Essential pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

This week we finish off looking at how you can help keep stress to a minimum, for your pets at least, while moving house.

Having already covered what to do before and during the move, we now focus on some specific cat issues after you’ve arrived. These include cats trying to return to their old hunting grounds and home as well as things to consider if they have to adjust now to always being indoors or, conversely, suddenly being allowed out for the first time.

Although they invariably will get very bored and totally under your feet, it’s important, as mentioned last week, to keep cats in for a minimum of two weeks after the move, longer if you have moved within reach of your old home. When the big day comes to let them out for the first time, if possible for your own nerves as much as their safety, try to introduce them to their new patch gradually. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go to plan: our tabby made a dart through the open legs standing in the doorway on day 12 of enforced captivity then scaled an eight-foot fence – only returning 36 hours later looking very smug.

Start by introducing your cat to your garden, if you have one, and go out with them leaving the door open so they can come back in at any point if they feel nervous. If they are used to and happy with a cat harness, this could be useful at this stage. Resist the temptation to carry them out, and let them come in their own time only when they are ready.

If you live quite close to your old home, warn the new occupiers they may get an unexpected visitor and leave contact details so they can inform you if this happens. Ask them not to encourage your cat to come by withholding any kind of fuss, not giving food and denying access back into the old home. It can take a number of months (and several retrievals!) before your cat starts to think of your new home as its only residence. If there are very busy roads between the two properties and they persistently refuse to stop going home you may have to consider re-homing or keeping your cat in permanently.

Persuading a cat that has had access to the great outdoors to embrace indoors living is, however, often easier said than done. You have to make a huge effort to make the indoor environment stimulating enough to prevent boredom and provide games and toys that allow them still to use their hunting skills.

It’s also critical to ensure they have sufficient resources for the number of cats in the household, especially if the space is also reduced. This means not only enough food, water and litter trays but also scratching posts, toys, beds and places to hide. Some cats prefer being up high so resources over a range of levels is important. In reality, some cats find this transition too difficult and may end up with behavioural problems such as inappropriate urination or aggression as a result, in which case, if environmental changes don’t resolve it, re-homing may be the fairest option for the cat. You should always seek advice from your own vet early if they are not settling to try to prevent this becoming necessary.

If, however, you are fortunate enough to now be able to allow a previously indoor cat out on adventures, you should have fewer problems. It’s important to let them adjust very slowly to this new life and accept they may only want to venture out, at least initially, when you are about.

A really useful website with more guidance about moving home and other cat issues is the Feline Advisory Bureau on www.fabcats.org.uk.