Moving Your Cat to a New Home

Even on the short ride to the vet, your cat most likely gives you an operatic performance worthy of Andrea Bocelli as she cries to go home. Now imagine driving to a new residence in another city, state, or across the country. Cats are so physically and emotionally fragile. How can you move your cat to your new home with minimal distress for both of you?

It starts with a lot of preparation: discovering your options for travel, finding out state and travel requirements, perhaps buying some necessities, and making reservations if necessary.

Then the first step will be a vet checkup, updated shots and a microchip at least two weeks before leaving, so she has time to recover from vaccination effects. Have her nails trimmed in case she clutches you in panic during the journey. Medications may be recommended for motion sickness and travel anxiety. You may want to get a calming collar for her. 

Obtain the required certifications and a complete copy of her records for your new vet. You will need to keep these with you during the trip in case they are required for an emergency or for a spot check by the state patrol. Also bring photos of your cat in case you need to prove that she is yours, or if she becomes lost. 

Your new state may require a health certificate from your vet. Check the USDA website and your new state’s department of health to learn what forms are needed, or what is required if you choose to fly or take a train to your new destination. Also check the ASPCA’s traveling recommendations.

Make sure she is wearing a collar, a tag with your name and phone number, her rabies tag and a harness and leash when you have to take her out of the carrier. Most cats won’t walk with a leash, but you will still have positive control if you have to carry or hold her. Another useful item is a cat stroller for those times when all of you want to stretch your legs at the rest stop. She can move around in the safety of the enclosed, screened stroller.

Always keep your cat in her carrier while driving. The carrier provides safety and makes her feel protected as well. For a very long move, invest in one that is big enough to include a small litter box and feeder, with room to move around. Let your cat get used to it in the house for at least a couple of weeks, with her own bedding and toys inside. 

It’s a good rule of thumb not to give her any food two hours before it’s time to get on the road. While in the carrier, dry food will be less nauseating and messy, and ice will slowly melt, providing some water without sloshing. 

On the road, keep the radio turned down, or play soothing music. Keep the temperature comfortable. Remove smelly air fresheners. Use a little cat calming pheromone spray. Drive calmly. Put a sheet over the carrier to block direct hot sun in the afternoons, or get window film. Also keep extra food, litter, pet-safe wipes or spray cleaner, trash bags and a change of bedding handy in the car to freshen up her carrier if she does become sick.

Never leave your cat alone in the car for any reason, but especially because a car acts as a greenhouse to intensify the sun’s heat, yet also can be like a refrigerator in cold weather. 

If you’ll be staying at places for the night, take a look at online hotel booking companies or to find out where cats are welcomed and reserve a place in advance to ensure that you will have a place to stay. Once settled in for the night, you can open the carrier in the room and let your cat wander, as long as you are there to assure her and keep her out of trouble. 

Will you two be flying to your new home? Check with the airlines and the USDA website to see what requirements they may have. Try to find an airline with a pet travel coordinator who already knows the airline’s specifications and can advocate for you to get a cabin under-seat arrangement if possible. Or if your cat must go in the cargo hold, make absolutely sure that it is temperature-regulated. Unregulated cargo holds can drop below freezing at high altitudes.

Also book a non-stop flight to avoid the stress of on-and off-boarding, and lessen the possibility that she ends up in Albuquerque, while you’ve arrived in Pittsburgh.

The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association suggests that if your airline doesn’t have a pet travel coordinator, you may want to ask your vet for recommendations for a reputable independent pet transport service where you might hire a coordinator, or arrange for separate ground travel for your pet. 

The ASPCA recommends name tags and/or writing inside and outside of the carrier with your name and cell phone number, and big bold letters outside on several sides that say ‘LIVE ANIMAL.’ Tape an extra bag of food to the crate for handlers to give to your pet if there is a long wait for any reason. Also, they stress the importance of telling every airline employee you talk to that you have a cat boarding, so they will be aware that you have special needs if there is a delay. Insist on having someone check on your cat often. 

If you choose a train, Amtrak allows pets to stay with you on excursions up to seven hours long, for a very small fee. The Atlanta Crescent line travels as far as New Orleans or New York City. 

Another consideration, especially with more than one cat, would be to rent a van or camper for the trip, and book stays at campgrounds. This may be ideal because your pet will only need to get used to one new environment instead of several. You can have your car shipped, sometimes with the same furniture moving company. 

You know your fur-baby better than anyone else. If you are anticipating a long move, start now to investigate your options, so you can both enjoy your new home together.

Heron’s Crossing provides end-of-life care for pets in the Metro Atlanta area. In-home appointments with compassionate vets are available. If you’d prefer a home-like setting away from your home, our Decatur office is also available by appointment.