By Vicky Anscombe on 27 May 2015

Moving house is always exciting - it's a new start for you and your family. Unfortunately, your pets might not see it that way - and cats, who love their routines and bond strongly with their home territory, are especially prone to taking the upheaval in their lives badly.

We've spoken to the Blue Cross about how you can move house with a cat; here's their guide for pet wonders who want to make the experience of moving as stress-free as possible.

Before you move:

  • Find a spare room in your old house that you can keep your cat in until it's time to go. Make sure they have a bed, their litter tray, and all windows and doors are kept shut. Feed them early; it's best not to feed them too close to the move in case stress or the movement of the car makes them ill.

When you arrive at your new home:

  • Your cat will probably be stressed and nervous after the drive, so settle them as soon as you can - they should be a priority.
  • Find a spare room that the cat can be kept in, and make sure they have water, food, toys, and somewhere to hide, as the unfamiliar space they're in (replete with moving noises) will probably unnerve them. Their bed and any items that smell of you - a jumper, blanket or towel - will help them to settle in and identify with their new space as 'home'.
  • Lock the door or pop a sign on the door to remind everyone that it shouldn't be opened, and if you have small children, tell them that they should leave the cat alone for the whole day. Trying to pet it and calm it down may only stress it out more.
  • If it's cold and the heating's playing up, popping a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel into the room will ensure your cat has something to snuggle up to.
  • At the end of the day, you can let the cat out to explore the house a little (make sure doors and windows are closed). It is usually best to confine the exploration to one or two rooms initially so that your cat is not overwhelmed and you know where it is.

If you've got a particularly nervous cat and you know moving will be stressful for them, it may be wise to book them in to a friendly cattery before the move and keep them away from the new house until everything is unpacked and settled.

Helping your cat settle in:

  • It is important that your cat stays confined to the house for at least two weeks, regardless of how well you think the animal has settled in. This lets your cat bond with the new home and learn new geography and smells.
  • Cats use scent to mark their territory and make their home their own. Help them furnish their home with their new scent by rubbing a soft cloth around their face to pick up their scent, then dab the cloth at cat level in the rooms the cat is confined to, so they begin to associate the new house as a friendly place. When a cat is feeling confident, they will rub scent around the house, and this will increase feelings of security. Obviously none of these smells will be present in the new house and there will be various alien smells, which may make the cat feel insecure.
  • Use food as a way of establishing a routine. Small, frequent meals will reassure your pet that all is well, and he or she won't worry about the next meal - they can be confident that it'll arrive soon, which will help them gain confidence with you and their new surroundings.
  • Moving home can be traumatic for an indoor cat, as they may not be used to dealing with changes in the environment to the same extent that an outdoor cat will be. Introducing them to the house one room at a time will ensure they're not overwhelmed.

Cat in the garden

Letting your cat go outside:

  • When it is time to let your cat go outside, withhold food for around 12 hours so that the cat is hungry and watching you for signs of feeding. It's always useful to establish a signal that the cat understands as 'dinner's here', such as rattling a food packet or whistling.
  • Go outside for a short period with the cat when it is quiet (make sure there aren't too many people or other cats around) and let your cat explore a little, then call the animal indoors for some food. Repeat this exercise several times, letting the cat go a little further and stay out a little longer each time before calling them back in.
  • Outdoor cats will generally cope well with change; timid cats may take some time to adapt to their new environment and should be accompanied outside as much as possible to begin with, until they build up confidence.
  • Make sure that your cat is either microchipped, or has a collar with its name, address and your telephone number on it. If already 'chipped', remember to inform the company that holds your cat’s data of any changes of address and/or phone number.

Preventing cats from returning to their old home:

If your new home is only a short distance away, your cat may encounter old routes while exploring the area and return 'home' to the previous house along these routes. If this happens, don't worry - the bond with the new home is simply not yet well enough established to break old habits.

As a quick aside, here are ten cats who took solo travel to the next level

It's important that your old home's new owners know that the cat might come back, and if it does, they shouldn't encourage it to stay as this will reinforce the cat's idea that the old house is still 'home'. However, if this behaviour persists there are some things you can try to show your pet that there's a new home in town.

  • Keep your cat indoors at the new house for about a month
  • Feed small frequent meals and give lots of attention to build up the bond between you. Establish some routines and signals concerning food and feeding time that your cat cannot resist, and that show the cat that it's in a safe place
  • Ensure that nobody (new owners and previous neighbours) encourages your cat to stay around your old home
  • When you do decide to let your cat out, withhold food for around 12 hours so that food is on your cat’s mind. For the first couple of weeks, let the cat out for one period only each day just before feeding, so that the cat is motivated to stay around.
  • You want to show the cat that your new house is a place of security, and the source of food and shelter (in contrast to the old home, where these things are now denied)
  • Persevere. It may take weeks and, in some cases, months before your cat starts to realise the new house is now its home

If these measures fail, and the cat still insists on returning to your old home, you may have to negotiate with the new residents or one of the neighbours to adopt your cat permanently.

Image credit: Flickr, with thanks to A.Davey and Queen Mab's merry mob

← The best things to do in Skiathos this summer

10 of the world's worst air passengers →