When I relocated from New York City to Washington, DC, 20 years ago, I had a cranky calico cat named Blaze. Before movers arrived, I placed my kitty in the bathroom while movers packed and taped 50 boxes. But after the last box filled the truck, Blaze was nowhere to be found.
I panicked, imagining Blaze had crawled into one of those boxes and had been unknowingly carted onto the truck. I was about to run downstairs to stop the moving van when I heard a faint and frightened meow from the utility closet. Evidently, Blaze had escaped the bathroom and run in there to hide. Once my heart started beating again, I scooped her up, put her into a crate, and headed down to DC.
Much as we’d all like to think otherwise, moving is never a fun-filled party. But a move with pets can be downright traumatic—for you and your pet.
“Pets don’t really understand what’s happening, and it’s up to us to make them comfortable,” says Julie Hansen, a veterinarian and chair of Veterinary Technology at Argosy University in Eagan, MN. But careful planning before, during, and after the move can make the experience easier on everyone. Here’s how to pull that off.
Prepare your pet for change
This is easier said than done, but the best way to keep animals calm when moving is to stay calm yourself—or at least fake it and refrain from uncensored freakouts in front of your pets, says Walter Woolf, a veterinarian and owner of Air Animal Pet Movers, which facilitates pet moves throughout the world.
Woolf advises clients to talk to their pets about the upcoming move, explain where they’re going and what life will be like there. No, Rex won’t understand the actual words. But your calm voice will project calmness to your pet, Woolf says, setting a positive mood.
If your pet has never flown before, prepare it for the airplane ride by taking it through a car wash, which will simulate the sounds and motion of flight, Woolf says. Speak calmly to your pet while the water and brushes swish around your car.
Here are more ways to prepare your pet for the big move.
- A few days before the move, reduce Fido’s food by one-third, so he won’t have a full tummy when he’s rocking on a plane or bouncing in a car.
- Make sure pets are microchipped and have ID tags with your new address on them. That way, if they escape during the move, they can easily be traced back to you.
- If you’re moving internationally, work with your veterinarian to find out what tests, vaccinations, paperwork, or inspections are required by your destination country. Some countries have a six-month waiting period between when the paperwork is filed and the animal is allowed into the country. Refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to learn more about international pet regulations.
- Assemble and tape some boxes several days before the move so your pet becomes accustomed to the new look and sound of its home.
- If you’re transporting Fifi in a carrier, let her smell and inspect it before move day. Put her favorite blanket and treats in the carrier to make it a more positive experience.
- Get copies of pet health records so you can give them to your new veterinarian, and a health certificate, which is required by some states.
What to do on moving day
Moving day is chaotic for pets, who see strangers carting off their favorite furniture and familiar surroundings. If possible, arrange a pet play date with a trusted friend or relative who can keep the pet out of harm’s way during the move. If that’s not possible, place the pet in a pet crate or quiet room where movers won’t go.
When it’s time to leave for your new home, pack your pet into the car last, so it won’t overheat. At first, cover a cat crate with a light blanket so kitty won’t see the passing scenery, which can be frightening, according to PetFirst Pet Insurance. After a couple of hours, when kitty has calmed down, you can remove the blanket.
Introducing pets to their new home
Before you let Humbert explore his new home, inspect it first to make sure no health hazards have been left behind, including cleaning products and rat poisons he can ingest, or holes in cabinets or walls where he can hide. Then open the crate, and let Humbert investigate at his leisure.
Dogs are curious animals and most will dart out and madly sniff around their new home. Cats may be more reticent and take their time getting to know this strange place you’ve dragged them to, so be patient and don’t rush them.
When movers arrive with your belongings, segregate the pet again in a crate or a safe room. If possible, set up furniture in a familiar pattern, which will be less stressful for pets and people alike, and re-establish a familiar feeding and potty schedule. In other words: If your pets are used to sleeping with you, don’t try to establish a new normal directly after a move—snuggle up and give these four-legged family members time to adjust.