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Cats and Coping with Change

Family crises and disruptions affect cats, too. Divorce, death, moves, dogs, new members of the household and even vacations can take their toll on cats by affecting their stress levels. This section offers some advice on lessening the strain on your cat when change happens.

As a general rule, whenever there is any major commotion in the household you should try to keep your cat on his usual schedule for eating, playing, going outside, and other regular activities. Give your cat extra attention when you can. Take him for more outside walks.

If you are really in a bind, enlist family members or friends to help you feed and care for him.

Moving into a New House

Moving is one of the most stressful situations that people and cats ever face. Before you sign any lease, be sure the new residence allows cats and ask what, if any, conditions there are. Make sure that there are no restrictions demanding that your cat be declawed or kept indoors.

On the brighter side, moving to a new environment also is an opportunity to change your cat’s habits. Let’s say you want to stop letting your cat out at night; now is the time to do so.

On moving day, put your cat in his carrier or lock him in a bathroom before the movers arrive. Keep your cat confined until the movers have finished loading up their van.

Helpful Hints

To help your cat be more tolerant of change and crisis:

  • Move furniture around every so often (but don’t talk about it to your cat; act as if it’s no big deal).
  • Play loud music on occasion.
  • Accustom him to traveling in his carrier by taking him on short trips in the car.
  • Be sure to use a carrier case when taking your cat in the car (see “Traveling With Your Cat” below).

When you get to your new house, have food, a scratching post, a litter box, a night-light, water, and a bed set up in a bathroom so that your cat can feel at home as soon as he arrives. Keep him in the bathroom until the movers are gone and the home is secure. Then let him into the main part of the house to investigate. Close off extra rooms for now. If you think you need to let the cat adjust to the new house more gradually, set up a confinement room as described in Bringing Home a New Cat. If he’s really freaked out, shut the door to his nursery when you aren’t home. Some cats may hide for a day or two and slowly come out when things settle down. If it’s a long move, say in a car crossing several states, he may just sleep for a week, confinement or not.

Don’t let your cat outside for the first few weeks, because he might try to find his way back to his original home. If you do take him outside, watch him closely. Try to make new ground rules for this new yard by teaching him to stay within bounds, as described in Outside/Inside Training.

Talk with your new neighbors. Tell them you have a cat and ask them to call you if the cat ever causes any problem. Give them permission to shoo your cat out of their yard. Cats and Neighbors, has more detailed information for keeping peace in the neighborhood while owning cats.

Dealing with Newcomers

Getting a new cat can be a fun, exciting, and rewarding experience. And as the newest member of your household is adjusting to his new surroundings, there are many ways to create a positive atmosphere when your cat becomes pat of your family.

A New Baby in the Family

First, remember that a pregnant woman should not handle used cat litter. Call your doctor for advice. If no one else will do it, pay a trusted neighbor’s kid to take care of the litter box.

Ask your husband, children, sister, or neighbors to help you look out for the cat, especially while the baby is very young. If possible, start the arrangement before the baby is due so that the cat can begin getting used to the change. Keep your cat’s claws trimmed and get him trained on the scratching post. Get him used to these habits before the baby arrives.

To get your cat used to noise, play loud music or turn on the TV at a higher-than-normal volume for about an hour. This can be done, fortunately, when you’re leaving for an hour or so. And to get the cat used to the smell of baby powder, sprinkle it on a doll or stuffed animal once a day.

In her book, Twisted Whiskers, Pam Johnson provides many more tips for dealing with old cats and new babies.

A New Human Member of the Household

Ask the new person to feed the cat and to say the cat’s name often. Be patient. Cats must watch and wait to make sure they know “who ya gonna trust?” As your new housemate learns more from you about cats, your pet will learn to trust him or her.

A New Cat

Bringing Home a New Cat contains detailed information about introducing a new cat to your household.

A New Dog

Be very careful when bringing a dog into a house with a cat. Some cats simply cannot stand dogs; others love them. If you’re getting a new dog or just having one visit, trim the cat’s claws beforehand.

If your cat is shy and likely to hide, temporarily outfit him with bell on a safety release (breakaway) collar. Some cats may hide from a dog for days, and you’ll have an easier time finding yours if he is wearing a bell.

When the dog first enters your home, keep him on the leash and confine your cat to the bathroom. After a few minutes, let the dog outdoors to relieve himself. While the dog is gone, let the cat come into the room and smell the area.

Bring the dog back into the house on his leash. Do not hold the cat when they meet; you could get hurt. Be sure that the cat is able to get away and jump high onto something to get away from the dog. This allows him to sniff the air of the room the dog is in and feel safe to observe the dog’s behavior. You also can try putting the cat, or the dog, in a carrier and letting the other sniff through the bars for a few minutes. Then remove the loose animal from the room before releasing the one in the cage and letting him sniff the room.

Keep the first contact as pleasant as possible by saying the dog’s and cat’s names when things are going well. Unleash the dog when you are pretty sure he won’t chase the cat. How long that will take depends on the dog, the cat, and the situation.

You might want to make sure that at least one litter box is somewhere the dog can’t go. Also, put the cat’s food and water bowls out of reach of the dog until they really get used to each other.

Going On Vacation

Taking a trip with your cat can be fun! And going on vacation without him is fun too.

Here are tips for going on vacation with or without your cat.

Traveling Without Your Cat

You need to get away from your cat once in a while or you’ll go bonkers. Plan on some vacations without him. Arrange for a cat sitter or reserve a boarding kennel. Hiring a cat sitter to visit your home is far less stressful on your cat than boarding him in a kennel, however, sometimes kennel stays sometimes can’t be avoided and in some instances will adjust a cat who has ‘an attitude.’

Before you leave, put a breakaway collar on your cat occasionally, to get him used to wearing it. When you start your vacation, put the collar on and ask the sitter to be sure that it stays on your cat while you’re gone.

Stock your house with food and litter. Give your sitter your cat’s daily schedule for feeding and play times. Tell the sitter never to let the cat go outside while you are gone. Your cat may freak out when you aren’t there, and hide outside.

Show the sitter where your cat likes to sleep, as well as where to find the urine neutralizer, vomit cleaner, vacuum cleaner, water and food bowls, cat toys, and cat carrier. Also give the sitter your veterinarian’s phone number and a short written description of your cat. If your cat gets lost while you’re away, the sitter can provide this information to the animal control people to help them find your pet. Also give your sitter the phone numbers where you can be reached.

Things to Ask Your Potential Cat Sitter

  • Are you bonded and insured?
  • Can you provide a list of references?
  • What backup plans do you have should something happen to you? Or in the event of bad weather?

Tuck your drapery cords away with a binder clip or something similar. Put away plastic bags or shopping bags with handles (cats can get tangled in bags). Unplug appliances and tuck the cords away. Prop doors open so that your cat can’t get locked in a room or closet. (A cat can accidentally push the door shut on himself while playing.) Ask the sitter to leave the radio on while you’re gone. Secure a lamp so that it can’t tip or be pushed over, and leave it on a timer.

If you have a clawed cat that is not yet trained to a scratching post, and you are really concerned about your furniture, plastic claw covers may be an alternative. They are expensive and may be difficult to fit, but may be an effective temporary solution.

When you get back from your vacation, feed your cat and spend some time with him before checking your message machine or your mail, or unloading the car.

Sample List of Things to Ask the Cat Sitter to Tend to Daily

  • Feed canned food
  • Refill dry food bowls
  • Put fresh water in water bowl
  • Say “Good boy” when you see any cat use the scratching post
  • Check carpet for vomit; clean spots
  • Locate each cat; say his name when you find him
  • Scoop solids from litter box
  • Play with cats if time permits. Store lure toys away from cats before leaving the house
  • Water plants
  • Get mail
  • Give cats treats right before leaving

Traveling with Your Cat

Most cats would prefer staying home, but if you do have to travel with him, call ahead and make sure your hotel allows cats. Ask if there are any restrictions or is there a deposit required.

If you’re traveling by air, you must have a ticket, an airline-approved cat carrier, and a health certificate and proof of vaccines for your cat. Call the airlines to find out what else may be required. Outfit your cat with two breakaway collars just in case he accidently gets out of the carrier. If you’re traveling by car, always use a cat carrier. It can help protect your cat in case of an accident and prevent him from distracting you while you drive. Include a catnip toy and a towel or blanket.

Helpful Hints

Avoid shipping your cat by airplane if at all possible. It’s very stressful and somewhat dangerous if they are put in the cargo area. Cats with short noses, such as Persians, could have trouble breathing in the limited oxygen of cargo areas. If the airline allows it, it’s better to keep your cat with you in the passenger section and take a direct flight. A catnip-filled toy or dried lavender in a sack may help your cat deal with flying.

Don’t ever leave your cat locked up in the car for more than a few minutes. In warm weather, don’t leave him in the car at all. It takes less than three minutes for a car to get to 100 degrees on a warm day. A hot car will kill him.

Whatever your mode of travel, bring water and food. Some pet stores sell water bowls that collapse or won’t spill. Also carry a small litter box. Periodically put it on the floor for him to use, and then store it in a plastic bag. And at all times during the trip, make sure your cat wears a collar (or even two!) AND a harness. Write your name and phone number on both.


Tranquilizers are not recommended for pets traveling on airlines. Your cat may get so relaxed he could stop breathing.

Shipping Cats Via Service

Many companies specialize in transporting pets across the country or around the world. Here are two found while searching the internet:

PetTransporter Worldwide is a company which offers complete service for flying your pet in the United States or around the world. They will pick up your cat at your house and take him to the airport. They will let you know everything you need to know concerning transporting your pet—including paperwork, immunizations and quarantine required in other countries. Your cat will fly in a carrier placed in a human-grade pressurized and climate-controlled area directly under the pilots’ cabin. Call PetTransporter Worldwide at 1-800-264-1287 or visit For people who don’t like their cat on airplanes, there is a road pet transporting company that services the continental United States. Pro-Pet-Transports relocates pets via driving only—no flying. Cats and dogs are transported in the luxury of a mini-pet mobile. Pro-Pet-Transports provides personal attention for each pet. Call Pro-Pet-Transports at 1-866-273-7387 or visit

Shopping List

  • radio
  • cat carrier
  • two bright breakaway cat collars with identification
  • cat harness
  • baby powder
  • catnip toy spillproof water bowl
  • small litter box (for the car)
  • flower essence remedy for stress such as Bach Flower Rescue Remedy health certificate and required vaccinations certificates

For more info, see Cat Resources.

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