Moving with Pets – Guest post by Dr. Sarah Zuker, DVM, CCRP

Being in the veterinary profession, I was not too worried about moving across the country with my two cats.  My brother, the co-owner of The Moving Crew was there to take care of all the move logistics, so all I had to do was take care of the cats.  I researched the best and safest sedatives to help them stay calm for the two-day trip.  I had found phone numbers for pet friendly hotels within three hours on either side of where we hoped to be after the first day.  I purchased two large carriers that took up the whole back seat so the cats would have room to move around a little, and bird food cups that hang on the carrier doors so that they would have food and water without spilling.  I purchased disposable litter boxes for the night before the move, the hotel and the first few nights at the new house.  I put Feliway® room diffusers (Feline Facial Pheromone helps calm cats) in the house before we started packing boxes, and kept one area near their food and cat tower free of all moving paraphernalia.

The day we packed the truck, I set them up in a bathroom with food, water and a litter box so that they would not get out and would be shielded from the chaos.  The day of the move, I gave them their sedatives one hour before I planned to put them into carriers and loaded them in the car.  It is very important to give sedatives time to take effect before you stress the animal.

I did everything right, so it would be a nice, calm, comfortable ride for my husband, myself and our cats.  Surprise!  Even with all that planning, the ride was a disaster.   Bailey, our 12 year-old Siamese mix yowled the entire two days in the car.  I am not sure how she managed to keep it up for both days.  Pete, our 4 year-old orange, long-haired cat did not make a peep all day.  He did however, pace around the room and meow the entire night at the hotel.

My planning redemption did come when we arrived at the new house.  I set the cats up in a bathroom, again with food, water, litter box and Feliway® diffuser.  By the time we finished unloading the moving truck and were able to close the outside doors, the cats had rested and recovered from the drive.  Having more diffusers in place, and allowing them to explore the house slowly and at their own pace, made them feel safe.  They became comfortable at the new house within a few days and have been enjoying being home ever since.


Moving is one of the most stressful events people encounter.   Moving with pets can add even more stress, both for you and your pets.   Here are some tips to help the move go more smoothly:


Veterinary Care:

  • Ask your veterinarian for a copy of your pets’ records before moving.  They may also be able to recommend a veterinarian in your new area.
  • Get refills of any daily medications before moving.  With the stress of the move, it may be a few weeks or more before you are able to find a new veterinarian.  You do not want your pets to run out, especially if he/she has a significant disease that needs to be controlled with daily medications.
  • If your dog has been diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, speak to your veterinarian before you begin packing.  You may need to increase the amount of medication to get him/her through the stress of the move.
  • If your pet is not microchipped, consider having this done before your move.  There will be an increased chance of your pet getting out while loading and unloading your belongings, and during stops along the way if driving.  Pets can easily become lost in unfamiliar areas.  A microchip could mean the difference between receiving a phone call telling you where to pick up your pet and saying goodbye to a dear friend.  If your pet already has a microchip, make sure to update your account with your current cell phone number so that you can be reached if your pet becomes lost.


Packing and Unpacking:

  • Our pets are very sensitive to changes in the home and the packing process can be very hard on them.  Try to pick one area where your pet is comfortable, perhaps their food or sleeping area.  Plan to pack this area last and do not place empty packing material or filled boxes in this space.  Place a D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) or Feliway® (Feline Facial Pheromone) plug-in diffuser in the area.  This will help decrease their stress level and give them a place to get away from the moving chaos.
  • When you get to your new home, choose a small bedroom or bathroom and set it up for your pet.  Place the diffuser, their bed, food and water in the room.  Shut your pet in this room while moving everything into the new home.  This will prevent them from accidentally getting out in an unfamiliar area.  It will also give them a relatively quiet place to adjust to their new surroundings, while you unpack and fill the new home with things they recognize by sight and smell.


Renting or Leasing:

  • Make sure to inquire about pet fees, limits on number of pets, breed restrictions and documentation needed by your leasing company prior to moving in with your pets.


General Driving Tips:

  • Pack a separate bag for your pets with food, bottled water and any medications they may need while on the road and the first few days at the new home.  Make sure this bag goes in the vehicle with the pets.
  • Many pets get agitated on long car trips.  This can be exacerbated further by the stress of packing the home.  If you are worried about how your pet will do, see your veterinarian about a month before your move to discuss sedatives or anti-anxiety medications.  We like to have time for you to try these medications while at home with your pet, especially if they have never taken them before.  This is to ensure that they tolerate the medication well, and that it works effectively for them.  It also ensures that your veterinarian is available in the unlikely event of an adverse reaction.  Occasionally, sedatives can cause excitement in some pets.  Better to find this out at home, than on the freeway, hours from your veterinarian.


Long Distance Moving Tips:

  • Plan out pet-friendly hotels beforehand if you are moving farther than a one-day drive from you previous home.  Not all hotels will allow pets and some have very high fees.  Find a back-up hotel, or hotel chain in the event you do not make it as far as you planned, or are making good time and want to push on farther than previously planned.
  • If you are in a warm climate, remote start is your new best friend.  It allows you to leave the vehicle running with the air conditioner on while you run into restrooms or restaurants.  This is especially important with animals like cats and exotics that do not need to leave the vehicle to urinate/defecate.
  • Each state has its own pet travel regulations, usually involving vaccination and health certificate requirements.  Make sure to research this beforehand so that you can have all the proper paperwork available.  It would be terrible to have additional fines, or even your pet impounded, should you get pulled over for a broken taillight.


Air Travel Tips:

  • Each and every airline has their own rules for what documentation is required for pets, whether traveling in baggage or in the cabin.  If you will be switching planes, make sure to fully research the rules for each airline you will be flying.
  • Most airlines require a US Health Certificate and proof of Rabies Vaccination.  These can be arranged through your veterinarian.  Make sure to tell them the dates you will be flying, as Health Certificates are only valid for a certain number of days.
  • If you are leaving the country, you will likely need both a US Health Certificate to board the plane, and the specific health certificate of the destination country to de-board upon arrival.  Since each country has its own certificate, make sure to print it out and bring it with you to your veterinary appointment.  Contrary to popular belief, vets do not keep the entire world’s collection of health certificate forms on hand!



Feline Specific Tips:

  • If driving more than one day, purchase disposable litter boxes from your pet store.  You can unwrap one when you arrive at the hotel and then throw it away when you leave the next morning.
  • Most people have very small carriers that they use just for trips to the vet.  For the long driving trip, purchase larger carriers so that your pet has room to stand and turn around comfortably.  You can also purchase food and water dishes that hang from the doors.  If the carrier you choose does not offer dishes, you can buy ones that hang on birdcages.  This way your pet will not tip over the bowls, leaving your car wet, and them without water.


Canine Specific Tips:

  • Make sure your pet has current tags with your cell phone number.   When stopping on the road, always attach a leash to your pet before opening car doors.  Roadside rest stops and fast food restaurants often have very heavy traffic.  You do not want to have to locate an emergency veterinary hospital while on the road.
  • Be sure to leave enough space in your vehicle for your pets to lie down comfortably, especially if driving a long distance.  This will help both them and you to relax while on the road.



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Dr. Sarah practices at Mackinaw Veterinary Associates in Saginaw Township, Michigan.

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