucky enough to receive the keys to your new place prior to the move, designate a sanctuary space in the new home for your cat. Plug in a diffuser in the sanctuary space and add a few of your cat’s items with their familiar scent, for example, bedding, scratchers, blankets and food/water bowls.
Spreading the cat’s scent around prominent areas of the home will help incorporate it into the household odour. Cats usually rub and deposit chemical messages which hold their scent on areas such as on door frames, table legs and the corners of sofas and other furniture. This can be replicated manually by the owner by ‘collecting’ their cat’s scent on a cotton cloth or glove by stroking them with the cloth in the facial gland regions (under the chin, cheeks and areas in front of the ears) and rubbing this cloth or glove on the prominent areas.
Tips for a successful day of the move
Before the removal truck or trailer arrives, place your cat in one or separate rooms, ideally a bedroom with familiar furniture.
Place all your cat’s items, like his carrier, bed, food and water bowls and litter tray, in this room. Shut all the windows and doors to prevent escape in case of distress from the noise.
Keep the same routine as much as possible, with plenty of marking opportunities like scratchers, boxes and blankets which can be easily transitioned to the new home.
In the morning, place a notice on the door of the room to ensure the removalist or family members know to keep the door shut to prevent your cat from fleeing.
Once all the rooms have been emptied, except where the cat is, place your cat in their carrier and secure them safely in your car, ready to transition to the new place. Proceed with removing the content of this room.
Please don’t transport your cats in the removal van and, if it’s a long journey to your new home, stop and offer water and a chance to use the litter tray.
First set up a room or designated safe place for your cat. Place your cat in that room. Once the new room is ready, place your cat’s bedding, scratchers, food and water bowls and litter box in it to ensure the new space smells like their old home.
Place the cat(s) in the room, shut the door, and let him get out of the carrier on his own terms. If possible, arrange a family member to sit in the room with your kitty while they explore it. You can offer your cat a little to eat or scatter some dry food on the floor to encourage exploration.
Once the removalists have left the new place, ensure all the doors and windows are closed.
You can allow your cat(s) to investigate the rest of the house, one room at a time as gradually as possible.
Remain calm and watch for signs of anxiety. Beware of any gaps in kitchens, behind appliances or cracked pipes in laundry rooms where a kitten and nervous cat may choose to hide. If your cat is especially skittish, it may be better to board your cat in a cattery prior to the move and collect them once you set up the sanctuary room in the new house.
How to help a cat feel comfortable in a new home
Certain cats require about a week to be comfortable in an unfamiliar environment, but some require longer. Wait until your cat is confidently exploring their new room and comfortable with social interaction and play before leaving the door open for further exploration.
Keep your cat indoors for at least two weeks to get them used to the new home, and feed small quantity meals.
Provide the same routine as in your previous house to maintain relaxation and continuity.
Importantly, prevent getting new furniture until your cat is fully settled in the new environment since that may exacerbate stress levels.
Signs that your cat is stressed after a move
It’s nearly impossible to make a move completely stress-free, however, you can look out for signs of stress-like excessive vocalisation, scratching or grooming, lack of appetite, hiding or withdrawing from social interactions, toileting outside the litter tray and/or panting/drooling. If you notice one or two of these signs, or anything unusual for your individual cat, please contact your vet.
Letting your cat outside
If your cat is used to going outside in their old home, you’ll need to let them adjust to the new place first by keeping him inside for few weeks.
Ensure your cat has some form of ID like a collar and tag with his name, address and your phone number on it, and ensure your cat’s vaccination is up to date. Consider installing a microchip cat flap for ease of entry and access to your new home if feasible.
Introduce your cat to the garden and outdoors gradually while helping them establish their new territory. Don’t carry or force your cat outside - let them decide if they want to explore on their own terms. Initially, keep the door open so they can run back indoors if they feel unsafe.
Preventing your cat from returning to his old house
If your new place is nearby, it’s possible your cat may start exploring and find familiar routes to return to his old home. It’s worth notifying the new occupiers that your cat may return and ask them to call you if they see him.
Moving house is one of life’s most stressful experiences for both humans and cats. By planning ahead you can help your cat settle calmly with minimal disruption.