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Moving House with a Cat

Moving house is stressful!  Finding the boxes, booking the removalist, dealing with the mess and living in disarray for days on end is exhausting and not a lot of fun.  But, at least we know what is happening.  Imagine what it is like for a cat that is used to her own routine in a territory that she has spent time and energy marking as her own. 

For cats, moving home is traumatic and scary.  They get confused by the packing boxes and moved furniture, they panic when strangers traipse in and out and they become stressed when they are moved in a box to a totally alien environment.  They don’t like change and they very much like routine.

Cats are territorial by nature.  They mark their environment by rubbing their scent over objects in and outside the home and spend a great deal of time defining their territory.  So, when the family moves, the cat gets taken out of her territory that she knows so well and gets placed into somewhere totally unfamiliar with a whole new routine and this can be terrifying.

If at all possible, thoroughly clean the new home before moving in to remove any cat scent from previous pets.  This gives your cat a fresh start and she will probably busy herself pretty quickly with laying her own pheremones on the new property.

Cats get upset by anything that changes in their environment and their routine so when packing boxes are brought into the home and furniture is moved, they become confused and stressed.  The impact of this can be reduced by packing the boxes gradually over a period of time and leaving the cat’s bedding, toys and bowls until the last minute.

When packing, leave one room until last for the cat to be locked into.  Put the cats bedding as well as food, litter tray and water into the room and, if possible, leave the radio or TV on in there to help mask some of the banging and clanging going on outside.  The carry cage can stay in there also as she may like a place to hide.  Make sure that everyone, including the removalists know that this door is not to be opened and place a large sign on it just to be sure.

When transporting the cat, choose a sturdy carry cage with plenty of ventilation and a secure base.  Cats can be unpredictable and if allowed to roam around the vehicle will become a hazard to everyone within it.  Try to avoid moving the cat in the hottest part of the day and most importantly, don’t leave the cat alone in the car.  If travelling a long distance keep the air conditioning on or fresh air moving through the vehicle as the stress can dehydrate a cat.

Cats will begin to get a bit flighty as soon as the first packing box comes into the house so before this step, make sure that the she has a collar and is microchipped in case she wanders off.  This is even more essential when the cat moves into her new home so that if she does go missing, there’s more chance of her being returned to the family.

Microchips are Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RIFD) the size of a grain of rice which can transmit stored information such as the owner’s name and contact details.  A single microchip is implanted in the soft scruff of the neck of a cat or dog and is an extremely common and safe procedure.

Two types of pet identification are best.  A pet tag on a collar should be used in conjunction with a microchip to help speed up the process of reuniting the animal to her family.

Since the details of the microchip are kept on a national database, an animal with one of these devices can be scanned and her owner contacted anywhere in Australia.  Of course, the details on the register must be kept up to date especially when moving home.  For more information, contact your veterinarian.

Better Pets and Gardens carry a wide variety of containers to suit all animals. Rigid plastic pet crates are strong but light weight and easy to clean. They are well ventilated and leak proof.  Wire show crates are also popular but sometimes a cat travels better in the dark so take a blanket and place over the top if she becomes stressed. Carry bags are available for cats and whilst these are terrific for quick trips on cool days it is important to ensure that the animal does not overheat and that she has adequate ventilation.

Put the carry cage in the cat’s area a few days before moving house with the door open.  This will give her a chance to get used to the cage.

Within the pet carry container, a cat must have enough space to turn about normally, to stand and sit erect and to lie in a natural position.

When first arriving, confine the cat to just one room until unpacking is completed and the removalist has left.  Again, place a sign on the door to ensure that no one lets her escape.  Put her bedding, litter tray, food and water in with her as well.

Sometimes a cat won’t want to eat.  Don’t worry as she will when she is ready.  Always have food and water available in familiar bowls.  This is not the time to invest in brand new cat toys, blankets or bowls to suit the new house.  It is far better to allow her the security of knowing that she has some familiar items around her.

The cat may not want to venture from this room for several days and may even hide in an opened closet or cupboard.  This is quite normal for most cats and she will start to explore the rest of the house once she adjusts to the new surroundings.  If at all possible, try to keep feeding and play times to the same routines as in her old house and keep all doors and windows secured to prevent her from going outside.

Eventually the cat will want to explore more of the house and may even seem interested in the outside world.  However, it is best to keep her indoors for at least a month before allowing her to head outside.  Check first with the local council in regards to their laws as some have ‘cat curfews’ and others make microchipping mandatory.  Also, take a look over the neighbour’s fence to make sure that there are no dogs that could pose a risk to the cat.

A cat enclosure is a great way to allow her to experience the outdoors but where this is not an option, slowly introduce the cat by allowing her out for short periods of time whilst you are supervising.  Don’t carry her outside but just let her go out the door if she wants to.  Cats have an exceptional sense of direction and she may try to get back to her old home so don’t leave her alone in the garden.  After a week of supervised exploration, the cat can be let outside on her own.  Remember though, a cat should always be kept indoors at night for her own safety.

Don’t believe the old wives tale that butter on the paws will stop a cat from wandering.  This will only make her fat and mess up the floors of your brand new home.

If you have only moved a short distance from your previous home, the cat may find some landmarks or tracks that help her find her way back to where she used to live.  It is a good idea to warn the new owners so that they can quickly contact you should this happen.  It is important that they do not encourage or feed the cat as this will simply confuse her.  In this case, it may be necessary to keep the cat indoors for longer or to build her a beautiful enclosure to keep her in her new backyard.

If crossing borders, it is important to check quarantine regulations long before the trip is planned.  The cat may need to spend some time in quarantine or proof of vaccinations may be required.

It is also necessary to contact air freight companies early to ensure that the correct carry cage is used and that the flight times and preparations are adhered to.  Pet transport regulations have recently changed so even if your pet has flown before, contact the company well ahead of time to make sure that you have the most up to date information.

Visit the Better Pets and Gardens website to download other fact sheets that might be useful: ‘Travelling with Pets’ and ‘When Pets Fly’.

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