I used to live with a cat who would cry all night for the first four nights at a new home.
He howled like he was getting a root canal – it was awful!
Over the years, I eventually discovered how to make moving cats an easier experience.
Beyond preventing distress, there are serious risks to avoid. Occasionally cats disappear on move days or shortly after moving. It’s rare, but it happens.
The good news is that by applying some best practices, we can all pull off the moving-with-cats thing with more ease. I put the following timeline checklist together for a good friend. It’s based on personal experience as well as cat behaviorist advice.
One week before the move
- Create carrier love: If your cats are not naturally thrilled with carriers, put the carrier out. Open it so cats explore and become comfortable with it. Make it inviting by putting catnip and treats near or inside the carrier. Some experts also advise feeding your cats near the carrier.
- Prepare your cats: Some behaviorists say it’s a good idea to start keeping outdoor cats inside for about a week before you move because cats may find the packing and sense of upheaval so upsetting that they could run away before you move. (I haven’t heard of this happening before a move, though I have heard of it on the day of a move.) Also, the author of The Natural Cat, cat expert Anitra Frazier, says that because cats don’t like being surprised, it helps to explain ahead what will happen and reassure them it’s all good. Whether they understand you or not, what have you got to lose? I do this when we are going on trips and before big changes and I suspect it somehow helps.
Day before the move
- Set up the mover-free cat sanctuary: Clear out a small room in the home you are moving out of (it can even be a bathroom, if necessary). If at all possible, move out all boxes and objects. You want a room where your cats will be safe – where no one will open the door and accidentally let them flee. Give the room a litter box, fresh water, food, and familiar blankets or cat beds with familiar smells. A scratching post is a bonus item.
NOTE: This timeline is for moving cats to a nearby town. For long-trip moves, also check out 9 Tips for Moving Your Cats Across Country and my Traveling long-distance with cats: tips & resources for the road.
- Post a Do Not Enter sign on the mover-free cat room in the home you are moving out of.
- Do not let your cats outside while you move all your things. If you do, they may not show up when you return to get them. This is the day they are going to be most freaked out. Keep them inside, in one room that is off-limits to any humans who may inadvertently let them get out.
- Get a simple room ready for them at the new home: Choose a room in the new home where the cats will stay for the night. If they usually sleep with you, make it the bedroom. This is where you will put a litter box, fresh water, food, and familiar blankets or cat beds with familiar smells.
- Move cats last. After you’ve moved all your things, go back to get your cats, the litter box, etc. Bring them directly to their designated room at the new home with all their things. Make it their new cat sanctuary. Keep the door to this room closed, as most cats are overwhelmed by the whole of a new home and adjust better if they start with one room. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s generally true.
First week after move
Prevent overwhelm by introducing rooms gradually: Cats need time to get comfortable with their new territory and trust it’s where they belong. Depending on how quickly your cats seem to be adjusting, keep them in their new room and gradually give them access to the rest of the house. This could take about 2 – 4 days.
- Try behaviorist Pam Bennet Johnson’s sock trick to help cats adjust: She writes: “Take a clean sock, put it on your hand and then gently pet your cat around the mouth to collect his facial pheromones. Then, rub the sock on the corners of objects (at kitty’s nose height). He’ll think he facially rubbed there and that may help him become more comfortable in the environment.” Pam recommends doing this several times around the house as your cat gets used to the new environment. An alternative to the sock trick is to use Feliway spray or diffuser, although not all cats respond to it.
- Keep outdoor/indoor cats in for about a week: This is a good idea because there is a risk that the shock of all the unknown territory could send some cats looking for their old neighborhood. Getting them used to their new home, with regular feeding routines, is said to increase their confidence and comfort so they return once they go outside again.
Pet Tube Car Kennel for long drives: A reader said this spacious tube, which takes up two seats, worked well for moving her two cats across country together. (Ideal for two cats who adore each other – like our Phil & Joel.) It’s also a luxurious ride for one cat and straps in securely. I see that it has a ton of rave reviews. We will use this for any long drives.
Feliway: A manufactured version of the feline facial pheromone used by cats to mark their territory as safe. Many people say that spraying this on surrounding objects (not on cats!) helps their cats feel calmer, though it doesn’t work for all cats.
Do you have a cat moving story or tips?
If you have any stories or tips that could help people move their cats successfully, don’t hesitate to share them with others in the Comments. Thank you!