Tips for Moving With a Cat
Some cats will take well to a move to a new home, and some cats won't. It can be a source of great stress to the cat, and that can sometimes cause illness or severe psychological problems. You can do a number of things to keep your cat happy during a move and to help it adjust. As an evacuee from Katrina, I've moved my cat six times in the last year to various houses, and there was added stress for her because she had to live with a number of strangers. She seems to have gotten used to it and by the most recent move only took an hour or two to adjust. I'm assuming you won't be moving your cat that frequently, but here are some of the things you can do to help your cat along.
1) You'll probably be bringing your cat along in a cat carrier. Put a towel in there, so that your cat will get its scent on it. When you take the cat into your new house, put the carrier down and leave the door open. Don't force the cat out, and let the carrier act like a familiar hiding place. The cat can then retreat back into it whenever it is afraid or wants to hide. Putting it in a room that is away from noise and activity is a good idea to keep it somewhat quiet. You might also want to put the food, water, and litter nearby so the cat doesn't have to venture out that far.
2) Use the same litter box, food bowls, and water bowls as at your old house. The key here is building familiarity - the cat knows them and knows what they're for, and it's less change.
3) Give your cat frequent attention. It will likely be pouting or scared, and petting it and talking to it can calm it down and coax it out to explore. When you notice your cat starting to explore things and check out the new house, walk around with it - not too close, but be there so the cat has someone with it and doesn't get too frightened.
4) Be aware of noises that may be in your new house and not an old one. I had problems with a loud air conditioner that would suddenly come on in one apartment, frightening the cat. If you can do something to stop the noises for awhile to let the cat settle in, then do so.
5) Don't let your cat outside for at least a few weeks, and then only supervised. I don't recommend letting cats outdoors anyway (see more at the page on indoor cats and their life expectancy). If you must let your cats outside, you shouldn't be doing this immediately after a move because your cat does not yet recognize the new home as its territory. It may well try to find its way back to your old house if it gets outdoors. This can happen even if you have moved hundreds of miles away - you can read about some of the potential reasons why this occurs here. Cats and many other animals, either through smell or an awareness of the magnetic fields of the earth, can often figure out the direction to go in to get back to their original home.
This is not something you want happening, however. As interesting as it is to hear stories of cats that traveled a hundred miles back to an old home, your cat is much more likely to die on the way or get totally lost than to actually make it back. So let the cat get acclimated to the new house. Once it knows that is now home and seems to accept that, then it will be safe to let it wander outside a little bit and learn the new territory.
6) Watch for stress related diseases, and take your cat to the vet if you see any. Some common psychological ones are feline psychogenic alopecia and feline OCD. There are also specific physical conditions that can be caused by this, including fatty liver disease (caused if a cat stops eating as a result of a move) and cystitis (stress can aggravate this condition which results in dangerous bladder stones).
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