How to help your cat adjust to a new home

12 December 2023 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
cuddling with cat

Ah, moving day! A time of excitement, joy, and a ride on the cortisol roller coaster.

What makes moving day even more exciting? Moving with a cat.

Speaking from experience, it's not a simple task. Most cats are slow to settle into new environments, and change is not their forte. Studies show that cats stressed by change actually exhibit signs of illness.

So how can you help ease your cat's transition—whether you just adopted them or you're moving to a new home? Here are a few tips.

Signs your cat's stressed out in their new home

On the first night in a new environment, your cat's likely to feel pretty stressed out.

Their anxiety might lead them to:

For more serious symptoms — vomiting, diarrhoea, etc. — or if your cat's worrying you at all, consult your veterinarian. While one study showed that even healthy cats and kittens might exhibit "sick" behaviours when they're stressed out, shying away from vet advice isn't worth the risk.

Can't find your cat?

It can be stressful if your cat hides and you can't find them. This is particularly true if there are busy roads near you.

Remember, cats are masters of hide and seek. As long as you're sure they're actually safely inside your new home, you can relax. This is where microchipping, GPS, and a breakaway collar come in handy.

Check under the bed, in cabinets, and around warmer appliances.

A person high fiving a dog

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How to help your cat adjust to their new home

First of all, relax. If you've just finished moving, forget about the mountain of boxes, order a pizza, and grab a drink of water. You've earned it, I promise.

Here are some tips for making your cat's transition to their new home as smooth as possible.

Rebuild their safe zone

If you're relocating a cat from home to home, try to replicate some of the safe spots they've grown used to. Make it the first room that you unpack if you're moving.

This is even more important if you're bringing a new shelter cat into the fold.

High spots to climb, kitty trees, and beds in strategic locations will all help them feel more at home. If you have a kitten, it's a good idea to keep them contained behind a stair gate with all the necessary kitten comforts.

Let them hide

I know it's tempting to try to lure your cat out to play and explore, but try to let them take the time they need to adjust to the new smells and sights. Don't force it, or you could increase their stress.

Important caveat here: Only you know what's normal for your little guy (or gal). If something seems off or your cat's exhibiting signs of illness, reach out to your vet as soon as possible.

Play some calming music

While there's no definitive proof that cat-specific tunes can completely ease feline stress (see this study and this other one, too), trying out some calming melodies might be worth it.

While the verdict is still out on the perfect playlist, pop and rock haven't been shown to be as effective as classical music (sorry, Lady Gaga.)

Keep other, stressful pets or kids at bay

If your cat's already nervous around your other pets or is just new to the family, keep them separated so they can acclimate without added stress.

If your dog or kids actually help your cat calm down, obviously this doesn't apply. Let the cuddle sessions commence.

Add pheromone diffusers

While the one study I found on pheromones on cats revolved more around decreasing aggression amongst feline housemates, some cat owners swear it helps even solo cats stay calmer.

My brother actually swears by Feliway plug-ins for his cat. It might be worth a try. Just make sure you plug it in before your cat arrives in its new home, so it has time to disperse.

Stick to the routine

You may not realise how much your cat values eating at the same time and in the same spot every day. It truly does help build their confidence in their new surroundings when they know what to expect.

A cat waving whilst a dog hides its face

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What if your cat won't eat?

Ever tried to eat with butterflies in your stomach?

Simply put, a newly adopted cat not eating right away isn't unusual. The same goes for any pet going through a transitional time, even those you've had for a while.

Offer familiar food and make sure water is available, but don't force it. Missing a couple meals is probably not cause for stress, as long as your cat doesn't have underlying health issues.

Again, I'll caveat this by saying that you should keep a close eye on your kitty and reach out to your vet for advice if you're concerned.

Signs your cat's adjusting to their new home

Progress can take some time. Let's talk about some of the baby steps you'll notice when your cat is adjusting to their new home:

  • They're coming out, even if it's for short periods of time

  • They're eating and drinking again

  • They're playing again

  • They're exploring other rooms in the home

  • They're engaging with you and/or other family members

If you're dealing with a new cat, it might take time to see what's normal for them.

Some cats have a more shy temperament, and what's normal for them might be alarming for a more outgoing cat. Pay attention, and you'll learn how your cat likes to engage and what you can expect from them.

How long will it take my cat to settle in?

It could be a few days — or a couple months — before your cat's fully comfortable.

Again, the steps above are key. Give them time and space. Patience is your best ally in getting an anxious cat comfortable.

Look for those positive behaviours mentioned above — even if they're baby steps — and consult with your vet if you're concerned about how long it's taking your cat to acclimate, if they seem ill or aren't eating.

Final thoughts

Moving is a big deal for cats, but with love, patience, and understanding, they'll soon be ruling their new roost with confidence. Remember, every cat is unique, and they all adjust at their own pace.

By following these tips, you’re setting the stage for a happy, comfortable cat in their new forever home.

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