Can moving traumatize a cat?

Q. A reader wrote in to ask how to help a cat who was recently moved from Virginia to Dayton. The cat has changed its demeanor since the move and the pet owner wants to know if the move caused her to experience a trauma. The cat used to be happy and playful. The owner wonders if the cat will be that way again.

A. Many pets definitely like things to be a certain way and most do not like little changes, let alone big ones such as moving, even if it is just across town. There are two parts to this question. The first is what can an owner do to prepare an animal for a change to its environment. The second is what can an owner do if a pet doesn’t do well after there is a change to its environment.

Preparing a pet for any change can help it transition through the stressful event better. And the older the pet, the more resistant it can be to change and the longer it takes it to get used to the change. Whether the pet needs to adjust to a move, a new addition to the family (whether it is a baby or another pet), or a remodeling project, most pets need to be given time to adjust to these changes and ways to deal with them as well.

If there is going to be a lot of chaos surrounding the event, giving a pet — especially a cat— a remote or isolated area where it is quieter can buffer it from what is going on. The same can be done if a pet is going to be in a new environment after the event, as with a move. Keeping it in a small quiet room and then gradually introducing it to the rest of the house helps it from being overwhelmed by its surrounding. There are also calming or pheromone sprays that can be used as well as tranquilizers. Many pets’ instincts tell them to hide or flee because a new situation often feels threatening or frightening. Giving it a confined quiet area can really help.

If the pet does not transition well and now it is either hiding or acting spooked, it may need to go back into the confined area for a longer period of time to feel more secure. It also may need to visit a veterinarian to make sure it didn’t developed a health issue like a urinary tract disease due to the stress. Again, pheromone sprays and anti-anxiety supplements can be helpful. Also trying to interact with your pet while it is isolated helps too. Holding it and petting it when it is calm and feels safe can help reestablish the bond that was once there.

Most of the time a pet can become comfortable again in it’s new surroundings and be the pet it was before all the changes occurred. However, sometimes a dog or cat will remain changed and become a different pet to the family.

As long as your pet is safe and it’s needs are taken care of, it will have a good life and be happy — but it may need to be on its own terms.

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