Moving House With Your Cat
Cats are very sensitive animals, and often struggle more with a move than any other household member
Moving home is a stressful time for everyone, but it can be easy to forget how big an impact moving house can have on your cat – they are very sensitive animals, and often struggle more with a move than any other household member. Their life is based around routines and familiarity, with territory and scent being a huge part of them feeling comfortable and settled.
Disruption to their lifestyle and comfort zone can be very difficult for them.
Simple strategies can help make moving house with your cat easier and safer for you both, leaving you both free to enjoy your new home!
More about moving house with your cat
Use of pheromones
Cats make a pheromone when they feel secure which helps them identify home. Cats spread this pheromone around their home by rubbing their faces on things. You can buy plug-in diffusers or sprays that infuse this pheromone into the air - this helps cats feel calmer and safer. Keeping a cat calm is easier than calming a stressed cat so plugging in a diffuser should be done at least 24 hours before you start any changes at home, including packing to move.
Keep your routine the same while you pack
Your cat is used to a routine. This may not be regimented, but they will know in general when food and rest times are, and when they will spend time with you and when they will be alone. This routine is important, and gives your cat a sense of security and control in their home environment.
Make a cat-safe zone
Slowly moving your cat's food, water, bedding, favoured toys and litter tray into a quiet room like a spare bedroom can help create a 'home within a home' where your cat can feel safe if there is a lot of disruption going on elsewhere in the house. Moving your cat's possessions should happen slowly and your cat haven should be set up at least a week before you move to get your cat fully accustomed to it.
Put out your cat's travelling box
If you only get out the cat box just before a journey, your cat will quickly associate the box with being constrained, and likely with cattery or vet trips - not great! Having the box open and in the house for a few weeks ahead of your travel will allow your cat to get used to it. Try putting favoured treats or toys in there, to aid your cat in getting a more positive view of the box, or use a pheromone spray to make the box seem more attractive.
Travelling with your cat
If your cat doesn't travel well, speak to your vet in advance about how to manage this - they may suggest different carrier types, advise on covering the carrier, give advice on when to feed, and other tips depending on your cat, the circumstances and duration of your travel.
Register with a local vet
Just before you move, or as soon as possible after, you should register your cat with a local vet. With an unfamiliar environment, and lots of open doors and strangers, it is easy for your cat to get in an accident so making sure you know what to do if there is an emergency with your cat is important.
Change microchip details
With lots of open doors as you move in boxes, and all the disruption of moving day, it can be easy for your cat to get outside and get lost. Making sure your cat's microchip details are up-to-date with your new address, and that your other contact details are still correct, should be done a day or so before you move. A new tag for your cat's collar, if they wear one, should also be made with your new details on.
Clean your new house thoroughly, especially if the previous owners had cats
Scent is hugely important to cats, much more than to humans, and they are very sensitive to it. Making sure to clean thoroughly at 'cat height' and wipe down areas that could have a cat-scent on will leave the house clean for your own household smells. This will help your cat feel like your new home is also their new home faster and stop them being wary of any scent 'competition'.
Check your new house is cat-safe
Although, with outdoor cats, it is impossible to control where they go, make sure that you are aware of potential dangers such as major roads. Inside the house, if you have any 'new home' flowers, make sure any lilies don’t come inside – these are highly toxic to cats, and even a little of the pollen can kill.
Consider leaving your cat in a cattery, during the move
This may not be possible, but if it is, leaving your cat at a cattery while you move will help keep them stress-free, as well as leaving you free from the worry of keeping an eye on them! Bringing your cat into your new home when everyone is more settled will help show your cat this new place is somewhere to relax - they will get their emotional cues from you, so this is a great way to teach them that this is a safe and calm place, with nothing to worry about.
Put your cat in their 'safe' area
If you do not want to leave your cat in a cattery, put your cat in the room or area you have previously set up, where they will be comfortable while you move out. This should be done the night before you move, to avoid them going missing on the morning. This saves you having to keep an eye on them, reduces the risk of accidents or loss, and gives them a safe space to relax. Pack your cat's belongings last, so they don't feel their possessions are being taken away from them.
Keep routines the same as possible
Try to at least feed your cat at their normal time, on their normal food, and spend a little time with them for some one-on-one attention. The further from their daily routine you go, the more stressed and wary your cat will feel about the situation. Being calm yourself will also help - your cat will read your emotional cues, and is more likely to be calm if you are.
Travel with your cat as you would normally - they will need a safe, enclosed carrier, and should never be free within the car environment. Secure the carrier by wedging it in, or using the seat belts to strap it down. Reassure your cat throughout the journey, and make sure they have regular access to water, as well as keeping the carrier out of direct sunlight. Never leave your cat in a car, even in the shade. If they are prone to travel sickness, withhold food for 3-4 hours before the journey.
Unpack your cat's belongings first
Unpack your cat's bedding, food, water and toys first while they are still in their carrier. It will be reassuring for your cat to see and smell their home items, and help them settle in. These should all be placed in one room, which can be closed off.
Scent is important to your cat and is a key part of the way they identify an area as safe or 'theirs'. Making sure to bring in blankets and cushions that smell like home will really help your cat settle in. Rubbing a soft cloth around your cat's face, and then onto furnishings and corners at cat-height, will help spread their scent around the house - this may feel odd, as we cannot experience the scent marking this achieves ourselves, but will be noticeable and calming to your cat. Continuing to use pheromone dispensers or sprays will also help your cat settle in.
When you have a secure room, with your cat's belongings in and something that smells reassuring like a piece of your unwashed clothing or pillows, allow your cat out of their box to explore the new room in their own time. Leaving your cat to explore this environment quietly can be beneficial, although some cats may prefer you to sit quietly with them. Provide a favourite food, as well as litter and fresh water.
Allow for accidents
A new home is stressful, and even the best behaved cat may have a toilet accident as they get used to their new environment and routine, especially if they usually toilet outdoors. Be patient with your cat, don’t tell them off, and show them where you expect them to toilet going forward. Keep litter trays pristine, as this will encourage use, and make sure plenty of litter facilities are available.
Gradually expand your cat’s new territory
Having access to a lot of new space simultaneously can be very stressful for a cat. Access to the new home should be done incrementally, at your cat’s own pace. As you let them out of their safe room to see more of the house make sure all the doors and windows are closed – even the most intrepid of cats won’t be ready for the outdoors just yet, whatever they tell you!
Outdoor cats will miss having outside access but it is important to stay firm – many cats have been lost by being let out too soon and getting disorientated, or trying to head back to their previous territory. Cats should remain indoors in your new house for at least three weeks. This time allows them to regard the new house as ‘home’, scent-mark the area and settle in. During this time, sprinkling some of your cat’s used cat litter around the perimeter of the garden can pre-warn other local cats that a new cat is in town, and also make the garden smell more familiar when you start letting your cat outside for the first time.
When you do let them out, do this just before they would usually be due food – this makes it much more likely they will follow you back in to the sound of a rattling packet! Don’t force them outside – leave the door open and go outside yourself, encouraging them to follow. If they don’t want to, try again another day. Leave the door open while they are outside as well, so they can go back in if they want to. Start small with short trips, and build up as your cat gets more confident with their surroundings, until you are happy they can come and go as they please.
The drive to return to an old home can be strong in cats, especially if you have not moved very far. Making sure to give the new owners of your old home your details will help, so if your cat does arrive there, they can contact you. Make sure to associate pleasurable experiences with your new home, such as grooming and meal times, and get your cat in a new routine quickly, to help them associate their new house with being the centre of their territory – namely, home.