Tips on moving with your cat

Posted: Sunday, April 05, 2009

A cat is not, by nature, a moveable beast. Taking him from a familiar home to a new one rubs him wrong two ways:

First, cats simply do not like change. If you've ever rearranged the furniture, you know what I mean. He feels secure when following a predictable routine, surrounded by familiar people, objects, sounds and scents.

Second, cats are territorial. They feel safe on their home turf and vulnerable when they put one paw over the boundary line.

So being moved to a new home is contrary to the cat's basic nature. Fortunately, you can make the move more comfortable for him.

A month or so ahead of departure, set out his traveling kennel. Make sure it is clean and has appealing bedding inside, perhaps a pad or blanket he likes. Leave the door open. Put catnip or a favorite toy inside. Ideally, he'll adopt the kennel as a new sleeping spot, or at least accept it as part of his environment.

If he doesn't already wear a collar, he will need one for the move. Don't introduce it just before you leave. Let him get used to the feel of the collar that carries his ID. Should he run away or get lost in transit, the ID will greatly enhance the chances of him getting back to you.

Also, brush up on his training to come when you call. Reward him with a treat each time he comes.

If you are traveling by air within Alaska or going out of state, you will need proof that your cat's rabies vaccination is up to date. Crossing state lines also requires a health certificate issued by a veterinarian within 30 days of the trip. Don't wait until the last minute and add to the cat's travel stress with shots or a visit with the vet. Ask for a copy of his medical records, including proof of spaying/neutering, and discuss whether tranquilizing medication would be appropriate.

Also, consider getting some Comfort Zone (also known as Feliway), a product designed to create a calming environment and soothes cats' nervousness. It works by simulating cat pheromones and comes with a plug-in diffuser or as an aerosol spray. I have had good results with it. In Juneau, it is sold at the Juneau Veterinary Hospital and Wee Fishie Shoppe. You can also buy it from catalogs or on line.

Before you start hauling out the furniture, put your cat in a room where he is away from the chaos and from which he can't escape. A bathroom is ideal. Pack up whatever you're taking from that room, treat with Feliway and leave the kitty in peace. Put the traveling kennel in with him; he very well may pack himself, curling up inside for refuge and a nap.

When carrying the kennel, don't swing it with the cat inside. And if you have a soft-sided kennel, support the bottom. Cats are unnerved by the sensation of being suspended above the ground. While en route, talk to your cat and let him see you whenever possible. All of this minimizes stress.

At your new home, prepare a "safe room" in which your cat can settle down. Before opening the kennel, set out water, his favorite food and a box filled with a familiar type of litter. Lay out the cat's own bed or blanket and leave him a piece of clothing that smells like you. Toss out a couple of his old toys. Then open the kennel door, retreat and close the door to the room. Let the cat emerge on his own.

Make sure he can't escape before you let him out to explore his new indoor environment. Conventional wisdom is to keep him indoors for at least three weeks, but it depends a lot on the cat and how he is settling in. When you think he's ready, let him out just before feeding time, go out with him and leave the door open for an easy retreat.

I'm going to try all of these suggestions later this month when my favorite furball, Annie, and I are scheduled to move to Oregon. It's hard to say goodbye to Juneau. Wonder if Feliway works on people, too?

• Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of whom simply showed up at her door. She's a believer in spaying and neutering to reduce the number of homeless cats. Although this is her final column, she may be contacted at lindadaniel@gci.net.



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