Cats are very territorial animals and they may have problems accepting a new house as their home. If the old house is nearby cats may return to their old haunts and try to take up residence with the new people living there. If the move is further away cats may just wander off and get lost.
Before leaving the old house cats should be fitted with an identity collar (elasticated) with the owner’s name and new address. This should be kept on until cats are fully settled in their new home. Alternatively ask your vet to microchip your cat to ensure they can be returned if they get lost. If they are already chipped remember to inform the registering company of your change of address and phone number.
Cats should be transported in a safe well-secured container such as a cat basket or cat box so there is no danger of escape.
On arrival at the new house the cat should be left in its basket until one room has been sorted out and installed with familiar objects. The cat can then be let out, but kept confined to this room and a litter tray provided. To help the cat to settle it should be fed with its favourite meal.
Once the removal men have gone and the house is quiet check that all the doors and windows are closed and allow the cat to explore.
Cats should be given lots of extra attention, petting and extra food during the period of settling in.
Once the cat has begun to accept the house then it can be introduced to the garden. Initially the cat should be let out alone only for short periods during the day. It should be hungry so that it will not wander too far and will readily respond to a call when its meal is ready.
If possible try to avoid having builders working in the house during the initial settling in period. Cats hate this and it will inevitably make readjustment more difficult.
This is very variable depending on the disposition of the cat and how much time has been spent on making the cat feel at home. It is advisable to keep the cat indoors for 3-4 weeks, then gradually allow them to explore outside as directed above.
It may be wise to consider boarding particularly nervous cats in a friendly cattery before the packing up of the old house starts and to keep them there until everything is unpacked and positioned in the new house.
This happens because the bond with the new home is not sufficiently established. Measures must be taken to establish the new home as the source of food and shelter (in contrast to the old house where these things are denied him/her). It may take weeks or months before the cat can safely be let out unattended.
Keep the cat indoors at the new house for about a month. Use the guidelines given above to try and increase the bond with the new house. It may help to feed the cat small meals several times a day.
When the cat is first let out it should be starved for 12 hours so that it is really hungry. It should be left out for only a short time and then called in and fed. For the first two weeks it should only be let out once a day and be called in after no longer than 30 minutes and fed immediately.
Warn the new occupiers of your old house and discourage them from feeding the cat, talking to the cat or otherwise encouraging it, as this will merely confuse them.
Other neighbours, even those that were previously friendly with the cat, should be asked to behave similarly.
It may take many months of retrieval from your old home before your cat eventually settles down.
If all else fails it may be kinder if the new occupier or a friendly neighbour agrees to adopt him/her.
Moving house can be just as traumatic for the indoor cat because it involves a complete change of personal territory. Gradual introduction, one room at a time, with lots of attention will help to reduce the stress of the upheaval.
Should you wish to discuss any of these issues in more detail, please consult your veterinary surgeon.