Cat owners will be well aware of the strong bonds that cats form with their homes and local areas, particularly outdoor cats which are allowed to roam the streets at their leisure.
Even small changes to their environment like a new piece of furniture or a Christmas tree can cause anxiety for cats, so a move to an entirely new house is likely to be very stressful.
You do not have the luxury of being able to tell your cat about the move in advance but there are several things you can do throughout the process to make the move as easy as possible for your cat to cope with.
The day of the move
Before you begin the move, put your cat in one room along with his/her food and water bowls, litter tray, and the cat carrier. Make sure all windows and doors are kept shut, and make sure everyone involved in the move knows that the cat is being kept in that room while you move the rest of the house. Leave this room till last, and before you empty it put the cat in the carrier and take him/her with you when you travel.
When you arrive at the new house, unpack the furniture from the same room first, so you can put your cat into the new room while you carry out the rest of the move.
Prepare the room by plugging in a diffuser which emits synthetic feline facial pheromones (available from vets); this will help your cat to feel more comfortable when you put him/her into the new room. Make sure you put his/her bowls and litter tray in with him/her, and if need be, one of the family can stay with him/her to help him/her settle.
Once you have finished the move you can let your cat explore the other rooms in the house, but keep all windows and doors shut, just in case. Be careful about letting the cat into the kitchen unattended, as many cats will try to hide in narrow spaces if they feel nervous, and might find small gaps behind kitchen appliances. Stay as calm as you can while your cat gets to know his/her new surroundings to reassure him/her that he is in a safe place.
Some cats are anxious travellers and sedatives can be prescribed by a vet if absolutely necessary; otherwise, treat your cat just as you normally would and make sure his/her last meal is not within three hours of travelling. Cats should be transported in a suitable basket or cat carrier; you can even spray the basket with more feline facial pheromones to make your cat feel more comfortable.
Put the carrier in the back seat of the car and fasten the seatbelt, or secure it in a foot well to make sure it can’t move during transit. Never transport a cat in your boot or in the removal van. If you move on a hot day keep the car well ventilated, and never leave a cat in the car for any period while you take a break or unpack.
Getting your cat settled
Cats should be kept indoors for the first two weeks after a move so they have time to get accustomed to the new environment, and are not tempted to try and find their old house. Maintain your old routines and stick to the same meal times as you did in your old home to give your cat some continuity and normality.
It is important to give your cat a feeling of safety and security in his/her new home, one way to achieve this is to encourage him/her to spread his/her scent and mark his territory.
You can do this by taking a soft cloth and gently rubbing it around your cat’s cheeks and his/her head, to cover the cloth in his/her scent.
Rub the cloth on furniture and on walls and doorways at cat-height; this will help him/her to familiarise him/herself with the new home, and you can repeat the process until he/she starts to rub himself on the furnishings.
Letting your cat out
After the first couple of weeks you should be able to let your cat explore outside for the first time. Make sure he/she has some kind of identification, either a collar or a microchip to have the best chance of him being returned to you if he/she is lost.
It may help to fit a cat flap to enable your cat quick and easy access, as he/she will be disorientated for the first few days of being back outside.
Allow your cat to explore in his/her own time; open the door and go out into the garden to show him/her it is safe if need be, but don’t carry him/her or force him/her outside.
Always leave doors open to begin with, so he knows he/she can run back inside if he/she feels under threat. Chase away any cats that venture into your garden; you can help your cat to establish him/herself in his/her new territory by showing him/her that he/she is the top cat in his/her domain.
Stopping your cat returning to the old house
If you have moved to a house which is relatively close to your old one, it is possible that your cat will follow old routes back to home and end up at your previous property. Let the new owners know and give them your contact details in case he/she does return; ask them not to feed him/her as it will only confuse him/her further.
Do as much as you can to help your cat settle in, and keep indoors for a longer period if you feel necessary. If a cat is continually returning to the old home for a period of months and it is causing him/her distress, it might be better for the new occupiers or a previous neighbour to adopt your cat, as heart-wrenching as that may be.
Moving House with Cats – Summary
Moving house is particularly difficult for cats compared with other animals, as they are so territorial and form such strong bonds with their home and their hunting grounds. Follow the advice above to make the transition as smooth as possible and to help your cat enjoy a new lease of life in a new home.