How to move with pets

They get stressed out, too — try to keep elements of their routine while moving

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Where are you moving to?

woman hugging a pet ginger cat

Moving is challenging and can cause a lot of stress. It can be especially difficult to move with a pet because you have to manage their needs and emotions along with your own. With some thoughtful planning, though, you can alleviate your pet’s stress and make it a successful move for everyone.


Key insights

Try to keep your pet’s routine the same throughout the entire moving process. It can help them cope with stress and relax.

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Bring your pet’s familiar items with you on the move, like blankets or bedding. The scent of these items can help calm down your pet.

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You can hire a pet transport company to take care of moving your pet for you. Fees can vary depending on the mode of travel (by ground or by air).

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Your pet’s routine: Keep it the same

Preparing to move can disrupt your daily routine and create a lot of stress. In addition to the tasks you need to do each day, you’ll have a new list of to-do items to complete by the moving date, like coordinating movers and packing boxes. Your pet will likely observe the changes going on around them, from the moving boxes piling up to furniture being disassembled, and become apprehensive.

It’s important to still try to keep your pet’s routine the same or similar to that of a normal day in order to reduce their stress level. Predictable routines can help make a pet feel more at ease about the changes that come with moving.

“As much as you can, try to stick to your dog's regular routine for walks and meals, even on moving day,” suggested Susan Nilson, a dog and cat training and behavior professional. “This will help him feel more in control of his environment, which is essential for reducing stress.”

For cats, Nilson recommends ensuring that you feed them at the same time each day and give them affection and attention as often as you can.

While it can be difficult to create a calm environment for your pet when you're moving, try your best to keep their schedules as predictable as possible during the whole process. This includes during the months leading up to the move, on the actual moving date and in the following weeks once you’ve settled into your new place.

Some aspects of the daily routine that you may want to maintain include:

  • Walks
  • Feedings
  • Play dates
  • Morning and night routines

Home showings

Keeping your pet’s routine could be particularly tough while moving, especially if you are selling your home and need to regularly be out of the house for showings. Pets can become anxious when unfamiliar people come in and out of their homes, which is another reason to try to keep your pet relaxed and happy.

Before putting your house on the market, you should practice having friends or family over for short periods so your pet can get used to other people walking through the home. Start the packing process sooner and place boxes around for your pet to sniff and get used to.

An open house or home showing may be an excellent time to take your dog for a long walk or to a local dog park to release some nervous energy. If your dog needs to stay home during showings, Nilson suggests providing “your dog with a favorite chewy or food puzzle toy to keep him busy and distracted.” She added that “chewing is a relaxing activity for dogs while puzzle toys, like KONGs or LickiMats, are a great way to provide a mental challenge.”

Planning

One of the best ways to reduce moving stress for you and your pet is to plan ahead. Dr. Bethany Hsia, a veterinarian in Fresno, California, and co-founder of CodaPet, an online platform with a network of licensed providers who offer in-home end-of-life care for pets, advised those moving to “consider boarding or hiring a pet sitter to reduce your stress and your pet’s.” That way, you won’t have to worry about your pet running outside while the truck is being loaded.

Hsia added that “the actual moving day can be a hectic process, so boarding your pet will be one less thing to worry about during moving day.”

If boarding your dog or cat is not an option for moving day, be prepared to offer your pet treats and rewards as positive reinforcement. Hsia advised that “this can help create positive associations with the moving experience.” Another thing to try is to set up a quiet room away from the chaos of packing and moving activities for your pet to retreat to, she adds.

For the move, you’ll need a travel carrier to transport your pet safely, so purchase one a few weeks ahead of time to use for training. A carrier is different from a crate; it’s typically lighter and made of softer materials, so it can be more comfortable for travel. On the other hand, a crate is usually made of metal or hard plastic (you may already use a crate for your dog at night). A carrier is also smaller than a crate, which makes it ideal for travel.

One training tip is to place the pet’s carrier or crate, with the door open, in a relaxing space so they are used to going inside it before moving day. Cats especially may need gentle coaxing to go in their carriers voluntarily. Nilson recommends enticing your cat inside the carrier using treats such as catnip.

“You can even feed him his meals inside the carrier to start building up a positive association with it,” Nilson said. She adds that once your cat seems relaxed when it goes into the carrier, you should practice closing the door briefly so they can get used to it.

Most importantly, try to stay calm and relaxed, since your pet can pick up on your energy and may become stressed. An anxious animal can exhibit symptoms like growling or other aggressive behaviors. If the moving stress becomes too much for you to manage and it’s bleeding into your pet’s attitude, consider practicing coping techniques like meditation or therapy.

» MORE: How to rent a moving truck

How to pack pet items

Don’t forget to add your pet’s belongings to your packing list for the big move. Plan on packing up their items last and unpacking them first at your new place to help them get settled.

Be sure to include your pet’s:

  • Vaccine and health records
  • Favorite treats
  • ID tags updated with your phone number and new address
  • Medications
  • A few days’ supply of food
  • Cat litter and scoop
  • Harness and leash
  • Waste bags
  • Blanket/towel/throw and toys

Also, you don’t need to purchase new bedding for your pet, as the familiar smell could actually help them relax. “If you put in some brand-new bedding on travel day, the scent and texture will be unfamiliar and just another thing for him to stress about,” Nilson said. “The more things are familiar, the less stressful the whole travel experience will be.”

Nilson added that “research shows that sniffing lowers the heart rate and blood pressure in dogs, so you can use this to your advantage to try to help your pup feel calmer and more relaxed.”

Switching vets

It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your vet before the move. Discuss your upcoming move with the vet and see if you need anything you haven’t thought about yet, like a prescription for motion sickness medicine.

If you are moving outside your city, talk to them about transferring medical records and ask for recommendations for a new vet. Also, request a copy of your pet’s most up-to-date health records, such as vaccination records, and a list of all current medications your pet takes to keep for your files. When you find a new vet in your city, you’ll need to transfer those medical records.

In addition, if your move is international, Hsia suggested to “ensure that all vaccinations are up to date according to the regulations of the new country.” Check the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website for a list of vaccination requirements by country.

Preparing for travel

Traveling with pets may not be a walk in the park, but careful planning on a variety of fronts can help make it more manageable for your family and your pet.

Prepare for pet travel

On moving day, your pet will need a familiar blanket or bed to travel with. Before you head out, try to get them to enter their crate or carrier. It may take a little while, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to load up your pet.

Also, be sure you have food and water available for your pet. For a long-distance move with a cat, Nilson recommends purchasing water bowls that attach to the carrier's door frame. She adds that you can freeze the water ahead of time so it doesn’t spill during travel.

» COMPARE: Best long-distance movers

Place your pets carefully

Make sure a seat belt or other strap secures the carrier to the car so it doesn’t shift during the drive. Also, it’s safer for pets to be in the back seat if an accident occurs. If you have a large dog that may not fit in a carrier, you can still restrain them in the back with a canine seat belt (that attaches to the dog’s harness) or the car’s seat belt.

Find pet-friendly hotels if you’re driving

Not all hotels allow pets. If you will be driving long-distance and need to break up your trip with an overnight hotel stay, it’s a good idea to search for pet-friendly hotels in advance. Websites like Petswelcome or BringFido allow you to research hotels and get pricing details. Keep in mind that you may have to pay an additional pet fee at certain hotels.

Check with your airline if you’re flying

Check with your airline ahead of time for pet travel requirements. Several airlines allow your pet to ride in a carry-on with you in the cabin (as opposed to in the cargo hold on the same flight or separately); however, the carrier will need to be a certain size, whether it’s a hard-sided or a soft-sided carrier. Be prepared for a pet fee of $95 or more. You may also need to purchase an additional airline ticket if you travel with two pets.

Before deciding to fly with your pet, weigh the pros and cons of this mode of travel. Driving may be preferable with pets, as you have more flexibility to care for your pet during the trip than if you have to keep them in a carrier the whole flight. Also, air travel can be hazardous to some animal breeds, like pugs and bulldogs, because they are more susceptible to heatstroke.

Have an emergency kit

In addition to packing your pet’s belongings, prepare a small kit of emergency items to have with you on moving day.

The kit should include items like:

  • Motion sickness medicine (prescription or over-the-counter)
  • Toys
  • Treats
  • Food and water for travel days
  • Collar and leash
  • Waste bags or plastic bags and gloves
  • A recent photo of your pet (in case they get lost during travel)

Pet shipping companies

A pet transport company can help get your pet to your new home. You may consider hiring a company if you need to drive a moving truck long-distance and your pet won’t have a safe place to ride along. They can’t be in the cargo area or the front seat. You also won’t have to worry about your pet on moving day — the company will take care of everything for you.

A company can transport your pet by car or plane, depending on its services. Ground transportation could be cheaper than air if you aren’t already planning to book a flight for yourself. According to CitizenShipper, which connects pet owners with transporters, you can expect to pay between 50 cents and $1.60 per mile. That equates to between $250 and $800 for a 500-mile trip.

To transport your pet by air, you’ll pay a pet fee between $95 and $150 (as of publishing) for small dogs or cats that fly in a carry-on. In-cargo fees for larger animals can be several hundred dollars.

Pet-proofing your new home

Once you arrive at your new place, you’ll want to make sure it’s ready for your pet. Each pet may have different needs. For example, dogs may need some time to explore each room and take in the scents. Cats, on the other hand, may prefer to stay in one room until they feel more comfortable.

Regardless of the species, try to set up their quiet space in the new home right away. Include bedding or blankets from your previous home. Also, have their food and water station available immediately upon arrival.

Hsia offered a reminder to “make sure your pet’s identification tags and microchip information are updated with your new address.” Pets can get lost quickly in an unfamiliar area.

Below are some other tips to help your pet acclimate to their new surroundings.

Dogs

  • Give them lots of chances to get out for a walk and burn excess energy. You can also let them roam around a fenced-in yard; just be sure to stay close by and watch for any gaps in the fencing that may allow them to escape.
  • Stay near your dog, especially for the first few days. Limit the time you spend away from the new home. Nilson said, “Studies tell us that dogs frequently take cues from their owners and refer back to them as a kind of ‘secure base’ when exploring new surroundings, just like children rely on their parents for security.”
  • Give your dog something to chew on to relax.
Studies tell us that dogs frequently take cues from their owners and refer back to them as a kind of ‘secure base’ when exploring new surroundings, just like children rely on their parents for security. ”
— Susan Nilson, dog and cat training and behavior expert

Cats

  • Give cats one room for the first few days; they can be slow to acclimate. Then, open up the rest of the home to them and give them access to a room with a window so they can look out. Have their food and water set up, as well as their litter box.
  • Let your cat have time in their carrier in the new place. Nilson recommends opening the carrier doors and allowing the cat to explore at their own pace, adding, “If they are not yet ready to come out of their carriers, that’s fine.”

Where are you moving to?

FAQ

How do I obtain a pet health certificate?

You can get a pet health certificate from a USDA-accredited veterinarian who provides routine care for your pet. If you are moving to a different country, you may need a health certificate to travel internationally with your pet. You can check the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website for more details.

How long does it take for a pet to adapt to a foreign country?

It depends. Your pet is taking in new sights, smells and sounds in a foreign country, so it may take them a few hours, days or even weeks to adjust. It’s important to keep your demeanor calm and relaxed throughout the process so your pet doesn’t begin to stress.

What’s the best way to find a vet in a new city?

Ask family, friends and co-workers for recommendations. You can also contact local animal rescue organizations or breed clubs.

Bottom line

With all the stress of moving, it may be difficult to relax once you’ve arrived at your new place. There’s still unpacking to do to be able to settle in. You may also have to manage your kids if you have them and their emotions around moving. Go easy on yourself and do the best you can with your pet.

Nilson recommends being patient with your pet and giving them the extra time and attention it takes to settle down. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get everything in order immediately; instead, focus on your pet’s needs. “In my experience, you need to prioritize making sure your dog's needs are all met and that he has calmed down sufficiently after the journey before you can start getting on with anything else,” she said.

By giving yourself time and space to settle in, you may be able to maintain your sanity during a move and be better able to support your pets.


Article sources
ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
  1. American Kennel Club, “Anxiety in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment.” Accessed May 8, 2024.
  2. National Library of Medicine, “Dogs can discriminate between human baseline and psychological stress condition odours.” Accessed May 7, 2024.
  3. VCA Animal Hospitals, “Motion Sickness in Dogs.” Accessed May 8, 2024.
  4. PetCareRx, “5 Steps to a Safe Drive with Your Dog.” Accessed May 8, 2024.
  5. Condé Nast Traveler, “The Most Pet-Friendly Airlines of 2023.” Accessed May 8, 2024.
  6. The Humane Society of the United States, “Travel safely with your pet.” Accessed May 9, 2024.
  7. U-Haul, “Top 5 Tips for Moving with Pets.” Accessed May 9, 2024.
  8. CitizenShipper, “How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Pet Across the US?” Accessed May 9, 2024.
  9. U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Frequently Asked Questions About Traveling With Your Pet.” Accessed May 7, 2024.
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