Managing pet stress on the move

Buyers, Sellers,  Buyers and sellers

Moving house is one of the top five most stressful activities any of us will ever undertake in our lives.  So spare a thought for those four-legged family members to whom may be a very traumatic experience.

If you want to raise the stress levels in a dog park, mention moving house and witness the pitter-patter of pooch pulses rise. Indeed, moving home can cause as much stress in pets if not more, resulting in health problems both physically and emotionally. Common-sense dictates it would be particularly confusing and frightening because us humans can’t explain what’s going on to our canine and feline friends alike.

“Some pets start to worry if they’re left alone for the first time in a scary new environment,” says Dr Joanna McLachlan, a behavioural veterinarian at Pet Behaviour Vet. “It can take a few weeks for pets to settle into new routines, or even longer for those which have anxiety disorders like separation anxiety – these animals require professional help from a veterinarian with an interest in behaviour.”

Failing to properly accommodate for a pet’s distress can actually have significant consequences. “Some animals have problems adjusting to house moves which can result in chronic stress and anxiety,” adds McLachlan. “This can result in a myriad of health problems including organ damage due to an elevation of stress hormones circulating in the body. Most of these animals have anxiety disorders which must be treated with a combination of medical treatment (by a veterinarian) and force-free behaviour modification training to teach them to be calm when left alone.”

As in humans, such issues in pets have the potential to generate knock-on effects. “Stressed pets can cause damage to property, escape the yard, [and] vocalise for long periods which can be a nuisance to their owners and neighbours,” further explains McLachlan. “The animal can have trouble performing normal behaviours such as sleeping, eating, and playing, and can seriously injure themselves, which can become a welfare issue.”

Such adverse effects from a house move can be circumvented with the appropriate precautions, however. “Owners should have a discussion with their veterinarian well before moving to see if they could benefit from preventative anti-anxiety treatment such as medications, supplements or pheromones to help with the whole transition,” advises McLachlan. “They should practise visiting the new property regularly and ensure to keep routines as close as possible to normal – don’t be tempted to throw away old toys, bedding, kennels, or cat scratchers.”

Owners should also change the address on their pet’s microchip, update their pet insurance contract and leave their pet’s bed and belongings out as long as possible between packing and unpacking. Moving houses is fraught with stressful events, so never forget that you aren’t the only one feeling anxious and tense.

Other handy tips

  • Update the address on your pet’s microchip, so if they do run off they’ll be returned to the right place.
  • Check the new property for possible dangers including busy roads, aggressive pets nearby and the likelihood of snakes, ticks and other threats in the area.
  • If you have pet insurance, you may need to update the details.
  • Pack your pet’s bed and belongings as late as possible, and unpack them at the other end as early as possible.
  • Give them some extra love and attention during the settling-in period.