Moving with your pets across town can be as easy as a trip to the vet, but what about across a longer distance? Really, it is not that much more difficult, especially if you plan ahead and know what to expect! Take it from me. Within a 6-year period I moved with my 40-pound adopted dog from France to Manhattan, then to Rwanda in Africa, to Kenya, back to France, then to Connecticut, back to New York (where I adopted 3 cats), and finally all of us flew to California! I even drove my sister and her Rottweiler mix to help her move from New York to Los Angeles in the middle of all that too! So what are some of the helpful traveling and moving tips I learned from all that trans-Atlantic and cross-country moving with pets?
Before you move…
1. Plan as far in advance as possible. Of course, it’s not always possible, but the more lead-time you have to get all your ducks (cats, dogs) in a row, the less stressful the move will be on you, and your pets. Pets definitely pick up on human stress!
2. Crate: Invest in a really good, roomy airline style crate and set it up in your home. Make that you pet’s bed and/or feeding area as far in advance as you can. Get them associating the crate with good things (feeding, sleeping). You don’t even have to lock them in it — you can tie the door open when you’re gone so they don’t accidentally shut themselves in it too. When you ship them, double check all fasteners and use backup like duct tape and zip ties on the doors and top/bottom too.
3. Paperwork: Call the airlines, your vet, the embassies to make sure you know what documentation your pet needs to enter the state/country or get on the plane. Even crossing state lines in a car often requires a health certificate and proof of rabies vaccination. Make copies of all the documents – AND A PHOTO of your pet – and leave them with a friend with a fax machine who will be available during your trip – just in case you lose the paperwork (or your pet!) and are stuck somewhere that you need them send to you urgently!
4. Microchip: Get your pet microchipped at least 2 weeks before you move. You want to make sure the chip company receives your registration. Call the chip company to double check they have all your information correctly entered (have them read it to you). Put someone who is not traveling with you as the alternate contact, like a 24 hour vet office, in case your pet is lost and you are in a plane/car and cannot be reached.
5. ID tags: make sure your pet has current ID tags with multiple phone numbers on them, not just yours. Have the pet wear the microchip ID tag as well your personal ID tag.
6. Vets: Research local 24 hour emergency vet clinics along your route (if you are driving) and at your destination. Put their phone numbers and addresses in your phone or your wallet, where you won’t have to scramble trying to find them if you pet is hurt or sick. (If you don’t have GPS, maps with the vet office locations are good too.)
7. Pack pets’ food, dishes, and other important belongings in boxes that will be easily accessible right away, and label them clearly!
8. Routine: Try to keep your and your pets routine as much as possible both before and after the move. Time changes can be tough, but pets know and find reassurance in their routines! Don’t move their litter boxes or food bowls as you pack.
9. Cats that go outside: The exception to the routine is if your cats go outside. Before you start packing, make sure you shut them inside – ideally 2-3 days before you move. Cats have that 6th sense about stress and moving, and the last thing you want is for Fluffy to disappear before you move! Keep them locked in an inside bedroom or bathroom, so if they dart out of that door before moving day, they are still contained in your home.
10. Exercise: Exercise is a great stress reliever. If you feel yourself getting stressed, you pets will most likely pick up on it too. Make sure not to forget the exercise part of your routine, and leading up to moving day and the morning of, engage in slightly longer than usual walks or play sessions.
11. Supplements: Many pets respond well to homeopathic remedies for relieving stress (Rescue Remedy), and cats will appreciate a Feliway plugin in their new home, and spray in the carrier. Catnip can also help a stressed out kitty relax… or get the kitty crazies and forget about being stressed! Dogs will appreciate a freshly-stuffed chew toy for chewing away their stress too.
12. Fleas. Even if you did not have fleas in your old home, you don’t know if there are fleas (from a prior occupant) in your new home – especially if there is any carpet. Unless your new home is all hard surface floors and every surface will be thoroughly cleaned many days before your pets move in, you may want to play it safe and treat for fleas.
This is going to be stressful for most pets no matter what you do. I’ve found that the easiest way for me to keep my cats and dogs safe and calm is to move everything out of one room, and then on moving day, lock them in that room with classical music in a boom box left on for them. Make sure to put a sign on that room’s door so movers don’t open it by mistake. If you do not have a room you can empty, and will need access to the bathroom, you will have to lock them in their crates. For cats, you need a crate big enough to have their litter pan, a place to lie down, and their food/water.They will not be happy for the time that it takes go get everything moved out of my house, but they will survive and not freak out and dash out a door. Even pets that normally do not door dash may try it on a moving day!
Some pets love car trips! But some – in my experience, most cats – it probably ranks at the top of their least favorite activities! Some cats do better when they can see out the car window. Either prop up their crate/carrier on a booster seat. Make sure the carrier is safely seatbelted in as well. If your cat pees in fright or they might, line the car with a shower curtain or two to protect your interior. Dogs should be secured in a dog seatbelt or harness for both of your safety.
You can try harness training cats in the weeks leading up to your move, and see if short rides in the car on a harness (with lots of shower curtains lining the car!) are less stressful. I’ve also seen cats be happier in a large dog crate in the back seat, with a hiding tent inside the crate, and their litterbox too. That is a great setup for longer car trips too.
There are many nationwide chains of hotels that accept pets. Check out Motel 6, Holiday Inn, La Quinta, and Comfort Inn. Call ahead to make reservations with your pets.
If you are moving within a 1 day drive of your new home, driving is the safer choice for moving with your pets. If you are moving farther and your pets are comfortable on car trips, it is still a safer option than flying — especially if you have more than 1 pet per person moving and cannot fly with your pet in the cabin with you. If flying is the only option, click here to read our article on flying safely with your pets.
Your New Home
If you can get your household items moved in BEFORE you move your pets, that is ideal. But if you are moving a longer distance, you may need to set your pets up in your new home’s bathroom or starter room again until everything is moved inside and you can lock the doors and open the crate and bathroom door to let them explore their new home – AFTER you’ve checked all screens are secure, and closets/under cabinets for pest bait that might have been left behind. Cats you may want to leave locked in the bathroom for a day or two, until they use the litter box in their new home. They may go into hiding right after a car trip, and be too scared in a new home to come out and use a litter box.
Let your pet set the pace that they get used to their new home. If your cat (or dog) is acting scared or just differently, give them the time they need to adjust. Their entire world has just changed! A few weeks to get used to a new home is not unreasonable, though some pets adapt much more quickly. Soon you’ll both be happily and safely settled in your new home!