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Fido and Tabby's Big Day: Moving with Pets

by Mary Leigh Howell

Nervous about the big move? Other family members may be feeling more anxious than you do.

"Most pets make it through the transition just fine, with no problems," says Dr. Anne Mitchell, veterinarian. "But for those that need a little help, especially cats, there are some simple things you can do to keep animals calm and happy."

Packing Up and Moving In

Boxing up household items is a chore for most people, but for animals, it's much more than that.

"When rooms get taken apart, the animal's routine is being disturbed," says Mitchell. "And they are creatures of habit."

To help them feel more secure, leave one room in the house undisturbed throughout the packing process, and make it a safe haven. Your cat or dog will feel more comfortable hanging out in an area that isn't being rearranged. Leave toys, beds and litter box handy. Once other rooms are all boxed up, pack the "safe haven" room last.

When you've arrived at your destination, repeat the process in reverse. Immediately set up a room where your pet can rest away from the commotion while the remainder of the house is unpacked and arranged.

Bad Behavior?

"Cats are more likely than dogs to have problems with moving," says Mitchell. “They may have inappropriate elimination (urination) in several areas of the new house or be prone to running away.”

If inappropriate elimination becomes a problem, Mitchell recommends buying a cat pheromone.  These come in diffuser or spray form, much like an air freshener, but the odor it emits can only be detected by cats. The synthetic pheromone indicates to the cat that its new territory is safe and secure.

Getting Used to Home

The transition to a new neighborhood for dogs and indoor cats usually goes smoothly. For outdoor cats, however, it's a different game.

“Because of their tendency to run away, outdoor cats should be kept indoors for at least a couple of weeks,” says Mitchell. “They need to get a good understanding of where their new home is.”

After a couple of weeks have passed, owners should venture outside with their cats, preferably keeping them on a leash. “Take several short jaunts,” advises Mitchell, “for a few days up to one week before you let them out on their own.”

Flying Cats and Dogs?

Moving long distances, like coast-to-coast, may require that your pet travel via airplane.

Before you book your flight, do your homework. Each airline has its own policies about when, where and how pets travel, including ticket prices, kennel guidelines and accepted breeds.

Most airlines mandate that pets have a veterinarian's signed health certificate stating that the animal is healthy and can survive a flight. The airline will also require your pet to be up-to-date on its rabies vaccination. Check with the airline about the time frame on health certification. Usually, an exam must take place within 10 days of the flight. 

Conditions for pet travel vary. Some airlines fly pets as cargo, while others fly them as checked baggage.  Weather also plays a role. In extreme heat or cold, the airline may not allow your pet to be loaded into cargo or luggage compartments at all. Some airlines only allow smaller pets that can fly in-cabin.

If you won't be traveling on the same flight as your pet, you need to make special arrangements. “If your pets fly after you,” says Mitchell, “plan to have a good friend or even a pet flying service accompany your pets to the airport and make sure they're checked in properly.” When your pets arrive at the destination, be sure you're there to pick them up.

If you're concerned about having your pets fly, especially if it's the first flight, consult with your veterinarian for ways to help them remain calm during the trip.

Bon voyage, Fido! 

Mary Leigh Howell specializes in communications for the home, furnishings and garden industries.