The Great Migration: 7 Essential Tips for Moving with Pets

Moving takes a lot of time and advanced planning. And moving with pets, whether cats, dogs or both, adds even more details to consider. In the hustle and bustle of packing up the house, arranging the truck, and the actual move itself, it can be easy to overlook a few simple steps that will help your pet move with minimal stress. So if you are organizing your next migration with your pet, keep reading.

Preparing for the move

As with most activities with pets, planning is key. The first question to ask is does your pet ride in the car well? If you are just moving across the block, the answer might not matter as much. However, if you are traveling further, the first step to reducing the stress of a move, is making sure your pet arrives at their new home as relaxed as possible.

Step 1: Consider whether or not your pet will benefit from anti-anxiety medications

Talk to your veterinarian well ahead of move day to discuss whether any medication will be needed to help with relaxation. Many medications will require a trial dose to make sure that things will go smoothly on the day of the move. Better to have a medication reaction when you are safely at home with access to your regular veterinarian/emergency clinic. Also, try out a few short car rides and familiarize your pet with the car/carrier. With a little time and positive reinforcement cats can learn to love their carriers. And dogs can learn to love the car.

Step 2: Have a Plan

Have a plan for when your pet is moving. Are you bringing them with on the same day that you are moving all of the other household items? Or can you move the house first and have a room already set up and waiting with your pet’s familiar items?

If your dog or cat is going to be present on the main moving day, make sure you have a secure space for your pet to be during the move. I recommend using a bedroom (or a bathroom that won’t be used) as a quiet space on the day of the move. The furniture for that room can be left outside of the room until after everything else is moved in. Provide food and water (and a litterbox if you have a cat) inside that room.

The reason for using a room like this is two-fold: One it keeps your pet from having the opportunity to dart out a door as people are carrying items in. It can be hard to block a dog or cat when your arms are full of boxes. Two, pets (especially cats) do best with a move if they can adjust to one new space at a time. If they have the whole house, many pets will be overwhelmed. Cats will often find their own safe space and it may not be in area that is human approved.

Elara peers out a porch window on a wintry day.
Moving with Pets: Elara adjusted to the house well, but spent the first day in the basement away from all the activity.

Step 3: Prepare your pet’s supplies

Make sure your dog or cat’s food dishes, food, bed, favorite toys, litterbox, leashes, etc are packed in a bag or a box that you will have easy access to throughout the drive to the new house and as soon as you arrive. The last thing you want is to forget an essential itme. Or potentially worse, not be able to get to your cats litterbox once you arrive at the new house.

On the Day of the Move

Tip #1: Give your dog or cat any necessary anti-anxiety medications early enough

If your pet needs any anxiety medications, make sure to give them early enough for the medications to take full effect prior to leaving the house. Many anti-anxiety medications need an hour or two to reach full effect. And some will do even better if also given a day or two ahead of time. Speak with your veterinarian about the best plan for medications for your individual dog or cat.

Tip #2: Make sure your pet is wearing some type of identification

Anytime a dog or cat leaves the house, they should have some type of identification on them. Microchips are great for this, as they are permanent identification. However, microchips need to be scanned to be read. So it can also be helpful to have a tag with your pet’s name and your phone number. Make sure this phone number is the number of the cellphone that you will be traveling with on the day of the move. If your dog or cat was to get out of the car or escape from the new house, they won’t be familiar with their surroundings. And you will want someone to be able to contact you as fast as possible.

Tip #3: Create a safe space in the car

For cats, traveling in a carrier is recommended. A carrier keeps a cat contained and limits distractions for the driver. It is also protection for your cat in the event of a car crash. If you are interested in safety tested cat carriers for the car, check out the brand SleepyPods. As an added tip to make the carrier a relaxing place on the day of the move, place your cats favorite blanket inside and spray with a relaxing pheromone (like Feliway).

For dogs, unless they are small enough to ride in a carrier, we recommend a harness with a seat belt attachment. Again this accomplishes the double goal of limiting movement and distractions and securing your dog in the event of a car crash. You can line the seat with a favorite bed or blanket. And to help the whole car smell a little more comforting, the dog equivalent of Feliway is Adaptil (or dog-appeasing pheromone).

Tip #4: Stop for Potty Breaks

If you need to stop for a bathroom break, make sure to offer your dog the same courtesy. Make sure your dog is leashed before leaving the car. Even dogs with great recalls can become distracted in new places.

For cats, they can probably go 6-8 hours without a litterbox, but it doesn’t hurt to offer them access to a litterbox whenever you stop to relieve yourself and/or the dogs. If you are driving for more than 8 hours, make sure to plan time to allow your cat a chance to get out of the carrier and explore a litterbox containing litter they are familiar with.

Tip #5: Set up a Safe Room

If you weren’t able to set up a room for your dog or cat ahead of time, then make this your first priority when you arrive at the new house. A bed or kennel, some food and water, a litterbox for a cat, and anything else that will help your pet feel more at home. These should all be set up inside a small room in the new house. Make sure that this room is one that movers will not be needing to get in and out of during the unpacking process. You want your pet to have a quiet space. And a closed bedroom door is the perfect barrier to prevent any door darting during the move. If you have elected to use Feliway or Adaptil, set up a diffuser in your safe room.

Glia and Sasha relax on a chair on a sunny porch during the move.
Moving withe Pets: Glia and Sasha waited on the sunny porch while we unloaded the vehicles. This was the perfect room as we didn’t need to walk in and out of it during the move.

Tip #6: Spend a few minutes with your pet

Bring your leashed dog, or cat in the carrier, into the safe room. Your cat may want to stay in the carrier or escape and hide elsewhere in the room. That’s okay. Many dogs will want to stay close to you when they are unsure, so make sure to spend a few minutes familiarizing your dog to the room. If your dog has any separation anxiety, you may need to make arrangements for someone to stay with your dog during the move. But if your dog is used to being kenneled or left in a room without you, you can leave them in this room after they are calm and confident there.

Now that your pet is secure and confident in this room, get started unpacking.

Tip #7: After the move, help your pet explore the house.

After everything has been moved into the house, and the exterior doors have been securely shut, let your pet out to explore their new house. For many dogs, letting them have access to the whole house right away is fine. Just follow them around as they explore to ensure they don’t find any items to get into during their exploration. If you can’t keep an eye on them, they can always go back and wait in the room that you have set up for them. I also highly recommend supervising a dogs first few visits in the backyard (even if it is fenced). Not all fences are secure.

For cats, I recommend opening up one room at a time for your cat to explore. And again, monitor their progress until you can be confident there is nothing in the new house that poses any hazards for your cat.

The Next Day

Start unpacking all those boxes and making your new house a home. Moving is a lot of work, but with a little advanced preparation, moving with pets can be a success.

We are happy to announce that our boxes have all been unpacked, although we still have a few paintings to hang. We truly enjoyed adventuring in La Crosse, WI and miss our life there. But we are having a lot of fun explore the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

Infographic of 7 Essential Tips for Moving with Pets
Whether moving with a cat or moving with a dog, following the tips above will help your move go smoothly.




Kate is the writer of Pawsitively Intrepid. She has spent the last 9 years working full-time as a veterinarian, treating dogs and cats. But as of June 2023, she is taking a year to travel with her dog, volunteer, and work on some passion projects.

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