Moving house? Make it as stress-free as possible for your pets
Spring traditionally kicks off peak home moving season. And, if you’re one of the 361,000 households in the UK that’s looking to move house, then as well as dealing with solicitors, estate agents and removal firms, you’ll also need to have a plan in place for your pets.
With the rise of flexible working and the trend in people ditching city life for a more rural lifestyle, it can mean big changes for people and their pets. And, while moving house is stressful enough for us humans, with all the packing and planning it entails, just imagine how confusing it must be for our pets, who simply can’t understand what on earth is going on!
That’s why some careful planning before the big day, being well prepared on moving day –and having a strategy for what’s going to happen when you arrive at your new home – will help make the whole process as smooth and stress free as possible for your furry family members.
Preparing for the move
As you sort and pack up your possessions, it means disruption in the household and normal routines, which can be particularly stressful for dogs and cats. Animal charity Blue Cross advises: “All your dog has known and become familiar with, in terms of household objects and smells, changes dramatically and so it’s not surprising that some dogs become a bit worried, particularly those who are sensitive to change.”
Cats, who are highly perceptive, and acutely territorial, often struggle more with a move than any other household member, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on them to make sure they’re coping with all the turmoil. For felines, their home is their sanctuary, which they’ve spent a lot of time scenting to help make them feel secure. Moving home for cats is a really big deal and you may want to get advice from your vet, who knows your cat well, about how you can dial down the stress levels for them.
Dr Valarie Tynes, a certified veterinary behaviourist at FELIWAY, advises: “To help your cat remain calm and comfortable in your current home, dedicate one room where they can stay. This will help keep the sights and sounds of the movers and moving equipment minimised. The room should contain everything your cat would need during this time, such as food, bedding, toys and a litter box. Place a sign on the door notifying everyone involved there are pets in the room and the door should be kept shut. This will also help prevent a cat running through an open front door and getting lost.”
Small furries will be particularly sensitive to increased noise if there’s lots of comings and goings, so keep them in the quietest spot in your home while all the moving preparations are going on.
Veterinary charity PDSA has these useful tips:
- Get one room packed up and empty then move your pet’s food and water bowls, toys, beds and any litter trays into that room. Let your pet get used to being fed in that room, so they don’t feel strange when they’re shut in there on moving day. With this room being already cleared out, your pet can stay in there and won’t need to be disturbed while the big move goes on.
- Avoid feeding pets close to travelling time, as this could cause travel sickness. Instead, give them small amounts of their usual food throughout the day. This will give them something to do while you’re busy and will be gentler on their tummy if they are feeling anxious. Let them have a fun toy too to keep them busy.
- Using a pheromone diffuser (such as ADAPTIL for dogs, FELIWAY for cats, or Pet Remedy, which is suitable for all pets, including small furries) in your pet’s room can help your pet feel more relaxed during the move, as there will be plenty of bumping and banging going on and strangers around their house. Pheromones are natural scents that are undetectable to humans but can help keep your pet calm.
- Make sure your pets are microchipped and remember to let the microchip company know about your new address. Also, make sure that you notify your pet insurance company of your change of address.
Blue Cross suggests: “You may want to ask a member of your family or a good friend to look after your dog for the duration of the move – this way you can concentrate on the actual house move without having to worry about how and where your dog is. Once you are settled in your new home, with everything unpacked and order restored, you can then collect your dog and dedicate the time needed to introduce them to their new home.”
PDSA advises: “If your pet is quite nervous and finds it difficult to cope with change, it may be better to book them into a kennel or cattery. Check with your vet that their vaccinations are up to date and give yourself enough time to find a cattery or kennel you like and trust.”
Pets can read their human’s body language and get a sense of how you’re feeling. In many cases, if you are feeling stressed then your pet will begin to display signs of stress as well. Because of this, it’s important to keep yourself calm during the pre-move process.
If you’re moving your pet rather than booking them into a kennel or cattery, make sure they are ready for car travel. You’ll need a special doggy seatbelt or travel crate, or secure cat carrier for them while they’re in the car.
Likewise, small furries will need a suitable pet carrier, with a water bottle attached and plenty of tasty hay for them to snuggle into and munch on, which will help them to feel safe as they’ll find the whole travelling experience rather frightening. Amy, AKA as 'The Bunny Lady', who specialises in all things rabbit, says: “You’ll also want to make sure your rabbit’s carrier is an appropriate size for your rabbit. If the carrier is too big, then your rabbit could be injured if they hit up against the side of the enclosure when you make a sudden stop. To make sure your rabbit’s carrier is the correct size, you’ll want to make sure they can turn around inside the carrier but doesn’t have much extra space.”
Keep your pet in a quiet room while all your stuff is being moved out. Then, once everything has gone from the house, move your pet out last. It’s a good idea to take your dog for a walk to calm them down before the journey. If it’s a long trip, schedule in some pitstops so your canine chum can stretch their legs, have a drink of water and go to the toilet. Ensure your dog is wearing a collar and tag containing the details of your new address and contact numbers.
When you arrive at your new home, PDSA advises:
- Make a room available for your pet. Put some of your pet’s toys and bedding into one room along with a piece of clothing that smells of you. It’ll help them feel at home.
- Moving day will be really busy for you but do spend some time with your pet to help them settle into their new home.
- Make sure your house is secure before letting your pet explore freely.
- Walk your dog around the garden on a lead at first, so they can explore safely and only let them into the garden on their own once it has been secured.
- Cats should be kept indoors for a couple of weeks to help them become familiar with their new environment.
Travel can be a stressful experience for pets and is a high-risk time for becoming lost. Make sure you have a travel carrier for your dog or cat and get them used to this at least a few weeks before the trip. You can do this by implementing a positive reward-based training programme whereby you gradually introduce them to the carrier and get them comfortable being inside.
The important thing here is to let your pet explore at their own pace. Walk around with them and provide them with plenty of reassurance – and a few treats so that they associate the new environment with nice things.
- When your cat eventually ventures out, leave something that smells familiar in the garden (for example, your wellies or garden pots from your old home), so they can recognise where their new home is if they go exploring.
- Continue with pheromone diffusers if your pet seems stressed.
- Pets like consistency so try to get back into your usual routine as soon as possible.
- Register with a local vet. Don’t leave it until there’s an emergency!
Blue Cross advises: “If your dog is used to walking in a variety of places off lead and they have a good recall, then you shouldn’t experience any problems on your new walks. If you are unsure at all, it might be a good idea to keep your dog on the lead for the first few days until you feel more comfortable about letting them off in the new area. A long line or an extendable lead is a good option in areas away from roads, as these will give your dog a bit more freedom than a short walking lead.”
With cats, the best idea is to set them up somewhere safe and let them acclimatise – they’ll soon let you know when they feel ready to explore. Dr Valarie Tynes suggests: “Identify a room where you can leave your cat with all their essentials and try to keep them in this in this room, and this room only, for the first few days without access to the rest of the house. This may seem restrictive, but they will feel safe within a confined space, and it will give them the opportunity to slowly familiarise themselves with the new sounds and smells. It also gives them a room of their own to use later as a refuge.”
For small furries, the first thing to do is set them up with tasty hay, water and access to a litter box, either in a temporary spot or in in their new, permanent location, away from any noise and hustle and bustle. The Bunny Lady advises: “Allow your rabbit to come out of the carrier in their own time. You can offer your rabbit a treat to help them start to have a positive association with the new place. When you set up your rabbit’s enclosure in your new place, try to make it as similar to their old set up as possible. Put their food bowls in the same place, as well as the hiding house and litter box. This will help the enclosure feel familiar to your rabbit. Even though the surroundings are different, they have all of their usual items in the usual places. This will help your rabbit get used to the new place more quickly and become more confident and ready to explore their new home.”
Over the long term, routine is essential for a happy and healthy pet. So, despite them being in a new environment, your pet will begin to thrive as soon as you slide them back into a routine. Stick to your normal schedule for exercising and feeding once you’ve moved in.
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