Moving house is supposed to be one of life’s great traumatic experiences. So, what’s it like for a cat?
Cats are known to be home loving with a strong sense for warmth, physical comfort and territorial security. Don’t forget, your cat is a domesticated version of an originally wild species. That says it all, your cat will just be another member of your family likely to be confused an upset.
The strenuous job of packing? No problem. He will enjoy helping you with the china… lots of paper to play with and boxes to sit in. It is important that your cat is kept in the night before and confined in his basket in an already emptied room before the actual move begins. Many a cat has disappeared with the arrival of the removal van. Better still, board your cat overnight at a cattery or local Vet. Once the actual move starts your cat may turn into a bundle of misery, howling in his travelling basket. Pay no attention; confinement is absolutely necessary. The AA in their leaflet About Driving and Animals say: “During a journey a cat should be confined in a proper carrying cage or basket – a cardboard box is not suitable”. I was told of one extremely friendly and relaxed cat, which was used to travelling loose in a vehicle, until one day, for no obvious reason he went literally wild and flew around the car. The driver lost control and had to stop abruptly. Unthinkable if it had happened on a motorway. In a similar case a cat went berserk and flew into the drivers face, forcing him to open the car and let the cat out to save his own skin.
I learned this lesson many years ago through soppy Sammy my landlady’s cat, the first ever cat in my care. I carried Sammy on my shoulder to the car. Since he practically lived on my shoulder, I assumed he would feel safe up there. The very moment we crossed the pavement the only horse in Fulham came trotting past the house and sent Sammy flying up a nearby tree. This was the day I discovered a cat in panic is stronger and quicker than your hands. Even cats on harnesses have been known to struggle free never to return – including some with lead and harness attached!
Back to the furniture van with a howling cat (in a basket) inside. We arrive at the new house and start offloading. This is the moment when the most common mistake is made; the cat’s protests have become unbearable and we want to release him as soon as possible. This must not happen until it has been decided which is the most suitable room for the cat to live in at first. Preferably it will be an upstairs room that can be furnished beforehand so the door and windows can be kept closed. It must not have any open floorboards and any chimney must be blocked using a black refuse bag stuffed with crushed newspaper forced up the flue. Any removal men must be instructed NOT to enter this room. If there is a lock use it!
After a litter tray has been established and still with the door and windows firmly closed the cat can be allowed out of the basket and start living in this room. When he is relaxed, the moving is finished and any building or decorating completed he can be allowed to investigate the rest of the house.
During this time of confinement to the house the litter tray is indispensable. Even later, when the cat has started going outside the tray must be kept until it is not used anymore. Some cats take weeks to become confident enough about the outside to use the garden for the toilet. After all, other cats already own it. Removing the indoor tray abruptly does NOT encourage the cat; it only makes it unhappy and confused and can cause the start of a dirty habit. Placing a little of the cat’s own dirty litter on a flowerbed can offer some encouragement.
Cats that are let outside too soon after the move are prone to disappear. It is wrong to assume that a cat thinks and acts like a human. Reflexes, not reflections, largely rule a cat’s behaviour. No matter how loving and affectionate your cat is normally, starting life in a new place creates a crisis situation and the cat may be reduced to employing its instincts of survival and disappear. Therefore, the first step into the outside world should be delayed until the cat is totally confident about the whole house and sees it as its home.
When that day arrives, the cat should be allowed to go out voluntarily and in its own time. You should check that the fences around the garden are intact. If there are any gaps repairs should be made before the cat is let out. The back door should be wide open so he can fly back in to safety should the local Tom show his face over the garden wall. Every inch of the new garden will have to be sniffed and analysed until all the four-legged visitors to the garden have been registered. The use of a cat door should be delayed for many weeks, especially if there wasn’t one in the old house. The magnetic cat doors can be very complicated and the magnets can often drop off leaving the cat locked out. Identifying your cat as being owned is very important since new cats to a neighbourhood can often be mistaken for strays. If your cat tolerates a collar, a tag with your address and phone number is a good idea. In any case it is advisable to have your cat micro-chipped, (remember to update the details on the database if you do move).
What if the worst happens and your cat disappears despite all precautions?
FIRST THING: Check and DOUBLE CHECK the house. If you know what door was responsible open it wide and call form the inside.
2. Put food out, both at the front and back of the house. Replace it if other cats eat it.
3. Put notices up as soon as possible, starting near the house then spreading to streets further away. Put notes through letterboxes asking people to open up sheds, garages, coalbunkers etc. If you cat is micro-chipped specify this on the notices so someone knows to take the cat straight to a Vet if found.
4. Ring local vets and animal clinics in case your cat has been brought in injured. Contact local cat rescue organisations.
5. Put one of your old shoes outside the house. The cat will recognise your smell, (sorry – nothing personal).
6. Go out and search. Where to start? In panic a dog runs miles but a cat usually stays close and hides. A lost cat is usually nearby and in trouble. Two cats of mine got nailed under floorboards for 17 days. The builders unaware and insisting angrily there were no cats in the building. Out of fear the cats did not make a sound.
Very late at night stop and call. If you listen carefully and it is dead silent you may hear a faint miaow.
A USEFUL TRICK…………………
Record a familiar noise such as activities in the kitchen at dinnertime like opening cans, cutting meat, rattling biscuits and your voices. Record the voices of any other cats you own. If you do this when they are hungry and begging for food they are more likely to “speak” at this time. You can play the tape from your car stereo late at night. A very low volume will not disturb your neighbours but a cat will still hear it. A carrying basket and a plate of food should be with you at all times.
7. Local Vets may know of kind people in the area who feed stray cats and it is worthwhile contacting them. Your cat may have joined their buffet.
8. Investigate if anyone in the neighbourhood has recently gone on holiday or moved out. Have an empty house opened up and search for your cat yourself. A stranger might cause it to stay hidden.
Unfortunately, sometimes people give up looking for their cat too soon. Many times I get calls from people asking for a new kitten only days after their cat went missing. “He must be miles away” or “Somebody must have taken him” or “He’ll be alright, he’s a survivor”. These comments show the unwillingness of the owner to persevere and a lack of concern and loyalty. More loving people often ask, “Do you think I will ever get him back?” The answer is quite simply yes, if you never give up. If you stop looking then your cat really will be lost and might end up a stray, probably leading a short and miserable life. If you persevere you will get your cat back or at least a valid explanation for its disappearance.
For good advice on travelling by car with your cat please see:
© Elke de Vries 2001 – CAT 77 Fieldwork Advisor