Help! We’re Moving and the Cat is Stressed

Guest Blogger: Chris Whyle, Behavior Wellness Coordinator 

Question: Hey, guys!  I was wondering if you had any advice for an older cat who is stressed out about moving? We’re in the process of packing and Zero, my 11 year old maine coon, is stressing about it. We’ve been giving her smaller amounts of treats more often, bringing her favorite beds into the room we’re working on, paying lots of attention to her, etc., but she’s definitely having a hard time with this much change. Anything else you can think of to comfort her? Any advice would be great appreciated. 

Moving is one of the most stressful events a kitty will encounter in her life.  Cats love the familiar and become very uncomfortable with even the smallest of changes.

First, shield her from the big changes.  Keep her feeding, playtime, and litter scooping schedule as close to her normal routine as you can.  Extra one-on-one interactive playtime with you will take her mind off of the chaos of the move.  If you can, choose a room (it would be great if it was one of her faves) and set it up with her food and water bowls, litterbox, bed, cat furniture and toys, to give her an oasis of calm while the furniture is being moved from the rest of the house.  Place a radio playing soft, calming music in her room to mask the loud noises.  Spend as much time as you can with her, and keep your attitude positive!  If you are stressed, she will be too.  Place her open carrier in the room and routinely toss some treats, catnip, or her favorite toy into the carrier to create positive associations.  Place a DO NOT OPEN sign on the door so that no one inadvertently allows her to escape.  This will also prevent her from finding refuge in a moving box and being packed away—yikes, it has happened!

You weren’t specific as to how far away you are moving, and whether she will be driving with you or flying to her new home.  If it will be a long drive, you may want to consider purchasing a larger travel carrier that can accommodate a litter box.  This should be her home during the travel time.  If she doesn’t have a collar, purchase one and attach tags with your name, cell phone number, and new address on it.  She should wear this collar during the move and for about a month after, just in case she should escape from the carrier or the new home.

Make sure kitty’s food, bowls, litter, treats, toys and medications are packed in a separate box and travel with you and your cat.  This will make it easier and quicker to set her up in her new room and will allow you fast access to any supplies you will need on the trip.

If she was an indoor-outdoor cat, this is a great opportunity to transition her to indoor life.  More information on this transition is available here.

Choose a small room in your new home to be her temporary safe haven.  In it place all of her familiar belongings, along with a couch cushion, bedspread, favorite piece of furniture, or something that contains her scent.  Since you will be busy setting up the rest of the house, some clothing of yours that contains your scent will be reassuring.  Again, try to keep feeding, playtime and litter scooping schedule on the old routine.  Give her places to hide—this new environment will be very scary for her!  A paper bag, moving box, her carrier placed in different corners of the room will give her access to hidey-places wherever she is in the room.  You’ll need some 15-minute breaks while setting up the house—take them with kitty.  If she’s hiding, lure her out with treats, catnip or an interactive toy.  If she remains in hiding, let her do so.  She needs to get used to her new environment at her own pace.  But keep giving her the opportunity to interact with you in a positive way.

This room should be her sanctuary for as long as she needs.  She’ll tell you when she’s ready to explore the rest of the house by venturing closer to the door, scratching at the door, or wanting to follow you out after a visit to her room.  Have patience!  After she ventures out, leave the door open in case she needs the security of this room.  Move furniture into this room slowly so as not to stress her out.

Once she is brave enough to explore the house, make sure all doors and windows are secure.  If she escapes from her new home she will not know where she is and may become lost—or may try to make it back to her old familiar stomping grounds.

With time, patience, and as much familiarity in routines as possible, kitty will accept her new home.  When you see her cheek-rubbing in her new abode the process has begun.  Available perches in sunny windows and familiar scents of the old furniture will ease the transition.  Above all, think positive!  And show her love every chance you get!