Moving house with your cat

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The cat is a territorial species so they develop strong bonds with their environment. As a result, house moves are potentially stressful.

Planning ahead will ensure that the transition from one home to another goes smoothly. After all, this is a traumatic time for you and one less worry would be a good thing!  

Moving day 

  • Before the removal van arrives it is advisable to place your cat in one room – the ideal location may well be a bedroom. Think about where this furniture will go in the new home as your cat may see this as its safe place in the future and it therefore needs to be a room where there is unlimited access.

  • Put the cat carrier, cat bed, food bowl, water bowl and litter tray in this room and ensure the door and windows remain shut. 

  • Place a notice on the door so that removal men and family know that this door should be kept shut. 

  • When all other rooms have been emptied, the contents of the bedroom can be placed in the van last. Before the furniture is removed your cat should be placed in the cat carrier and put safely in the car to make the journey to the new home. (see travelling with your cat).

  • Do not transport your cat in the removal van or in the boot of the car. 

  • If it is a long journey you may want to stop and offer water or a chance to use a cat tray, although most cats will not be interested. 

  • If it is a hot day make sure the car is well ventilated; never leave the cat inside a hot car if you stop for a break. 

  • Once you arrive at your new home, the bedroom furniture should be at the back of the lorry or van and therefore the first to be installed in the new home. 

  • Place a synthetic feline facial pheromone diffuser (a plug-in Feliway® device) in a floor level socket in the new room where your cat will be temporarily confined, ideally several hours before your cat is brought in.

  • Once the room is ready your cat can be placed inside with his bed, food bowl, water bowl and litter tray and the door shut. If possible a family member can sit in the room with your cat for a while as it explores. 

  • Offer your cat some food. 

  • Once the removal has been completed your cat can be allowed to investigate the rest of the house, one room at a time if there are any signs of anxiety. 

  • It is important to remain as calm as possible to signal to your cat that it is a safe environment. 

  • Ensure that all external doors and windows are shut. 

  • Be cautious about allowing your cat unsupervised access to the kitchen or utility room as particularly nervous individuals will often seek refuge in narrow gaps behind appliances. 

  • If your cat is particularly anxious it may be advisable to place him in a cattery the day before the move and collect the day after you are established in your new home.  

Helping your cat to settle in 

  • Keep your cat indoors for at least two weeks to get used to the new environment. 

  • Provide small frequent meals. 

  • Maintain routines adopted in your previous house to provide continuity and familiarity. 

  • Continue to use the synthetic feline facial pheromone diffuser (Feliway®) in the original room. 

  • Extra care should be taken for the permanently indoor cat as a new environment will be potentially unsettling, it may take a little longer to adapt – having familiar furniture will always help. 

Letting your cat outside

  • Keep your cat indoors for a couple of weeks to get used to the new property.

  • Make sure your cat has some form of identification (a collar with a quick release section to avoid getting caught up) with its name, address and contact phone number. 

  • Alternatively, (or additionally) ask your vet to microchip your cat to ensure it can be returned if it gets lost. If he is already microchipped, remember to inform the registering company of your change of address and phone number. (See identifying your cat)

  • Ensure your cat's vaccinations are up to date. 

  • Consider fitting a cat flap for ease of access outdoors when you are out once your cat is settled. Make sure it is an electronically or magnetically controlled exclusive entry system to avoid the risk of strange cats invading your home. 

  • Chase away any cats if you see them in your garden, your cat will need all the help it can get to establish territory as the ‘new cat on the block'. 

  • Introduce your cat to the outdoors gradually by initially opening the door and going together into the garden. 

  • If your cat is used to a harness then it may be useful to walk it around the garden on a lead. 

  • Don't carry your cat outside, allow it to decide if it wants to explore. 

  • Always keep the door open initially so that it can escape indoors if something frightens it. 

  • Outdoor cats with a wider experience of change generally cope well; timid cats may take time to adapt to the new environment and should be accompanied outside until they build up their confidence. (see how to let your cat out for the first time

Preventing your cat from returning to his old home 

If your new home is nearby your cat may explore when it first goes out and find familiar routes that take it back to your old home. It is wise to warn the new occupiers that your cat may return and ask them to contact you if it is seen in the vicinity. It is important that they do not feed it or encourage it in any way, this will merely be confusing. If you have moved locally it would be beneficial to keep your cat indoors as long as possible. However, this is rarely a practical option since those cats likely to return to previous hunting grounds will not relish being confined for such a long period. Follow the advice above for settling your cat into its new home; this will help, together with the use of both synthetic and its own natural scents to make the environment seem as familiar as possible. It may take many months of retrieval from your old home before your cat eventually settles down. If this process appears to be distressing your cat, it persistently returns to your old home or traverses busy roads to get there, it may be kinder and safer if the new occupier or a friendly neighbour agrees to adopt it. 

Lifestyle changes 

It is never ideal to change your cat's lifestyle from outdoor to indoor but occasionally it is necessary and a house move takes place that requires it to be confined. If your cat spends most of its time outside anyway it may be kinder to re-home. If, however, your cat spends little time outside then it may be acceptable for it to be kept inside in the future. Indoor cats require extra effort from the owner to stimulate them to encourage exercise and avoid boredom. Suggestions to enhance an indoor cat's environment include:

  • Hiding dry food around the house to provide opportunities to 'hunt'

  • Providing plenty of high vantage points and scratching posts that your cat can climb 

  • Regular predatory play sessions at least once a day

  • Introducing novel items to explore, such as boxes and paper bags

Occasionally owners are fortunate enough to move to a property where they can let their cat outside for the first time. The transition from indoor to outdoor cat, if taken gently, will enhance your cat's emotional wellbeing and enable it to live a more natural life. Follow the guidelines for letting your cat outside but accept that the process should be gradual. Many cats, under these circumstances, may prefer to go outside only when you are there to provide reassurance.  

Moving to a smaller property

If you have a multi-cat household then your cats have become used to living with the available space of your previous home. Moving to a smaller property could potentially cause some tension between the individuals. Limit the risk of antagonism in the new home by providing sufficient resources, such as: 

  • Beds 

  • Litter trays 

  • Scratching posts 

  • Food bowls 

  • Water bowls 

  • High resting platforms (eg, wardrobes, cupboards, shelves) 

  • Private hiding places (eg, under the bed, bottom of wardrobe) 

Moving house is supposed to be one of life's most stressful experiences. By helping your cat to settle calmly and with minimum problems, the harmony of the new home can be established that bit more quickly. 

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