‘Home’ is a very important place for cats - it’s somewhere familiar and comforting where they can feel safe, secure and relaxed. Moving home is inevitably a time of disruption, stress and disorientation but there are a number of things you can do to help her feel more comfortable during and after the move.
Preparing for a move can itself be quite disruptive: packing, strange people wandering in and out, new scents and the emptying of once-familiar rooms can all add to feline anxiety. Some people choose to save their cat the stress of packing up by sending her to stay with already-familiar friends, or to a cattery. If you choose to use a cattery, book a place well in advance and make sure her vaccinations are up to date. For helpful tips on finding and preparing for a cattery, see Cat Sitting and Catteries.
If you’d prefer to keep your cat with you during the move, set aside a quiet room in the house that will be the last to be dismantled. About a week before the big day, place her bed, litter tray, toys, food and water bowls in the designated room so that she gets used to spending time in there.
If using a removal company, notify them in advance that you have a cat and tell them how and when you will be moving her. Just before the removal staff arrive, place your cat in a travel basket with a bowl of fresh water and take her to her new safe-room. She can stay here for the short time that it will take to instruct the removal staff before you take her to the new address. If she is stressed, you could also spray the basket with a calming pheromone or cover it with a cloth. Speak to your vet for further advice, especially before using pheromones.
If she wears a collar, update her identity tag with your new address and phone number on the day of your move, and make sure to add your new contact details to the microchip registry, too.
Prepare a similar safe-room for your cat in your new house and try to fill it with familiar scents just before moving day. Put an old jumper, towel or blanket in her bedding a few days in advance so that her bed smells pleasantly recognisable when she locates it in the new room. Stroke her- especially around the face and neck- with a piece of cloth and then use it to wipe the surfaces in her new safe-room at her head height to help her acclimatise to her new surroundings. If you are using a calming pheromone, continue to do so- perhaps from a plug-in diffuser - in her new room. As before, don’t forget to fill the new room with her toys, bed, scratching post, a bowl of fresh water and litter tray.
While everyone is unpacking and coming and going, keep the door shut and allow her to explore her new surroundings undisturbed. Only once you are fully moved in should you open the door and let her take a look around the rest of the house, one room at a time.
Exploring her new territory
Even if your cat is used to going outdoors in her old home, it’s a good idea to keep her inside for a week or more while she gets used to her new surroundings. Some cats take longer than this to accept their new house as their home, so err on the side of caution.
This is especially true if you have moved just around the corner. If her outdoor territory is familiar, you may need to keep her in even longer before she is prepared to abandon old habits and forget her old territory.
If she does keep returning to her old address, start from scratch – keep her indoors for a few more weeks and make sure you ask the new occupants of your old house not to feed her or let her in if she shows up.
When introducing your cat to her new garden, keep the outings short and try to supervise her.. The best way to do this is to let her out just before mealtimes and make familiar feeding time noises (clanging bowls, shaking bags of food etc.) when she has had a chance to explore her new surroundings. Her meal will be a reward for coming home, and will positively reinforce where she should be going for food.
Over the course of a week or two, gradually extend the length of her outdoor visits. Don’t let her out after dark or completely unsupervised until you are sure that she has learnt the geography of her new territory. You should also be sure to keep her indoors if you anticipate any fireworks or thunder: a panicking cat could easily fall into old habits and forget where to run.
With a whole new world to explore, and with a little time and patience, your cat should soon learn to enjoy her new territory and what it has to offer just as much as her old one.