Tips for keeping cats sane while uprooting them

Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2003

Moving to a new home can be a traumatic time for both people and cats.

The unfamiliar faces, strange noises and smells, numerous boxes and lengthy car or plane trips can be unnerving to cats. Once at the new place, they have the added stress of completely unfamiliar surroundings to become acquainted to.

However, done carefully and with a little bit of prior planning, cats can be successfully moved with a minimum amount of stress.

It begins by going into the move with the right attitude. Be patient, understanding and provide your cat with lots of affection to reassure them that everything is OK.

Also, get new identification tags made as soon as you know the new address in case you get separated from your pet during the move. If the pet is microchipped, be sure to call in the new information. Keep recent photos on hand, too.

Cats are control freaks that crave routine in their lives. The moving experience robs them of the familiarity they so desire. Their favorite spot to lay in the sun, windows to peak out of at birds, the location of the litter box -- all taken from them.

To minimize this, maintain the cat's normal routine as much as possible. During all the premove commotion, confine the cat to one room with personal items, such as familiar bedding, favorite toys, food, water and litter box.

If using professional movers, or if friends are lending a hand, make sure they are aware of the cat's location. It may even be a good idea to post a sign on the door to the room.

For transporting the cat, be sure to have a safe pet carrier. It should be properly secured in the car with the seat belt. Never transport cats in the trunk, a pickup bed or the storage area of a moving van!

Make sure the cat has good ventilation at all times, and be conscious of temperature changes when parked. A cat can overheat and die quickly if left unattended during warm weather.

Also, if you know from past experience your cat doesn't do well during transport, consider consulting a veterinarian for possible sedatives.

If traveling long distances, it's a good idea to make a list of all the pet-friendly hotels along your route. Also, check into the requirements for pets to travel by whatever means you choose. Some airlines require proof of certain vaccinations prior to transporting pets, as does driving into another country.

Once at the new place, do the same thing as before. Place the cat in a room with all of its familiar and necessary belongings. Don't force the cat out of the carrier, either. Allow it to come out at its leisure, so it feels safe.

Establish the litter box area and a feeding schedule as quickly as possible. Use the same procedure for introducing the cat to the new house as you did to the first room. Introduce the cat one room at a time, if possible.

If the cat is an outdoor cat, don't let it out right away. Keep it indoors for two weeks to a month to let it bond with the new surroundings.

In this time, establish a cue that means feeding time, like shaking a bag or tapping a bowl. This is useful for calling your cat back once it goes outside.

If possible, take the cat outside on a leash for the first few times. Quickly give it the feeding cue and return the cat indoors to be fed. Each time you take the cat out allow it to remain outdoors for a little longer than the previous time.

When you feel the time is right to let the cat go out unattended, be sure to have some form of correct identification on the cat. Withhold its food for about 12 hours before turning it loose. This will make it easier to call it back for food.

If your new home is only a few streets from the old one, the cat may encounter old routes and familiar paths. This could cause the cat to return to the former residence.

It's wise to warn the new residents that this may happen. Then, hopefully, they can call you if they see the cat instead of calling the animal shelter, or taking it in themselves.

If this happens, start from the beginning again. Isolate the cat in the house for longer this time and continue the feeding regime. Remember, hunger can be a great incentive for the cat to return.

Be patient with the cat. Some will take weeks to months before they can go outdoors unattended.

You may also think about just converting the cat into an indoor-only cat. The Humane Society of the United States suggests all cats should be indoor-only pets, since it's been proven they live longer and healthier lives.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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