Moving with cats
In my early days as a veterinary student, I lived the nomad way of temporary housing and moving on a budget with all animals in tow. Things were mostly fine; I would spend an hour corralling the angry cats into the carrier, dog in the back seat, geckos in the aquarium, and finches into their cage. Once “Noah’s Ark” was filled, I drove to the next cheap student housing option. My rental agreements were typically for a semester, so I lived as a minimalist. Textbooks, instant noodles, a garbage bag of clothing, and some pet food was all that I packed on moving day.
Once I arrived, every animal was unloaded and it was a free-for-all in their new home. The cats would sulk and disappear for days, the dog would pee all over the rug, and everyone else was huddled in their home looking shell-shocked.
Looking back, in my youth there may have been a few finer points that I missed. Moving a home is actually a big deal for a pet, and a bit of preparation and wisdom goes a long way. Now that I have gained more experience and have also helped many clients through the process of relocation, I have ccontemplated things for your next move.
Choosing a New Home and Neighborhood
Before you even set foot in a place to look at it, whether you are buying or renting, check that it accepts the type of pets you have or want to get. Some rentals or communities do not allow certain species. Be sure to read the fine print, as some leases or homeowners associations allow dogs, but restrict some breeds. (“But Berry is a really sweet three-headed, 200-lb dog!”) If you have any doubt, speak to someone employed there rather than just guess what the vague language means, and talk to someone at the homeowners association to see if there are plans to change any pet rules. Then go into places you want to see.
The hardwood is spotless, the cabinets are gleaming, the windows are filled with bright light; it is perfect!
Wait! Hold on a minute...
Before you choose your next home, stop and step into another’s shoes (or paws). Is the staircase manageable for your short-legged dachshund? Are there separate rooms for your kitty to find a quiet spot to escape? Is there easy backyard access for potty training your new puppy? Trust me, he will not hold his pee as you fumble out the deadbolted front door, down the concrete steps and around the back fence.
Have a stroll in the neighborhood and see if there are any potential red flags. Is there a forest down the street teeming with wildlife? I once lived down the street from a forest that seemed solely populated by skunks. After bathing and de-skunking my dog for the third time in a month, I began to seriously contemplate getting out of that neighborhood. Check for any aggressive dogs running loose nearby. Is there heavy traffic close enough that could endanger your cat’s free roaming spirit? It’s best to keep your cat indoors or accompanied closely outside when you initially relocate. It takes time for your cat to adjust to the new place and this will help minimize the chance of getting lost. All these factors play a role in how comfortable and safe your pet will be in the new home and surrounding area.
Health Check-Up, Vaccinations and Documentation
If your move isn’t nearby, the next step is to bring your pet to the veterinarian. A health check-up will ensure that your pet is well enough to safely make the trip. Travelling is stressful on animals (and humans!) so it is important to be in tip top shape.
If your pet is on medication, be sure to get an adequate refill to hold you over until things are settled. You don’t want to run out of anti-diarrhea medication for Fluffy while halfway through a 10-hour drive together. Take it from me, the smell doesn’t come out no matter how much Febreze you spray.
Vaccinations must be up to date when travelling with your pet, especially if you are moving interstate or internationally. First and foremost, this ensures their protection in the event of accidental escape or exposure to infected animals. Secondly, adequate vaccination status is often required by law and needed when a veterinarian fills out travel documents. The requirements vary based in different locations, so contact the state’s animal health veterinarian or the country’s consulate for a detailed list. Finally, export may require more in-depth and lengthy procedures. Certain countries require microchip identification, blood test, anti-parasitic treatment, a waiting period and even quarantine. Plan ahead for these requirements as some of them are time sensitive. Understand the basic timeline needed for interstate and international travel with pets.
Documentation needed varies from place to place. Each airline has its own rules. Some countries require just a health certificate and proof of vaccination whereas others want very detailed forms completed. Research your destination and contact the authorities again for full details. Pay attention to the fine print because even a small mistake may lead to costly delays, quarantine or barred admittance to your intended destination. If details are not your forte, hire a pet transport and moving company. They can handle much of the paperwork and advise on the exact timing of required veterinary visits. They can arrange transfers and work with airline companies on your behalf. If you are more of a DIY flyer, contact your airline directly to see what additional steps are necessary. Shipping is typically safe, but you need to be aware of a few extra things. This includes: kennel/carrier sizes, cargo temperature, medication and extra documentation. If you think that your pet may require a sedative for the journey, discuss the options with your veterinarian.
If you’re moving nearby, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation to a new animal hospital. Your pet’s records can be sent there directly. Finally, have your pet’s records printed out and keep them on hand with you for the trip.
The day has arrived! Everything is packed and the truck is ready to be loaded. Off we go!
Wait! Hold on a minute…
Let my student days be an example of how not to move your beloved pets. Before even grabbing your pet, let’s talk about some preparation. When you are packing up your home, keep things calm and not too stressful. Pets are very sensitive to environmental changes and will definitely notice that you moved their favorite cushion (and the whole darn couch)! Try to space out the packing gradually and keep the boxes organized so your pet still has room to move comfortably.
Next up, prepare an overnight bag that will be easily accessible. Load up food, necessary medication, litter, toys and familiar bedding so that these things can be located when arriving at the new home. This is one piece of luggage you do not want to misplace.
Have your pet secured in a carrier, kennel, cage or aquarium if possible. This is true even for a dog that never bolts or bird that never flies off your shoulder. In times of stress and excitement, even the most well-behaved pet may panic and escape.
Set up a quiet and contained area for your pet upon arrival. A new home is scary and unfamiliar terrain to your pets. Have familiar objects, food, water, litter and bedding placed in a low traffic room. Keep the door closed to create a calm space while you are busy unloading all your possessions. Keep walks and bathroom breaks on a regular schedule. Another option is to book your pet in a boarding facility for the duration of the move. Time at the doggy spa or kitty daycare may be more relaxing for your pet and ensure that they stay safe amidst all the hustle and bustle of moving day.
The sun is setting and you’ve all made it through the move in one piece. Sink onto the floor and enjoy your first dinner here; a box of pizza served with paper plates and paper towels. You probably won’t find which box contains your pillow (or toothbrush, for that matter) but it’s going to be just fine. Your pets are fed and sleeping soundly from all the excitement. As the saying goes: home is where the heart is. You and your furry friends are surrounded by warmth in this cozy new spot. There will be many happy memories together to cherish in the days to come.
October 8, 2018
October 8, 2018
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.