Guest Post: Moving with a Cat

Our cat didn’t want to move with us, so we are going to let him stay.

Basil was a well-loved cat that grew up with kids and was completely unfazed by any chaos around him. Ten years old, his family had recently purchased a larger house in a nearby town. They planned to take him with them, but on moving day this confident kitty lost his nerve after seeing the contents of his home carried away by noisy strangers. Basil bolted under the house and wouldn’t come out. His owner knocked on the neighbor’s door before driving away and explained, “Our cat didn’t want to move with us, so we decided to let him stay.” Shocked, the neighbors put food out for him and he eventually came out. But his owners never returned and the new home-owners didn’t want a cat. Basil was taken to a no-kill shelter and adopted out.

Photo provided by Community Cat Coalition
Photo provided by Community Cat Coalition

John had a similar experience, though his neighbors worked harder to get him. He thought his neighbors had moved, but a week later he noticed their cat “Duthie” sitting on a shed. Did they leave him behind? He put food out for the hungry cat and called the realtor who confirmed that they had moved. “But their cat is still here—sitting on a shed in the yard. Call them!” The realtor called and then relayed the message back to John. Yes, they knew the cat was there, but they couldn’t catch him when they left. They would return for him later.

A week later, they did return and attempted to catch him, but Duthie was not about to be captured. They gave up and left. John couldn’t catch the spooked cat either, so he called a rescue who gave them a trapper’s number. As luck would have it, the night she came to trap, the new owners were moving in and they had a dog.

Moving day is a high risk time for cats. To them, the unexplained change in routine and removal of their furniture “territory” must seem like a natural disaster. Add a few moving-day helpers and a stressed out family and it is no wonder kitty goes into survival mode. Duthie lucked out because the new home-owners let John and the rescuer set a humane trap in their yard and he was soon trapped. Off to the rescuer’s house he went and a few days later his family came to bring him home. Duthie was happy to be back with his family and best kitty pal.

Why are stories like this so common? It is true that some people simply get tired of pets and leave them out of convenience. But I believe that many cats are abandoned not because they aren’t wanted, but because their owner doesn’t know how to prepare a cat for a move. The cat is spooked by the move and hides or is too terrified to be captured and the owner doesn’t know what to do. For rescuers who adopt out cats or kittens, asking good questions before adoption and providing information on moving with cats can help.

First, let’s bust the myth that cats like their home better than their family. Cats hide during moves because they are scared, not because they don’t want to move with their family. And they will be even more terrified when their family moves away without them!

Before the move

  • Get the cat used to the carrier. Put a soft blanket in it. During the weeks before the move, feed them or put treats in the carrier.
  • Cats like boxes, so start collecting boxes weeks before the move and let them play in them and get used to them being there. It won’t be as scary when you start packing and moving them if they are just part of the scenery and they’ve seen them before moving day.
  • Maintain a normal feeding schedule and minimize other changes to their daily routines.
  • Plan where your cat will be on moving day.
  • Talk to your vet before moving day about medications that may make the move less stressful.

Moving day

  • Make sure the cat is contained BEFORE the movers come. Zip-tie the carrier and make sure everyone knows that it can’t be opened until the cat is secured inside the new house.
  • If you want to move the cats first, set up one room in the new house with litter box, bedding, toys and cat trees from their old home. Make sure it is a room that won’t be accessible to movers so it won’t be accidentally opened. If possible, lock it!
  • If you are going to move the cats last, set up a quiet bathroom and get them used to spending time in there by feeding them in that location in the weeks before the move. Make sure the room is secure so movers won’t open it. Put a bright sign on the door. “Cats: Do Not Open!”

Adjusting to the new home

  • Start your cat off in one quiet room. Some cats are confident and ready to explore from day one, but it is best to give it a few days before giving them full run of the house so you can unpack and cat proof the house. A Feliway plug in or spray may ease the transition.
  • Try to maintain the same schedule of feeding and play time.
  • Be extra careful of doors and windows the first few weeks. Many cats are lost when they get outside before they know their new home.

Reprinted with permission from Nancy Wahl, Community Cats Coalition. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright May 1, 2016.

The mission of Community Cats Coalition, located in the Pacific Northwest, is to enhance the lives of community cats by promoting spay and neuter and providing training and mentorship in Trap-Neuter-Return. Education is their number one goal and to that end it publishes a variety of posts on Facebook related to community cats. A Best of Facebook can be found at the CCC website.

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