Moving with cats?

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Oh, the stress of moving! It truly is inevitable for us humans and there is always so much to be done with never enough time. The very thought of it makes me feel tired, overwhelmed and ready for a nap. Now, imagine our anxiety times 100! That is how cats feel when moving is involved. The good news is that there are some steps we can take to mitigate their stress and trauma. Here area few do’s and don’ts for feline parents and yes, many of these don’ts are lessons my husband and I learned the hard way!

• Don’t allow your cats full access to the home. Trust me on this one,they are very difficult to find when you’re surrounded by boxes and rolled up rugs! It took us 3 hours to catch one of our beloved kitties and get her in to her carrier. THREE VERY LONG, ARDUOUS HOURS that included trying to calmly woo her out of her impossible to reach nook and cranny in the attic, followed by us chasing her up and down 3 flights of stairs, and finally having to unpack some towels so we could finally trap her on a staircase. We then had about an 18hour drive and nobody was happy about it.

• Don’t wait until the day before you move to create a plan. Use time as a tool and be sure to ask yourself a lot of what if’s. You may also want a plan B. Example: Plan A: use a prescribed sedative at least 30 minutes before attempting to put him/her into the carrier. What if they don’t eat their food because they smell the medicine? Plan B…

• Do be prepared to scruff your cat. Scruffing is when you lift and carry your pet by the back of their neck. This may not come naturally to you and that’s because you’re human. This may not be your first choice but it also may be your last resort. My advice is to practice this so you gain confidence and also so that you will see for yourself that the only one uncomfortable with this is you. Just try to keep in mind that this is how your cat’s biological mother carried her babies around and it is a completely natural and even comforting feeling for them.

• Do place the travel carrier in the room where the cats sleep and do this several weeks or even months in advance. Allow them ample time to get used to going in and out of it without and assistance from you. I like the soft carriers with some soft bedding on the bottom. You can also put a couple of treats inside so that they associate being in the carrier with a positive experience. The night before the move, place a worn tee shirt inside so that they’re surrounded by your scent for the duration of the move.

• Don’t fly! Want to know why some passengers lose their cats at airports? TSA has asked pet parents to take their pets out of their carriers.They are scared out of their minds and sometimes they manage to break free andbolt. Please do everything you possibly can to drive with your cat(s) in the car with you. If you can’t drive, maybe there’s a train or bus option but planes should be the absolute last choice. We drove from New York to Florida and I would personally take a bullet before checking my pets into cargo. Even if they can squeeze under the seat, I’d be riddled with guilt over the additional trauma they would have to endure.

• Do remove as much as possible from the cat room so that they don’t have a lot of places to hide. The exceptions are a cat condo, a window attachment where they hangout, a cat bed and/or cat hut. In other words, remove the human stuff but leave theirs so that they feel comfortable.

• Don’t wait for the movers to arrive! If you heed only one warning, itis this one! Under no circumstances should you wait until it’s “Go time” to get your beloved fur babies into their carriers. Movers are noisy and they often speak loudly to one another (to no fault of their own) and they have quite a bit of work to do in a short amount of time. They will also have a lot of questions for you and you will be running around like a chicken without a head.The chaos will only exacerbate the anxiety your cats are undoubtedly feeling.

• Do have a dark towel or blanket to drape over the carrier. For cats –less light equals less stress.

• Do talk to your vet as far in advance as possible prior to your moving date. They may prescribe a sedative and there’s no shame in that. We used one for our last move and wished we had done so during our first move with “the girls”. This may have saved us 3 valuable hours and a lot of stairs!

• Do talk to them in a soothing voice. Similar to thunderstorms and dogs, being moved from familiar territory and into a brand new environment is horrifying for cats. This is why people who TNR cats return them to their original environment. Each and every survival skill cats possess is rooted in their familiarity. Your voice and your scent are literally the only points of familiarity when moving.

• Don’t open the carrier once they’re inside!!! This a big fat NO! NO!Remember, they’re confused and terrified. They don’t comprehend what movingeven is! And they are excellent escape artists. They may try to bolt out of sheer panic and disorientation, so for everyone’s sake, just don’t do it!

• Do play some soft music. You may love Metallica or Korn but skip over to a light playlist just this one time. Your cats will truly appreciate it.

• Do have a plan for when you arrive at the new home. This important step is often overlooked. Where are the cats going to go once you arrive in your new location? We designated one of the guest bedrooms for them to have but not until after about a week of decompressing in the attached bathroom. Cats prefer small spaces, especially when they’re out of sorts. We kept them in their carriers until the movers finished unloading and they were in the bathroom with the lights off. I definitely recommend going slowly. Use a nightlight and speak to them gently for a while before opening the carrier. Make Sure they have everything they need (food, water, litter, toys, etc…) and then give them some space and some time. Little by little they’ll start to feel like they’re home and with your love, patience and affection, they’ll be back to their frisky selves again.

We hope these do’s and don’ts help some loving cat parents to avoid some missteps and lessen the anxiety of your kitty cats. Please feel free to send us any tips of your own. We are all in this together! Email:

Valerie Heffron