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Everything you need to know about moving house with a cat

Moving house can often be a stressful experience. From boxes packed with valuable items and family heirlooms to disassembled furniture, keeping track of your items is a demanding job, even for the most organised of people.   Add a cat (or several) to the picture and you have a seemingly impossible task. Cats can develop a strong bond to your home over time and find moving difficult. Luckily, with some careful advanced planning it’s possible to make the process less stressful for you and your cat.   In this guide, we’ll share some simple techniques and tips that you can use to make moving day easier for yourself, your family and your cats. We’ll also show you how to familiarise your cat with your new home in as little as two weeks.

Preparing your cat for a long journey

Cats are exceptionally aware of their environment and spend a great deal of their time and energy familiarising themselves with it. You may have noticed that your cat knows certain parts of your home in even better detail than you do.   Because of this, it’s important to prepare ahead of time to make sure your cat is as relaxed and comfortable while moving house as possible. Cats like spending their time in a familiar environment, and the rapid change of moving can upset them.   Start your pre-move preparation by making sure that you’ve got all the necessary equipment and supplies for a car journey with your cat. For long trips (more than two hours) you’ll need the following:

  • A comfortable and secure cat carrier with a comfortable and familiar item for a bed (necessary for any vehicular travel with a cat, and not just long trips).
  • If possible use a cat carrier or cage which is large enough to accommodate a litter tray.
  • Plenty of water and food to keep your cat well fed and hydrated during your journey
  • Plenty of ventilation to keep your cat comfortable. If you stop for a break on the way to your destination, make sure you partially open the window.

It’s also important to make sure that your cat is micro-chipped – this is the only safe way of ensuring your cat can be identified in the event that he/she disappears.   Cats often feel stressed while travelling, even if you’re only travelling for a relatively short distance. When stressed, they might not eat, drink or use their litter tray. Don’t worry if this happens – serve ¼ of their usual food and water to prevent them from becoming sick.

Creating a “safe room” for your cat

Cats don’t like change, and the rapid changes to their environment that occur during moving can upset them. Because of this, it’s worth preparing a “safe room” that your cat can spend its time in while the movers are working elsewhere in your home.   Your safe room should include furniture and other items that the cat is familiar with, and it should be cleaned out last. Keep your at secure inside the safe room while the removals team works and make sure they’re aware that your cat is inside.  Better still, we would recommend where possible to arrange to put their cat in a cattery.  Even in a “safe room” nervous cats will get stressed with all of the noise and activity around moving day. When the rest of your house has been cleaned out and packed away for the journey, secure your cat inside their carrier and pack the contents of the safe room. Once you or the removals team have cleaned out the safe room, it’s time to start moving.

Helping your cat feel comfortable at home

Cats are naturally territorial, and being taken from an environment they know well and placed somewhere is a stressful experience for them. According to the RSPCA, many cats attempt to return to their previous home after moving house.   Start moving your furniture and possessions into your new home with the cat’s safe room. Secure your cat inside the room and surround them with furniture and items they’re already familiar with to calm their nerves and make them comfortable.   Cats need a comfortable environment in order to feel happy. Make sure your cat’s new room includes the following items and features to prevent them from feeling anxious and uncomfortable:

  • A safe hiding place, such as under a dresser or bed. Cats feel stressed when placed in unfamiliar spaces and often want a quiet, dark cubby hole to hide in.
  • Toys to play with or furniture to climb on. Cats are intelligent animals and will quickly become bored of a room without anything interesting inside in the same way that you would.
  • A steady, comfortable temperature similar to that of your previous home. If you’re moving to a location with a very different climate, consider heating or cooling the cat’s room for their comfort.

Since cats love familiarity, adding their scent to their new environment is one way to make them feel more at home. Blue Cross recommends rubbing your cat’s face, neck and body with a soft cotton cloth, which you can then use to ‘scent’ your new home.   Rub the cloth on walls, doors and furniture at cat height to make your cat feel more at home. Repeat daily and your cat will become familiarised with your new home in far less time than usual, helping them settle in easily.

Preventing your cat from returning home

Keep your cat inside for at least two weeks after moving to prevent any improvised escape attempts. It can take several weeks for your cat to become familiar with your new home; they’re most likely to escape if let out during these two weeks.   When it’s time to take your cat outside, use food to make sure they behave well and can easily be controlled. Withhold food for 12 hours before their first trip into your garden to ensure they’re hungry and paying full attention to you.   Make sure there are no other cats inside your garden, then let your cat explore its new environment for a few minutes. After they’ve had a chance to look around, tap your cat’s food bowl or call it inside for feeding.   Repeat this exercise daily, giving your cat a few more minutes to explore every day before feeding them. If you’re worried about your cat leaping over the fence, use a harness and lead to keep them within your control.   Cats love knowing where they are, and when they’re familiar with an environment they’ll feel far more comfortable. Day by day, your cat will grow used to your new house and feel confident both inside and outside in the garden.   If someone else is moving into your old home right away, get in touch with them to let them know that your cat might accidentally return home. Tell them not to feed it or provide anything that might encourage it to spent time around your old home.

Is your cat ready to move house?

Moving house with a cat does need to be thought through and with the right amount of preparation and panning you and your cat will find it much more straightforward. Apply the tips in this guide and your cat will have no problem settling into your new home.

Image: Peter Huys / CC 2.0

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