by Jackson Galaxy
To understand how stressful a change in environment can be on a cat, think about how stressful moving can be for us. According to psychologists, the top stressors for humans are bereavement, divorce, and moving. We are territorial and want to protect what is ‘ours,’ including our home routines, Dr. Larry Lachman refers to this concept in his book, Cats on The Counter, as “stable-sameness.” If you factor in the fiercely territorial nature of cats, you may begin to see just how upsetting a complete move (of any distance) can be.
If you’ve ever re-arranged furniture in a room your cat spends much of her time in, you’ve seen the picture with even more clarity. Old furniture in a new position means you’ll likely find your cat examining the empty area and exploring the couch as if she had never seen it before! Now imagine the impact on a cats’ territorial confidence by putting them into a foreign land, with no trace of their scent and their routine scuttled. Not a pretty picture!
Here are some tips to help keep your cat from stressing too much when packing your life up and moving it:
1. Flower essences, given two weeks before, during, and two weeks after the move will greatly reduce your cat’s stress and increase her coping skills. These holistic, non-toxic remedies can really work miracles, even in cats with a history of high-stress histrionics. Spirit Essences “Changing Times” is specifically designed to help ease emotional traumas, such as moving and other major life changes.
2. If possible, start bringing scents from the new house to your cat up to two weeks before the move. This can be as simple as taking a towel and rubbing it against the carpeting of the new home. Bring the object(s) home and place it next to one of your cat’s favorite eating or sleeping areas. This will help form a positive association in the cat’s mind between the ‘new’ scent and their already existing territory and routine.
3. Reverse the above process and rub a towel all over kitty, and take that scent to the new home, where you’ll transfer the scent by rubbing on key areas like the front doorframe, carpeting, and especially on new furniture. This will reduce your cat’s anxiety level, and consequently reducing the chances of scent marking via scratching, spraying, etc.
4. The cat moves last! Many cats are lost during moves. This is due, in part, to the frenetic energy surrounding the day, along with the noise of the movers, and of course a consistently opened front door. With no place to hide in her own territory, she may well choose to get as far away from it as possible. Choose a room, preferably away from the noise and in a place where she spends a good amount of time, and after emptying it of all things to be moved, try to make a comfortable temporary territory for the cat. If possible, include a piece of cat furniture, preferably a condo with spaces to hide in as well as perches to get up on. Of course, your cat’s litterbox is sacred ground, and nothing should be changed the day of the move. Don’t be tempted to bleach out or otherwise sanitize her box on moving day; her own scent in the box is crucial to her sense of security. Provide her regular dishes, carrier (one that is already familiar to her), and even a favorite chair—having all of these things nearby can help keep the cat’s stress level from shooting up during moving day.
5. Once everything is moved to the new home, spend a few minutes “decompressing” with your cat before moving her. Now is the time to take the safe room and move it to the new home. There should be a room designated to be, as Dr. Lachman puts it, her ‘”base camp.” Before she arrives, her scent should be spread via the towel technique all over the room. While she is still in her carrier, set up the new base camp, utilizing every corner of the space (litterbox in one corner, food in another, water along another wall; condo in a pleasing spot like near a window, etc.). Familiar toys, some catnip and/or special treats will help associate the displaced cat with the stable-sameness of her old home. Some cats may need up to 2-3 weeks in camp, but you know your cat better than anyone else. Look for signs of confidence, like meeting you eagerly at the door, playing, eating well, and staying out of hiding before revealing the rest of your new digs.
6. Now it’s time to introduce her to the new home…slowly. Again, look for confidence signals; tail carried high, walking normally (not slinking), and acting eager to explore and claim the house as her new territory.
There are also products on the market that may help in reducing stress-related marking and scratching, such as Feliway, a synthetic composite of feline cheek pheromones. These natural scent markers are commonly referred to as “friendly’ pheromones, as opposed to urine marking, which is more territorially aggressive. Studies (conducted by the manufacturer) have shown that once Feliway is sprayed on vertical common marking areas like couches, door frames, etc., stress levels are reduced, and undesirable ‘acting out” behaviors are decreased by up to 75%
6. We strongly discourage allowing your cat unfettered access to the outdoors; walks on a secure harness and leash, or a secure cat enclosure, are the only safe ways to provide outdoor access. However, we know that not everyone will take that advice, so—at least —please do not to let your cat out of the house for at least 2-4 weeks after moving, and even then only under supervision for a similar period. Of course, repair loose or torn window and door screens before allowing your cat access to those parts of the home.
As we’ve continually emphasized, going slowly in all phases of moving your cat is key: we’re talking about mere weeks in the life of your companion, but these are weeks that will help her permanently and confidently establish her new territory for the rest of her life—or at least until the next move!