Moving with Cats: A Survivor’s Tale

I’ve never had to move cats before.

Smirnoff, at age 3, had been living in my old apartment for the past 2 years, which is a significant two thirds of his life. Bacardi wasn’t too far behind. I was a little nervous after watching episodes of My Cat From Hell (Animal Planet), as well as knowing the histories of several cats at our shelter (such as Whiskers), knowing that after a move, cat hierarchies can change in a new territory. Smirnoff and Bacardi are a mismatched pair, after all. They like each other, but they’re not really bonded. So I had my reservations.

Still, I have done enough adoption interviews at the shelter to know that in any new environment, you should keep your cat(s) confined to a smaller space, such as a bedroom or bathroom (with litterbox, water, and food included) so as not to overwhelm them.

My plan was simple: move the cats and their stuff first. Set them up in the bathroom of my new apartment. Keep them in there for a couple days, or as long as they would tolerate it, and hope that no fights break out. But I know how to introduce cats. If the worst came to the worst, I could separate them and slowly re-introduce them. It would be arduous, but possible. I felt I was mostly prepared. What actually happened wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

The Actual Move

Neither Smirnoff nor Bacardi love traveling. Smirnoff is fine in a carrier if I’m walking him somewhere (he really seems to enjoy it, in fact), but he’s gotten worse in the car over the past two years (probably because he’s hardly ever in one). Bacardi, though, always has a near-panic attack as soon as I take the carrier through the apartment door. I had been slowly getting him used to a Thundershirt all summer, which helped, although there were still cries and panting. But not nearly as bad as it would have been.

So the alcohol cats were driven 20 minutes to my new apartment and into the bathroom they went. Neither were very happy about it. I knew that was a possibility.

I wasn’t expecting to find Smirnoff huddled in the sink.

Smirnoff! My loud, fearsome Smirnoff! King of the castle, up for any adventure. Bacardi, who I thought would be far more shy in a new place, seemed much more at ease. Again, the Thundershirt helped.

Later, when I brought the rest of my stuff over, I checked on the cats to find them both huddled in Bacardi’s carrier, Smirnoff in the back. It was like Smirnoff was using Bacardi as a shield. Bacardi slowly came out and I gave him some good pets, shook my head in disbelief, and let them be.

Out of the Bathroom

Neither of my cats like being confined, and so it was much later that evening I had to let them out of the bathroom, which the cleaning crew hadn’t cleaned (because the cats were in there) and I desperately needed a shower. I didn’t want the cats in the bathroom while I cleaned it. I probably should not have let them out.

Cries, cries, cries! Exploration, and then a sudden realization they had no idea where they were, and then a brief bout of panting during which I tried to soothe them. This is why cats should stay confined for a while. The huge new territory was too much for them.

That was when I realized I had made a huge rookie mistake.

I had thought, after being locked in the bathroom for a solid 7 hours, that they knew where their litter box was. And it seems as if they did. But when they were let out, they soon forgot where they were and I was just able to catch the frantic I need to pee cries mixed in with the I’m nervous, where am I? cries, and carried Bacardi into the bathroom, where he promptly peed in the box. Then I brought Smirnoff over. He peed twice.

I shut them back in the bathroom when I went to bed.

The Next Day

I couldn’t find Smirnoff anywhere. I search the entire apartment, in all the nooks and crannies and possible hiding spots. He was nowhere to be found. All of the windows still had their screens, so he hadn’t escaped. The only possibility was that he was hiding somewhere that it was impossible for him to be. I started opening the cabinets and finally, there he was—in the cabinet beneath the sink. There’s a hole in the side where the pipe goes to the sink, with the hole being big enough for Smirnoff to slip through. My big, brave Smirnoff.

Bacardi, on the other hand, was wriggling all over the floor. Wherever I went, he followed. He was constantly seeking petting. He would cry if he strayed too far from me; he’s always been a Mama’s boy, but this was extra clingy. He didn’t want to leave my side. He’d wander down the hall and back to me. Wander, back to me.

But then I also noticed something else: he seemed to be calling out, trying to figure out where Smirnoff was. Where did you go? Where is my friend? That part made me realize that things were probably going to be okay.

What Next?

The cats are still settling in. They’re not used to a bunch of things, like upstairs neighbors, or being able to see people outside so close up (we used to be on the third story on a hill). When Smirnoff gets scared of something, in this foreign territory that is a huge upheaval for a territory-oriented cat, he runs under the cabinets, or under my bed.

The definitely won’t be the last time I move apartments. But it’s nice for me to know that at least they have each other. Smirnoff and Bacardi, to the very end. Together.

And now that they’re settling in, it’s good to know that I survived.

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6 thoughts on “Moving with Cats: A Survivor’s Tale

  1. Oh! Smurf! He got really antsy when I was moving out and seemed peeved at me when I said goodbye to him. But I’m glad to hear that they are adjusting well!

  2. No, cats do not LIKE moving. But most settle in, especially indoor cats. Sorry for telling of my own cats once again on your pages
    I had that strange character change in my cats too, when I brought them in from cat shelter. Mashka (now dead) and FunTom at the cat shelter: She very cautious, he the big boss of the small hut where four of them where kept, the two other toms extremely panicking. He played with me, was very relaxed about his food, even touching him was not out of the question. I went there a week several times, before I brought them home.
    When I did, all changed. Mashka explored that one room, I confined them to, after only a few hours – he stayed hidden under the lower shelf invisible. After 24 hours he dared to come out, tried to get to the water – and Mashka suddenly turned out to be the dominant cat. I had to put a second water bowl in the room.
    When Kessy came after Mashkas death there was no possibility to close the door – with the litter boxes being there and my FunTom using those, too. Could not close him in there with her – he is used to sleep on my bed – and I did not want to change more for him than absolutely necessary when this new cat came.
    She had problems too, like your two, with that big appartement, no place she knew, no cat she knew (though she got on well with FunTom from the very first day), no toy she knew. The terror she felt. My heart bled looking at that litttle bundle of fear. But after a week she left her safe haven, still very wary of my presence, avoiding that whenever she could.
    All is well now, she lies beside me, purring, while I type this. But it was a bumpy road.
    From this experience I can only advice like all the shelters do: In a new territory confine your cat to one room, slowly enlarging the space when the cat seems to have settled in.
    And allow the cat its own time for that.
    Smirnoff has lost one of the humans he knew, he found himself in a new world, the only constant parts of his existence now are you and Bacardi. And you leave home for hours. He will get used to it. To the new noises, the new scents, the new sights in front of the window – but he will need time.
    I might have to move with my cats next year – and I am dreading that!

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  4. I had a cat for about 10 years after college and admit that I never thought for more than a few minutes about what moving would be like for Beans. I moved about 5 times when he was with me and he was completely unfazed every time. I was definitely more anxious and disoriented than he was! I have a fantastic photo of him on the kitchen table amid piles of boxes, looking like the king of his territory. But now I have two new cats and a long-distance move planned for next year. One of my kitties is, in general, pretty nervous and sensitive (and a HUGE snuggler and clinger.) The other is a brave and curious male but as you wrote, you can never tell how they’ll react to such a change. Thanks for this reminder that I’ll really have to plan and think about how to make them feel as safe and comfortable as possible on the way to and in their new home.

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