Moving With Cats: The Secret is Planning Ahead

Do you have a move coming up?  Moving can be one of the most stressful things we do in our lives, but it can be even more stressful if you have fur-kids to worry about.  But don’t despair – moving with cats doesn’t have to be another thing to be stressed out about.  I’ve got a moving plan for you and your cats that will take the worry out of this part of your move, at least!

If you’ve been keeping up with me on social media, you’ll know that my husband and I recently moved with our five cats.  We moved from a smaller house to one with a lot more space, and we were worried that we’d never find our cats again (ok, the house really isn’t that big, but fear can be a funny thing).  And because all of our cats have different personalities, ranging from shy and skittish to bold and curious, we really didn’t know how things were going to work out.  In fact, how your cats are going to adjust to a move is always going to be an unknown until you actually go through it…but by taking some precautions and planning ahead, you can ensure that your cat is in the best position to have a smooth transition into her new home!

So let’s get down to business.  There are things about moving that are good and bad.  Good: moving involves lots of boxes, which cats like!  Bad: moving takes cats out of their routine, which they don’t like.  Let’s take this step-by-step and break down each phase in your move so that you can focus on what’s important…keeping your cats calm and their stress levels low.

Before Your Move

Your cats are not dummies and will figure out that something strange is happening in your home. Their routine will be disrupted, boxes will start appearing, and familiar objects will be placed in new locations.

    • Acclimate your cats to changes gradually.  As soon as you can, get your cats ready for the move by bringing cardboard boxes into your home so that they can get used to them – don’t do this just the week before your move is planned.  Start bringing cardboard boxes into your home weeks before your move and start packing gradually (this is a wise move with or without cats…you don’t want to have to pack at the last minute!).
    • Have cat carriers accessible and make them into safe spaces.  I also recommend bringing cat carriers inside for your kitties to get used to, especially if they don’t like them (i.e., if they associate the carrier with going to see the veterinarian).  Leave some treats in them occasionally, and consider spraying Feliway (a synthetic pheromone that puts cats at ease in new environments) inside the carriers to make them less threatening.  Here are some additional tips to get your cat used to being in her carrier.
    • Try to maintain a routine.  In all other aspects of your cats’ lives and environment, try to maintain as much routine as possible – feeding schedules and locations, play time, bed time (for you), etc.  Routine is comforting for cats, so as much as you can keep life regular, do so.
    • Make sure your cats have proper identification.  Before moving, make sure that your cat has identification.  Cats can slip out while movers are taking boxes in and out of houses, or carriers can accidentally open.  Ensure that your cat doesn’t get lost in the moving mayhem by having her wear a reflective collar with ID tags, and have her microchipped.

During the Move

    • Keep your cats in a “safe room” while boxes are being loaded.  Moving is very chaotic.  Keep your cats in a safe room with everything they need while movers or friends are over moving boxes and furniture out of your home.  The doors will be open, and this presents an excellent opportunity for your scared kitty to run out of the house in a panic.  Don’t let it happen!  Put a note on the door of your cat’s room telling people the cats are inside, and to leave the door closed.
    • Bring everything your cats need with you, in your vehicle.  If you have a long distance to travel, bring all necessary food, water, medication, bedding, and litter that your kitties will need along the way.  Bring a wand toy or other favorite toy so that you can play with your kitty in the hotel room.  Do not pack these items to go on a moving truck, even if it’s just a short distance that you are traveling.  Keep everything accessible and in easy reach.
    • Do not let your cat out of the carrier while traveling in a car!  This can be very dangerous, particularly if your cat is not used to riding in a car – your cat can become lodged under a seat, or even worse, under gas and brake pedals.
    • If you have a particularly skittish or fearful cat, you may want to ask your veterinarian about the possibility of giving her a sedative – it might make the trip more pleasant for all of you.

Upon Arrival to Your New Home

  • Keep your cats confined so they can safely acclimate.  Before letting your cats out of their carriers, set up a “safe room” in your new house for the kitties that they will use as kind of a base camp for the next several days.  Make sure that it contains food, water, bedding, litterboxes, toys, perches, and any other items that have a familiar scent on them.  If you’ve been wearing a t-shirt or have towels that smell like you, these can make nice familiar short-term bedding options that can help your cats adjust.  Let your cats into the safe room and let them explore the new room with the door closed as the movers bring boxes in or as you unpack.  Keep their carriers with them in the room in case they feel safer inside them.
  • Make sure your cats know you’re around!  Pop into the safe room every once in a while to let your cats know that they haven’t been abandoned.  Give them pets or play with them if they are ready for it!  You know your cats are relaxed and confident if they are willing to play and eat…both good signs to look for.
  • Let your cats explore at their own pace.    Depending on the type of personalities your cats have they may want to stay in the safe room for a few days, or they may want to explore their new home after a few hours – it’s up to you to determine when they are ready (again if they are eating and playing, that’s a good sign).
  • Feliway diffusers or spray can help your cats feel like their new environment is safe and familiar.  The jury is still out on how effective Feliway really is, but it certainly won’t hurt and it may help!  Just be careful about where the diffusers are located – you don’t want to have them near any of the litterboxes.
  • Have familiar objects unpacked and accessible to the kitties throughout your home; familiar blankets, furniture, toys may help your cats relax.  I suggest letting your cats slowly explore the house, one room at a time, or for short periods of time – supervised.  When you feel they are comfortable and know where all of their resources are (including litterboxes!), you can let them venture freely from the safe room without supervision.
Let your cats explore

Let your cats explore! Of course, you might also want to dust occasionally…(yes, this is our actual stove-top right after we moved in.  The dust had literally settled).

The amount of time it takes for cats to feel comfortable in a new home can vary depending on the cat.  Aside from a minor incident involving three of our cats climbing INTO a couch through the bottom of it (helpful tip: don’t let your cats make a hole in the fabric on the underside of your sofa) JUST BEFORE it was moved, our relocation went fairly smoothly.  We let our cats explore the whole house after a day or two, but it did take about two weeks before everyone in the gang decided they didn’t need to hide under our bed any longer.  I hope that, if you are moving with cats, you are able to come out on the other side without incident and that everyone is safe and happy.

Moving with Cats

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Phone: 503-927-1107
Fax: 360-989-1144
Marci and Abbey

Dr. Marci L. Koski, CFTBS, CFTPB

Certified Feline Behavior & Training Consultant


LeeAnna Buis, CFTBS

Certified Feline Behavior & Training Consultant

Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer

Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer

Winner of the Women in the Pet Industry's 2017 Advocate of the Year Award

Marci Koski

Dr. Marci is a certified feline behavior and training consultant, with specialized and advanced certificates in Feline Training and Behavior. She started Feline Behavior Solutions to keep cats in homes and out of shelters as the result of treatable behavior issues. She believes that the number of cats in shelters can be greatly reduced if guardians better understand cat behavior, and learn how to work with their cats to encourage desired behaviors instead of unwanted ones. Dr. Marci’s family includes her four feline companions and her very patient, understanding, and supportive husband.