by Alison Gerken, DVM & Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB
I recently bought my first-ever home, and am excitedly daydreaming about what the living room will look like with seafoam blue paint, where we will put the Christmas tree, and how we can showcase the Banyan tree in the backyard.
Despite my excitement, I cannot shake a sense of dread — of the move itself. Who doesn’t hate moving? The search for something you need but can’t remember which box you put it in, the guilt when realizing how much stuff you own that has collected dust, the back pain from carrying heavy pieces of furniture...it’s exhausting and tedious. Somehow, we persevere because of the eager anticipation that the move will bring a welcome change of scenery.
Unfortunately, however, our pets do not share in our alacrity when they see their whole world being packed away. Instead, they are likely to feel stressed and confused. Minimizing our pet’s stress during a move will make the process more enjoyable — or at least more bearable — for all.
Finding your dream home
Your pet is unable to voice his opinion, so make sure you consider his best interests when deciding on where to move.
During my search for a new home, I found the cutest beach bungalow, but it was only 450 square feet. This was no problem for me, but its size would really inhibit my cats’ daily zoomies. I knew their vote on this house would be a “no,” so we kept looking.
Evaluate the neighborhood for potential stressors for your pet like loose dogs, lots of construction, and noisy traffic.
Apartment or condo buildings with busy hallways and elevators may be stressful for dogs who are fearful of people or other dogs. Avoid buildings with a lot of stairs if you have an arthritic or geriatric dog.
Preparing for the move
1. Make your pet’s carrier his oasis. Now that you have found your dream home, determine whether you need to purchase a new crate or carrier to meet airline requirements or to increase the safety or comfort of your pet during a long car ride. The crate should be large enough for your pet to stand up, lie down, and turn around.
When you bring the crate home, place it in a quiet location and make it inviting by placing your pet’s favorite bed and toy in it.
Teach your pet to like the crate by tossing treats into it. If your pet does not enter the crate or scoots out quickly, increase the value of the food. Try small pieces of chicken, hot dog, salmon, beef, and cheese.
If your pet still does not enter or stay in the crate, then toss the food 2-3 feet away from the crate. When your pet readily eats the treats at this distance, then toss the food gradually a little closer to the crate until you are throwing the food into the crate. When your pet is readily entering the crate, start feeding your pet’s meals inside it.
Once your pet voluntarily remains in the crate for at least five minutes, then close the crate door for one second, open the door, and toss in a treat. Gradually increase the amount of time that you leave the door closed until your pet remains calmly in the crate for at least five minutes with the door closed.
Next, take your pet on short car rides, gradually working up to longer rides. If your pet seems overly stressed on car rides, then discuss this with your veterinarian as he may need a medication to help him relax during transport.
This process may take less than one week or may take several months, so it is best to start as early as possible.
2. Pack away the stress. When you start packing, evaluate your pet’s body language to determine if he is stressed. If he runs away, cowers, tucks his tail, puts his ears back, trembles, pants, or yawns, then put him in another room with a fabulous food toy and ambient sound like white noise or classical music.
Make packing more fun and engaging for your pet by hiding food in or under some of the unused boxes.
Stay calm. If you move about in a frenzy or lose your cool while packing, this is likely to add to your pet’s (and your) stress.
3. Hang out with your pet. Packing will keep you plenty busy, but make sure you are allotting at least 10-20 minutes three times daily to interacting with your dog or cat.
Alison Gerken is a second-year resident in veterinary behavior at the Florida Veterinary Behavior Service under the mentorship of Lisa Radosta. She graduated from the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Learn more at flvetbehavior.com