For most cats, one of the most stressful events of their lives is a distracting time for their owners as well: changing addresses. Combine traveling with suddenly being in unfamiliar surroundings, and you can easily understand why cats end up freaked out after a move.
While you'll never manage a stress-free move, for either you or your cat, you can make the best of the situation by keeping your cat secure before, during and after the move, and then allowing your pet to ease into his new surroundings.
The best way to move your cat is to confine him to a small area (I call it a "safe room") before and after the move. The ideal is a spare bedroom where your cat isn't going to be disturbed, outfitted with food and water, a litter box, a scratching post and toys.
Don't feel bad about confining your pet: He's more comfortable in a small space, and he isn't subjected to the stress of seeing people tromping out of the house with his belongings. Confining your cat also prevents him from slipping out, which is a danger at both the old and new home. Even if your cat turns up back at your old place, a reunion can be hard to arrange if you need to leave before you find him, especially if you've moved to another city.
Your cat should be confined in his safe room before packing begins, be moved to his new home in a carrier, and then be confined again in his new safe room until the moving is over, the furniture arranged and most of the dust settled.
When you get to your new home, put the carrier down in the safe room, open the door and let your cat decide when to come out.
After he's a little calmer, you can coax him out with some fresh food or treats, but don't rush him and don't drag him out -- you may be bitten or scratched. Leave the carrier, with its door removed, in the safe room. It is the most familiar place in your new home in your cat's mind and will likely be his chosen spot for a few days until this new house becomes his new home.
After a couple of days, open the door to the safe room and let your cat explore at will, on his terms, but just within the limits of the house. He still needs to be kept completely inside for a couple of weeks if he's not a completely indoor cat, to start him forming a bond with his new surroundings.
If you've been contemplating converting your cat to indoors-only, moving is a great time to do it, by the way. He'd carry on like crazy in your old home if locked in, but in new surroundings he'll accept the change better. Part of the reason cats don't like to convert is because they've marked the outside as part of their territory and have a natural desire to revisit and re-mark. A newly moved cat will come to accept the territory he has been offered, and if the outdoors isn't part of it, he won't miss it so much.
Above all, don't rush your cat. A slow transition with a period of confinement is also good for avoiding behavior problems that might pop up with the stress of moving. By limiting your cat's options to the litter box and scratching post in his safe room, he will quickly redevelop the good habits he had in your old home.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Dog Writers Association of America was founded in the days when the handful of writers who covered dogs were mostly men who did their work on manual typewriters. A lot has changed in 60-plus years, and the DWAA now has plenty of women among its hundreds of members, many of whom would abandon their spouses -- but probably not their dogs -- before giving up their computers. The group sponsors an annual writing competition and conference, and it's all highlighted on a spiffy new Web site at www.DWAA.org. Membership information is also on the site.
Human stupidity (from a cat's point of view, that is) in misreading or ignoring body language earns more than a few cat lovers a scratch or bite from time to time -- the result of missing a cat's "I've had enough" signs.
The classic example is the cat who, while being petted, "suddenly" grabs with teeth and claws, to the shock and sometimes anger of the human doing the petting.
In fact, these "out of the blue" attacks rarely are. Before the bite or clawing, a cat gives out subtle (to us, anyway) signs of diminished tolerance. Primary among them: an increase in the stiffness and twitching of the tail.
The problem often starts with petting your cat's tummy, a vulnerable area for any animal. Watch your cat's body signs: If he's tensing or that tail starts twitching, stop petting immediately. Not only does doing so save you claw and teeth marks, but stopping before your cat strikes also slowly builds up his trust in you and his tolerance for physical attention.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: A friend of mine has a lizard and wants to know if he can get pet/animal insurance. If you could supply me with any companies, I will gladly pass them on. -- L.F., via the Internet.
A: Sorry, but your friend's lizard is out of luck when it comes to health insurance. The major supplier of health coverage for pets, Veterinary Pet Insurance, offers policies for dogs and cats only.
VPI has come a long way with that coverage, however. The Anaheim, Calif.,-based company nearly closed a few years ago and was notorious for its delays in paying claims. Now the company is healthy, and the turnaround time for claims is three to five days, according to a VPI representative.
The company has plans for kittens and puppies, and also covers a range of routine and preventive care costs as well as major medical.
For more information, call 1-800-USA-PETS, or visit the company's Web site at www.petinsurance.com.
Q: My black Lab Cobi is killing my beautiful lawn. I've been told diet will cure this. Is that true? Please recommend a brand if true. My other problem is shedding. Can diet help dander and constant shedding? -- D.G. Bloomsburg, Pa.
A: No diet will fix these "problems," which are a natural part of being a dog.
The best way to keep urine from ruining your lawn is to make sure it goes somewhere else -- by training your pet to use an out-of-sight "pit stop" area.
You can reduce the potential damage to your lawn by flushing the piddled-on area immediately with water. That dilutes the urine to the point where it's not so damaging to the lawn.
Encouraging your pet to drink lots of water also helps for the same reason. Adding salt to your pet's diet to increase water consumption is sometimes recommended, but forget this bad advice. Your dog doesn't need the extra salt.
Excessive shedding can be seasonal, hormonal (in the case of unspayed females) or a sign of illness. A visit to your veterinarian will help you figure out what's normal for your dog. Daily brushing will help keep loose hair from ending up where you don't want it and will strengthen the bond between you and your pet.
Q. Are cocker spaniels born with a bobbed tail or with a regular-sized tail? -- B.B., Miami
A. Like most of more than three dozen breeds shown with short tails, the cocker's tail is docked in the first few days of life. The idea behind docking is to prevent injury in the field for some of the hunting, herding and terrier breeds. There's no arguing with the logic of it; you can't hurt what you don't have. Still, most dogs do fine with their tails, and so too would the docked ones if allowed. Docking today is about looks and tradition.
Understandably, the procedure is controversial, although not as much as ear-cropping, which is performed on older puppies. Done by a veterinarian or experienced breeder, tail docks cause only a short-term amount of discomfort in puppies.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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