Moving With Cats

Getting ready to move with your cat? Planning ahead and supporting them afterwards can have a big impact on everyone’s stress levels.

Cat in a box, rolled on back.
Are you packed and ready?
Photo Credit: Michael Faeth/Pixabay.com

Moving is Hard for Everyone

Moving is stressful for everyone, human and feline. While you might be worried about the logistics and money, your cat is going to have their own concerns:

  • Loss of Familiar Territory
    • New sights and smells
    • Changes to resources (food, litter boxes) and how they access them (their routes through the space, particularly challenging if there are multiple cats in the house)
    • Unfamiliar people (movers)
  • Routine Changes
    • Decreases in play and enrichment due to their human having other priorities
    • Changes in time humans are home or available 
    • Changes in access to outdoors
  • Changes in the Family
    • New human and other pets or the loss of humans and other pets

Even if the changes due to the move wouldn’t be stressful in isolation, moves are frequently sources of “trigger stacking”, the phenomenon of all the little things adding up. You can help though, by planning ahead and supporting your cat through the process.

Before the Move

As soon as you start packing, your cat’s life is affected. Depending on the planning that is involved in your move, their lives could change even sooner.

  • House hunting or traveling to visit a new area?
    • Do your best to maintain your cat’s daily routine, including feeding times and play
    • Hire a pet sitter if you will be away longer 
    • If you will be moving far enough away that your cat will experience a long drive, a flight, or overnight stays in hotels/temporary housing, talk to your vet ahead of time about medication support for the journey.
  • Indoor/outdoor cat?
    • Some cats will start spending more time outside as the indoor world changes and may be difficult to find once the house is busy with movers. Plan to start keeping your indoor/outdoor cat fully indoors well before the move.
    • If your cat is going to have to transition to being an indoor-only cat after the move, it may be less stressful to start making that change before the move so there are fewer changes at once. 
  • Ready for change?
    • Consider ways to set your cat up for success during this change and future changes as well by building resilience.

During the Move

On the day(s) of the move, your focus will be safety first, then stress management.

  • No Escaping
    • If there are movers or extra people in your house, keep your cat in a secure space with the door closed and clear signage for no one to go in. This prevents your cat from getting under foot or slipping through an open door.
  • Packing
    • Pack your cat’s favorite items last and plan to unpack them first. Try to keep their preferred areas as much the same for as long as possible (including resting places and litter boxes) and then set them up as similarly as possible.
  • Traveling
    • Assume travel will be stressful rather than “waiting to see”. It is easier to keep stress low than to try to recover in the moment. This is especially true if your vet has recommended medication support. 
    • Be extra cautious when in unfamiliar places, like hotels, to prevent escape. Unless your cat is an extremely social adventure kitty, minimize their exposure to unfamiliar people and give them lots of quiet time.
    • Provide your cat with play and enrichment breaks as much as you can during travel, particularly if the trip will take multiple days.

After the Move

Once you get to your new home, help your cat settle in as quickly as possible.

  • Following the recommendations for a “new cat”, set up a safe zone with all your cat’s familiar things and let them adjust there first. 
    • Over the next few days (or weeks depending on your cat’s needs), slowly give them increased access to the house, especially if it is larger than your previous home. 
    • If there are other, unfamiliar pets in the new home, keep your cat separate for at least the first few days. Then follow recommendations for introducing cats to other cats or cats to dogs
  • Get back to your cat’s expected routine of feeding, play, enrichment, and rest as quickly as possible. 
  • Take the opportunity to optimize your home setup, including vertical space and litter box placement

Just like with any cat that is new to a home, your cat may display some stress-based behaviors while they adjust and may need some time and patience from you. You can read more here about what is normal and you can always reach out to a professional behavior specialist to support you both.

Special Considerations

Some households will need to take extra steps to support their cats during a move.

Chronically Ill or Sick Cats

Because moves can be stressful and stress can have major impacts on physical well-being in cats, talk to your vet if you are moving with a chronically or acutely ill cat, or a cat with a history of physical symptoms when under stress.

Cats with a History of Conflict

If your cats have a history of conflict, either between them or with other pets in the house, you’ll want to take extra precautions. The stress of moving can exacerbate existing issues and reignite old ones. 

  • Reach out to a behavior professional, preferably before the move, to discuss a plan. 
  • Set up separate safe zones so the cats can decompress alone and then allow them to get familiar with the rest of the house one at a time.
  • Depending on the state of the cats’ relationship prior to the move, they may need a few hours or days of decompression before coming back together. It’s a balancing act of letting them recover and groom off any “move smells” (similar to coming home from the vet) before seeing each other while not keeping them separated for so long that they lose familiarity with one another. 
  • Allow them to see each other from a distance while providing enrichment and play activities to draw their attention away from one another. Treats help, too!
  • Over the next days, weeks, and months, supervise the cats when they are together and give them breaks as needed. Monitor closely for signs of tension and reach out to a professional if things aren’t improving.

Moves are stressful, there’s no getting around it. But by planning ahead, taking steps to reduce stress during, and being ready to support your cat after a move, you can set everyone up for the smoothest transition possible.

If you need help with a moving plan, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.