By any measure, relocating is stressful for the whole household. Everything about the process is traumatic — starting with the packing and finally culminating with everyone adjusting to the new home. Anxieties are magnified for cats — as a rule, they don’t do well with change. Some respond to the chaos by hiding or trying to escape at every opportunity. Others manifest their unhappiness through aggression, litter box avoidance, excessively vocalizing, or going on hunger strikes. If it were up to these little ones, they would choose the status quo.
Here are steps that will help decrease the trauma of moving while adding an element of fun:
Lay groundwork before the move
Most people don’t pack their bags and move on the spur of the moment. Usually, there’s enough time for finding a new home before starting the arduous task of packing. Use that lead time wisely to prepare the cats for the move.
Sadly, some indoor/outdoor cats respond to change by disappearing. Unless you have an enclosure or a yard your kitty can’t escape from, bring her inside one-two weeks before you start packing. She needs to become an indoor living kitty, never going outside. If she’s unhappy about the living arrangements, help her adjust through enrichment and activities that appeal to her.
Your cat might be one of those kitties who hate cat carriers. As soon as the carrier looms into view she might disappear or she might lash out at anyone who tries to deposit her into it. This response needs to change — traveling with traumatized felines is stressful for the whole household.
Change your cat’s association with the carrier from a place to avoid to one that is pleasant and fun. A few weeks before you begin packing, leave the carrier out in your cat’s favorite area. Fun, wonderful things should always happen around and in it. Feed your kitty treats in the carrier and place her favorite toys and comfortable towels to sleep on inside. Also, play, clicker train, and do other activities she loves in the carrier.
Packing for a move stresses everyone, including cats. Reduce the anxiety and make packing fun by placing empty packing boxes around your home the week before you pack them. These boxes have two jobs — moving and entertainment. Play with your little one around them. Treasure hunts are usually greatly appreciated as well. Hide favorite treats in the empty containers for her to find. When it’s time to pack, let her help, by encouraging her to climb, explore and play in the boxes. After they are filled and sealed, safely stack them in a configuration she can climb and perch on.
It can be challenging to keep track of cats in the midst of chaos — doors are typically left open while furniture and boxes are removed. Kitties are opportunists; many will make a mad dash out of the open doors. Don’t risk escapes — put your cat in a bathroom, along with food, water, something soft to sleep on, toys, and a litter box, then close the door. For added safety, place a “Keep Out — Cat Inside” sign on the door.
Be prepared on moving day
Transporting kitties can go smoothly, or it can be a nightmare. Plan ahead; be prepared if something out of your control occurs and your cat escapes.
Prepare the cat
Before transporting your kitty, make sure that the information on her microchip is up to date. If she’s not chipped, ask your veterinarian to chip her. Don’t forget to send the paperwork in. On the morning of the move, give your cat a small breakfast to help decrease stomach upsets. If she isn’t a good traveler, talk to your veterinarian beforehand. Your vet might prescribe medication to help reduce her anxiety. Additionally, while in transit reduce any possibility of escape — don’t open the carrier to comfort her (or you).
Prepare the carrier
Before transporting, prepare the cat carrier. Label it with your name and contact information. Additionally, tape to the carrier copies of your cat’s vaccination records along with information about medical issues and medications the cat might need. Place soft towels that have your scent on them along with your cat’s favorite toy inside to help comfort her during the trip.
Help your cat adjust to your new home
The final steps are insuring that your new home is safe for your feline and helping her acclimate with a minimum of stress.
Safety is the priority. Kitties are very adept at finding torn window screens or small spaces that lead underneath homes or open into walls. Additionally, property owners, managers, and previous residents sometimes use highly toxic substances to exterminate unwanted visiting rodents and insects.
Inspect all of the windows and their screens and secure them against breakouts. Locate and patch all possible openings that might lead to impossible-to-reach areas. Do a thorough search for any pest traps and poisons and immediately remove them from the premises.
Before bringing the cat to her new home, prepare a sanctuary room for her. This will become her refuge — the place where she will retreat whenever she feels scared. Set the room up with her familiar items — favorite scratching posts, food dishes, litter boxes, cat trees, beds, and toys. Place towels and clothes that have your scent on them into boxes and tunnels and position them strategically around the room.
Only after the room is set up, place the carrier on the floor and open it. Don’t insist she vacate the carrier — it has become her safety zone during transport. When she feels secure, she’ll venture out and explore. Whoever she is attached to should stay in the room and reassure her. Keep the door to her sanctuary closed until she has adjusted. It usually takes a few days or longer until she is ready to explore outside her safe room. It needs to be on her schedule — open the door, she will venture into the rest of your home when she feels safe.
Although moving is stressful for all of the members of the household, cats are especially sensitive and can be easily traumatized by the upheaval. Through careful planning and early preparations you can help them adjust to the changes and minimize their stress.
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Do you have a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that might be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian.
Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC, solves cat behavior problems nationally and internationally through on site and Skype consultations. She uses positive reinforcement, including environmental changes, clicker training and other behavior modification techniques.
She is also an award winning author. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior problems through clicker training and other positive reinforcement methods. Marilyn is big on education — she feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors.
She’s a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats