Moving With Pets: How to Avoid Traumatizing Furry Friends

Posted by:   |  Dec 23, 2015

Whether you are moving across town, or across the country, moving your dogs or cats can be a horribly traumatic experience for them. You know why you are uprooting everything and everyone to make the relocation, but your pets don’t know. They see all the things that they have grown accustomed to being packed into boxes, and the people they depend on being too busy or pre-occupied to pay attention to the pet’s usual routines. Here are some ideas which may help to avoid a pet disaster before, during or soon after a move.

Dogs and Cats

Every pet is different, just as every move is different, but there are some similarities and generalities which should be taken into account when preparing for a move. In my own experience, having moved with both dogs and cats, each had their own problems with the move and had to be handled in different ways. Speaking from personal experience of moving with Tyke, a toy poodle and Simba, an overweight timid domestic shorthair, Tyke was okay with the move generally, as long as he could see me or hear me. Simba, on the other hand, doesn’t like any change in his surroundings and when placed in his carrier complains loudly and heartbreakingly. A change in his location was traumatizing without special arrangements and procedures.

I learned from my first experiences in moving my pets. Speaking with their vet, reading online and collecting a few ideas from friends and families have made subsequent moves much less difficult for me and my pampered friends.

Ship or Drive?

Over the course of several years, Simba, Tyke and I have moved several times, including a move of a mile or two and more than once, across the country. Deciding when it is appropriate to use a shipping service for pets has usually been fairly obvious in my situation. Short distances are done by transporting the pets in my car. I used a reputable shipping service on one occasion when I was flying. When I made the journey with a packed car, I left room for two sizable pet carriers and the pets made the journey with me. The advantage of shipping was that there was less worry about pet-friendly hotels and of one of the animals getting away from me in a strange location. The disadvantage is that I really missed having their company for the days they were out of my care.

Shipping or driving is an individual decision and depends on one or more of the following:

• Distance
• Size of pet
• Temperature
• Pet temperament
• Cost of shipping
• Availability of pet-friendly lodging

Before the Move

For each of my pets, there are several things that I do before anything is packed. Each one has a visit to their current vet. I make sure their tags are updated with both the old and the new address and contact information. Neither of my pets has a chip installed, but that’s something I may continue before the next move. I get a hard copy of the health record of each animal and put it in my take-along kit which goes with me at each part of the move. I have also on occasion talked over with the vet the need for medication to take the edge of Simba’s nervousness during the first part of the multi-day trip.


Simba doesn’t like a carrier and will run if I bring his out. Tyke, on the other hand loves to go places, even if it means riding in a carrier. I make a practice of using carriers whenever the pets ride in my car. There are several reasons for this. Safety is the major one. A cat trying to climb into my lap while I’m driving, or hide under a seat is a risk for it and for me. In the event of a sudden stop, a flying dog is likely to be injured. I find that the barking is reduced when Tyke is in his carrier.

I bring out the Simba’s carrier several days before the planned move. He usually accepts it as part of his environment by the time we are due to leave. Tyke gets too excited when he sees his carrier, so it usually comes out early the morning of the move so that he knows he won’t be left behind. Both animals are confined before movers arrive, usually in a room that is away from all the hubbub that surrounds moving. The carriers are the last thing to be packed into my car and the first thing to be unloaded at the destination, or at intermediate stops along the way.

Calm and Comfortable

Keeping my pets calm and comfortable, both before the actual move takes place and during the trip is crucial for easy traveling. The carriers are packed with a favorite toy or two each. I usually provide a chew toy for Tyke, since that will occupy him for hours. Simba is less interested in toys, but does require more space in his carrier. I pack a small litter box in the carrier and make sure that he has room to stand up and lie down comfortably. For car traveling, a soft-sided carrier is what I use, largely because they weigh less. Some pet travel experts say that a hard-sided carrier is preferred. In the carriers of both pets, I place a familiar rug, bed or pillow for additional comfort. When I start out, I cover both carriers with a light sheet for a time, since it seems to prevent some of the trauma.

Food and Drink

Both animals are accustomed to twice-daily controlled feedings. In particular, Simba requires a special diet, to avoid urinary tract infections. He also needs to lose a little weight for better health. Since his feed is purchased at the vet, and is a specific brand, I make sure before the trip starts that I have a large bag of the food to take along to my new location. As most cat owners know, cats do not react well to new food or new litter.

In addition, I pack a smaller amount of feedings in my take-along pet bag. I measure and seal them in plastic baggies in pre-measured amounts. I also plan ahead and carry a supply of distilled water for both animals. When I reach my destination, I make sure that I don’t switch brands or water immediately, since that seems to be just one more change for the pets to deal with.



Anyone who has ever had an open box in the vicinity of a cat knows that sooner or later, the cat will find its way into the box. Tyke is more likely to chew on the box. Since Simba has been known on at least one occasion to find himself packed into a box, in the rush of moving. I am careful to put both animals in an empty room before the packing is in full force. They each have their carrier in the room along with toys, water and a litter box for Simba.

When the car is packed, except for the carriers, I ensure that the travel litter box is clean and place it in the carrier. The two carriers with respective animals and the pet travel bag are the last items to be placed in the car.

Rest Stops

Especially if traveling during hot or humid weather, it’s important for Tyke to have occasional rest stops. I always plan ahead for likely locations where he can be allowed out of his carrier while on a leash. Part of his outing includes offering him water to drink. I always take along a selection of plastic poop bags, just in case there is no easily accessible dog park area. Simba hasn’t accepted the idea of being walked on a leash, so he stays in his carrier. He has access to water for drinking while we are stopped.

Hotel or Motel Accommodations

Part of my trip planning always includes checking out the route I will be taking for lodging that is pet friendly. I don’t depend on a website to tell me that they accept pets, because some lodging centers only have a few rooms that are pet-friendly. At the time I make reservations, I stipulate that a pet room is required. Neither of my pets are large, but some hotels or motels place a limit on the size of a dog. Others do not allow cats at all. It is best to be sure of the restrictions, if any, before unpacking.

Once I’m in the room with the carriers, I check the room carefully for any features which might cause injury to my pets. One point of interest that I’m always aware of is that if there is a place to hide in the room, Simba will find it. I never leave the pets alone and loose in the room. This means using room service or arranging for my meals before stopping for the night.


After a day or more on the road, both my pets and I are ready to get out of the car and move into the new residence. This is perhaps the most dangerous time for pets. Special care should be taken to allow them to get used to their new quarters a little at a time. The carriers are placed in a quiet and safe room before letting the pets out. I ensure that where are no open windows, vents or other escape hatches. Toys, food, water and of course a litter box for Simba are placed in the room. I leave the carriers in the room for a time.

I introduce Tyke to the new space a little at a time. Since he responds better to my presence, he is usually okay within a day or two after the familiar furniture is unpacked and placed in their locations.

With Simba, I have tried a trick which seems to help him adjust more easily to the new space. Before letting him into the “cat room”, I place a small amount of butter on his paws. He goes to work cleaning them and at the same time, removes some of the scent of his earlier home. He can then be introduced to other rooms in the home. I pay more attention to him while he is somewhat confined, so he doesn’t feel slighted. He also likes to play in an empty box while awaiting the opportunity to explore the rest of the house.


Simba and Tyke are both adult animals and been successfully moved several times. Planning ahead for their needs and comfort is critical in making the move as easy as possible on all of us.

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