Greetings moving cat lovers! Skye Blake here to share great info I’ve found about moving with a cat…
Many times when people are moving from one home to another, they want to know how to help their cat handle the move with the least amount of stress.
This is especially difficult when moving a long distance.
There are ways to help your buddy feel secure while you totally turn her world upside down!
No matter where you go, there’s the risk of your cat not being happy with her new surroundings.
Cats are territorial and the vast majority would never go anywhere if it were up to them.
When they’re insecure in a new environment they start marking to have ownership of the territory and secure themselves from predators.
Marking includes rubbing up against things like furniture and door jambs, and by pee spraying.
Spraying causes a smelly mess that you won’t like, so it’s worth doing everything you can to help her have a stress-free move! Here’s what to do…
- Before the Big Move
- Week Before the Move
- Pack For Your Cat
- Update ID & Vet Info
- Cat-Proof & Clean Your New Home
- Take Precautions With an Indoor/Outdoor Cat
- Moving Day
- Life After the Move
- Indoors vs. Outdoors At a New House
- Related Pages of Interest
- List of Sources
Before the Big Move
One way to help both of you move with less stress is train your cat to…
The key is to work on these things gradually, not the week or day before throwing her into the car with your other luggage!
Some cats take to training easily, especially if they haven’t had bad experiences in the carrier, while others may take awhile.
Patience and treats work wonders!
Once she’s trained, you’ll be able to do fun stuff together than you never thought possible.
Week Before the Move
In the week before the big move, you’ll be bringing moving boxes into the house.
Always remember that anything you bring in the house changes your cat’s world and can make her insecure.
Since you’ll likely be using lots of boxes, this is a major upset. The good news is we felines adore cardboard boxes!
Let her sniff and explore them before packing things.
Use pheromone spray on the box corners if she seems stressed. She can then own the boxes as part of her territory so they aren’t a threat.
When you’re in the new house, the boxes may be in weird places but will be familiar to her by smell from the pheromones.
Packing gradually, rather than frantically on the last day, will be much less stressful for her (and you too!).
If you’re rushing around packing, you can scare her.
Carefully double check all boxes before sealing them! Your cat may find a cozy napping spot in your box of clothes or linens.
You close the box, seal it and on the truck it goes. It happens, people!
If your cat is upset about you destroying his territory, he will try to hide… big boxes with soft comfy things are perfect hiding places.
Or he could be enjoying all the fun boxes you brought just for him to play in.
You can avoid this by putting your buddy in the bathroom or other calm cozy space while you pack.
Pack For Your Cat
Pack your kitty’s things separately and keep them with you… not on a moving truck!
You don’t want to be searching through boxes at the end of an exhausting day, trying to find your cat’s food and bed.
It’s always a good idea, when packing, to write on each box what room it goes in.
Update ID & Vet Info
Make sure you update your cat’s microchip information with your name, cell phone number, and new house address.
This is very important in case he gets lost on your trip or at your new home. Sometimes cats will try to return to the home they know.
If that happens, anybody who finds him will be able to return him to you if his microchip info is up-to-date.
If he wears a collar ID, have a new tag made with updated contact information.
Wait to put it on him until the day of the move so the info is accurate.
Find out more about traveling with your cat at “You & Your Traveling Cat“.
Get all medical records for your cat before leaving or have the vet’s office send them to your new vet.
It’s a good idea to have her checked before moving, especially if you’re traveling long distance or by air.
Have her vaccinations, medications, and flea treatment updated.
If you think your cat will be too upset by the whole thing, talk to your vet about boarding him for a couple days while you deal with the move.
Then you can introduce him to the new place with furniture and his things set up in a stable environment.
If you’re moving too far away to board him, do your best to make the move as stress-free as possible.
When looking for a new vet, ask your current vet for a recommendation or do an online search and check reviews.
Sometimes reviews aren’t accurate, so you might want to check with local pet services and sitters to see who they recommend.
Nextdoor and other online apps give you the opportunity to ask your new neighbors as well.
Once you have a few names, call and ask any questions. You may also be able to visit the office.
Cat-Proof & Clean Your New Home
If you can get into your new house or apartment before moving day, go through and cat-proof everything as much as possible, just as you would for a toddler.
If not, make sure your cat’s in a closed bathroom with his litter box, while you cat-proof the rest of the house.
Look for anything dangerous to a cat… cable, cords, broken tile or glass, nails, staples, etc.
Search all cracks and crevices, including basements, crawl spaces and garages for any rat bait, traps or other poisons left behind.
Get down on your hands and knees and look everywhere from a cat’s point of view. That’ll give you a new outlook on his life!
Make sure window screens are tight with no holes. Secure all windows and external doors… cats can squeeze through amazingly small cracks!
If you know your cat will open cabinets and get into appliances, cat-proof them like you would for a baby with locks, etc.
Before moving day, either arrange for a cleaning service to do a deep cleaning of the new home or do it yourself.
Steam cleaning carpet and cleaning each room well helps remove any scent of other animals that may have been in the house.
This will help your cat settle in easier, without the stress of other animal scent in his territory.
Don’t use strong cleaners such as bleach. Your cat’s nose will thank you!
Take Precautions With an Indoor/Outdoor Cat
If yours is an indoor/outdoor cat, stop letting him out about a week before the move date.
He may not like it, but you can help him by playing more and making sure he has his other routines.
He’ll read the heightened energy and anxiety levels that you’ll have in the prior week or so… moving boxes and stuff everywhere. This itself is upending his world.
Adding your stress to the mix will make him want to find a safe place and if he goes outdoors he might not come back for awhile.
Do you want to worry about finding him on moving day?
Experts can tell you of many times when a family left their cat behind because they couldn’t find them, the movers had left, and they couldn’t take any more time to look for him.
The poor cat comes back and everything’s gone, becoming a homeless stray. If he’s lucky, a kind neighbor will take him in, but often these cats die on the streets.
When he’s hollering because he wants to go out and you won’t let him, remember those homeless strays left behind.
Know you’re doing your best to keep him safe and part of your family for life.
Starting the Day
It’s finally moving day and you have lots to do! Take some deep breaths and remain calm.
Moving is stressful for you, too, but it’s important for everyone that you stay as calm as possible.
This sends the message to your pets and children that everything’s under control and they’re safe.
Being well organized ahead of time is a great way to have a smooth moving day.
Before doing anything else, put your kitty in her harness in a small safe room (bathrooms do well for this) with the door closed.
Feed her a small breakfast, leave some water, and have her litter box on the other side of the room. Put the new ID tag on her collar.
Use only her familiar bowls and litter box since they have her scent to give her some security.
Giving her food a few hours before moving her will give her a chance to digest without fear of motion sickness when you leave.
Put her toys and bed in the room, along with a couple articles of your clothes since they have your familiar scent.
This also makes her feel secure and she’ll be out of the chaos of the move.
Don’t forget, you’re upending her world, so you must keep her away from it as much as possible.
You’re Ready to Go!
When you’re ready to go, attach the leash to your cat’s harness, get her in the carrier and into the car with her supplies, not the moving van!
This includes food, medicine, litter and box.
The cargo area of moving trucks isn’t air conditioned or heated.
Find out more about preparing to travel with your cat at “Preparing For a Trip“.
Bring her out last just before you leave and take her in to the new bathroom as soon as you arrive.
Get her settled with fresh water and litter box before doing anything else. If she’ll be happier in the carrier, leave her there with the door open.
Every couple hours check on her and spend a few minutes reassuring her with some calm attention.
She might appreciate having a radio on with soft, calming music to help drown out all the crazy noise you’ll be making moving in and unpacking.
Put a “Cat Inside – Do Not Open” sign on the bathroom door, so movers and family members know to keep the door shut.
Life After the Move
Give Your Cat Time to Adjust
Once moving day is finished (whew!), keep your cat in the bathroom while you unpack.
Pick a room and set up the furniture, along with her cat tree, toys, bed, anything that has her familiar scent.
Bedrooms work well for this, especially yours since you’ll be sleeping there and she’ll be comforted by your scent.
It’s very important for your kitty to have a safe area with familiar scents so she can claim the territory as her own. Owning territory is everything to your cat!
Keep the food and water bowls far away from the litter box, but don’t put the box in a closet.
Furniture will give her hiding places as she explores and gets familiar with her new place. You can also put out familiar cat caves as hiding spots.
When you first let her out in the new room, open the carrier door and either sit quietly nearby or leave the room, closing the door behind you.
Give her time to adjust and she’ll come out when she’s ready. Some cats adjust quickly and others take weeks.
Keep the door shut so she doesn’t get overwhelmed.
You’ll know she’s ready to go to other rooms when she’s relaxed… eating, using the litter box and not hiding under furniture.
Don’t make any changes to the room she’s in since it’s a secure base camp for her to use while she gets comfortable in the rest of the house.
If and when you move her litter box, do it a foot at a time… slowly.
You should have one box per cat (plus an extra) located in living areas.
Find out more about litter boxes at “What’s the Best Litter Box?“
Exploring Other Areas of the House
Allow your cat to explore other areas of the house at his own pace. Gradual change makes adjusting easier for cats.
Keep his routine the same as in the old house… playing with him in each room, feeding, and cleaning the litter box at regular times.
Spread her scent around the new house to help make it a familiar place.
Use a cotton cloth, gloves or old t-shirt to rub her face and body gently.
Then rub corners, doors, and other areas at cat height where she would normally rub them herself.
Do this each day until you see her rubbing them herself.
Use pheromone spray, flower essences and other calming scents if your cat likes them.
Once he smells familiar scents, he’ll be secure and will settle in.
Be patient and give her lots of attention and reassurance… but only as much as she wants.
Don’t force it or she’ll get more nervous.
Be Careful About…
Letting him into a room with an outside door is risky at first.
If possible, introduce him to the rest of house first to lessen the possibility of him running outside looking for familiar territory and getting lost.
Save introducing the kitchen, utility room, garage or basement for last if you can.
Since you’ve cat-proofed, you’ve already made many areas safe, but cats can find those little spots you’d think they’d never be able to get into… behind the refrigerator, dryer, stove, etc.
It’s best to wait until he’s secure in the rest of the house and confident enough that he won’t feel the need to hide.
Indoors vs. Outdoors At a New House
Experts recommend keeping your cat indoors. Moving to a new place is a great time to start since it’s new territory.
Most cats will be very happy indoors if you make your house a fun welcoming place and play with them routinely.
Having said that, some cats just aren’t happy staying inside all the time.
Some experts recommend waiting 4-6 weeks before letting any cat outside at all.
If you want to let your buddy outside, she needs to become familiar with it and own it as her territory.
Otherwise, she might run away, looking for familiar territory.
Here Are Some Safe Options
- Build a catio (a screened patio area with climbing trees, shelves, and toys)
- Have a special cat fence installed that makes it impossible for him to escape the yard
- Have him harness/leash trained and take him out for a daily walk around your yard
Having her harness and leash on is vital for any walks in your yard, especially while getting her familiar with it.
Check all fencing for any possible escape areas. This can be difficult with cats because they can squeeze through amazingly small spaces!
Any outdoor cat should be completely vaccinated, microchipped, and trained to come when you call her name.
That sounds crazy but you can train her with treats and calm praise. Find out how at “Teach a Cat to Come When Called“.
It’s up to you if you want to have your cat wear a breakaway collar with ID tags. There are pros and cons to using collars.
Find out more at…
- “Preparing For a Trip“, click on “Prepare In Case Your Cat Gets Lost”, “Collar ID”
If you follow these ideas for helping your buddy handle moving his world, you both will have a happier, more peaceful adjustment. Bon voyage!
Related Pages of Interest
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because primary sources are original and directly referenced. Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.
However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.
So, when I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
(Links given here are for your information only… I make no money from them.)
“4 Things to Avoid When Moving with Pets“, by Timothy Harris, Apartment Guide®, October 2, 2018
“Cats and Moving to a New Home: Making the Transition“, WebMD Pets
“CatWise”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016, pp. 290-3
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting & Owning a Cat”, by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D., Alpha Books, Penguin Group (USA), Inc., New York, NY, 2005, pp. 212-13
“How to Move with a Cat“, by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS, WikiHow, Last Updated: March 29, 2019
“How to Move with a Cat: 11 Tips to Make it Easier“, by Timothy Harris, Apartment Guide®, October 2, 2018
“Moving & Relocation with Your Cat: Tips & Suggestions“, Hills Pet, October 1, 2015
“Moving With Your Pet“, ASPCA®
“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011, pp. 270-3
“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017, pp. 251-253
“Traveling with a Cat in a Car Long Distances“, by Shane, Cat Expedition