The loud clink-clank of moving furniture. The strange configuration of an unfamiliar space. The menacing smells of fresh paint and unsettled dust. While you are busy preparing for your new home, your cat also has their paws full facing these scary new things!
Cats are habitual creatures, and a new environment puts a major twist in their routine. When done haphazardly, moving may leave the cat feeling depressed or traumatised. Here are some tips you can follow to help your cat survive the move unscathed.
Get your cat there in (one) peace
When bringing your cat to a new home, opt for a comfortable carrier and place items with familiar scents in it. Their favourite blanket or towel would work. If your cat is not used to travelling, this may also be a distressing experience for them. Give them plenty of time to adjust to the carrier and try not to rush the process.
You may also want to plan ahead to prepare the new household for your cat. Make sure it’s quiet and free of distractions on the day they arrive, and set up a space or a room where they know they can get comfortable. This can be done using their bedding, toys, food, water and litter box.
Let your cat take it in slowly
A good rule of thumb is to first expose your cat to one room, and expand the range of area gradually. This is to ensure that they do not get overwhelmed by the new elements.
There, allow your cat to stay in the carrier — which could now be a safe space — so they have the chance to take in the environment for a bit. Use this time to close any doors, windows or escape routes so it is safer. Once exits are secured, you can release your cat.
Remain in the room and let them roam and explore the environment freely. It may be tempting to get your cat to love the place (as much as you do!) quickly, but refrain from fussing or forcing them into anything they do not want to do. She will need to do this at her own pace, which leads us to our next point.
Give your cat time and motivation to adapt
It can take weeks or sometimes even months for a cat to get accustomed to their new surroundings. At this point, you are the only constant in their little universe so approach the change calmly and collectedly — your cat rubs off on your energy! This is where Feliway diffusers will also come in handy to help put your cat in a calmer state.
Whether it’s playtime with you or a few extra treats that your cat enjoys most, it’s a good idea to use incentives during this transition. For instance, you may want to motivate them with treats or affection when they are able to enter a part of the house they were initially fearful of.
Since this process will take a while, make sure to also cat-proof the household. This means no open windows, leaving doors ajar or having too many people come in and out of the house. Keep necessities in the same place, and establish a consistent routine such as feeding times, playtime and bedtime for your cat.
Beyond just the main designated area for your cat, you may also want to think about giving them several hiding spots where they can take refuge when feeling apprehensive. These should be dark, enclosed areas hidden out of view — cat condos or scratch boxes would be suitable.
Manage changes in the environment for your cat
From the addition of furniture to noisy construction work, a lot more stimulation for your cat may come with the new address. If it is within your control, make these changes gradually so your cat does not have to deal with multiple threats at a time. But when they do happen, here’s what to do:
New furniture in their space
Keep your cat’s needs in mind, such as making sure food, water and litter boxes are in their reach. If, for example, these share a space with new furniture that hinders your cat, provide resources elsewhere. Try not to move the former unnecessarily until they have gotten used to the new spot.
To initiate them to the shiny new things they have to live with, place their favourite items nearby. This could be blankets that have their scent, or food treats that they like. Remember that your goal here is to help create positive associations with the furniture.
Loud noise — construction work, neighbours, you name it
It’s natural for a cat to fear sudden or unfamiliar sounds, as it typically indicates imminent danger or unpleasant experiences. With this, you will need to employ desensitisation training methods. In short, you want to practice letting your cat hear these sounds in a safe and relaxed environment slowly and repeatedly, to the point that they realise the trigger does not threaten them. But always be wary of your cat’s limits, and practice only under circumstances in which they can remain calm.
As always, use treats or toys to redirect your cat and give them safe hiding places where they can retreat to — ideally some of these spots should be in the same area so they can still learn to relax in the presence of the noise.
Behaviour modification takes time, especially under nerve-racking situations like moving homes. Even so, do not resort to negative reinforcements such as spraying water or shouting at your cat as these may only exacerbate their anxiety.
With these tips and some time on your hands, we trust you will be able to make moving a less stressful experience for your cat. And if you need the extra help, see a veterinary behaviourist who can better guide your transition!