How to help your pet settle into a new home
If you’ve recently had to relocate following Cyclone Gabrielle and the earlier floods, firstly – I am so sorry for what you’re going through. It is so tough to have your life uprooted, I hope you have all the support you need to get you through.
I know there will be many people who can’t return to their homes due to storm damage, who are now looking for a more permanent place to settle. However, this advice is useful for anyone who is moving house with a pet soon.
MOVING WITH A DOG
Minimising the stress
Seeing you pack all yours and your dog’s things may create some anxiety for your dog, particularly if you have already been displaced from your home recently.
To minimise this stress, consider taking your dog to stay with a well-known family member or to a local kennel for moving day. You might find if you are moving around and can afford it, staying in one place for the dog may be easier for you and the dog. A kennel stay is often safer and they have all the necessary space and care that will afford the dog some stability during moving time.
Ensure your new home is set up for a dog
If the property you’re moving to is not safely fenced for dogs, take care to ensure your dog does not escape and get lost. You may need to set up a running line outside for them or get a crate and run as a temporary measure, then you can start to set up a long term arrangement when you have the capacity.
If you don’t have anything set up outside, keep your dog inside unless supervised – a crate or a clip station may be helpful for keeping your dog settled and contained inside in this new place for periods of time, and it’s okay if you need to tie your dog up outside for short periods of time while you arrange a longer term arrangement (that is if they are used to being restrained on a clip station or running line).
Set up your dog’s familiar belongings for them before you bring them in, e.g. their own crate, bedding and toys. Try to replicate a similar sleeping set up to what they had at your previous residence, and perhaps give them an old worn t-shirt of yours to sleep with for comfort and familiarity. Dogs’ scent memory is very good.
Doing the first introduction
If you are about to move to a new location with your dog, try to make sure things go well as you can in the new place on the first day. If things go wrong on the first day in a new place for your dog, it can be hard to rectify. I know you may be feeling stressed and it might be difficult for you, so be kind on yourself and do the best you can.
When bringing your dog to your new home for the first time, do a walk around with your dog on-lead to let them get familiar with the property. Start outside, and let them have a good sniff around and go to the toilet before you bring them inside. Once you bring them inside, take them into each room on lead to check things out. If you use a clicker, click and reward as you do both the indoor and outdoor introductions to help build a positive association. I would then suggest you settle your dog onto a clip station or in a crate, or just on their bed if you don’t use those tools. Give them something nice to chew on and help them settle, particularly if you’re still busy fussing around and getting your home unpacked and set up. It’s best to restrict them to a short lead or clip station as they won’t toilet on that if restricted to a bed site. Do the same a few times especially if there are other animal smells around,
House training doesn’t always generalise to new places, so you’ll need to be aware of this over the first few days in your new home. When you first arrive, as above, walk your dog through the house on a lead and under supervision to begin with to ensure they don’t toilet inside. Use a clip station or crate if you are concerned about this to keep your dog contained if not directly supervised, and take your dog outside to go to the toilet regularly. Use a “be quick” or “toilet” command and reward them for toileting outside on the grass at your new home.
If you are moving somewhere that has other people, dogs or cats on-site, set your dog up for success with these relationships. You want to do really good first meet and greets with all other dogs, people and cats that are around, taking particular care with children and cats if your dog is not used to them.
If you can, use a clicker and high value treats to help these first interactions go in a positive way (if your dog is clicker trained). This helps a lot, but if you don’t use a clicker just use high value treats to reward your dog for positive interactions. Take real care with toddlers and babies, especially if your dog hasn’t had a lot of contact with young ones before. They can be unpredictable, particularly in this high stress time, so don’t leave them unsupervised with your dog at all unless your dog is well adjusted to young kids.
Do the first meeting with other dogs ideally outside or even better, off territory. Use treats to reward both dogs for a positive interaction.
If the new place has a cat around and you don’t, you don’t want your dog to chase or injure the cat so take care around that. If possible, secure the cat in a crate for the first interaction and keep your dog on a lead. Have separate spaces for them for now if you’re worried, then you can look at training your dog if this is going to be a longer term home. If you see a negative reaction, feel free to get in touch with us for some advice and keep them separate for now.
Managing your dog’s stress
Relocation can be stressful for a dog. If you can see this is happening, try not to overly fuss over your dog but instead aim to keep routines as consistent as possible and try to show calm confidence – your dog will take their cues from you (know this is not always easy when your life is uprooted, so don’t be hard on yourself if calm confidence isn’t manageable right now).
If your dog is highly distressed, it would be well worth seeking some sedation or anti-anxiety medication from the vet to help them settle down for the first couple of days in a new place e.g. if you see your dog panting, pupils dilated etc. If your dog is extremely fearful, it can help to get them into a crate covered up with a sheet – create a dark, quiet spot for them to settle in, they may still pant for a while and be a bit stressed but it can help a lot for that immediate distress. Get the environment around them as calm as possible.
Keep up the flow of treats in the new space, particularly if your dog is struggling to adjust or seems a bit anxious. If you use a clicker for training, click and reward with high value treats whenever your dog is non-vocal or relatively calm to reinforce those behaviours. If you don’t use a clicker, just give high value treats or things like stuffed kong and bones to help your dog feel settled. If your dog is not eating at all, their anxiety level is high in which case look at popping them in a darkened crate (sheet over it) or speaking to your vet about anti anxiety medication.
MOVING WITH A CAT
Unlike dogs, domestic cats are often free to roam quite freely outside. Sometimes when cats move house, they want to return to their old surroundings (homing) – this can be stressful and dangerous.
If you’re about to move to a new house, I would suggest following these tips:
- Initially keep your cat contained to one quiet, secure room for 2 – 3 days. Ensure this room has their bed, some toys, water and a litterbox in this room, and you can feed your cat in this room, too. A raised bed area that’s stable is a preference for a cat too. This helps your cat feel safe and secure in the new place and enables him or her to establish their own quiet space and manage their toileting into a litter box.
- Remember if the room is carpeted, they might pee on the carpet, make sure they have one or two litterboxes and keep them very clean. You may want to cover the carpet with plastic or something water proof. I’d also suggest a couple of levels that they can lie on one raised with a soft bed.
- Be careful going in and out of door as they might try to escape
- After this initial 2 – 3 day period, slowly introduce your cat to the rest of the house, ideally just a room or two at a time with access back to their room with the litter box.
- Keep your cat contained inside for at least 2-3 weeks so your new home becomes firmly established as their territory. Keep all doors and windows closed so your cat can’t escape. If your cat goes outside too quickly, they may try to run away or get lost or become scared. They may head back to their old territory too.
- When taking your cat outside for the first time, supervise them to gauge their reaction.
- If only staying somewhere temporarily, e.g for a week or so, don’t establish your cat in that territory if it’s only interim. Just keep them in the one small room and potentially the rest of the house but not outside.
- If you’re staying somewhere short term only, a cattery may be a better option as your cat won’t be trying to establish themselves somewhere new and won’t be at risk of escaping the house etc, and the cattery will be skilled at managing this.
- If your cat is unsettled, pop them in a darkened, covered crate as this should help them settle down.
OTHER SMALL PETS
Other pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and others will normally be in enclosures so just take the enclosure with you if you can or find something that will suit in the meantime. Make sure you have some bedding, food and plates etc. Various rescue organiSations can help often and also kennels and catteries often can help too. Although these species of course can get stressed too, it is less of an issue as you can put their pens in a safe place and offer them a dark space in the pen to hide in if the appear scared. There are anti-stress medications that can be used too and pet stores often have a few options, or the Vet.
If you’re relocating due to storm damage to your home, I’m so sorry if this is the situation you’ve so heartbreakingly found yourself in. If you’re concerned about your cat or dog following the storm, please reach out and send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to offer some advice.