There are few experiences in life that elicit both excitement and distress like moving into a new home, so just imagine how it must feel for our four-legged friends. After years of a comfy, stable routine, the entire world is instantaneously upended for no apparent reason at all. Nothing is where it used to be. Everything looks weird and smells even weirder. And seriously, why is everybody so frazzled? Animals just aren’t wired to understand this process, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help them with the transition.
To a pet, the weeks leading up to a move don’t make much sense. Familiar items go missing and are replaced by big brown cubes. Strangers come into the house, take our things, and leave in loud trucks. In some cases it can be best to just remove your pets from the process, and give them a mini-vacation with friends or at a boarding kennel.
Eventually, however, they’ll have to adjust to the new digs. You want that new home to be as welcoming and familiar as possible, so maybe this isn’t the best time to throw out the cat’s favorite chair. And that ugly old throw rug was an ideal napping spot for the pup, it might deserve a few more months of action before getting tossed. Well-loved toys, bowls, beds, and blankets can all help this new place feel like home, and should be front-and-center when their paws cross the threshold.
There’s a lot to do after a move, and while I know you have to get to the DMV pronto, it’s also vital to make time for the animals. Getting back to a regular schedule of walks and play times can be reassuring, and dogs need a chance to explore the sights and smells of the surrounding area, and maybe meet some neighbors along the way.
It’s worth combing the new place for trouble spots before letting the pets run amok. Are there holes in the backyard fence? Crawlspaces and crevices for the cat to get lost in? New homes frequently come equipped with strange noises that might spook an anxiety-prone pet, and it’s wise to make sure his bed isn’t right next to that obnoxious water hammer. And you might be causing some trouble yourself—animals can easily get into nails, tools, paint, and other potentially hazardous material that may be part of your move.
Before heading to new pastures, makes sure to have the logistics straightened out. Don’t forget to update your pets’ identification tags to reflect the move. It’s also worth getting a copy of your pets’ medical records, or arranging to have them sent as soon as you find a new veterinarian. Which reminds me—don’t put that off for too long! It’s a good idea to establish a vet before something has the chance to go wrong.
New homes come with so many possibilities, but can be disruptive for our pets. It’s worth taking the time to smooth that adjustment, because no matter how excited you are about the new fireplace and that sweet bay window, it’s not going to feel like home until the animals agree that it is.
Dr. Mike Fietz is a small animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2003 and has lived in Charlottesville since.