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How to Introduce Your Cat to Your New Home

By: Karen Commings

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You're moving into a new house or apartment and you are excited about the change. Your cat, however, is a creature of habit and moving to a new home represents a complete upheaval of his world. Unlike dogs who seemingly could care less where they are as long as their person is with them, cats like to maintain the status quo. Moving to a new home, therefore, is an upsetting event for a cat.

Don't give up on your cat, though. Nothing would be more traumatic for him than losing not only his comfortable home, but his human caregiver as well because you took him to a shelter instead of your new home. A recent study, by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, found that moving was a major reason why pets are turned over to shelters. The tragic truth is that most shelter cats do not find new homes.

If your cat has trouble adjusting to a new home, he 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 may include depression, loss of appetite, hiding or aggression. Some simple planning will help prevent your cat from becoming stressed by a complete change in his environment.

If you have the opportunity, take your cat with you to your new house before the furniture arrives. Lay a trail of catnip from one room to the other so he can follow it as he explores. Clean up the catnip once he has finished so it remains a special treat. Leave his carrier open in one of the rooms so he can get into it if he chooses. Give him some treats so he associates something positive with the new environment. If he has a favorite bed, take that as well so he will recognize something familiar. Make certain doors and windows are secure so your cat doesn't accidentally escape – he won't know where he is.

Obtain a facial pheromone-based product, such as Feliway®, and spray it on walls and corners at your cat's eye-level. Pheromone products were developed in France to stop spraying behavior in cats, but they have also been shown to initiate exploratory behavior and eating in cats that are in strange environments like kennels or new homes. Cats deposit pheromones on surfaces when they rub their cheeks against them, and their presence has a calming effect. Pheromones will make your cat feel more comfortable in his new surroundings and more accepting of the house as his.

If you choose not to buy a pheromone-based product, rub a towel on your cat to pick up his scent and rub it on walls, corners and windowsills in the new house to transfer your cat's scent to his new territory.

Once you move, assign one room as your cat's. Put him in the room with his food, water, litter box, toys, scratching post and comfortable belongings. Place something with your scent such as a worn t-shirt in the room. Leave a radio turned on to a soft-music station. The room will become your cat's safe zone if and when he needs to get away. Once you move, you will have lots to do, unpacking and putting away your belongings, but spend time with your cat in his room. Have two ten to fifteen minute play sessions each day. Over the course of two to three weeks, allow your cat to come out of the room to explore the rest of the house. Once again, create a catnip trail for your cat to follow throughout the house. When he is finished exploring, return him to the room and clean up the catnip. When your cat appears comfortable in the new space, allow him free run of the house. Move his belongings to their new locations a few steps at a time so he always knows where they are.

As a safety precaution on moving day, place your cat in his carrier to prevent him from accidentally escaping or being accidentally stepped on by the movers. Someone carrying a one- hundred-pound sofa is going to be more concerned about not tripping than not hurting an animal that is in the way.

If you let your cat go outside, wait for at least three weeks before allowing him access to the out-of-doors. If your cat goes out before learning that the new house is home, he may attempt to go back to his old digs. Many cats have gone hundreds, even thousands, of miles back to their old homes. If you are concerned about your cat's safety while he is outside, moving to a new home may be a good time to get him used to living entirely indoors.

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