Burmese cross cat lying on fluffy rug

Moving house and travelling with cats

Cats bond strongly with their territory and can feel very vulnerable when away from home ground. Remembering this and planning ahead can help reduce the stress your cat might experience while travelling or settling into a new home.

Moving house with your cat

Moving house can be a stressful time for you and your cat. You may have worries about how your cat will cope and how you will ensure that your cat does not get lost in the new environment.

If the new house is not far from the old one, you may worry that your cat will return to old haunts. However, if planned well and carried out carefully, you can successfully relocate your cat with minimum stress.

Safety first

Early on the day of the move, put your cat in one room with all doors and windows closed so that you know that your cat is safe and can be found when it is time to go. It’s a good idea to pop a sign on the door so that everyone involved with the move knows to keep the door closed. Feed your cat in the morning but not too close to moving time in case of illness during the journey (scroll down to read about travelling with your cat). If you think your cat is likely to become frustrated in the one room or if you are worried that someone might accidently let them out, then you might want to consider booking them into a cattery for one or two days.

Keep your cat in a basket on arrival until one room in the new house is available to become a ‘safe area’ for your cat. Familiar items such as a bed, scratching post and toys should be placed here as well as a litter tray, food and water bowls. It’s a nice idea to provide an item of clothing that smells of you and your old home, as this will also help your cat feel more secure. Make sure the doors and windows are kept closed and lock the door if you can, as this will help you to remember your cat is inside and prevent others from opening the door accidentally. Alternatively, a large sign stuck to the door may help. You can then get on with moving everything into and around the house knowing your cat is secure. At the end of the day you can let the cat out to explore the house a little (make sure doors and windows are closed). It is usually best to confine the exploration to one or two rooms at first so that your cat is not overwhelmed and you know exactly where they can be found.

It may be wise to board particularly nervous animals in a friendly cattery before the move and keep them away from the new house until everything is unpacked and settled.

Helping your cat settle in

Make your cat feel at home by helping them to furnish the new house with their scent. Cats will rub their heads and bodies on furniture, walls, doors etc to lay down scent from glands situated mostly on the head but also over the body. When a cat is feeling confident, they will rub scent around the house and this will increase feelings of security. Obviously none of these smells will be present in the new house and there will be various alien smells, which may make the cat feel insecure.

You can help by taking a soft cotton cloth and rubbing it gently around your cat’s face to pick up their ’personal scent profile’. Dab this around at cat height in the room(s) where the cat will be kept at first so that the cat begins to feel at home and bonds with the territory. You can repeat this daily and build up your cat’s scent within the house before letting them outside. You may wish to consider using Feliway products during this time – these emit synthetic pheromones which can help make your cat feel more relaxed – ask your vet for details.

Use food and a regular routine to help your cat settle in. Small frequent meals will give you more contact initially and help to reassure your cat that all is well. By knowing when and where feeding will take place, your cat can anticipate the meal rather than worry about it. This also allows your cat to relax and promotes a feeling of wellbeing.

Moving home can be traumatic for an indoor cat who may not be used to dealing with changes in the environment in the same way that an outdoor cat might be. Slow, careful introductions, one room at a time, will help the cat settle in.

When to let your cat outside

It’s important that your cat stays confined to the house for at least two weeks as this will allow them time to get used to their new territory. If your cat is very confident and you feel they are getting frustrated at being kept indoors then you can consider letting them out a bit earlier, but only by a few days. If your cat gets nervous easily, then you may want to keep them in for much longer, until they feel really comfortable in their new surroundings.

A few days before you let your cat out, sprinkle some of their used litter around the perimeter of your new garden. This will not only help your cat feel more comfortable when they go outside for the first time (as the garden will now smell ‘familiar’), it will make neighbouring cats aware that there is a new cat in the area.

Make sure your cat has some form of identification (the type of collar that snaps open is the safest) with your name, address and contact phone number. It is also a good idea to get your cat microchipped. If they are already chipped, then remember to contact the microchip company to update your contact details.

The big day

It’s best to choose a day when you are likely to be in so you can be around to supervise if need be. Before you feed your cat in the morning, open the door and allow them access to the outside. Cats are cautious by nature, so it’s unlikely they will bolt out of the door. Most will take their time deciding if it is safe to leave the house and will explore their new surroundings slowly and carefully. It might be tempting to pick them up and take them around the garden, but most cats won’t appreciate this and may struggle and panic, even if they are used to being carried in the home. Let them explore in their own time and don’t worry too much if they hop over a fence or go further than you would like – the majority of cats will return after a few minutes at which point you could offer them something tasty to eat.

Confident cats who enjoy the outside generally cope well. Timid cats may take some time to adapt to their new environment and you might find that if you accompany them into the garden during these first few days, it might help build up their confidence.

Preventing cats from returning to their old home

If your new home is only a few streets or just a couple of miles from the old one, your cat may encounter old routes while exploring the area and return ’home’ to the previous house along these routes. If this happens, it means they haven’t bonded with the new home enough to break old habits yet.

Some cats are inadvertently encouraged to stay by the new occupiers of your old house. They may provide food or are flattered by this strange cat’s confident entrance through the cat flap and their willingness to set up home with them.

It is wise to warn the new residents that this may happen if you are not moving far, and to make sure that they don’t encourage your cat to stay – ask them to call you so you can go and collect the cat. However, if this behaviour persists there are some things you can try:

  • Keep your cat indoors at the new house for about a month
  • Feed small frequent meals and offer lots of attention to help build up the bond between you. Create some routines and signals using food and feeding time that your cat cannot resist. This way you can tempt your cat to return to your new house in time for meals – tasty treats can provide a strong motivation!
  • Make your cat feel at home by helping to furnish your new house with your cat’s familiar scent (see earlier)
  • Ensure that no one (new owners and previous neighbours) encourages your cat to stay around your old home by feeding or stroking them, or letting them in

 For the first couple of weeks, let your cat out just once each day just before feeding so that your cat is motivated to stay around. The aim is to make the new home the centre of the new territory, which smells secure and is the source of food and shelter (in contrast to the old home where these things are now denied). It may take weeks and, in some cases, months before your cat can be allowed outside unattended.

Travelling with your cat

  • Transport your cat in a safe container (ie a robust and properly constructed cat basket or carrier) – cats may escape from cardboard carriers
  • If you are going on a very long journey, you’ll need to make sure that your cat has the opportunity to go to the toilet and has access to food and water. Placing the cat carrier within a secure dog crate when you have stopped to take a break, is often a good solution as this will provide the extra space needed for a litter tray and bowls, while keeping your cat safely contained.
  • When you are travelling, secure the carrier in the car with a seat belt on the seat, or wedge it in safely at the back so it cannot move around
  • Never transport the cat in the boot or loose in the front foot well of the car or in the removal van if moving house
  • If it is a hot day make sure the car is well ventilated and never leave the cat inside a hot car if you stop for a break
  • If a short stop is unavoidable, make sure the carrier is absolutely secure and always leave the car in the shade with a window open. Be aware how quickly it can heat up if the sun is on it. Do not forget the sun’s position moves and what was shade an hour ago may be in full sunlight by the time you get back.
  • Ensure your cat is wearing a snap type safety collar and tag containing both your new and old addresses and contact numbers. Get them microchipped, too.
  • Make sure your cat is healthy before you travel. You may wish to consider sedating your cat if the journey is expected to be long or your cat is a poor traveller. If in doubt, seek advice from your vet at the earliest opportunity.
  • Feed your cat as early as you can before travel. Or, you may wish to wait until you arrive at your destination.
— Page last updated 29/06/2023