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Moving house with your cat

If there's one thing more stressful than moving house, then it's moving house with your cat. With some careful planning though, everything should go smoothly. Cats develop strong bonds with their environment so 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 would be a bedroom.
  • 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. Follow the advice below for transporting your cat.
  • The bedroom furniture should be the first to be installed in the new home.
  • Place a synthetic feline facial pheromone diffuser (a plug-in Feliway device available from your veterinary practice) in a floor level socket in the new room where your cat will be temporarily confined. 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 he 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.
  • 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.

Transporting your cat

  • If your cat is an anxious traveller you may wish to speak to your veterinary surgeon before the journey and a mild sedative may be prescribed.
  • Feed your cat as normal but ensure the mealtime is at least three hours before travelling.
  • Transport your cat in a safe container, ie a cat basket or carrier.
  • Spray the inside of the cat carrier with synthetic feline facial pheromones (Feliway; Ceva - available from your veterinary surgeon) half an hour before you place your cat inside.
  • Place the carrier in a seat and secure with the seat belt, in the well behind the seat or wedged safely on the back seat so that it cannot move around.
  • 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.

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.
  • Help your cat feel secure in his new home by spreading his scent throughout the house. Take a soft cotton cloth (or use lightweight cotton gloves) and rub your cat gently around the cheeks and head to collect the scent from glands around his face. Scrape this cloth or glove against the corners of doorways, walls and furniture at cat height to help your cat to become familiar with his territory as quickly as possible. Repeat this process daily until you start to see your cat rubbing against objects.
  • Continue to use the synthetic feline facial pheromone diffuser and rotate the device throughout the house, one room at a time.
  • Extra care should be taken for the permanently indoor cat as a new environment will be potentially unsettling.

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 his name, address and contact phone number.
  • Alternatively, (or additionally) ask your vet to microchip your cat to ensure he can be returned if he gets lost. If he is already micro-chipped, remember to inform the registering company of your change of address and phone number.
  • 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 he 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 into the garden with him.
  • If he is used to a harness then it would be useful to walk him around the garden on a lead.
  • Don't carry him outside, allow him to decide if he wants to explore.
  • Always keep the door open initially so that he can escape indoors if something frightens him.
  • 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.

Preventing your cat from returning to his old home

If your new home is nearby your cat may explore when he first goes out and find familiar routes that take him back to his old home. It is wise to warn the new occupiers that your cat may return and ask them to contact you if he is seen. It is important that they do not feed him or encourage him in any way, this will merely confuse him. 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 his new home; this will help, together with the use of both synthetic and 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 him, he persistently returns to his 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 him.

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 him to be confined. If your cat spends most of his time outside anyway it may be kinder to re-home him. If, however, your cat spends little time outside then it may be acceptable for him 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 the cat can climb
  • Regular predatory play sessions at least once a day

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 him 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 (e.g. wardrobes, cupboards, shelves)
  • Private hiding places (e.g. 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.

Ref: Feline Advisory Board - www.fabcats.org

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