Moving with Pets: Before, During and After

If you thought moving was stressful for you, just imagine what it’s like for your pets. They thrive off routine and have no idea why their precious home is disappearing room by room.

The stress of moving can have serious effects on our furry friends. Cats, dogs, reptiles and other unconventional pets, have all been known to develop serious health issues as a result of heightened stress – and moving is a big one.

Here’s what to do before, during and after your move, to make the transition as stress-free as possible for your pets.

Before

While some travel souvenirs can be literally and emotionally priceless, some of them are just shot glasses and bottle openers.

Go through those items collected from your travels and really weigh what they mean to you. Can you live without it? Toss it.

1. Pick a new home with pets in mind

While cats will love little alcoves and hiding places, this might not be a great idea for dogs. When picking a new home, go with the mindset of ‘what trouble can my pet get into here?’. If there are just too many to list without easy fixes, it might be better to look elsewhere.

2. Scope out new neighbourhood before buying

You’ll want to scope out the neighbourhood, not just the house, before buying. There are a number of factors to take into account:

  • Are there parks or trails to take your dog out for walks?
  • Are there shrubs, plants etc. in the area or on the property that are known to be toxic to animals?
  • Have there been reports of wild animals like coyotes, skunks and raccoons? Consider if these are big risks to your pet
  • Do neighbours have pets too? Do the pets seem well-mannered or aggressive?

3. Plan, Plan, Plan

As with any big project or move, planning is the key to success. Get as much figured out beforehand to minimize both yours and your pet’s anxiety. Things to think about:

  • Talk to your current veterinarian (if moving too far to stay with them) to get pets medical history
  • Ask current vet for new vet recommendations
  • Research new vets in the area and talk to them beforehand (even bring your pet by for a visit)
  • Look into new collar and tags with updated information

4. Get your pet use to their carrier

The pet carrier is your friend during a move, so get your little buddy used to it a few weeks before. Give them an hour or so a day to sit calmly in the carrier, with toys and a treat (positive affirmation!) or take them on a ride in the car with it.

Big moves can throw an animal off; locking them in a carrier they’re not used to can make them panic even more. The big day will be much easier if they view the carrier as a comforting, safe space.

During

We all want to hold on to our old wardrobe for nostalgia or in the hopes that our high school pants will fit again one day. We’re not teenagers anymore and it’s only holding you back. Donate your old clothes to people who need them; clear space for a new wardrobe.

1. Get a pet sitter

Save yourself a headache and get a pet sitter. This is a stressful day, and even the calmest pets can get aggravated by huge change. There’s also the potential for a dog or cat sneaking out of the house during all the confusion.

Having your furry friend out of the house during moving day lets you focus on the actual move and keeps your pet happy.

2. Or keep your pet secluded in a safe room

If a sitter isn’t an option, pick a small space with a door, like the laundry room or bathroom, to separate your pet during the day. Keep all their comforting toys, blankets, beds, litter box and food with them. They can chill out without getting distressed by the moving process. Make sure the movers are made aware of the room that the pet is in.

3. Don’t let them watch you pack

This is the main reason you want to keep your pets separated from the moving activities, like packing. This goes double for cats. Pets are territorial, particularly felines, so watching their home disappear into boxes piece by piece is jarring. This is a big change, and domesticated animals don’t like that as a general rule.

Additionally, the noise and extra people involved can cause an animal to become skittish, nervous or withdrawn. Best to let them avoid the scene.

Extra tip: to ease this change, don’t wash your pets favourite blanket or toy for a couple weeks after moving. The old house smell can provide a sense of familiarity!

4. Travel in your own vehicle

By this, we mean keep the animal out of the moving trucks/vans. First, it’s a strange vehicle that could make them nervous and secondly, most carriers won’t fit up front. It should go without saying that you should not put your pet in the loading area either.

5. Keep routine as much as possible

Keeping your regular routine, as much as possible, is the best way to ease the transition. A sense of normalcy amidst the chaos goes a long way.

Keep their breakfast, dinner, and walks as close to the norm as you can.

6. Show extra caution with stress-prone animals

While cats and dogs are the most common pets, give a little extra care to birds, fish, guinea pigs, hamsters etc. These animals are especially prone to stress and anxiety, and it can be seriously damaging to their health, even fatal. Talk to your vet about how to make this change easier for them.

7. Pack your pet’s stuff last

Do you really want to be spending your last night in your old house trying to distract a dog with no toys? Or clean up after a cat with no kitty litter?

Save your pet’s things until very last – like the morning of the move. Most toys and blankets can go a little beforehand, but keep an ‘overnight bag’ supply for the day of the move.

You’ll still want access to:

  • Doggy bags
  • Kitty litter
  • One comfort toy or blanket
  • Leash/carrier
  • Food and treats

After

1. Unpack essentials first

Unpack the essentials before even considering unleashing your pet. When the time comes to introduce them to their new home, they’re going to need a lot of attention.

The big things to get out of the way are:

  • Mattresses, bed frames and sheets
  • Bring in furniture (not so much placing it yet)
  • Basic kitchen supplies (plates, cups, utensils)
  • Toiletries

Ideally, have everything brought into the house and in the right rooms. Then work on putting everything away and placing items after introducing your pet.

2. Then unpack your pets stuff

Unpack your pet’s things, and have them in their designated new areas right before letting your pet out. Establish the new norm right from the get go. It will help ease their nervousness if they see familiar items right away.

3. Make use of crates and leashes

We can’t stress this enough: do not let your pet off their leash/out of their carrier before getting into the house. You might think you have the most well behaved pet, but understand that big changes can throw off their behaviour.

Don’t take the risk of your beloved family pet running off in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Keep them close to you for even a couple days after the move.

4. Introduce your pet to the new place

Bring your pet around the house, room by room, so they can get a feel for the place themselves. Having you with them, showing affection, helps to set a positive image in their new surroundings. If time permits, gradually introduce rooms over a few days.

5. Establish a new routine

From the moment you move in, you’ll want to establish the new routine as quick as possible. Don’t leave room for confusion in your pet’s eyes. Keep it close to the old routine and your pet will adjust much easier.

6. Introduce your pet to the new neighbourhood

Finally, introduce them to their new neighbourhood. For dogs, this is easy. Take them on their scheduled walks throughout the surrounding area, including new parks or trails.

For outdoor cats, keep them on a leash in the front and/or backyard with you for a few hours. Cats are capable of figuring out their surroundings, but they need a solid concept of ‘home’ first.

In the end, it’s all about routine and planning, for your sake and your pets. Your pet feeds off your emotions, so if you’re calm, it’s easier for them to stay calm too. Do what you can to keep things familiar and remind them that your presence is unchanging. Do this, and you’ll all take to the new place beautifully!