All our pets want in life is a comfy bed, good food and a solid routine. But nope, they're at the whim of our major life decisions, and sometimes that means moving. Whether you're transporting them across the city, country or even the world, a few simple steps can make the experience a little easier on them — and on yourself, too. Illustration by Fruzsina Kuhári.
Gather All the Necessary Documents
First things first, and that means paperwork and research. You don't exactly need paperwork if you're moving a few streets away with your cat. If you're crossing state lines or planning air travel, however, it's time to get your pet's records in order and figure out what kind of documents you need for travelling with them. If your pet is microchipped, you should have that info on hand so you can call the company or update your address online.
Next, you'll need to know what paperwork you need to transport your pet. If moving to another state, you may need a health certificate. Similarly, if you're flying, most airlines require that health certificate, too. Australia's Export Control Act 1982 requires that all live animals leaving the country have a health certificate and an export permit. Keep in mind: the certificate doesn't last forever, and is only valid for a short time after your vet signs it.
Most countries have a whole set of quarantine procedures for animals entering the country. Research the process for your destination so you're aware of the rules and know what to expect. PetTravel.com has a database of regulations for 240 countries here.
It's worth pointing out that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recommends you avoid flying with your pet if at all possible:
...do not transport your pet by aeroplane unless absolutely necessary. Air travel is particularly dangerous for animals with "pushed in" faces (the medical term is "brachycephalic"), such as bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats. Their short nasal passages leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke. Consider all the alternatives to flying. If you plan to bring your pet on vacation, driving is usually a better option.
If there's no way around it, call the airline before you book and check their requirements. Many of them limit the number of pets that can board. They might have other processes and procedures that aren't detailed on their website, too.
Make an Appointment With Your Veterinarian
If you're moving far away, it's time to make an appointment with your pet's current veterinarian. You'll need to take care of a few tasks:
- Obtain a health certificate, if necessary
- Ask your vet about motion sickness prevention or sedatives for your pet
- Refill any prescriptions
- Update your pet's vaccinations
- Ask your vet for your pet's medical records
While you're there, you can also ask the veterinarian if they can recommend a vet in your new area.
Stick to Your Pet's Routine
A lot of pets get stressed when their routine is disrupted, so it helps to introduce the move gradually. I've moved a couple of times with my nervous cats, and I start packing weeks in advance just to get them used to seeing the many boxes. It helps to feed and walk your pets around the same time every day, too. My cats generally don't mind being surrounded by boxes as long as I serve dinner on time.
If you have a cat that goes or stays outdoors, though, you might want to keep him or her inside while you're packing and moving boxes around. Some cats get nervous and won't come back inside.
Jacque Lynn Schultz, director of special projects for ASPCA Animal Sciences, tells Petfinder that it helps to get pets used to their carriers during this time, too.
If your cat's only exposure to a carrier was when she came home from the shelter, now's the time to leave it where she can examine it daily. Place your cat's favourite blanket or toy in the carrier, and praise her when she goes inside. "Set the carrier up well in advance, so your cat will get used to going in there and hiding out," says Schultz. "This way, when she feels stressed, she'll hide in the carrier instead of in a suitcase."
Similarly, if your dog is only used to car rides when it's time to go to the vet, you want to get him or her used to it before you move. Start with short trips and associate something positive with the trip to help ease your dog's anxiety.
Make Moving Day Less Disruptive
Some pets handle change better than others. If yours tends to freak out, boarding them with your vet might be a better option. If that's not possible, keep them in a safe, enclosed area on moving day.
Petfinder suggests keeping cats and other small animals in hard-sided carriers, and dogs should be in one room or the backyard. Once you're in the car, pay attention to how your pets react.
Arnold Plotnick, D.V.M., vice president of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, recommends covering the carrier with a sheet or light blanket for the first few hours of the trip. "Cats get a little freaked out when they see the world moving by," he says. After a few hours, they should relax, and then you can remove the sheet...Only after everything is out of the house should you retrieve your animal and place him in the car or moving truck
For road trips, it helps to bring along a pet bag that includes:
- Your pet's favourite food
- Disposable litter boxes
- A first aid kit
- Towels in case of accidents
When I travelled with my cat years ago, I also tossed one of my old t-shirts in her carrier, too. According to my vet, the familiar smell keeps them calm.
If you're staying overnight during your drive, make sure to find a pet-friendly hotel. Even if you book online and think you're all set, call the hotel in advance to confirm it is indeed OK to bring your pet. Watch out for pets once you settle into the room, too: they may bolt for the door in an escape attempt.
Flying is a tough one. Flights aren't comfortable for humans, let alone pets. We've all heard the horror stories of pets in the cargo area, where temperatures are often extreme and ventilation isn't good. Again, the HSUS strongly urges against flying with pets, especially in the cargo area, but they offer a number of tips if you must. A few of the most important ones:
- Use direct flights. You will avoid the mistakes that occur during airline transfers and possible delays in getting your pet off the plane.
- Always travel on the same flight as your pet. Ask the airline if you can watch your pet being loaded into the cargo hold and unloaded.
- Don't ever ship brachycephalic animals such as Pekingese dogs, bulldogs or Persian cats in the cargo holds.
- If travelling during the summer or winter months, choose flights that will accommodate the temperature extremes. Early morning or late evening flights are better in the summer; afternoon flights are better in the winter.
- Fit your pet with a collar that can't get caught in carrier doors. Affix two pieces of identification on the collar: a permanent ID with your name and home address and telephone number, and a temporary travel ID with the address and telephone number where you or a contact person can be reached.
- Try not to fly with your pet during busy travel times such as holidays and the summer. Your pet is more likely to undergo rough handling during hectic travel periods.
Make sure to properly label your carrier with contact information in case your pet is lost, too.
Pet transportation services are another option. They do all of the work and planning for you, but your pet will be in the hands of a stranger, so you'll have to weigh the pros and cons and make that decision yourself.
Familiarise Your Pet With Your New Home
Before moving, make sure your new home is pet-friendly. Look for any possible toxic plants outside, for example. Once, I moved into a new place and kept losing my cat only to find her outside. I kept thinking I accidentally left the door open until I found a secret hole in the kitchen that led to the bottom of the house.
Ease your pet into the new home by making it a little more familiar. Put their familiar objects — bowls, litter boxes, scratching posts — in the areas they're used to. For example, if their bowls were in the kitchen in the old place, keep the bowls in the kitchen in the new place. If their litter box was in the bathroom, keep it in the bathroom in the new place.
It also helps to keep a "sanctuary room" for pets, as CatBehaviorAssociates.com suggests.
Keep the litter box set up in the sanctuary room so your cat will always have a safe place to return to if he isn't comfortable venturing too far out of his comfort zone. If you don't plan on keeping the box in the sanctuary room located there permanently, wait until he's totally comfortable with the other box location(s) and then you can gradually move that box a few feet a day toward the new box location. You just don't want to shock him by having the box disappear suddenly.
It's important to stick to their schedule once you move, too. This helps reduce some of their stress. Everything looks different and they have no idea what's going on, but at least they know they're getting fed at the same time everyday.
Petfinder suggests keeping your own stress in check, too:
"Let your animal's behaviour be your guide," Schultz recommends. "To that end, it's important for you to be as calm as possible. A lot of the stress that your animal feels comes from you. If you're falling apart, your animal's reaction is going to reflect that. If you have a relatively calm demeanour, that's going to brush off on the animals, too
Finally, if you're changing phone numbers, don't forget to update your pet's ID collar when you move, too. It's kind of a given, but when we're caught up in the massive to-do list that comes with moving, it's easy to overlook the obvious.
A big move can be tricky with pets. There's already so much you have to plan, it's tough to fit their needs into the mix, too. With a little preparation, you can ease them into the process and make the move as stress-free as possible.