How can I help my cat settle in after our move?

July 27 |
ava yarn ball1'
Maybe a classic yarn ball would do the trick? Thanks to Hillary for uploading this pic of Ava to our Flickr pool!
My fiance and I have moved to a new apartment with our two cats. It is a basement suite and we are the only two people living here (as apposed to our previous living situation). While one of our cats seems to have taken to it nicely, quickly finding his "spots" and settling in, the younger of the two, Tony, does not seem to be doing as well. He spends much of the day crying and meowing at the front door, even when there are people home. And when we try to cuddle/love him to make him feel better he will violently scratch us and run away. Although it was to be expected when we first moved, it is really starting to worry us.

Does anyone have any advice or suggestions to helping pets relax after a move, specifically when there are large changes to the amount of people around? Has anyone else found something similar after moving their pets? Thanks in advance for your help! -Debbie

Ariel is cat-less and my cat is so neurotic that I am not confident at all in my cat parenting. So, cat-loving, feline-knowledgable Homies — whatchu got as far as advice for Debbie and Tony?

  1. OMG toys everywhere. Our cat, Remus, had one very favorite fuzzy mousey toy, so to make it easier we bought a 12-pack of them and made sure he always had a few. Spoiling kitties is fun. We also left some empty boxes out for him to hide in if he felt overwhelmed. We also just spend a lot of time with him, give him catnip so he can be playful and distracted then just chilled out, and maybe keep familiar items out for him. Is there a shirt he always burrowed into that you can keep in a hidey spot for him? Sometimes cats don't adjust the way we want them to and they stay kind of weird from that point on, but he likely will adjust.

    5 agree
    • I should note that our cat was being bullied HEAVILY by my mother-in-law's cat for almost a year, so when he was with us in our last apartment it was a BIG change and he always looked behind him wherever he went, so our move to a new apartment is a tiny change in comparison.

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  2. Hi! I have lots of catnerd things to say, but two questions: how old is Tony and was he a rescue cat?

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    • Whatever his background, cats love familiarity — but shelter cats especially. They might have anxiety about where their food will come from next, what new cats will do to them, what new people will do to them — even years later.

      Give Tony lots of places to hide — encourage him to use "good" places to destress by petting or playing with him in them.

      When he's crying, talk to him gently. Walk over, see what the front door is about. Dude is probably completely confused — he may think you're old house is on the other side somewhere! Regardless, he's trying to say WHAT THE FUCK, lady. You've gotta investigate this.

      While you're there, try gently petting. Or distract him with a treat or a toy. Communicate to him that he is safe and you're calm, and eventually that will help.

      Lay off hardcore petting until he starts feeling better. Some cats get overstimulated easily by petting — and especially so if they're otherwise stressed.

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      • Thanks Cat!
        To answer your questions, Tony is just over a year old and is a street rescue (he was the runt of his litter and never made it to the SPCA). What you suggest is super helpful and I will totally try these things out.

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        • hi we moved in about 5 days ago,our cat has turned into a vampire,sleeping all day and going nuts at night,he is a rescue as well,im hoping he will be ok but when i pet him he gets over friendly and seems to want to mount my arm,any advice would be great?

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  3. There are some pheromone-based sprays that you can spray around that are supposed to help de-stress an uptight cat (especially if it's something like a new animal or place that is stressing them out). ComfortZone comes to mind, but I think our local petstore had a couple different possibilities. Good luck…. our cats adjusted really well to the new house after a couple weeks, and the new dogs after only a day or so, but we just got kittens and they're not doing so well. I really hope it works out, for us and for you. :)

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    • When we adopted our cat Mookie this winter we had some adjustment issues. After a rough first week I went out and bought the plug in room diffuser ComfortZone, which I had read about on the interwebs and in cat books.
      We def noticed a change in the Mookie. I think it was part him getting more comfortable over time and partially the Comfort Zone.
      He seemed just less freaked out and he stopped occasionally "spraying"

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    • I agree with ComfortZone… I have a neurotic cat who was grooming herself bald, and she now has her hair back. The stuff works wonders. :)

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    • We used the Feliway diffuser that you plug in – also a pheromone product – to relax our big cat when our new kitten was pissing him off. It worked beautifully.

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      • I second the pheromone plug ins. I wasn't sure if they were legit or a bunch of nonsense but I think they definitely helped calm my cat when I moved in with my now husband and his toddler. I also got the "Composure" cat treats which seemed to help a bit.

        My cat's an old pro at moving by now but I find it really helps to take steps to minimize the amount of moving chaos they're exposed to. I confine the cat to one room at the old place while moving is taking place, get everything arranged as possible at the new place, and move the cat last. This way they are less likely to slip out a door when someone's moving a bed and get lost and they also have familiar stuff set up when they get to the new place. It can also help to let them loose in the new place in one room and gradually let them explore more of it as they get comfortable.

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  4. Is he eating and using the litter box ok?

    maybe try getting down at cat level and see what is so interesting about the door, a strange draft, smell, noise from another animal?

    you said you just moved into a basement apartment, does he have access to windows to be able to look out of? maybe try building/buying some cat climbing platforms so he can still enjoy seeing as much of the outdoors as before.

    my other advice would be to try to keep as much of the surroundings the same if possible (same furniture, use the same scents for airfresher/cleaning stuff)

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    • Your last point makes a lot of sense, though our issue when we moved was that we didn`t actually own any furniture (I was a residence student and my fiance had been using borrowed and roommate furniture). A lot of our furniture came from freecycle and estate sales, so it smelt like everyone in the universe that was not us… that probably made a difference.

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      • ah,
        we think that moving with the same furniture was the thing that helped out cats settle so quickly when we last moved house.
        Maybe you can try to get the furniture smelling like you as quickly as possible by putting on worn tshirt as a cushion cover for a while (you can remove it before guests come visit)

        I would probably suggest against rubbing your own crotch against the table legs tho!

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        • I find at least letting kitty out of the crate onto something familiar (even if it's just a blanket) is helpful.

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  5. How long has it been since your move? One of our two cats always takes a week or two to return to normal after a move. She usually finds a super-quiet place to hide (under a bed, couch or dresser, in a cabinet, etc), only coming out to eat and yowl at night. She also acts as if she's never seen our other cat before, growling, hissing and scratching at her – and we've had them together for 6 years! I've found that just leaving her alone and making sure her favorite toys & blanket are available in a quiet spot is best, and she comes around. Eventually, she'll come out of hiding to jump on someone's lap and everything will be back to normal. I think she just needs time to get to know her new environment on her own terms to realize that things haven't changed all that much. Good luck!!

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    • My cats are like this too. When we moved to our house, each of them hid in different rooms for awhile, and slowly, cautiously ventured out walking close to the walls so nothing could sneak up on them. They were both on edge for awhile, but they realized after a time that hey, this is the same couch I've been scratching my whole life; this is the same bed I'm used to sleeping in; this is my litter box; etc.

      To Debbie: It may take time for Tony to realize all of this. Try to keep things as familiar as you can. Is there a blanket he liked to burrow in that you can leave out? You mention a change in the amount of people he lives with (more? less?). If there are more people around, let them know to not approach Tony and to try to respect his space. If it's fewer, give him non-tactile attention, like talking to him while you're looking at him, putting your hand out for petting and allowing him to approach if he would like (maybe at a distance of a few feet so he doesn't feel 'approached'). I'm sure he'll come around, it just may take time.

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    • Becky: It has been several months since we moved in, but I`ve also been bad for moving his toys around when I`m cleaning…. I will try leaving them out and around and see if that helps, thanks.

      Amy: The major change is that we have gone down from six people plus constant guest traffic to just the two of us and the cats (with less guest traffic). Thanks for your idea of non-tactile attention, I will try that one out.

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  6. When we first adopted our second kitty, Carrera, she was incredibly skittish/stressed (come to find out, her previous owners were not taking care of her at all). Placing her necessary items (litter box, food and water) in a place she could easily access it helped a lot. Also, we used small treats to help coax her out from her hiding spot under the couch (for a month, we had a couch that purrs, lol).

    Try toys as well, plenty of them. A stuffed mousey and feather toy placed just outside of her hiding spot kept my cat intrigued enough to brave my apartment.

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  7. It sounds like you may have lived with other people previously. If you're able, try a little trickery; bring in some clothes or items that smell like the people you used to stay with. And for added trickery, rub your cat down with something that has zero smell, like socks washed and dried without dryer sheets or fabric softener. Scatter the socks about the apartment for a few weeks. It's a little unsightly, but the more your new place smells like your cat, the more he'll realize he's on his own turf.
    From this behavior, I kind of wonder if there are strange cat or dog smells in the apartment. If your carpet wasn't cleaned before you moved in, you might scrub the floors or rent/borrow a carpet cleaner. THEN scatter the cat-smell socks and see if you don't have an improvement in mood.

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  8. I'm actually going through this EXACT same thing.
    I moved from a full house with three people, two dogs and lots of room to 362 sq. feet, and brought my cat Luna. I found that the Comfort Zone is helping tremendously, and I also went to the local consignment shop to purchase a radio that I leave on all day at a low volume (to help her feel like there's activity). Lots of playtime, especially before bed, and don't introduce anything new (like new food, etc) until a few weeks from now. I'm hoping that this will help!

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  9. When I used to bring my cat with me when travelling (2 weeks at my Mum's house was too long to be without my kitty!), she liked to have her own room. My bedroom was "her" room. It was a small space, her food, water and litter were all there, she could hide under the bed, my stuff was in there so it smelled like me quickly. Cats need familiar hidey holes and smaller spaces sometimes when first adjusting. So Tony may need a smaller space while he adjusts to the new environment. Also, having a safe "cave" can help. It could be a box on its side, could be under the bed or a couch, could be a cat tent or cat house that has a hidey hole. But either covered or a high perch tend to be a cat way to stay safe and superior. Once he realizes the place is HIS it will help. I agree with trying to get some items from previous roommates, especially if he really bonded with one of them. He may very well want to know where his friends are and be worried about them or think they've abandoned him.

    1 agrees
    • That sounds really great. I recently received a gift that came in a large gift bag with lots of tissue paper (Tony`s favourite). I have that on its side in our living room, and he has been using it as a cubby hole, playing with and snuggling up in the paper… I totally suggest cubby holes to anyone else who may be having this issue.

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  10. All these are great suggestions, I haven't used the cat pheremone mentioned but I have had good success with Bach's rescue remedy..might help kitty calm enough to process everything else

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  11. i've moved my kitties a couple of times and while the process is never fun for them they've always adjusted quickly… except this last time. i moved them back to arizona from california via a 2 day car trip and into a house with a dog. my one kitty (BK) had some stress related UTI issues the first month and her sister (LK) had her own issues the first week. LK would cry all. night. long. looking for attention and just being utterly bewildered and confused (they are both senior cats). but i was able to help her adjust with 2 things and maybe these will help you. 1) i got her a couple of toys to play with at night. these didnt help entirely but i did hear her bat them around a few times and the crying lessened. 2) and this one really worked – i set up furniture infront of the bedroom window so that she could get up to it and look out. almost overnight she stopped crying. neither of them, it turned out, was really interested in the window itself, but they felt much more confident being up in a high place where they could look out and over the room and through the doorway. it gave them a sense of dominion over the room. i've since moved that peice of furniture out of the room (6 months later) and they don't seem to miss it).

    i also watch "My Cat From Hell" which is like the cat version of Dog Whisperer and almost always without fail the dude recommends play time and access to high places to ease a cat's anxiety.

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  12. These are all great suggestions. We're about to move, so I'll be sure to bookmark this post!

    If he's sitting by the front door, I recommend sitting on the floor next to him. Our cats have strange spots where they like to hang out and meow until we show up. When we sit on the floor next to them, they start rubbing against us, purring, etc. as though they're really grateful we came to visit them. It's cute and maybe it would work for you?

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  13. We are also moving, I made Poe a pillow out of an old coat and filled it with plastic bags and cat nip about a month ago. I have more toys I made him from halloween dishrags and catnip (also filled with grocery bags…lol) and I have been scattering them all over. I also leave some material he likes around for him. When we move he will be the last thing going into the new house with our old furniture and all his toys and I will seriously consider ComfirtZone

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  14. ok, so your cat's territory was just changed. and if the furniture and the people changed- he is in a completely different world… so.

    first, always start out small. let him be in one room, get adjusted to that room.. then open the door, let him venture out at his own pace and explore this new world.. this is just like if you were somehow transported to a different planet- different smells, different food, everything completely different then the world you knew… you would want to start somewhere small, like a house, and venture out from thee. also give him lots of places to hide. preferably, places that are high. cats like high places because they feel like what they see is their territory.. if they see more, they have more control over their territory.

    second, definitely try the hormone spray things. ive used felliway in the past for anxiety and it does work nicely.. they are a little expensive, but worth it!

    then third, cats love smells they know. so, use your own smells to get the cat used to things. he doesnt know where the couch came from? put a shirt you slept in there for a few days to help him warm up to it… my boyfriend loves to leave his clothes around on the floor (yay…), and my cats will sleep there before anywhere else. they like your smells, your their mom!

    then fourth, make everything you can be positive for him. playtime is positive, getting on the couch is positive, mealtime is positive, ect.. and use treats! dont underestimate the power of treats.

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    • oh and also- you have two cats- so their respective territories have changed as well.. multiple cat households will still each have territories, even if they are very subtle to us. so he might not understand where is own territory is.. so, i would definitely try to confine him to a room for a little while, with the hormone sprays, love him a lot, and let him just get used to *that* room… then let him venture out.

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  15. Maybe some new toys, or catnip to distract him. Try arranging the furniture in a similar way. You're supposed to comfort the cat, but since yours isn't responding well to being pet, try just sitting next to him more. When we moved, my cat developed a bathroom stalking habit, crying and scratching at the door.

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  16. Great timing! We just moved our cats cross country with us earlier this week (not the best car ride ever). Our furniture isn't even here yet, so we are lacking familiar things for our kitties. This is what we have done:

    1. Create a safe space that they can stay in as long as they want to. For us, this is our bedroom. We have their little cat house in there, plus an extra litter box and food. We have set up their litter and food in the kitchen where it will be permanently, but for now, they don't have to leave the bedroom if they don't want to. That's where we usually are, so that's where they want to be.

    2. We have as many things around that smell like us as possible. We purposely brought some unwashed blankets with us that we all use a lot (people and kitties). Also, when we aren't home, I make sure to leave out a worn t-shirt or something similar so they still have my scent nearby.

    3. Active play. We play with them A LOT. Playing seems to destress everyone. It helped when introducing a new kitty, and it is helping here.

    I will also attest to the ComfortZone plugins. We haven't used them here, but they did cure our stress urinator problem last year with our senior cat. They can get pricey at the store, but hint: they are like half price on Amazon – plus Prime eligible!

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  17. There are a lot of great suggestions here! Another one that I have is Composure treats. These are available through your vet, they have lots of great ingredients and are all natural- no drugs, just great things like colostrum to help calm kitty's nerves; they make the same chews for dogs to help with thunderstorms and other anxiety issues. The good news is you can use them regularly (daily) at a low dose for animals that are anxious in general, or give them a higher dose for stressful events (parties, thunderstorms, fireworks.)

    Also, if kitty continues this abnormal behavior, you may consider having a check up with your vet to make sure there is nothing else going on medically that could have been triggered by the stress of moving (i.e. urinary tract infection, etc.)

    Good luck!

    1 agrees
  18. He needs structures he can climb on so he can observe things from safe spaces. Giving cats vertical space increases their living space, which is really important and can decrease stress — especially if they can look out windows or see interesting stuff. Our cats have a cat tree that allows them to jump onto taller bookshelves; they can peer out windows; and they have access to leaping onto our kitchen cabinets if so inclined. Cats think vertically so giving them access to high spaces is good for them psychologically as well as logistically giving them more space.

    You might look into this product from Amazon, which is a cat tree you can attach to a door: http://www.amazon.com/SmartCat-3826-Multi-Level-Cat-Climber/dp/B001362AFS/ It has been very successful with friends' of mine's cats, who can now climb up it, scratch, and get onto the tops of bookshelves they could never before access. It has calmed them down a ton and made them more playful. We use a tall cat tree for the same effect.

    If it continues, talk to your vet. Honestly, talking to them now isn't a bad thing. They might suggest Feliway or another product, or they might check him and realize something chemically is up with him!

    I volunteer at a cat shelter, so I know change can be very stressful on animals. You need to give them as much love, attention, and stimulus as possible to help them adjust.

    1 agrees
  19. My cat was a shelter cat. My computer went everywhere with me so her thing was to always lie on the computer bag when I wasn't using it. When I wasn't around, she'd lie on my bed. When I moved across the country or visited my parents, she'd still lie on my computer bag or my bed. It almost certainly made a difference that she was very attached to me so I was her comfort zone. After a trip to the vet, she was all over me!
    She wasn't playful, but she loved to stare out the window, so I always made sure she could.

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  20. Whenever I've moved cats before, either to a new apartment or taking them home from my mom's place, I leave their carrier open with an unwashed towel or blankie from their previous home until they feel comfortable. With the two cats I've had one who hung out in the carrier for a week and one who was cool from the get go.

    Having lots of toys and giving them space to explore on their own terms works too. Give them attention and talk to them soothingly when they want attention and space when they want it.

    And I agree with using the same air fresheners too. New smells are always the strangest part of moving, even for humans.

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  21. I'm so glad you used the pic of Ava! I love that kitty…

    We gave her mama plenty of space, a quiet area to feel safe in and a nearby litter box and food/water. The best thing for new kitties is space, quiet and time.

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