Moving house with your cat

Moving to a new home can be stressful for both you and your pets. Cats are highly territorial animals and are often as closely attached to their surroundings as they are to their owners. So not surprisingly many cats try to return to their old haunts after their owners change address if it is nearby. Some simple precautions can help to reduce the risk of your cat becoming permanently lost.

This depends on a number of factors but your cat’s temperament is particularly important. Cats are adaptable and most will eventually settle in their new surroundings. This may take some cats a few days and others a few weeks.

Make sure that your cat is fitted with a collar and name tag with your new address and telephone number. However, collars can be lost, so having a microchip implant will ensure that your cat can be permanently identified as belonging to you. If your cat has not been neutered consider having this done. The operation will help to minimise the risk of your cat straying but the surgery must be performed at least one month before the move.

Your cat should be safely secured inside a travelling container. It should travel with you rather than being put in the removal van. Do not let your cat out at the new house until the removal men have left and the new home is quiet. If your new home is not finished or there is noisy building work going on, consider boarding your cat until this has been completed.

Keep your cat inside its travelling container until the unpacking of your possessions is nearly completed and familiar objects have been set up around the house. Spraying some of the objects in the new house with a pheromone (natural cat scent) may make your cat more relaxed. Only allow your cat out of it’s travelling container if all the windows and doors are tightly secured and allow it access to one room at a time.

Give your cat a good meal and a warm and comfortable place to sleep. Giving your cat plenty of attention will help to overcome its natural anxiety about the strange surroundings.

If your cat has been used to an outdoor life it will probably cope better with the move than if it has been kept permanently indoors, because it will be used to novel experiences. If yours is an indoor cat, introduce it to the new home gradually room by room.

An outdoor cat should be kept inside for several days until it has familiarised itself with the interior of your new home – some cat experts recommend a period of up to a month. If you have a garden put your cat on a lead when you first allow it outside. On the first few days, starve your cat for about 12 hours before letting it out – if it is hungry it’s more likely to come back inside when you call. Let it out once a day initially and call it in for food after about 10-15 minutes.

There is always a risk of your cat fighting with any resident cats until it finds a place in the local pecking order and establishes its new territory. The more cats there are in the neighbourhood the greater the chance of fighting. This is even more likely if your cat is a tomcat which has not been neutered. Keep a close eye on your cat for any signs of fight wounds each time it comes home – if wounds go untreated there is a risk of abscesses developing. If you are only staying at the new address for a short time, consider boarding your cat at a cattery until you are ready to move into your permanent home.

There is no truth in the old belief that smearing butter on a cat’s paws will discourage it from straying. Cats do not like having sticky paws and the experience will only make your cat feel even more stressed.

The risk of a cat returning to its old haunts is obviously related to the distance that it has moved. If your new home is only a few streets away then there is every likelihood of your cat stumbling into familiar territory. Cats have been known to travel long distances to their old home.

Before moving, ask the new owners of your old house and any neighbours who knew your cat to keep a look out in case it does come back. Ask them not to feed your cat or make it welcome – sometimes they may even need to shoo it away by throwing water. Make sure that they have your telephone number in case you need to come back and collect your cat. But if all else fails and your cat keeps going back it may be better to ask them to adopt your pet.