A reader relocating to a smaller home asks Dr Platzhund how she can help her cats avoid stress and adjust to a new home
Q: I have three adult cats and I’ll soon be relocating to a smaller dwelling – downsizing in all aspects. What is the best way to avoid stressing the cats and getting them to settle in as soon as possible?
A: Any relocation for adult cats is stressful. It’s worse as the established cats get older, because they do not like change. Once they’re more entrenched in their familiar environment they will experience anxiety issues due to less space. They will sense and observe territorial alteration and intrusion with packing, the presence of strangers doing the move, and the adaptation to a new environment with mostly altered visual, auditory and olfactory stimuli.
My personal preference and ideal recommendation is to board the cats at a cattery or veterinary practice prior to packing boxes, and introducing them to the new home after everything is unloaded, the place cleaned, and all furniture and goods unpacked. Sometimes this may not be affordable or practical. Fortunately, cats only think in the moment and adapt very well with boarding and relocating provided you do not convey inappropriate concerns about their welfare.
As soon as they’re brought to the new home they should be isolated in one room with four litter trays for the three cats. They must remain in one room for a period of time proportional to the distance between the previous residence and new one. If it’s nearby, they should be locked up for a minimum of six weeks to prevent them from escaping and running back to their familiar territory, particularly the male cats.
The use of pheromone sprays or vaporisers and anxiolytic medication, available from your vet, may allow them to cope better with the change in environment and their dynamic inter-feline relationship adjustment.
The cats will also undergo a restructuring of their associateship due to the new environment, design, obstacles, smells and sounds, including neighbourhood activity. Don’t interfere if they are hissing or spitting at each other while trying to find strategic sites for safety, observation and security once they’re allowed to roam freely around the entire home.
You can use harnesses to walk them around in the garden under your control for brief periods. There’s no guarantee that they will stay, but in the vast majority of situations they will remain close to the people with whom they have developed a bond.