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The Ultimate Guide on How to Move With Cats

A cat in a moving box and surrounded by bubble wrap and packing paper looks up at the camera.
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Pets are like family — when you move, you’ll have to take them with you. Unfortunately, you have no idea how they’ll react to the move until it happens. It’s important to take the time to do the prep work when moving to a new house with cats. Moving with any pet can be a challenge but cats require specific care and attention to make sure everything goes smoothly. This is especially due to the stress of the move that you and your cats will be coping with. Here are a few tips for moving with your cats.

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Before Moving Day with your cat

The first step in preparing to move your cats to their new home is to calm your cat. Like humans, cats can experience a lot of stress and anxiety during a move. Communication can quell anxiety, but this may be easier said than done, depending on the circumstances of the move, your cat’s personality, and your own feelings about the move. You know your cat best, and can judge if they’ll respond to these tips:

1. Put their carrier out a week before moving day

Give your cat a chance to get used to the carrier. If your cat is not already accustomed to a carrier, be sure to begin getting them used to it as soon as you learn about your move.

2. Customize the carrier

Putting a shirt that smells like you in the carrier during the move, or a toy that your cat likes can help them feel more comfortable and safe in their carrier. They won’t be as confused about what’s happening because they will at least know that you’re there with them in some way.

3. Update the information on your cat’s tags

If the worst happens and your cat gets away from you, current contact information will help ensure if someone finds them, they will get returned to you. Consider chipping your pet. If the collar gets lost on their adventure, most shelters and vets will scan for an identity chip.

4. Invest in sedatives

The word “sedatives” may sound very off-putting, but it can help particularly anxious cats feel calm during a move. Typically, pet owners may go with something less intense, like melatonin, to help their cat feel more restful. Regardless, this is something that you should speak to your vet about, so you can make sure whatever option you choose is safe and effective for your pet. Travel sedatives are typically given orally with food 1-2 hours before travel.

5. Speak to your vet a few months ahead of moving

Visit your vet a few weeks before to discuss the safest moving strategies for your pet. The vet may recommend that your cat fasts before a move or that they don’t drink a lot of water.

Moving day with cats

Hispanic woman sitting on floor petting cat near moving boxes
Christopher Winton-Stahle/ Getty Images

It’s important to have a checklist and routine to ensure moving day goes as smoothly as possible. Here’s a guide to help walk you through the process.

1. Prepare your cat for the move 

Your cat should be one of the last things you move, so that they don’t have to be in their carrier for longer than necessary. Once everything is packed away in the moving truck or vehicles, put your cat in their carrier, and begin the moving trip. 

Place your cat in their carrier with a water bowl, some blankets, and a familiar toy. If you’re moving long-distance, keep the litterbox handy and be prepared to let your cat out for a bathroom break or two.

2. Keep all your paperwork close

If you need a health certificate for moving your cats across state lines, or you have to ensure you meet export and import requirements in order to bring your cat from one country to another, give yourself plenty of time (several months) beforehand to take care of that. This may include getting your cat their necessary vaccinations at a specific amount of time before your move.

Note: make sure to check with your new state to see if certain health certifications are needed.

3. Take bathroom breaks if you are traveling long-distance

Give your cat an opportunity to use their litterbox before putting them in their carrier and during the trip. If possible, monitor your cat’s bathroom routine in the morning. They might be too anxious to pee once the hustle and bustle of moving day begins.

Every time you need a bathroom break, your cat may need one too. Let your cat out of the carrier and give them a little time to decide if they need to pee. Bring your cat’s usual litter box and try to clean it out after every use to avoid the smell.

4. Follow your vet’s advice 

It’s important to follow your vet’s advice and instructions about administering a tranquilizer, melatonin, or other relaxation treatment. For instance, if your cat is supposed to fast for six hours before and you’re supposed to give the medicine two hours to kick in before moving, you’ll want to follow these instructions closely.

Settling your cat into their new home

Start to settle your cat into their new home by introducing them to the new house slowly. Keep them in one room with all their things for a bit. When they seem ready to explore, show them another room. Make sure to show them the permanent spot for their litter box, food, and water.

Keep your cat inside for at least two weeks, even if they normally go outdoors. Cats are territorial and need to time acclimate to their new environment. This process may a bit longer for older cats. Accompany your cat outside on a leash or harness to help them adapt to their new surroundings. 

Here are a couple other tips to keep in mind while helping your cat settle in:

  • Locate the nearest emergency veterinarian hospital: it’s always good to know your nearest vet location if sudden issues arise while you are moving. Once you’ve settled in, pick a permanent veterinarian in your new area by talking to your neighbors or posting to local social media sites. Secure an appointment soon to get your pet on their roster.
  • Watch for signs of stress in your cat: cats can show their distress through physical symptoms and behavior changes. Changes to their eating patterns, bathroom issues, vomiting, and bald patches on their coat can be signs something is wrong. If you observe your cat peeing around the house and not in their litter box, withdrawing from the family and activities, pacing, or excessively grooming, it’s best to get them to a vet for a visit. 

Moving with a senior cat

Senior cats are more sensitive to change because they have a harder time adapting with age. The older your cat gets, the more prone it becomes to infection, diseases, and stress. Managing your senior cat’s stress levels is very important for their long-term health and wellbeing. Along with making sure your cat stays calm during the move, there are a few stress reducers and health concerns you should keep in mind when moving your senior cat.

Reducing your senior cat’s stress when moving:

  • Leave them out of the chaos: put your cat in a separate room to keep them away from the moving chaos.
  • Purchase stress-reducing items: consider buying a stress collar, stress spray, or in severe cases, talk to your vet about medication or sedatives.
  • Use their comfort items: place a familiar object in their carrier such as their favorite blanket or toy.
  • Avoid loud noises: put your cat somewhere quiet if you can. Older cats can become more stressed from loud noises.
  • Be a calming presence: try to give your cat more attention and affection during the moving process. However, if they are asleep, let them sleep. If your cat starts to show signs of aggression, give them space. 
  • Avoid using pet transportation services: only use a pet transportation service as a last resort. The most comfortable place for your cat is with you.

Potential health concerns of your senior cat when moving:

  • Dehydration: older cats become dehydrated more quickly. Place a larger water bowl in the carrier and check it often.
  • Diet: talk to your vet about a possible new diet or dietary restrictions before, during, and after the move.
  • Arthritis: place plenty of blankets and padding in the carrier to keep pain and pressure on their joints to a minimum.
  • Asthma attacks: stressed cats are more prone to asthma and wheezing attacks. Keep an eye on their breathing patterns and be a calming presence.

Moving with a kitten

Moving with a kitten may sound hard but it can actually be a bit easier than moving with an older cat. Kittens are more adaptable to new situations and environments, which means they are not as prone to stress as adult cats. However, if you are worried about your kitten stressing too much, stress collars, stress sprays, medications, or sedatives are a few stress-relief options. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when moving with your kitten.

Tips for moving with a kitten:

  • Tire out your kitten: have a lengthy playtime session with your kitten directly before transport to tire them out. The less active they are, the easier the move will be. 
  • Have extra food handy: as a kitten owner, you likely know that kittens require more food than adult cats. Keep some extra food on-hand for the trip, and talk to your vet about a moving diet for your kitten.
  • Make time for bathroom breaks: kittens need to use the litter box more frequently than adult cats. If you’re moving long-distance, let your kitten out of the carrier to use the litter box a few times during the moving trip.
  • Don’t excite your kitten: it’s no secret that kittens are very active and playful. But it’s best not to excite your kitten too much during the trip so that they stay calm.

If you’re using a pet transport service

It’s important to understand the rules and guidelines for moving with cats from one state to another, or one country to another. Pet transport services range from helping you navigate every aspect of the process – including paperwork for the cat and the airline – to actually physically transporting your cat for you through a courier or shipping service. Moving a pet by plane can be a headache, but pet transport services are there to help.

The bottom line

Without a moving plan, the moving process can be a very stressful experience you and your cat.  Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prepare to move your cat to their new home. This includes speaking to your vet, using strategies to reduce your cat’s anxiety, reaching out to a pet transport service, and creating a relaxing environment for your cat.

Frequently asked questions

How can I calm my cats when moving?

You can calm your cats when moving by using stress collars, stress sprays, or speaking to your vet about which anxiety-reducing medications you can administer to your pet. Additionally, make sure your cat is used to their carrier, and put something with your scent into the carrier to put them at ease during the move.

Is it safe for cats to travel by plane?

In most cases, it is totally safe for cats to travel by plane. But it’s important owners understand what’s required for them to be able to bring the cat on the plane with them, and how to make it as safe and comfortable for their cat as possible.

Does my cat need to be in a carrier when moving?

If you’re using a pet transport service and/or taking your cat on an airplane, they will typically need to be in a carrier according to the pet transport company’s requirements or the airline’s requirements. If you’re just moving by yourself in your car and your cat is generally calm and okay in the car without being in their carrier, then perhaps you won’t need one.

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