Moving house with a Cat

Moving house with a Cat
Author: Chris O’Neil, Founder, Catology – Cat Behaviour Solutions

Moving houses can often be a stressful experience, even without pets!  Pet owners, particularly those with cats, will need to consider the impact on their animals, and plan ahead if they want to make the transition as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Dogs are relatively easy – they will generally be happy to go wherever their owner is. 

Most cats, on the other hand, will find moving to a new house somewhat traumatic. 

This is because of the concept of territory.  If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know that territory is of utmost importance to a cat.  Much of their day is spent patrolling, marking and defending their small piece of the world.  It is where they are comfortable, and all of their resources (food, water, litter, other animals, humans, scratching posts, cat trees etc) are found. 

Moving a highly territorial animal from their territory is an undeniably stressful experience for them.  However, there are definitely things you can do to make this stress as minimal as possible.  We will go through them now.

When moving to a new house with cat(s), you need to think of it in 3 stages:

  1. Before the move
  2. During the move
  3. When you arrive

Some things may be a little different depending on where and how far you’re moving.  For example, moving across a few suburbs will require less planning than flying across states.  I’ll discuss these differences as they come up.


Before the Move

Cats are very sensitive to changes in their environment, and will know that something is up when you start packing!  This can create uncertainty for them.

What you need to do is begin the process as early as possible to slowly acclimate them to the changes. 

  • Bring boxes home weeks or even months before moving. Start to pack gradually.  Don’t leave this until the last minute or you’ll make a massive change to a cat’s territory, creating excess stress.
  • If you need to buy cat carriers, do It well in advance also. Leave the cat carriers out so your cat(s) can get used to them as well.  If you’re like most cat owners, the carrier represents a trip to the vet so even the sight of them can cause stress.  By leaving them out for your cats to explore without going to the vet, you are getting them more comfortable around the carriers.  Spray Feliway periodically on the carriers to make them more inviting and “friendly”.
  • Put some towels or other fabric where they sleep and rest, and don’t wash them until well after you’ve moved. This will put their smell on the fabric, which we will use later during the move to make them more comfortable.
  • Leave the scratching posts, cat trees, and other furniture they like to sleep on until last to pack. If you are moving interstate and will be waiting for days for your furniture to be delivered, I highly recommend putting a cat tree (if it can be dismantled), in a suitcase to bring with you so you can set it up as soon as you reach your destination.
  • Make a vet appointment to discuss possible medication to make the trip a bit less stressful. Take this opportunity to get your cat up to date with any vaccinations or other health requirements.
  • Have a “safe-room” set up for the cat(s) that they can be put in to when the removalists arrive, or other moving activity is happening in your house. Have everything your cats need in this room (kitty litter, food, water, scratching posts etc).
  • If you are driving a long distance with overnight stopovers, research cat-friendly hotels or high-quality catteries. If you are flying, make sure you’ve sorted everything out with the airline.


During The Move

This part will be different, depending on how far and by what method you are moving.

For those moving only a few minutes or even a few hours away, the job is fairly simple: 

  • Spray some Feliway in the carriers about 15-20 minutes before you plan to put the cats in. Also put a puppy toilet training pad on the bottom of the carrier to absorb any accidents.
  • Put the cat(s) in the carriers, along with the towels or fabric they have imprinted with their scent (which will help keep them calm).
  • Although it’s unlikely they will want it, have food and water available for them.
  • Keep them in the carrier the whole way – do not let them out in the car!
  • Keep the car a nice temperature, don’t blast loud music, and just generally keep the car environment nice and calm.
  • If possible, take the whole kitty litter trays with used litter in them – this will really make them feel more comfortable in the new place.


If you are moving a longer distance away:

  • The above steps work, especially if you are driving. A larger carrier would work well for long distance moves, so you can add a small kitty litter tray to the carrier.
  • At the overnight destination, don’t force your cat out of the carrier, simply (once safe), open the carrier door and let her come out when she is ready. 
  • If you are flying, the airline will have already told you what they need from you. Make sure you’ve done all the above steps also (e.g. spray Feliway, put in a puppy training pad and towels with their scent).  Flying will be the most stressful for them, as they won’t be able to see you, and because of all the strange loud noises, smells, and activity around them. 
  • Just before the move, take out some used kitty litter and fill a snap lock bag. It sounds gross, but it’s very effective in helping them feel at home in the new place! 


When You Arrive

When you arrive at your new place, hopefully you’ll have your cat(s) with you, as well as some things that smell like them (towels, bedding, kitty litter etc), and even a cat tree or some of their furniture. 

  • Put the cat(s) in a room you’ve already decided to use for the transition. Set it up with their kitty litter, cat tree(s), scratching post, food and water.  This is where they will stay while the removalists are moving your furniture inside and other activity is going on in the house.
  • Add the used kitty litter to their trays. This will immediately make the room smell familiar to them, which will go a long way in keeping them calm.
  • Make sure you frequent the room several times a day, so the cats know you’re still around!
  • Once the activity of the new place is calm (i.e. after the furniture has been moved in), open the door to the cats’ room and let them come out at their own pace. Hopefully by now, you’ll have set up any cat trees and scratching posts where they will stay in the new place, as well as your furniture (which inevitably has your cats’ scents on it).  This will help the transition.
  • Move any kitty litter trays to their permanent location (but keep one in the “safe-room” until the cat(s) are completely comfortable in their new surroundings – this can take days or weeks, depending on the personality of the cat).
  • Spray some Feliway spray around the place on furniture periodically.
  • If you have a particularly “scaredy-cat”, you might have to exercise some patience. Never force them out of their room (safe space), but instead encourage them to explore the rest of the house by putting food and treats just outside the safe-room door, and gradually moving them further and further out each day.
  • Confident cats may want to get out of the room as soon as possible and explore. Just make sure everything has been moved in. People constantly going in and out of the house will make it easier for a cat to escape.

There you go, the steps and considerations for moving house with a cat.  It may sound like a lot, but these actions will make the process a whole lot easier for both you and your pet.