Moving home can be a very stressful time for your cat, especially if she’s older and has been in the same environment for a long time. Here are some simple steps you can take to minimise disruption and help your feline friend to feel happy and comfortable in her new surroundings.
1. Be prepared
Cats are very closely bonded to their territory, so you need to plan ahead when they’re facing a big change. Choose a quiet, secure room and stock it with your cat’s food, water, litter tray and favourite toys. On moving day, keep your cat in this room, ensuring windows and doors are closed. Feed her well ahead of your departure time to reduce travel sickness in transportation.
Caroline Reay, chief vet at Merton Blue Cross, also has this advice for forward-planning pet owners: ‘Be sure your cat’s vaccination boosters are up to date, as there could be different health threats in your new area, and that her microchip details are current.’
2. Create a safe haven
If possible, establish a safe room in your new home that your cat can claim as her own sanctuary for a few weeks. As above, it should contain her food, drink, litter tray and toys. Also provide an old sleeping basket, a scratching post and something she can climb to gain height and a feeling of security, plus some old boxes for hiding places. Local cats may come and stare in threateningly at their new neighbour through the window – a drawn curtain or a couple of pot plants will provide safe cover.
3. Use smell to soothe
Using smell in the form of pheromones is a highly effective way to help your cat feel at home. ‘Having their own pheromones somewhere new is important. Cats rely more on scent memory than the visual memory of their environment, so this helps with reorientation,’ says behaviourist Claire Hargrave. ‘Gently wipe your cat’s cheeks and chin with a cloth and then rub it on doors or furniture, or try using a pheromone plug-in.’
4. Take things slowly
Once your cat seems settled in her safe haven, let her gradually explore other rooms, one at a time. Don’t rush her – an older cat may take longer to settle into her new environment and you don’t want to confuse or scare her. This is especially important if your cat suffers from dementia, in which case it’s a good idea to consult your vet or behaviourist for advice on helping your cat move. You may have to leave several days between each staged increase in exploring new territory. Once she starts face-marking, by rubbing up against the room’s surfaces to leave her scent, you will know she is feeling more secure and confident, and that her new home is now her territory.
5. Create a calm but stimulating environment
Spend as much time as possible with your cat in the first few weeks to make her feel comfortable, feeding her small, regular meals to establish a routine, which helps relieve stress. Postpone any additional disruption, like decorating or building work, as too much change on top of the move could send her running.
Make sure there are plenty of easily accessible high areas that she can reach, as well as hiding places for retreat, especially if she is used to going outside for stimulation and entertainment. A puzzle feeder will make mealtimes more interesting.
6. Choose your moment to let her outside
Wait at least three weeks until you let your cat outside, and when you do, make sure it’s just before feeding time so that she has a strong incentive to return. Make her new outdoor surroundings feel safer and more approachable by creating hiding places near the cat flap and in the immediate area (plants, garden furniture, shades and pots are all useful). This will enable her to observe any possible threats and know she can take cover if needs be.