By John Gilpatrick
There’s a reason why the moving industry is still thriving. From packing everything you own into boxes to lugging them down flights of stairs then setting them up in an unfamiliar space, a big move is among the most stressful and unpleasant things to do.
Now imagine going through all the disruption and confusion of a move without having any idea what’s actually going on. That’s what it’s like for your pet. Everything he knows is going away, and all of a sudden, he’s in a strange, new place.
“Any time pets have anything happen in their world out of the norm, they can stress over it,” says Cathy Bosley, certified feline training and behavior specialist for Best Friends Animal Society. “Many times, depending upon their background or what they are used to, they can feel that you are packing up to leave them behind.”
Helping your pet adjust to this change—both before the first box comes out and after the last one gets recycled—is a major responsibility for pet owners. Here’s what you can do to make it as smooth for your dog or cat as possible.
To minimize moving stress on the front end, Bosley recommends starting early and taking your time, letting your pet explore some of the environmental changes on his own.
“Any box you bring in, let them investigate it,” Bosely says. “Let them climb all around and in the box. Let them put their scent on it and leave it for them for a day or so before using it to pack.”
Don’t overwhelm your pet with too many boxes at once. Once you’ve let them explore one or two boxes, use them to pack, and put the packed boxes aside in just one or two rooms where your pet doesn’t usually spend much time.
Keeping boxes out of your pet’s normal living space prevents him from constantly being reminded that something big is about to happen in his world, Bosley says.
You can also consider laying out your pet’s carrier several weeks ahead of the move, says Brooklyn-based veterinarian Katie Grzyb. For cats, use some catnip or treats to make the carrier a friendly place, rather than forcing them into the carrier the day of the move.
In addition, you can talk to your veterinarian about some holistic options to help keep your pet calm.
“Some cat pheromone sprays and plugins, as well as some natural calming treats, can be the difference between high stress and calm during a move,” Grzyb says.
It might be beneficial to board your pup at a kennel or pet sitting facility in the days leading up to and through the big move. This will allow your pet to play and (hopefully) relax while getting the care he needs. You can also ask a close friend or family member with whom your pet is comfortable to watch him during this time.
This might not be possible for all pet owners, but it is something worth considering, says Dr. Jill Sackman, a Michigan-based clinician in behavioral medicine for Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners.
“There’s so much commotion for these few days with doors propped open and strange people around,” she says. “It’s very anxiety-provoking.”
Having a day or two on your own in the new house without your pet has advantages, as well. Not only can you set things up the way you want without worry about a furry little friend running underfoot, you can also scope out the best places for food and water dishes, litter boxes, etc. and pet-proof any areas of the house, including unsafe stairs, doors that don’t lock properly, or something else unforeseen, Sackman says.
In addition, you’ll want to unpack all of your boxes as quickly as possible. Not only will this help your pet get adjusted more quickly, it also minimizes the risk that your pet gets into a forgotten box filled with something dangerous—like sharp objects or household chemicals—that under ordinary circumstances would be kept well outside a pet’s reach, Sackman says.
Start introducing your pet to a new house with a room where he’ll spend a lot of time, like a place where you might keep a water bowl or litter box, says Melissa Pezzuto, behavior consultant for Best Friends Animal Society. Use blankets, treats, toys and other comforting items to make it warm and inviting.
“Then, slowly expose them to other areas of the home, like the living room or kitchen,” she says. “As they become comfortable, you can open more areas to them, but keep doors closed to the basement or garage as those areas tend to contain objects that can be unsafe for pets.”
Potty training in the new home will also be necessary for many pets, and most of them will have an accident here and there. Pezzuto says you should show your pet exactly where it is that he should do his business, and when he does, shower him with praise and treats like you might a puppy.
While this period of your life will be disruptive, it’s important for your pet that you make him a priority and keep to certain routines that he has become accustomed to—like walking at the same time and eating at a normal frequency.
“Pets spend more time in the home then we do, and it can be a bigger part of their life,” Pezzuto says. “Remember to also show empathy toward your pet during times of high stress.”