Moving With Pets: Preparation, Transportation and Adjusting to a New Home

by Barbara Murray
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(Editor's Note: For the majority of Americans, moving a pet means moving dogs, cats or both. Therefore this post focuses mainly on our canine and feline friends.)

Sam rests quietly.Recently, the parents of two of my special clients, Sam, pictured at right, and his sister Bella, moved into a new house. I volunteered to keep Sam and Bella on moving day so they would not be so stressed with all the chaos going on around them. I don't normally bring clients' dogs to my home, but Sam's and Bella's people have become friends as well as clients, so I offered. For, as most pet owners know, moving from one home to another can be quite nerve-wracking for our pets. Research reinforces this fact.

I picked the dogs up from the house they were leaving behind at 8:00 am, took them to my house and played with them until around 4:00 pm. This gave their parents time to get the area the dogs would be staying in prepared for their arrival.

Moving is typically a stressful event and dogs, especially, and some cats as well, can sense when you are frustrated or under stress which in turn will cause him or her to experience more anxiety. Furthermore, dogs may look on professional movers as invaders into his or her territory and react aggressively.

Yet, although changing residences is stressful for our pets, especially cats and dogs, we can make the event less strenuous on our pets by taking a few simple actions.

Before Moving Day

It's important to check local and state regulations concerning pets for the area into which you are moving. For example, many states require that you maintain a current Certificate of Veterinary Inspection document on each of your pets and that the paperwork accompany the animal when moving from one state to the next. This document is important to have BEFORE moving and ordinances vary among jurisdictions. For example, the state of Hawaii requires all incoming pets to be quarantined for up to 120 days if a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection is not readily available.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers this free chart showing what each state requires concerning Certificates of Veterinary Inspection.

Furthermore, some states will not allow you to bring certain animals into the jurisdiction as pets. This typically applies to what we call "exotic" pets, such as some reptiles, monkeys and certain birds. In my hometown, the applicable Franklin County Kentucky Ordinances contains a long list of wild and exotic animals that are prohibited from being transported into the city or kept as pets.

Remember too, that transporting pets to your new home requires planning and preparation.

Moving Day and Transporting

Some moving professionals will accommodate your pets. However, they cannot be transported among the furniture and boxes of kitchenware. In addition, some companies specialize in moving pets.

Tag your pets with complete identification details, such as the address of your new residence, telephone numbers and an emergency contact in the area from which you are moving.

If you must move your pets by airplane, check with the airline to see what they require so you'll be prepared. Most airlines will require documentation showing that your pets are current on vaccinations, especially the rabies vaccine.

It's generally best to transport a cat in a carrier covered with a sheet or other fabric that will prevent the animal from seeing out. The vice president of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, Arnold Plotnick, DVM, was quoted in an ASPCA article on Petfinder as saying that cats get upset when they can "see the world moving by."

Rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters and other small pets that are normally confined will suffer less stress if you can move them safely inside the actual accommodations.

Moving aquarium fish requires a good deal of effort and preplanning. The best way to move fish seems to be in plastic bags that seal. Make sure each bag has enough water for the fish to be well-covered and try to maintain a stable temperature in transport, not allowing the environment to become too cool or too hot during moving. If you're moving the fish a long distance, you'll likely need to open the bags periodically to allow oxygen inside. When you get your fish into your new home, set up the aquarium just as you did originally and slowly acclimate the fish to the surroundings.

Adjusting to the New Home

Many pet owners take their dogs with them on short trips, such as an outing to the park and most walk their dogs throughout the neighborhood and/or at local parks. Thus, dogs are typically most accustomed to socializing with other animals and people, as well as traveling in motor vehicles. Few pet owners walk their cats or take them on play dates. As a result, cats often have more difficulty adjusting to a new environment than their canine friends.

When you arrive at your new home, be sure to set up pet areas first with familiar toys, bedding, food and water bowls -- things your pet can recognize through smell and sight.

Cats typically need more time to accept new surroundings than dogs. Thus, it may be necessary to keep Tabby confined to a particular area and not allowed to wander outside until she settles in. Don't be surprised if your cat appears antisocial for a few days or weeks. Felines that previously wandered freely about the house may hide out for a time in a new home, coming out only to eat and go potty.

In some situations, dogs may experience separation anxiety after a move. Symptoms of separation anxiety include barking, howling, destructive chewing and digging, trying to escape and urinating and defecating in unusual spots. If this happens, talk with your vet about the specifics.

Ask for Help if You Need It

A study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population and Policy cites "moving" as the number one reason both dogs and cats end up in shelters. The landlord not allowing pets is second. Sadly, a recent case was reported by the Kentucky Humane Society in Louisville when someone moved away and left a dog behind in a crate! Thankfully neighbors heard it barking and it was rescued after being confined several days. Outrageous!

If you need help, ask for help. Friends, family or local rescue organizations may be able to provide a temporary home if that will solve the problem. In all moving situations, plan ahead, plan ahead.

Editor's Note: See the related article "Traveling With Your Pets" for tips on how to safely transport your pets.

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