Tips for Moving With Dogs & Cats

Updated: 12/21/20232-4 minutes
Tips for Moving With Dogs & Cats

For humans, moving is typically a stressful event. Even if you’re moving into your dream home, it takes planning, packing and an adjustment period as you get used to your new place.  

The same is true for pets. Moving with a pet can sometimes be tricky. It takes some planning, a little patience and plenty of love—and treats—but if you follow these steps, you and your pets will get settled into your new home in no time. 

Why Moving With a Cat or Dog Can Be Tricky

Try to look at the move from your pet’s point of view. Their current home is more than their home; it’s their territory. Cats are especially sensitive and prefer being in a familiar environment.  

For both cats and dogs, sticking to the routine after the move is important. Maintaining the same schedule for treats, grooming and bedtime will help your pets transition to their new home.  

Preparing Your Cat for a Move

The first step in preparing your cat for a move is making sure they’re used to being in a pet carrier. No matter how near or far you’re moving, you’ll need to put your cat in a carrier to get them there.  

If your cat has never been in a carrier, it’s best to introduce the idea slowly. Start by putting a blanket and some cat treats inside so they form a positive association with the carrier. Leave the door open so they can explore the carrier at their own pace. 

Once your cat is comfortable with their carrier, the next step is familiarizing them with car travel. Start with short 10-minute rides, then longer 20-minute rides. You’ll find your cat’s anxiety decreases as they become more accustomed to the sights and sounds associated with car travel. When you’re home, be sure to leave the cat carrier out so your cat gets used to it and can sleep in it if they choose to.  

Another step is to gradually move the moving boxes into your house one at a time. Cats are often drawn to boxes and like to play in them, but suddenly cluttering their living space with moving box after moving box can cause confusion and anxiety. Pack in small increments, as opposed to all at once, so your cat can adjust to the small changes as they happen.  

Even though you’ll be busy getting ready for moving day, try to maintain your cat’s schedule. Meals, playtime and cuddle time are all important and should remain consistent, even as your cat’s environment slowly begins to change leading up to moving day.  

Pet behaviorist Anne Valuska, Ph.D. suggests adding a few items to their environment so they can get their scent on them. “Think extra beds, blankets and scratching pads. Being able to spread these familiar items around the new house will help it feel like home to your cat a lot more quickly.” 

Also, make sure your cat is microchipped and wearing a collar and that their information is updated to reflect their new address. This is important in case they get anxious and run off before or after the move or during travel.  

Preparing Your Dog for a Move

For dogs, consider taking your dog to your new neighborhood for walks before you move in if this is an option. Walk by your new house and let your dog familiarize themselves with the scents of the neighborhood.  

Go inside the new house, if you can, or try to bring something from the new home to your dog so he can familiarize themselves with its unique smell.  

While you’re packing, try not to isolate your dog in a crate. Instead, include them while you pack and move boxes, allowing them to investigate the activity.  

If your dog is crated or isolated in a room by themselves while the rest of the family packs and prepares to move, they’ll likely feel nervous, which could lead to stress-related behaviors such as hyperactivity, jumping or barking.  

What Should I Do With My Pets on Moving Day?

If your cat is known to wander throughout the house, it may be a good idea to keep them in a confined area on moving day. This will help them be less spooked by the movers and all the commotion.  

It will also allow you to locate them easily when it’s time to go. Try closing them off in a bedroom or bathroom with a sign on the door reminding people the cat is inside and not to open the door. Don’t forget to provide them with their litter box, carrier, cat food and water while they’re inside.  

As for dogs, it’s good to have somebody on hand to keep an eye on them and keep them occupied as your belongings are cleared out. Somebody who isn’t responsible for moving any items or a dog-friendly family friend would be preferable. This should go a long way to keeping your dog from getting anxious or stressed out.  

“Pet escape is a real concern,” Dr. Valuska says, “as people will be leaving doors open to carry items in and out. I recommend keeping pets safely confined and ensuring microchips are up-to-date—just in case.” 

Planning a Long-Distance Move With Your Pets

If your move is long-distance, your pets will need to be crate-trained well before your move. On the day of your move, your pets should be wearing collars, including up-to-date rabies tags, and an ID tag with your new address and your phone number.  

When it’s time to leave, put your cat in their carrier and make sure they stay there at all times when you’re in the vehicle or on the plane, so they don’t escape during travel. The same is true for your dog. If you’re driving, make sure your dog is wearing a crash-test certified harness, travel crate or carrier to ensure maximum safety in case of an accident. This will also keep them from running around the vehicle if they get too excited.  

Pre-plan so you’ll have stops along the way where you can stay at pet-friendly hotels, if needed. If your trip involves air travel be sure to book tickets for your pets well in advance and ask the airlines about their pet travel requirements. You’ll need to keep a copy of your pet’s veterinarian records close at hand in case they are requested by the airline during check-in.  

Scope out new pet service providers in advance. These may include a veterinarian, groomer, pet-sitter and other pet-related providers. Doing so will make the transition to your new area smoother.  

Welcoming Your Cat to Your New House

According to Dr. Valuska, “The best way to introduce a cat to a new home is one room at a time.” You may want to choose a special room that will be their private refuge, complete with their food and water bowls, bed, scratching post and litter box—all the comforts of their previous home. You could also include something with your scent, such as a worn t-shirt, plus any of the items they put their scent on prior to the move (beds, blankets, etc.)  

Once they’re comfortable there, they can begin to explore the rest of the house—perhaps even one room at a time—when they decide they’re ready. (Make sure to keep a second litter box in the location where you plan to keep one permanently.) Soon they’ll realize the new home they share with you is nothing to be afraid of. 

Before you give them access to a new room, make sure to inspect it from their point of view—inside and out. Remove any dangling cords from drapes or blinds to help keep them safe. Once your cat arrives, make sure to keep all doors and windows closed and close any holes or crawl spaces where your cat would be out of your reach.  

Once you’re in your new home, don’t be surprised if your cat “disappears” for a few days. They may choose their cat carrier, a closet or underneath a bed. Cats who move into new homes may have what appears to be a feline anxiety attack.  

Without familiar sights and sounds, cats may search for hiding places (the darker, the better). Normally eager eaters may need coaxing to finish a meal. Others may seem a little moody and “forgetful” when it comes to the litter box. They may even try to escape out of the front door in hopes of finding familiar surroundings.  

Your cat will pick up on your mood, so be sure to follow your normal routine and reassure them that everything is back to normal. Encourage them to eat as they are used to and try to avoid having visitors for a while. Anything you can do to get things back to normal will be helpful. 

How Dogs Adjust to a New Home

Moving with your dog requires giving them an opportunity to scope out their new place. Once the movers have left and you and your dog have the house all to yourselves, then make the rounds both inside and out.  

Walk them on a leash during their initial introduction so they’ll feel safe and secure by your side. The sooner your dog gets used to the new smells of this new environment, the sooner they’ll feel at home.  

Because a dog needs space and room to exercise, your dog might need more time to adjust if you’re moving from a larger house to a smaller house or apartment. But just like cats, dogs will appreciate getting back to the established routine as soon as possible. Taking walks at your usual time and sticking to the same route for several days will help your dog adjust.  

If possible, allow yourself a few extra days to spend at home with your pet after the move and before returning to work. During this adjustment period, you can begin to stay away from home for short periods to get your pets used to being alone in their new space.  

Do not leave your dog unattended outside during this adjustment period. “New houses can bring out skills you didn’t know your dog had, like fence-jumping or digging,” says Dr. Valuska. Dogs have been known to jump fences to return to their old, familiar territory.  

Veterinarian Advice & Moving With Your Pets

If you’ve moved a long distance, now is the perfect time to ask your new neighbors to recommend a new veterinarian for your pets. Schedule a “get to know you” visit for your pets as soon as possible, so you have a veterinarian in the event of an emergency.  

Just like people, every pet is unique and has a personality all its own. Because you know your pet better than anyone, you can probably predict how smoothly the transition will go.  

If you know your pet is skittish, talk to your veterinarian beforehand about your concerns. They can recommend medication or supplements like Calming Care to help calm your pet during this stressful time if needed.  

For more information on dogs and cats, hear from our pet experts on our Pet Expertise page. 

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