Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Making the Move with Fluffy and Fido

Pet Column for the week of April 14, 2008

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Sarah Dowling
Information Specialist

We can all appreciate how stressful it is to move. First the tedious process of finding the right home, then long hours spent sorting and packing up all of your belongings, and finally months of unpacking. It's enough to make anyone scream! If pets are part of your household it is important to remember that moving can make even the most stable animal extremely anxious, whether the move is to the house across the street or halfway around the world.

Linda Case, an adjunct assistant professor who teaches companion animal behavior and training at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, Ill., explains that there are several simple and easy steps every pet owner should take to reduce their pets' stress levels during the moving process.

First and foremost, pet owners should check and double check that their new home will accept their pets. Many apartment and condominium complexes place restrictions on the number and size of pets that are allowed on the premises. Similarly, if you own an exotic species or a hybrid animal you should make sure that the state or county that you are moving to does not have any laws preventing that animal from residing in that area.

With that matter settled it is now time for a trip to the veterinarian. Before moving it is important to make sure that Fido or Fluffy is up-to-date on any vaccinations and has a clean bill of health. It is also a good idea to ask for a copy of your pet's medical records so that your new veterinarian will have a complete picture of all of your pet's medical conditions.

"If you are moving out of the state or country, your pet may need to have additional vaccines or health certificates in order to travel into that area," explains Case. Your veterinarian should be able to let you know exactly what your pet will need in order to travel, but a call to your regional United States Department of Agriculture office may be warranted for questions that your veterinarian is unable to answer.

One of the most important things to remember when moving or travelling with your pet is to have proper identification on the animal at all times. Make sure that you have an ID tag with your new address and phone number on your pet's collar. While at your veterinarian you may also consider asking about placing a microchip in your pet. This is a quick way to ensure that even if your pet is not wearing its collar it can be returned home safely. Your veterinarian can place a microchip during your appointment by injecting the chip under your pet's skin just like a vaccine.

By now the moving process is most likely in full swing. According to Case it is a good idea to board your pets during this time in order to make this time go as smoothly as possible for all involved. This is especially important if you have hired a moving company to help you pack and move your belongings, since their presence can drastically increase your pets' anxiety level. Also, there is always the chance that one of the movers can accidentally let your pet slip out the door.

"The goal is to keep your pet's anxiety and stress levels at a minimum and keep them as safe as possible while you move," says Case. "Sometimes the best option is just to remove them from the situation entirely by taking them to a boarding kennel or relative's house until you have transitioned into your new home."

If you are making a local move Case also suggests taking your dog for a walk by the new house so your pet can familiarize itself with its new home. This may help transition your pet to the new location and can even help you to meet some new neighbors!

Of course, not every move is going to be a local one. In regards to the move itself, Case recommends avoiding putting your pet through a plane ride if at all possible due to the risks involved. Regardless of the mode of transportation, Case stresses the importance of proper and safe confinement of the pet.

"Every animal that you travel with should be safely confined in a crate or have some other method of restraint while in the car, in order to ensure your pet's safe arrival at their new home," explains Case. "Cats should be crated at all times and provided with fresh water and a litter box while crated. Dogs should be confined either in a crate or by a specialized travel harness."

While driving owners should make sure to stop frequently to let their faithful companions use the restroom. This is especially important with younger dogs that may not be completely housebroken. Make sure to set time aside in your drive to let your dog run off some pent up energy at a rest stop, while leashed of course, in order to keep your dog calm and yourself sane during the drive.

Once your travels are finished and you have finally arrived at your new home, Case recommends bringing the same bedding that your pet used at your previous home and establishing the same, or similar, set up for your pet to help your pet adjust to the new surroundings. For example, if your pet's water and food bowls were kept in the kitchen at the old home try to find an area in your new kitchen for it. Also keep the dog bed or cat tree in similar places between houses.

"Dogs and cats are creatures of habit that thrive on routine. As a result, the easiest way to prevent behavior problems like house-soiling, general anxiety, and destructive chewing after moving is to keep your pet's daily routine as constant as possible."

For more information and tips about moving with your pet, contact your local veterinarian.