Is It Downsizing Time?






Moving with Pets:

No doubt you're aware that moving your pets will be stressful for them.  (After all, they tend to spend most, if not all, of their time within the confines of your house/yard.)  They are certainly going to be aware of something being up as soon as you begin to pack, if not before - and the more gradual your move looks to be (i.e., if some furniture goes first, then boxes, then their bed gets changed...), the more prolonged their angst. ...And of course they wonder whether they'll be left behind.

Though the unsettling of a move is to be expected, there are a number of things you can do to ease your pets' transition to a new house.  (After all, the most important thing to them is that it's still your house together!)

Mostly I'll be referring to cats and dogs in the following.  Other animals, too, are likely to be sensitive to upsetting moving conditions.  Birds, since they're usually caged anyway, are easier to deal with logistically - but you'll probably need to keep your bird's cage covered, because they're easily frightened (but make sure it won't get too heated up in there! - nor too drafty; it's tricky).  The most important thing to keep in mind about transporting small animals such as hamsters and gerbils is that they need fresh water often, as they get dehydrated much more readily than larger critters.  Check with your local aquarium about steps to take in moving fish.

(Presumably you've already taken into consideration that some residential areas - and rentals/condos - prohibit livestock-type animals, and perhaps certain other "exotic" animals/aquariums.)

  • Stick to what they know:  The most important thing is that you try to keep to your regular routines as much as possible, before, during, and after the move.  The relative stability in your feeding times, walks, and "hands-on time" will do much to alleviate a pet's anxieties (as does grooming, if your pet enjoys being brushed).
    Sticking to what they know will also mean keeping aside known water/food dishes, blankets/rugs/beds, litter boxes, and toys all throughout the moving process, from packing and moving to moving in.  Save the new stuff for after they've gotten used to their new dwelling space.  And don't wash their bedding until afterward, either (familiar scents are especially important to cats, but they're comfort to dogs, and probably other critters, as well).
  • Communicate with them:  Some people think it silly, but I firmly believe that it's important to actually tell your pet what's going on, and to reassure them that they'll be going with you wherever you go.  First of all, you need to remember to reassure them; and, of course, they love to hear you talk to them anytime!  But also, your framing the reassurance into words in your mind allows them to pick up your meaning even though they might not understand spoken language per se.  (If you aren't convinced that they can understand your thoughts, I implore you to pretend that they can.  Covering the bases won't hurt you, and your pets may/will appreciate the gesture.)
    I suggest that you stick to positive language rather than negative.  As with making affirmations for yourself, one should say, for example, "I'm feeling good" rather than "I'm not feeling bad"... because the subconscious scans for the nouns, verbs, and adjectives but doesn't compute the "not" part.  I have a feeling that this same type of symbol-language is communicated to animals.  All I can say for certain is that when I told my dogs, "Don't worry, you're fine" during a thunderstorm, it made them even more agitated! - whereas plain old "I love you" calmed them.
  • Pet sitting/confining options:  If you have a friend or pet sitter who sometimes keeps your dog or cat at their house (or business, if you take your dog to a doggie daycare center), it would be a great idea to have your animal spend the heavy-packing and the actual moving-out time with them.  Animals pick up on your stress as well as developing their own from worries about the strange things that are going on.  Too, this timely pet sitting will prevent them from dashing out the door or hiding where you can't find them on moving day.
    If you can't whisk a cat out of the house, as is easier for a dog, you'll need to confine it to a room (a spare bathroom, or perhaps a room that you've already packed up and emptied?) during the major moving activities.  (And clearly mark the door as off-limits - movers need to know, but even family members can forget while preoccupied with other things.)  Where dogs are more likely to stick closer to home like glue in times of anxiety, cats might well get freaked into leaving their houses; plus it's not unknown for them to get packed into boxes! - better to have them where you know they are.
    Also on this topic, you'll probably need to confine a cat to the new house for a few weeks or run the risk of it's fleeing back to it's old home. ...Cats get much more attached to houses than dogs (and most people) do.  (It would be well to get the phone number of the new owners of your old house, so that you can call to alert them if your cat escapes.)  Many people take cats outside on leashes - and this would be a good way to introduce them to their new surroundings gradually (but of course you'd want to introduce them to the leash concept before the move).
    Of course, you must know that many countries require a quarantining period for imported pets.  Even the state of Hawaii has a quarantine regulation for incoming animals.  Such rules often are a basis for pet-owners' decisions on whether or not to move to a certain area - i.e., they wouldn't if they had to quarantine a family pet.  This can be a type of confinement that is cruelly long and lonely (to put into perspective the other type of at-home confinement - for the sake of the animal - we've been considering).
  •  Medical-related:  It's not a bad idea to have your pet given an overall physical exam by your veterinarian before you travel any distance.  If something new shows up, it's good to be aware of it - especially because stress augments most conditions of ill-health.  If you're crossing state lines or moving to another country, it may be required that you have a recent certificate of good health from a veterinarian.
    If your pet is on a medication, make sure that you have a good supply on hand before you leave for a distant location.  Ditto for your animal's favorite food.  It's also a good idea to take a gallon or so of your local water with you to the new location and to gradually ease into using the new tap water as drinking water for your pet - both for the sake of taste and the possibility (rather common) of a sensitivity to something in the new water (you really don't want your pet to get the runs as soon as you move in, I know!).
    Be sure to get copies of your animal's veterinary records to take along with you.  Yes, you can have your vet mail records to your new vet... and that would be fine if you've gotten a referral in advance to a new veterinarian.  But what if your pet has a problem en route or soon after you arrive? - it's much safer to take the records along with you in the early-days supplies if you haven't had them transferred already.
    You might also want to talk to your vet about employing some mild sedation for your animal for during your move (to be used only if needed).  You'll also have a first-aid kit along, won't you?
  • Identification:  This is something most people seem not to think of, but it would be a good idea to take, and keep with you in the move, recent photos of your pets.  If an animal gets lost anywhere along the way in the moving process, you'll want to be able to quickly put together a "lost pet" flier to show and post.
    It would also be best to have new pet tags made up before you leave for your new home, with your new contact info.  Birds can possibly be tagged with leg bands.  Tags for cats, too, aren't unheard of - and if a cat does get out and doesn't come back inside, a tag might return it to you.  (You can get the kind of collar that breaks away if caught on something, so the animal can't choke.)
    If you don't have a cell phone, you could even make your own tags to use at different points along the route...  Say it's going to be taking you a few days to drive across country.  If you know where you'll be staying at each stop, you could switch tags each day so that the contact phone number of the motel is on the right one for the end of that day.  Easily make temporary tags out of card stock, sandwiching the pre-printed cut-out circle between pieces of wide tape or self-adhesive shelf paper.  A traveling animal could get lost anywhere a door is opened inopportunely...  It's worth it to have a way to keep track of who might be trying to alert you to a found pet.
  • Shipping pets:  I hope you don't have to do this (you can imagine how much more stressful this separation and outlandish goings-on must be for an animal)...  But if you must send a pet somewhere by plane, please make sure it's a direct flight.  Not only will it likely shorten the overall travel time, but it should also ensure that the critter doesn't get stuck outside in the heat, cold, and/or rain.  You can also usually pay extra for an airline employee to personally shuttle your pet from counter to pick-up area (and we'd like to be able to assume that an animal-lover would volunteer for this task!).  Before you decide about air shipment, though, please read this informative page from the Humane Society of the United States:
    I suppose you know that a moving company can't ship a pet with the furniture.  (The reason we only discuss air shipment and car travel is that only assistance dogs are allowed on most trains, ships, and buses - and not without their person!)  Possibly you'd be able to find a friend or a business that will transport a pet some distance... and this could be better than the far more impersonal, and harrying, flight option (think of the noise, and the vibration, and the darkness, and the fumes - yikes!).  Hope it's a friend!  (Remember, your pet would rather be cramped and be with it's family rather than feel abandoned.) 
    However you convey your critter, if you're using a carrier that's new to the animal, it's a good idea to get it used to it a few days, or even weeks, ahead of time.  Let it be a playing/sleeping area, with toys and perhaps favorite blankets (or a disposable article of your clothing) inside.
  • Moving by car:  Probably you'll be taking your animals yourself in the car with you.  If your critters are used to traveling in the car, this won't be bad - unless they only associate the car with going to the vet!  This is more often the case with a cat... in which case, you might consider making several car excursions around town well before the move, with the cat in a cat carrier but not going to the vet.  (Even if your cat is one of the few who is used to being in the car outside of a carrier, it's not a good idea to let them be loose during a move...  I know people who have lost animals that way when the cat shot out of the car and away.)
    If you haven't experienced a long trip with them before, I might mention that it's normal for a pet not to want to eat or drink (or defecate, even) until they're "home" - which can be a problem!  (So make sure that they have a new spot that's as home-like as possible when you get to the other end - even if it means shutting them in the car or in a second bathroom while the moving in is going on.)
    Be sure that your dog gets a good walk just before you head out - and gets leash-walked at least minimally during the trip, if it's long.  Always keep your dog on a leash at all times (i.e., attach the leash before letting it out of the car) during your stops.  (I've seen a tragic result of highway travelers' misplaced belief in a dog's coming on command - please don't risk lifelong nightmares through inattention to this critical detail.)

    Here's a good webpage on Animal-Friendly Hotel Accommodations
  • On arrival:   When you arrive at the new home, set up a space for your pets right away.  (It's best to have given thought to this in advance so that you don't have to change it soon after.)  Make sure that you put food and water out soon - but don't be worried if your pet doesn't want to partake right away; even if not, it will be glad that the bar is open!  (However, veterinarians report that cats who don't eat for just a few days can develop severe liver problems, so keep an eye on the food dish.  This would be one of those reasons why you'll be happier getting set up with a new veterinarian soon.)
    Both cats and dogs need to be able to explore their new environment (though, as mentioned above, a cat's desire to return to the old house could be stronger than the desire to acquaint itself with a new one, at first).  An ambulatory dog will be delighted to discover what there is to discover in its new yard, and will no doubt want to walk around the neighborhood as soon as possible. ...And you'll want to make sure that it learns the neighborhood so that it can find its way back home if it gets loose and lost.  (Also, it's probably important for you to allow your dog to mark its new territory. ...Worry about what the neighbors think later on, during less critical walks.)  
    Speaking of marking, one reason cats scratch is to mark territory via scenting glands in their paws. ...So more of this might be expected to take place in a new home.  Be sure you have a scratching post or pad on hand (or old furniture you were planning to dump later on!).
    Be sure to look into the dog licensing necessities soon after you move to a new locale.  You'd hate to have your dog get loose and end up in the pound and have to pay a fine!
    If you're used to woodsy rambles with your dog, and you're moving into a citified area, be sure to pack some plastic bags along with you on your walks!  (Stick your hand inside the bag as though it were a glove, pick up the poop and bag it, and take it to the trash can.  Your neighbors will have a good impression of you from the start.)

This is the best information I've found on details about pet shipping, car travel, and hotel stays (plus a directory of offices to contact in each of the U.S. states for animal regulations): 

Legalities you may need to be aware of in moving pets:

There are differing state regulations on moving animals across state lines. To be on the safe side, contact the State Department of Animal Husbandry, State Veterinarian, or whatever the authority may be called in the state you're moving to.

Some of the requirements may be:

  • Rabies vaccines for dogs or cats (what constitutes "current" may be different in another state).
  • Interstate health certificates for various kinds of pets
  • "Entry permits" for some pets in some states
  • Possible border inspections
  • And Hawaii requires that cats and dogs be quarantined for 120 days on arrival (and you'll need to know how to make the arrangements for this)

If you need your veterinarian to provide documentation for any of these prospects, be sure to get her/him involved at least a month in advance of your move.  (And note that in some cases, the validity of a permit lasts only a certain amount of time - so you might not be able to act too much in advance.)

And, of course, you'll want to be aware of local city or county, subdivision or co-op housing group, regulations as to types and numbers of pets allowed, how they must be controlled, and on any licensing required.




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