Moving to a New Home with Cats

By Ellen Lindell, VMD, DACVB; Debbie Stoewen DVM, MSW, RSW, PhD; Ernest Ward, DVM

Moving into a new home can be one of the most rewarding yet stressful events in anyone's life. If you have a cat, there are some things you may want to consider to help her settle in.

How do I manage the move to our new home?

Before the move, fit your cat with an identification collar (elasticized with a safety release mechanism) with your name and new address. Keep this collar on your cat at least until your cat is fully settled in your new home. It is best for all your pets to be permanently identified with a microchip; be sure to give the microchip company your new address. If your cat escapes from the home and gets lost, there’s a much higher chance you will be reunited if she has a microchip with your updated personal information. During the move, your cat should travel in a safe, well-secured container, such as a cat carrier, to prevent her from escaping.

When you arrive at your new home, leave your cat in her carrier in a cozy, well-stocked, and secure room. Include some  familiar objects such as a scratching post and a favorite piece of furniture. Once you are certain all outdoor doors and windows are secure, you may let her out of her carrier, but keep her confined to this room.

Leave the carrier open and available, provide her with a litter box, water, and some of her favorite food, and be sure to use her familiar dishes. Cats can more easily acclimate to a single room than to an entire house, and your cat will be safer there than amidst the chaos of unpacking. It may be best to keep her in this cozy room for several days, particularly if your new home is spacious, while you unpack and get things organized. Of course, she needs social time; take breaks to visit her often and, if possible, consider spending the night in her room.

"Try to avoid having builders or decorators working in the house while your cat is acclimating."

As you set up your new home, keep an eye out for areas where your cat could hide away and potentially get stuck – above drop ceilings or behind mounted cabinets, for example. Remove objects that could be ingested and try to make your home as cat-safe as possible. Once you have settled and are ready to invite your cat to explore her new home, check that all the doors and windows are closed before letting her out to explore. Supervise her as though she were a new kitten and put her away when you are distracted. Try to avoid having builders or decorators working in the house while your cat is acclimating. Most cats are not fond of loud noises or active strangers.

My cat is very nervous. Are there any other options?

If your cat tends to be nervous, it may be wise to board her for a few days before and after the move. She may be more content staying with a pet sitter or in a boarding facility until you are unpacked and have set up your new home. When she comes home, you won’t be busy unpacking and will be free to join her as she checks out the new residence.

How can I help my cat relax in our new home?

Cats crave familiarity.

  • Be sure to bring many of your cat’s favorite beds, toys, litter boxes and scratching posts. You can buy new things once your cat feels at home.
  • Try to maintain a routine like the one your cat is used to – your cat needs to eat and sleep regularly. 
  • Take breaks to provide your cat with favored social interactions such as play, pets, and brushing. 
  • Set up several feeding stations and, if your home is large, set up several litter boxes and scratching posts until your cat has established location preferences.
  • Provide an enriched environment that includes opportunities to explore boxes with hidden toys and food treats. 
  • Offer perches and soft resting spots near windows with views.

Pheromone products such as Feliway® are designed to have a calming influence and may help your cat adjust more easily to her new environment. Pheromone diffusers can be placed in several rooms to encourage your cat to relax and settle.

How do I introduce my cat to the outdoors?

If you plan to allow your cat outside, consider fencing an area with a cat-proof fence. The fence will keep your cat safe from predators, prevent him from being exposed to other cats that might carry infectious diseases, and protect the nearby wildlife.

After being relocated, cats that wander freely may travel great distances to return to their prior neighborhood. Your cat should be kept indoors for at least two weeks before having access to an unfenced outdoor area. Be sure to accompany her out the first few times, preferably on a harness and leash. Initially, she should only be let out for short, supervised periods during the daylight hours. Do not let her out at night.

Once your cat is thoroughly familiar with your yard, and you decide to let her out alone, do not feed her before opening the door. Hopefully, she will not wander too far and will readily come to your call for dinner.

My cat keeps returning to our old home. What can I do?

Cats are territorial. Cats may wander back, particularly when their previous home territory is nearby, and even try to live with the new people. If the move is further away, they may attempt to return home and get lost along the way. It may take weeks or months before your cat identifies your new home as a primary source of food and shelter. Until then, she should not be let out unattended.

To increase your cat’s security with her new residence, it may help to feed her small meals several times a day. The first few times your cat is let outdoors, be sure she is hungry. Let her out for a short time and then call her back in and feed her.

Advise the occupants of your former home that you are training your cat. Discourage them from feeding your cat, talking to her, or otherwise encouraging her. The goal is to decrease the value of the former neighborhood and increase the value of your new home.

Related Articles