Moving house

Moving house is stressful for cats. Make it as easy as possible for them.

Moving? Do we have to?

Being a territorial animal, moving house for any cat is very stressful.

For a scaredy cat, it’s even worse – the packing; their human’s stress before the move; seeing their favourite things disappear into boxes; strangers coming into the house and making a lot of noise on moving day; the actual move to a completely new ‘territory’ that smells wrong, looks wrong and is all plain wrong.

It all adds up to a scaredy cat nightmare.

How to make it as stress-less as possible for your scaredy cat   

Here are our tips on reducing their stress when you move house.

  1. Plan your cat’s ‘safe space’ in your current home on moving day.
  2. Plan for their arrival at your new home
  3. Pack.
  4. (Inside/outside cats) Two days before moving day, restrict access to outside.
  5. On moving day, secure them in a locked room, crate or carrier.
  6. Brief the removalists.
  7. Move them and confine to a comfortable and safe room.
  8. Be careful when opening doors. Don’t open windows.

1. Plan your cat’s ‘safe space’ on moving day

Strangers in the house, doors being left open for hours at a time, a lot of noise and stressed humans all adds up to a very high risk situation for your scaredy cat getting out of your home.

The last thing you need when moving house is your cat being lost – recovering them could potentially take months of work.

So, before you even contemplate starting to pack, think of what your cat will need to keep safe and as least stressed as possible on moving day.

Consider these four options:

  1. Locked room (confident cats only)
  2. Collapsible wire dog crate
  3. Carrier
  4. Cattery

1. Locked room

If your cat is confident, do you have a room you can physically lock, which you and the removalists won’t need to access on moving day?

If not, can you wedge a chair under a handle of a room and place a ‘DO NOT OPEN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES’ note on the door handle?

They will need food, water, bedding and a litter tray on the day.

If you can’t pick them up, get them used to eating in their carrier.

2. Large crate

Would it be safer to borrow or buy a 42″ or 48” collapsible wire dog crate which you could make snug and cosy for them, and cover with a sheet or blanket and place in a quiet area? These are readily available, online (cheaper), pet stores and second-hand from Marketplace or Gumtree.

After the move, you can donate it to a cat rescue group, sell it or keep it on hand for future use.

Include their carrier, lined with a towel or one of their beds. They may well decide that the crate is one of their favourite sleeping places.

About a week before the move, start feeding them inside the crate so that it’s familiar place for them. 

3. Carrier

Or would a large panicking-scaredy-cat-proof carrier that they can stay in for several hours, with enough room for a litter tray, work?

A plastic carrier with a swinging-front door will be much easier than a fabric zip-up one or a plastic carrier that requires you to insert the wire door into holes in the carrier.

If you can’t pick up your cat, leave their carrier out and start feeding them inside it, with the door open.

After a couple of weeks, get them used to you quietly and gently closing the door when they’re eating in it.

If they panic, calmly open the door and offer their favourite treat inside the carrier.

Before moving day, your ideal situation is that they’ll eat in the carrier with the door closed.

4. Cattery

Scaredy cats and catteries aren’t a great mix for many reasons – strange place, strange humans, strange smells, strange cats, perhaps different food.

Even confident cats often stop eating and lose weight when they stay at a cattery.

A scaredy cat is likely to have a nerve-induced ‘hunger strike’ for even longer and may be in a permanent state of stress the whole time.

However, a cattery would be a better option than your cat getting lost, if you don’t feel you can keep them safe before and during the move. Book well in advance. If you’re moving over Christmas, school holidays or Easter, you may need to book about six months in advance.

2. Plan for your cat’s arrival at your new home

Decide which room will be their ‘settling in room’ at your new home. Your bedroom may be best, as it will rapidly fill with the scent of you and your things. It will also have a wardrobe in which they can hide.

As soon as you have access to your new home:

  • make it smell right: take over some of your clothes, bedding and their bedding to ‘scent’ their room and the rest of the house with the smells they’re familiar with. Lay out clothes, sheets, towels and their used litter in each room to make it smell more like them. Rub flannels or tea towels on their cheeks; rub those on corners of walls of your new house, at cat height
  • consider Feliway: consider using a Feliway plug-in diffuser especially in their settling-in, leaving the door closed so there are maximum pheromones in the room.
  • do safety check: Do a safety check, looking for gaps through which they could escape (yes, even though they love you, they may well want to flee from this unfamiliar territory). It only takes 2 cm for an adult cat to squeeze through a gap when they’re frightened
  • check for poisons  Make sure no poison substances or toxic plants have been left behind by the previous residents. If the garden has lilies in them, remove and bin them.
  • Furniture unpack and place the major items of furniture that will be their ‘signposts’ and things they’ll need to feel safe eg beds, sofas, scratching posts

If you can’t do any of this before they arrive, keep them in their carrier in a quiet room while you do the safety check, unpack the ‘bulk’ items and try to get your and their scent throughout the house as much as possible.

3. Pack

Cardboard boxes are every cat’s dream, but the hustle and bustle of packing may unsettle your scaredy cat. If they seem stressed while you’re packing, consider confining them to their favourite room, with calming music playing, and offering treats periodically.

Make sure your cat doesn’t hide in a box while you’re packing. You don’t need the additional stress of thinking you’ve lost them.

Pack their specific items (beds, toys, scratching posts) as late as possible.

4. Before moving day, restrict access to outside

If your cat is an inside/outside cat, two or three days before the big day, start having them stay inside at all times, unless you’re outside with them.

They will pick up on your stress and may run off if they’re outside.

Whilst looking for other cats, we have found cats who were left behind by their family as they couldn’t find them on moving day.

5. Moving day – before removalists arrive

One or two hours before the removalists arrive, place them in their secure place – locked room, crate or secure carrier in a quiet room. Consider having background noise like talkback radio, calming cat music (YouTube has many options) and a Feliway diffuser going.

Smoothing drops of Rescue Remedy (health food store, supermarket or online) or Emergency Essence (health food store or online) on their fur may also help. Rescue Remedy is available from supermarkets (medicinal aisle, bottom shelf, small yellow box). Rescue Remedy Pets is available, too. You can give this orally, unlike the ‘human’ Rescue Remedy, which has alcohol in it and should only be stroked on their fur.

We don’t have much personal experience with Zylkene, but you could also ask your vet for this.

6. Moving day – Brief the removalists

Before the removalists come into your home, explain to them that you have a very frightened cat in the house. Highlight that it’s critical that they don’t get out.

Get an undertaking from them that they won’t interfere with whatever precautions you have in place to keep your cat safe.

7. Move them to new home

Transport them in their secure carrier to your new home. Cover it with a sheet or towel to reduce their stress.

If you didn’t have access to your home before now, set up our new home so that it’s escape-proof, smells right and is as least stressful as possible. (link)

After that, do everything that you did when you first adopted them. Depending on their fear level, it may be wise for them to start off in a 42 or 48” collapsible wire dog crate.

Keep them in their settling-in room until they’re acting normally with you – eating well, using the litter tray, have their tail up when you walk in, keen to greet you etc.

Then, gradually expose them to the rest of the secure house, at their pace.

8. Be careful when opening doors

Take extreme care when going in and out of the house; they will feel very unsettled and may attempt to flee.

Going in: When we open the front door, we do the ‘cat scoop’ – bend down and have a hand at cat level, so we can block them if they attempt to run out.

Going out: We also walk out the house backwards, so we can see if a cat is approaching and hoping to bolt out the door.

Enjoy your new home!

1. Safe_space 2. Plan_arrival 3. Pack 4. Outsde 5. Moving_day_secure 6. Brief_rmovaliss 7. Moving them 8. Care_with_doors