Moving to a new home is stressful for humans and pets alike. Most cats are sensitive creatures that dislike change, so moving is one of the most stressful events they can experience. Stress can have a negative impact on your cat’s health and behavior. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your cat’s stress before, during, and after your move.
Before the Move
Your cat will notice changes as you prepare to move and may become stressed before you even finish packing. This can cause the cat to hide, escape, or run away. Make sure your cat is confined indoors for a week or two before you move, even if he normally has access to go outside. Consider keeping your cat indoors permanently for safety.
Try to stick to your normal routine as best as possible. Feed your cat at the usual times. Keep your cat’s things in their usual places right up until the move, including litter boxes, bowls, and scratching pads.
If your cat loves boxes the way most cats do, then you can make this process fun by leaving empty boxes around for your cat to play in while you pack.
Your cat will likely need to travel in a carrier during the move, so take this time to help your cat get used to the carrier. Keep it open in an area where your cat spends time. Put a soft bed inside and add catnip or treats. Your cat may be less stressed during the trip if he has developed a positive association with the carrier.
Spend extra time playing and bonding with your cat. This can help your cat feel confident and calm going into moving day.
During the Move
Confine your cat to a room of the house while boxes and furniture are being moved. The room should contain a litter box, cat bed, food/water bowls, toys, and a scratching pad. Remove any items to be moved before your cat goes into the room. When you are ready to leave for your new home, you can pack up your cat’s items together for easy setup in the new home.
Your cat will need to be restrained during the trip, most likely in a carrier. If your cat is used to a leash and harness and tolerates car rides, you may be able to restrain him with a pet car seat and seat belt. However, a cat should not be loose in the car for the safety of everyone. The cat may become lodged under a seat or hide under the brake or gas pedal.
A calming aid may be beneficial to help your cat relax during the trip, especially if you have a long drive or a cat that gets very stressed in the car. Ask your veterinarian about calming aids for cats. Many natural calming supplements are available over-the-counter. Your vet may recommend a prescription sedative for an especially anxious cat or a long-distance trip.
After the Move
Prepare a “safe room” in the new home that contains a litter box, cat bed, scratching pad, toys, and bowls. Put one or two empty boxes in the room for playing or hiding.
Familiar scents can help calm your cat. Place some of your own clothing in the room to keep your scent nearby. Bring a blanket or towel with the scents of the old home.
Make sure the room is secure and does not provide access to a crawl space or other nooks where your cat can escape or become trapped.
Your cat will remain in this room until he gets used to the new home. This could take days to weeks depending on the cat.
Bring the carrier into the closed room and open it up. Allow your cat to come out on his own; do not forcibly remove him from the carrier. Remain in the room while he sniffs and explores. Some cats will be eager to explore, while others will remain in the carrier or hide elsewhere in the room.
Feline calming pheromones like Feliway can help your cat adjust to the new environment. Place a pheromone diffuser in the room or spray bedding with pheromones. The pheromones send calming signals to cats and can help reduce stress.
Keep your cat in the safe room while moving in, unpacking, and organizing the home. Check on your cat periodically, spending time to play and bond so your cat becomes acclimated. Try to stick to the normal feeding schedule as best as possible.
Your cat may not eat as much as usual right after the move. You can entice him to eat by feeding him warm, moist cat food and treats. Contact your veterinarian if your cat refuses to eat for two days.
Adjusting to the New Home
Once your cat is eating and seems calm, you can let him begin to explore other areas of the home. Your cat may even seem curious about what lies on the other side of the door. Gradually allow your cat to discover his new home. If possible, introduce one room additional room at a time and block off areas where you don’t want your cat to hide. A frightened cat may take off and hide somewhere like a basement or attic.
If your cat runs and hides, let him stay hidden (as long as it’s a safe place). Every cat adjusts at a different pace. Of course, a brave cat may be ready to have the run of the house. Some cats will insist on getting out of the safe room while others prefer to stay.
Be patient with your cat. Even the bravest of cats will experience stress after moving to a new home. However, you may need professional help if your cat is still tightly stressed after a few weeks. Ask your veterinarian for behavior advice or seek out a feline behaviorist.
If you plan to allow your cat to go outdoors at the new property, first make sure there aren’t any poisonous plants in the backyard. Get your cat an updated tag and make sure any microchip registration has your current contact information. Keep your cat indoors for the first two weeks or longer. Once your cat seems fully adjusted to the inside of the new home, you can introduce your yard to your cat. Begin by taking your at outdoors for about ten minutes of supervised exploration. Gradually increase the time outdoors until your cat seems confident with the area.
Stella, Judi, et al. “Effects of Stressors on the Behavior and Physiology of Domestic Cats.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 143, no. 2–4, 2013, pp. 157–163.