Yes, packing for a move can be extremely stressful. But at the end of the day, your stuff doesn’t really matter. If a couple serving dishes break, so be it. Misplace a box of clothing? You have an excuse to go shopping.
Your pets, however, are priceless, and packing them up can be tricky. As soon as you decide to relocate, you should carefully consider how you’ll transport your four-legged family members to your new home.
Whether you’re moving across town or across the world, follow these expert tips for keeping dogs and cats safe.
Before You Go
You should start planning for your pets long before moving day—in fact, before you even start dropping by open houses.
When looking at new homes, it’s important to consider if the space is appropriate for your pet, advises the ASPCA. Will your senior Lab be able to handle the stairs of a third-floor walk up? You might not need a yard, but is your Border Collie prepared to give it up?
Additionally, some breeds require careful location considerations. Pit Bulls are frequently the target of controversial breed-specific bans, with hundreds cities—both in the U.S. and abroad—placing restrictions on ownership. Although laws vary widely, in some cases, you’ll be forced to surrender your dog if you move to an area where he’s not welcome.
If your bestie is a Frenchie, you’ll also have some location limits. French Bulldogs, as well as English Bulldogs and some other extremely short-snouted breeds, do poorly in humid weather and should not live in extreme climates if possible. If a move to Dallas is nonnegotiable, plan to relocate during the coolest part of the year. You’ll be sweaty if your car breaks down in high-summer Texas, but your dog could be in serious danger.
As you pack your home, keep in mind that pets—especially cats—are wary of change in their environments. To help ease the transition, bring the moving boxes in early and let them get accustomed to the packing supplies. Leave one room mostly in tact until the last minute so your pets can have a familiar “safe space” to escape the moving chaos.
Finally, select a veterinarian in your new town, and have your pet's medical records transferred over. In addition to your primary care practice, identify a 24-hour emergency center before arriving—should your pet suffer trauma or a health complication while moving, you don't want to waste time looking for the nearest facility.
Moving by Car
If at all possible, you’ll want to transport cats and dogs in a car, not an airplane.
For pets who aren’t accustomed to car rides, prepare by getting them used to life on the road. The ASPCA recommends taking a series of short practice drives, gradually increasing the duration of each trip. Do not feed your pet right before your trip, and never administer anti-nausea medication unless it’s prescribed by your veterinarian.
Both cats and dogs will require crates for traveling by car. As anyone who ever attempted to drive with a cat cowering under the brake pedal knows, letting pets roam free is dangerous.
“It’s important to keep your animals in crates that are secured in your vehicle,” says Dr. Carly Fox, a staff veterinarian at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. “Pets, just like people, can become projectiles in accidents.”
Crates should be well-ventilated and large enough that your pet can stand up, sit, turn around and lie down. (If your car isn’t big enough to accommodate an appropriately sized dog crate, you can use a pet harness that’s specially designed to clip into a seat belt, advises Fox.)
Don’t wait until moving day to introduce the crate. New objects can cause stress for pets, especially during an already chaotic time. “You want to create a positive association with the crate,” says Fox. “Have it out in the living room a couple days before you intend to travel, and place treats and toys in it.”
Pets should never, under any conditions or circumstances, be left alone in a car, where the temperature can quickly skyrocket. A comfortable 70-degree day can register at 113-degrees in a car in an hour, warns the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. Because of this, it’s important to plan your route carefully, ensuring that your rest stops and hotels are pet-friendly.
Moving by Plane
If flying to your new home is the only option, you’ll want to leave plenty of time to make travel arrangements for your pets. Every airline has different regulations when it comes to animals, and these regulations change frequently.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan way, way ahead,” says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a staff veterinarian at Animal Medical Center. “If you don’t, it’s very likely that you won’t be boarding your flight with your pet. I’ve had it happen to clients.”
If your pet is small enough to travel in a carrier that fits under your seat, many—but not all—airlines will permit your pet to travel with you in the cabin for a fee (typically $100-$150).
If your pet must travel in cargo (where fees are usually higher), start by ensuring that you book with an airline that accepts your dog’s breed. United Airlines recently banned short-snouted dogs and cats—such as Bulldogs and Persian cats—after determining that the health risks were too great.
Every airline will require documentation from your veterinarian assuring that your pet is healthy enough to fly, so make an appointment to have your pet examined and brought up to date on vaccinations as soon as possible.
If your pet is flying in cargo, you’ll have to provide your own crate and assure that it adheres to regulations set by the International Air Transport Association. The ASPCA recommends a well-ventilated USDA-approved shipping crate that, similar to a car crate, provides enough room for your pet to comfortably move around. Your crate should close securely, but should not lock—in the event of an emergency, you want airline employees to be able to quickly remove your pet.
Inside the crate, provide your pet with comfortable bedding, favorite toys with familiar smells, and fresh water, which should be accessible at all times. On the outside of the crate, tape a plastic packet that contains copies of your pet's medical records and airline documentation, your contact info, and a picture of your pet. In large letters, mark the crate with the words "Live Animal."
Finally, keep in mind the time of year you must move. Many carriers, such as American Airlines, have strict rules about temperature and won’t transport animals in cargo if any stop is colder than 45 degrees or warmer than 85 degrees.
Even in acceptable temperatures, time on the tarmac can be dangerous. “One concern for pets traveling in cargo is hazardous weather conditions when delayed on the tarmac,” says Dr. Kristen Frank, medical director of the ASPCA Animal Hospital. “When traveling with an animal, it’s best to book a direct flight where possible.”
When to Hire a Professional
In some cases, you might consider hiring a professional pet shipper. If you’re moving to a different country, are unable to travel with your pet or are simply wary of paperwork, a professional can alleviate much of the stress of moving animals. "It sounds a little extravagant, but there are so many restrictions about traveling with animals—especially if you're traveling to a different country—that it could benefit you to hire a professional who knows the ins and outs," says Hohenhaus.
Pet movers offer a wide variety of services. Some arrange drop-off and pick-up with commercial airlines for pets flying in cargo, while others will personally transport your pets by car or private plane. Other pet movers specialize in tricky relocations, such as international moves that require import permits and quarantines.
If you use a pet moving company to transport and handle your pet, make sure they’re registered with the Department of Agriculture.
After the Move
Once you arrive to your new home, your pet will need some time to decompress from traveling.
If your pet traveled in cargo or was transported by someone other than yourself, take some time to examine him and make sure he’s not injured or dehydrated, advises Hohenhaus. If anything seems wrong, seek emergency veterinary care immediately.
Once in your home, take things slow—cats, in particular, don’t warm up quickly to new environments. Consider setting up a room with the essentials—food, water, toys and a litter box—and letting kitty slowly acclimate to her new home before exploring the rest of the house, suggests the ASPCA.
Setting in to a New Home
If your new house has a yard, make sure the fence is secure and an appropriate height to contain your pup. New environments can be stressful for animals—even if your laidback Lab doesn't have a history of escaping, an unfamiliar noise could send him running. When on walks, be extra vigilant as he slowly adjusts to the people, dogs, smells, and sounds of the neighborhood.
Although things will be hectic, do your best to establish a rountine for your pets as quicly as possible. Both cats and dogs thrive when they know what you expect, so the sooner mealtimes, playtimes and walks can happen on schedule, the better.
It can also help to buy your pets some housewarming toys. Exercise and play reduce stress, so it's a good time to upgrade kitty's fether wand and treat your pup to an engaging treat-dispensing toy.
The bottom line? While moving with pets can be complicated, with proper planning, you can ensure that the entire family arrives home sweet home safe and sound.