By: Erica Sweeney
Moving involves so many tasks: planning, packing, hiring movers, enlisting emotional and physical help, and lots more. Moving with pets can add even more to your to-do list.
When we moved a couple of years ago, I never really considered how our two Lab mixes, Coco and Cookie, would handle it. That was a big mistake. I looked up a few tips online and tried my best to put them into practice. But, for the first few days in the new house, my dogs were stressed and anxious, got into fights with each other and barked all the time—all unusual behavior.
After a couple of weeks, they started to adjust, and their anxiety subsided. But it got me wondering what I could have done to make this move less traumatic for them.
To help keep your animals calm and safe when moving to a new place, we’ve highlighted some top mistakes pet owners make in the process. Here are some moves that experts say pet owners should avoid if they want a smooth transition.
1. Keeping pets around on moving day
Moving day will probably be chaotic, so boarding pets, or having them stay elsewhere for the day or overnight, is a good idea, says Nicole Ellis, a pet expert and certified professional dog trainer with the online pet sitter and dog walker network Rover.
Cats can be confined to a specific room in the old or new place to keep them away from the activity, says Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior expert at Rover. She suggests placing a sign on the closed door that reads, “Cat Inside: Please Do Not Open Door,” to prevent escapes.
We boarded our dogs for a few days during our move, which gave us time to start unpacking and get their things set up before bringing them home. Knowing they were safe and out of the way made the move less stressful.
2. Washing pets’ things before the move
Familiar smells ease pets’ anxiety, Ellis and Delgado say. It may seem like a good idea to wash your pets’ belongings or buy them new things before a move for a fresh start, but don’t.
Beds, blankets, toys, litter boxes, and food and water bowls bring the scent of the old home into the new one, and this substantially reduces pets’ stress and helps them adjust, they say.
Delgado also suggests not packing pets’ items until the last minute, so they’ll feel at home while you’re preparing to move.
3. Not keeping an eye on them in their new environment
Once you’ve moved, Ellis recommends watching your pets closely as they explore their new place—and checking (inside and outside) for possible escape routes. For instance, even if your new house has a fence, “Dogs can jump higher than we are often aware, so keeping them company outside is always safest,” she says.
She also suggests walking them around the neighborhood one step at a time to ease them into new sights and sounds, which can be overwhelming.
Another tip: Introduce yourself and your pet to neighbors. Give your number to neighbors and explain that your pets are still adjusting to a new place, so if they’re barking too much, neighbors can politely tell you.
4. Changing their setup too much
For cats, “Home turf is everything,” Delgado says. Cats are territorial and feel safest in familiar spaces; moving can cause unusual behavior, such as hiding, fearfulness, and being more vocal. Setting up a “safe room” with your cats’ necessary and favorite things for the first few hours, days, or even weeks helps them adjust.
Once cats get comfortable and are acting like their normal selves, they can be free to explore the rest of the house, Delgado says.
Ellis recommends arranging beds, crates, and toys as close to the old setup as possible. Giving dogs a sense of familiarity with where their stuff is located makes them feel more at home.
This is a tip I found online that seemed to work for us. We placed our dogs’ beds next to the couch in the living room of the new home, similar to where they had been in the old home, and put their water bowl in a similar spot in the kitchen. I also didn’t wash their favorite blankets and bedcovers before we moved, even though it was tempting.
5. Changing your pets’ routine
Routines are important for both dogs and cats, so sticking to regular feeding schedules, walk times, play activities, and other familiar tasks creates stability.
“They really rely on their favorite blankets, beds, and scratching posts to feel safe, and routine is very important to cats,” Delgado says.
Our dogs love their routine. They wake up at 6 a.m. every morning, ready to go outside to use the bathroom and then have breakfast. We kept up this schedule in the new house.
The bottom line is that settling pets into a new place will take time. How much depends on the individual animal, the pet experts say. Ellis urges pet parents to have medical records, microchip numbers, and current photos on hand, in case a pet gets lost.
Pets may show signs of stress and anxiety for several days, but there should be signs of improvement, Delgado says. If not, or if pets aren’t eating, call the vet.