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A survival guide for moving with pets

How to keep Fido, Fifi and Mr. Ed happy during this stressful time

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My cat, Boomer, is one weird puss.

We rescued him as an 8-week-old kitten, and no sooner than we brought him home, he took over the house. He walked right out of the cat carrier and promptly punched our 70-pound Plott hound in the nose.

When he felt insecure, he would climb onto our other dog’s back and knead his back and slurp on the back of his neck. Boomer’s “stress-nursing” eventually got so bad, we had to buy hoodies for poor Riley as he would end up dripping in cat spit by the end of the day.

When Boomer got a little older, he started peeing in my husband’s bathroom sink instead of using the litter box.

Boomer didn’t care if you were in the bathroom, too — he wasn’t shy about needing to pee. He would even stare you down while he relieved himself.

Before I got into real estate, I was a veterinary technician for years, so I’m pretty sure I’ve seen and heard it all. I know how quirky cats and dogs can be.

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I told countless clients who came to the hospitals where I worked that when behaviors first change, it’s a time to see the vet for a checkup.

Once Fido or Fluffy get a clean bill of health, then it’s time to put on your detective hat and sleuth out what this behavior means and what you can do to change it.

Unless you are lucky enough to own Mr. Ed, our critters can’t tell us when joints get ouchy, they don’t like the new cat litter you bought on sale, or they disapprove of new changes in household routines.

One of the most stressful changes for people is moving, and for animals, it is no different.

According to statistics published by the Humane Society of the Unites States, 79.7 million households have at least one pet.

Statistically, if you haven’t visited a home and done a listing appointment with a client’s cat on your lap or had a buyer ask to bring Fido to “test drive” the backyard before putting in an offer, you will.

So, here is your survival guide for some of the most common stress-induced issues furry family members may face during a move, conveniently broken down by species.

Canines

According to the vets at Pet MD, dogs generally tend to internalize their emotional pain, and the symptoms of their stress are usually bottled up until they literally explode from one end or the other.

Canine stress reactions usually manifest in tummy troubles like vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and/or a decrease in appetite. Either because they feel lousy or because of depression, they may also become isolated and sleep more than usual.

The biggest concern, especially for those selling their home, is that some dogs will get aggressive when stressed out.

Benji may be the sweetest dog ever, but having people parading through her normally quiet home at all hours of the day is not part of her usual routine, and it’s disconcerting.

Photo: Conner Baker / Unsplash

A frightened or insecure dog may bite if feeling threatened. Also, if Fifi normally has the run of the house, but now needs to be confined to a crate during the day, she is going to have a lot more energy to burn off once let loose.

To help relieve some of the stress associated with an impending move, Jodi Frediani, wrote in her article that the key to managing a dog in a stressful situation is balance and understanding.

If sellers need to make changes that affect their pet, like doing doggie daycare to allow more home showing flexibility, sellers should try to ease them into the transition, by maybe doing a few hours a day until the pooch can acclimate.

At the same time, keep everything else as close to the same as possible, like feeding times, brand of food and the amount of time you spend together. If the stress gets to the point where Fido is experiencing a nervous stomach, going to the vet to get tummy-settling medications and advice on diet will help your pooch bounce back quickly.

Felines

Felines are nothing like dogs. If they ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Forget happy wife, happy life. If you have a cat, make sure you keep that cat happy, and everyone will be just fine.

Seriously, cats have a harder time with stress and change than the average pooch. The average dog doesn’t care if you replace the carpet, but to a sensitive cat, it could be the first sign of impending kitty apocalypse.

Loud noise from workers preparing the home for market, strange people walking through the home and being confined to certain areas of the house are all stressors.

Add a bunch of these unwanted changes in one month, and to a sensitive puss, they could set off unpleasant and unwanted behaviors.

Kitties may show their stress similarly to dogs in lack of appetite, less interaction with their people and hiding. Some cats will groom excessively to the point they create bald spots.

Photo: Mikhail Vasilyev / Unsplash

The biggest problem with a stressed puss is when they decide to stop using the litter box. Especially if your cat starts “decorating” furniture and expensive carpets, this is not only a smelly problem, but one that can be expensive to remediate.

Pam Johnson-Bennett, a cat behaviorist, said that when getting ready to move with your feline family members, try to take household changes slowly.

The “pull off the Band-Aid in one rip” approach does not work for cats. Repainting, new carpet installation, moving a litter box and a busy open house all within the same week is just too much for most cats to process at once.

Limit your changes to things that are absolutely necessary, and during this period do not change brands of food, litter or the location of food, water or litter boxes. Make sure kitty has a safe place to hide, and do not remove scratching posts or cat towers if your cat regularly uses them.

Things like enrichment toys, cat entertainment DVDs and clicker training to increase confidence are also recommendations from Johnson-Bennett.

Also, keep in mind that both male and female cats are very prone to urinary issues like bladder stones, blockages and inflammation, which are not only painful, but can be life threatening.

Once a potential medical issue is ruled out, make sure litter boxes are cleaned regularly, are in quiet places in the home that are easy for the cat to access, and don’t change the type or brand of box or litter.

Cats also have very sensitive noses, and many of the scented litters reek with faux florals. Just like being in an elevator with someone who bathes in cologne, overpowering odors are at best annoying, and at worse, can make your cat feel ill.

If kitty has an accident that you can smell but not see, you may need to buy a black light and a gallon of Nature’s Miracle. Cat urine will glow in the dark, so if you cannot find the source of the odor, the black light will.

Nature’s Miracle, which is now sold in most grocery and almost all pet stores, is an enzymatic cleanser that breaks down the urine and removes all traces of odor so even Precious’ sensitive nose can’t detect the spot to redecorate in the future. If the entire carpet glows, you may need to have a professional tackle the cleaning.

Cats, like dogs, can also become aggressive if stressed. I once showed a property that had an aggressive cat. I will never forget this very angry and vocal cat that followed us from room to room, hissing and spitting the entire time.

The dog could have cared less about us, but this cat was out for blood.

Just as we were leaving, the cat took a swipe at my client, and I had to defend us by waving my listing paperwork at the cat to distract it while we made a break for it.

Cats can absolutely be aggressive when stressed, and trust me, a cat bite is not something you ever want to experience.

Equines

Horses also can get stressed, but it usually involves something work-related, like traveling for showing and racing. The way a horse’s stomach works makes them shockingly prone to forming gastric ulcers.

A friend of mine had an extremely laid-back trail horse with the best life in the world, and he would get ulcers if you looked at him funny. I have a 7-year-old thoroughbred who has an equally idyllic life, but we can’t get his ulcers under control and had to retire him from work.

He now lives carefree and healthy in a field. Treatment for gastric ulcers can run into thousands of dollars, don’t always work and sometimes need to be repeated at regular intervals, so prevention is key.

If your sellers are moving and their horses will be traveling a long distance, starting a preventative treatment plan three days before they depart and continuing until the horse has settled in and is happy in his or her new home can save you time and money in the long run.

Before moving, horse owners should have a long chat with their vet to discuss what needs to be done to keep Trigger happy and healthy during the upcoming changes.

If horse owners are moving to a different area and their horse will have changes in water, hay, feed, they may want to bring a supply of existing hay, grain and water to slowly transition them.

Quickly changing foods may give the dog diarrhea, but it could cause a life threatening bout of colic for a horse.

Pocket pets

One out of every 25 households has some form of “pocket pet,” the term used to classify small furry creatures like chinchillas, ferrets, sugar gliders and rabbits. These little guys can also get stressed out from changes in their environment.

A rabbit, for example, can die from heart failure simply from looking at a predator, and a hamster in a well-intentioned but clumsy toddler’s hands could get hurt or killed if accidentally dropped.

Photo: Eric Ward / Unsplash

A dropped pocket pet that escapes a home is not able to defend itself, and would succumb to either predators or starvation if not found quickly.

When going through a move, sometimes our pets may get less attention due to the new demands on our time. Even though Bugs Bunny may not need to be walked, a lack of attention to cleaning their habitat or handling them can stress their immune systems.

Some of these little guys don’t have long lifespans and can get sick very quickly, so daily handling can catch a small problem before it gets out of hand.

Puss and pharmaceuticals

It is important to note that your pet’s “naughty” behavior is not done out of spite — it’s a cry for help. Cats and dogs do not have the mental capacity to plot your demise, despite what the cartoons tell us.

When pet behavior changes, we need to figure out why, not reprimand them. A cat that pees on the living room rug and then is dropped by a yelling human into a litter box is now not only stressed but is also now confused and afraid. That is making the problem worse, not better.

If the stress of moving becomes too much for our furry companions, medication may be necessary to take the edge off.

Antidepressants can be prescribed in severe cases of anxiety, and by that, I don’t mean the occasional litter box fail. If your cat is attacking its tail until it bleeds or your dog cowers for a full day after an open house, then pharmaceutical intervention may be necessary to make your critter more comfortable.

Additional training will also help a fearful or anxious pet gain more confidence while on medication with the intention of weaning off of it once the pet feels more secure.

Boomer eventually outgrew the slurping and now plays nicely with both of my dogs. After adding another litter box to the house and being vigilant about cleaning it twice a day, it’s rare to find Boomer straddling the drain anymore.

Realistically, there are way worse places he could be peeing, so we actually considered ourselves lucky that he uses a sink. He also was smart enough to figure out the lock on our sliding glass door, and regularly lets himself and the dogs out for exercise in the yard, which I think is something he felt he was missing in his life.

By making a few changes, we have all learned to share our home in relative harmony.

Maria Dampman is the owner and manager of Smiling Cat Farm and a Virginia State licensed Realtor and ABR with Century 21 Redwood in Leesburg, Virginia. Visit her on Facebook or LinkedIn.