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Amazing Feets: Beware the Traveling Cat

By: Alex Lieber

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After moving into a new home, you may be looking forward to settling in. Your cat, on the other hand, is probably looking for a way out of this box-lined madhouse to get back to the home she knows and loves.

Think she doesn't have the nerve to try? Consider some of these cat facts:

  • In 1981, a cat named Miosch got lost while on a family vacation in Turkey. She walked 1,500 miles to her home in Germany.

  • In 1977, Silky was lost somewhere 200 miles north of Brisbane, Australia, but found her way back to her Melbourne suburb – 1,472 miles away.

  • In the United States, Rusty made her way from her new home in Boston to her old house in Chicago – 950 miles.

    When you move into a new home, thoroughly check out the house to make it escape-proof and safe, suggests Dawn Ruben, DVM. Check your home for holes in walls, gates, ducts and other areas into which your cat could disappear. Does your cat have a favorite piece of furniture? Keep it, if possible, to make her feel more at home.

    No Place Like Home

    Many cats yearn for their old, familiar home. Her old stomping ground was well marked with her scent. The new neighborhood is filled with olfactory signs of other animals, particularly other cats.

    She will have to mark her new territory, and maybe even defend it against encroaching felines. Rather than claim new territory, she may try to return to the home she recognizes as safe, fully expecting you to be there.

    If yours is an outdoor cat, don't let her outside for at least three weeks. "Let her learn the new house, its sounds and layout," says Ruben. "Let her associate you and the new home with safety and food."

    Always make sure her identification is up to date, even if she is an indoor cat. Get new collar tags with your current address and phone number, and maybe even include an engraved note that says, "If I'm outside, I'm lost."

    Because collars can fall off, the safest course is to microchip your cat and make sure the contact information is updated. (You must contact the microchipping company to update the database with your new information.)

    The safest place for your cat is, of course, indoors. If she's used to the outside, though, she may want to go out. Let her out for short, supervised periods, in a confined space if possible. If your cat will accept a harness or leash, walk with her as she explores her new environment, and put food out to make the association that home means food.

    Be aware that your cat may get into fights with other felines as she tries to claim her territory. This raises the chance that she will come home injured or with a disease, such as feline leukemia or feline AIDS. You can inoculate your cat against feline leukemia (although there is still a risk of contracting the disease) but there is presently no way to protect against feline AIDS, except to keep your cat indoors.

    If your cat has trouble adjusting to a new home, she may engage in house-soiling, excessive grooming or not grooming altogether, excessive meowing, destructiveness or self-mutilation activities like tail biting. Other symptoms of anxiety in your cat may include depression, loss of appetite, hiding or aggression.

    If your cat continues to have trouble adjusting to the new environment – or if she stops eating for several days – take her to a veterinarian right away for a checkup.

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