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How to prepare pets for a move

Moving with a pet doesn’t have to be so stressful if you plan ahead and take things slow.

Moving with a dog, cat or multiple pets doesn’t have to be stressful as long as you have a plan. For starters, it’s important to keep them safe and calm when preparing for a big change like moving homes.

“Stress in dogs and cats can cause them to eat less or not eat at all, shake, tremble, hide, vomit and/or diarrhea (and sometimes it can be bloody), act aggressively or try to run away if they are scared,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, veterinary consultant for Fetch Pet Insurance, says.

Because moving can be hard for you and your pets, we're offering tips on keeping organized, calm and prepared to minimize any anxiety

How to move with pets

Before deciding on a house or apartment, check into local ordinances regarding pets. Some cities have breed bans that may limit you and your pet from moving there. You should also confirm your new housing situation accepts pets, and that your pets’ weight and breed are within all limits. 

Notify the company that supplied your pets’ microchips before leaving the state or country to let them know your new contact information. Do the same with your dog and cat insurance providers. 

Pet parents should also arrange for a final veterinary visit before the move. This way, you can get a clean bill of health and obtain a copy of your pet’s veterinary records to pass on to their next vet. You should also get a health certificate for each pet, which will possibly be required if you’re traveling to your new home by air. And, though it’s rare, you could be stopped when crossing state lines by car and asked for your pets’ health certificates.

If you’re flying with your dog or cat, visit the airline’s website for specific information on flying with pets, including where they can ride and what size crates they’ll need. Your airline may also have specific requirements for health certificates, so be sure to check all regulations.

“Keep small dogs and cats in their carriers during the flight,” Dr. Singler says. “Keep larger dogs on a short leash and use a calm, reassuring tone when you speak to them to help reduce their anxiety.”

For those traveling by car with an anxious pet or a pet who gets carsick, make sure your vet has prescribed enough medication to get you and your pets to your final destination. You should also create a comfortable spot for their carrier or a seatbelt so they’re secure in case of an accident. At all times, keep their collar or harness on, and have a leash readily accessible to help keep dogs from running off when stopping for bathroom breaks.

“It can be helpful to use pheromone products, like a diffuser or a collar, even several weeks before starting to move to help reduce their stress level,” Dr. Singler says. “Bringing out suitcases and boxes gradually ahead of time can also help acclimate your pet to their presence.”

RELATED: Everything you need to know about traveling with a pet

During the move

Pay special attention to your pets during the moving process. Pets pick up on the anxiety that the family may feel during the move, and seeing the house being slowly boxed up can cause them stress, too.

Make sure your best friend has a safe place to retreat through all the chaos. This is especially important on moving day, when people are coming into the house and removing all of their things. It may be helpful to confine your pet to one space or even board them if needed so there’s no risk of them getting hurt or lost.

“Some pets may not like the idea of strangers coming in and out of their house,” Dr. Singler says. “If your dog has a safe space like a crate, encourage them to use it during times when there’s a lot of activity with moving, and try to have it in a quiet area of the house away from the commotion. Give cats a safe place to hide and get away while still knowing where they are.” 

Adjusting to a new home

Once you get to your new home, make sure your pets are safe and secure as they acclimate to the new surroundings. Show them around the new space, and forgive the occasional bad behavior as they get used to the new layout.

“When introducing your pet to your new home, still use caution to prevent them from escaping since they’ll be disoriented and likely still scared,” Dr. Singler says. “This means a leash for dogs and keeping cats in their carriers until they’re securely inside the house. If boxes and furniture are still being moved in, keep in mind this may create more opportunities for pets to escape, so try to set up a quiet space away from the commotion for your pet to decompress with familiar objects like their bed, crate and toys.”

After long travel, you can offer your pet food and water, but don’t be surprised if they don’t want any right away. Be sure to also set up your cat’s litter box. 

“Try to continue their normal routine in terms of feeding, play/exercise and time outside for dogs,” Dr. Singler says. “If your dog used to have a yard and now doesn’t, they may need some time to adjust to doing their business on a leash on a walk as opposed to being in a yard more independently. If your pet is moving into a home with new animals, keep them separated and confined until you are sure they can interact safely.”

You can again consider using pheromone diffusers to ease pet anxieties during the first few weeks in a new home. Don’t let your pets out of the house off-leash during the adjustment period — recently moved pets are notorious for getting lost and seeking out their old homes, even if they’re hundreds of miles away.

Moving abroad with pets

For families moving overseas, be sure to thoroughly research the requirements for pet entry into another country. Make sure to bring all of your vet paperwork with you in carry-on luggage for easy access.

The United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) is the most up-to-date source of information for bringing your pets into other states, territories and countries. Keep in mind that some countries have very stringent rules that may mean starting months ahead of time to complete all vaccinations and documents on time.  

Your veterinarian can’t sign off on a health certificate for travel if your pet doesn’t meet the needs of the destination, so it’s important to plan ahead. Also, check with your veterinarian early to make sure they’re USDA-accredited to sign health certificates. When making an appointment, let them know it’s for a health certificate so that they can set aside the appropriate amount of time to review the requirements and prepare the certificate.

Pets are a part of your family, so it’s crucial to create a moving experience for them that’s as stress-free as possible. Planning ahead and getting the process started before you even pack that first box will ensure that your whole family can have a happy start in your new home.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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