The Ultimate Guide to Moving with a Pet

We know that your family pet is, well, part of the family. Which is why it’s so important to make your pets feel just as comfortable – from head down to paws, or claws – as you and the kids during the stress of a move away from home.

Also on the move is the increasing amount of pet ownership within American families (especially millennials): 67 percent of households, or 85 million families, according to a 2020 National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association. That’s up from 56 percent in 1988, which was the first year of the survey. To put these stats into perspective, there are more households with fur babies, with dogs placing first, than human babies, which is at 52.8 million.

So when it’s time to prep for a long-distance move from your home, it’s important to keep in mind how to best introduce your faithful friend into a new environment with the most comfort and the least amount of stress and challenges. Here are some of our tips to do before, during and after, for a smoother road ahead. 

Research the Home’s Location

Representing 35 percent of pet owners, millennials are serious about the care of their pets, from regularly pampering them with gifts and treats to making them a big factor when considering where to move to a new home. But we should all take cues from this generation when searching for where to relocate to take in account the property’s or nearby amenities that will make you all more comfortable. Start with a reputable home or apartment buying website to base your research on and take into account some of these amenities in cities and neighborhoods that will be best for you and your best friend, such as: the home’s backyard size and whether or not it’s fenced in; the neighborhood’s walkability layout, i.e., busy streets, sidewalks; and the home’s proximity to local vets/animal hospitals, dog parks, and pet-friendly restaurants and businesses.

Check State & Local Laws and Regulations

It’s a good idea to check into laws and regulations on the state and local level, so you and your loved ones – no matter the species – are aware and prepared before you move to a new city or state. Here’s what to check into:

            State Laws

  • The state law, which varies by state, for the entry of dogs, cats, horses, parrots, tropical fish and other pets.
  • The type of border inspection required for animals being imported, i.e., random inspections by the state’s department of agriculture, checking interstate health certificates, or a combination.

            Local Laws

  • Pet control and licensing ordinances that limit the number of dogs or cats in each household.
  • If you have horses, ponies or other livestock, what the stabling regulations are, and whether or not the stable is allowed within city limits.
  • License fees and how long you have to obtain one after moving.

Compile & Update All of Your Pet’s Info

Another pre-move step is to schedule a visit with your vet to get a health checkup and any required documentation, vaccinations or medications they’ll need before moving day. This may also be a good time to discuss any concerns you have for your pet’s safety and anxiety during travel, which may result in a prescription for motion sickness during travel. Here are a few documents you may have to leave the office with in your hands:

  • Health certificate: Nearly all states require interstate health certificates for dogs and horses. Some enforce the same for cats, birds and other pets; and some even require advance receipt of the certificate before entry. Health certificates must have: complete description of the pet, a list of inoculations, and a statement that your pet is free from infectious diseases.
  • Permit: You may have a pet that must be accompanied by a permit, per the state’s regulatory agency, which either you or your vet can apply for it. Some states may require advance receipt of your pet’s health certificate beforehand.
  • Rabies Tag: All, with the exception of four, states require dogs to have rabies vaccinations – some have the same regulation for cats. The rabies tag should be securely attached to your pet’s collar.
  • Travel ID Tags: Your pet should be identified with some sort of tag that lists the pet’s name, your name, your destination address, and the name and address of an emergency contact person. If your pet is microchipped, you still need an ID tag on the collar. The health certificate can also be used for identification; birds can use leg band IDs, and horses and ponies by brands, tattoos, color photos or registration papers.

Choose Your Transportation Method

You’ll have to decide the transportation method that’s best for you and Fido’s comfort, but sometimes the distance from point A to B may trump your preference. Here are some things to consider about each form of transportation to help you decide:  

  • By Motor Vehicle: If your move is a day’s travel or less, this is the most practical way to transport your pet. It’s still a viable option if you do need to stay overnight; you’ll just need to make sure your route has pet-friendly lodging available and reserve ahead of time. For dogs and cats, it’s a good idea to keep them in a cat carrier or portable dog crate for an overnight or multi-day road trip. It’s a good idea to train your dog or cat on a leash or harness, so they’re well-behaved on potty breaks at rest stops. Dogs and cats should be taught to sit or lie quietly in one place; a safety harness helps. For safety, don’t let your dog hang its head out of the window.
  • Accompanied Pets By Air Travel: If pets are small enough to fit in a carrier that will slide under your seat, some airlines will allow them in passenger cabins. Larger pets will have to travel unaccompanied as air freight, which we’ll go over next. Make reservations for your pet passenger far in advance, as the number of pets permitted on a flight is limited. (Harnessed seeing-eye dogs travel free and lie at its owner’s feet, but the airline must still be notified in advance.)
  • Unaccompanied Pets by Air Travel: Shipping reservations will need to be made way ahead of time because of limited space; dogs and cats will travel by air freight, while birds, tropical fish, hamsters and gerbils will be transported by air express, an air freight division. It’s’ recommended to use the airline’s travel kennels, which should be labeled with your name, address and phone number. It’s recommended to arrive in plenty of time at the air freight terminal and to have your pet fly in moderate weather, booking either early morning or late evening flights.

Create a Pet Travel Kit & Checklist

You can never be too overprepared, so we’ve gathered a helpful list of things to pack up for your pet’s travel kit and a checklist of things to remember before takeoff or before you get behind the wheel. We recommend the travel kit to include:

  • Supply of food and water for the days of travel (can opener if needed for wet food) – and we advise that you don’t feed or water right before you depart
  • Spill-proof food and water dishes
  • Blanket/pillow
  • Treats and toys
  • Towels or paper towels for cleanup of any potential messes
  • Poo bags
  • Stake and leash
  • A sedative, if prescribed by your vet
  • Cage or carrier

A checklist of things to ask yourself before you head out in the car or before liftoff:

  • Do you have your pet’s travel ID, health certificate and vet record on-hand, as well as rabies tags on his collar?
  • Did you have your dog’s nails clipped to prevent damages to your car’s interior?
  • Have all transit transportation charges been paid if traveling by air?
  • Are all health and shipping documents in order if flying or shipping your pet?
  • Is the shipping container in good shape and correctly labeled?

Keep Your Pet Out of the Action on Move Day

We can’t say enough how stressful a move could be for your pet – just like it is for you – and there are ways to curb their stress level and control their anxiety while you pack up their comfort zone. We recommend that you leave your friend with a trusted friend or kennel for moving day, but if you can’t make that happen, at least keep them in the quietest area or room possible in the house (or a fenced-in backyard is a good option). Check on them regularly, feed, water and walk him like your regular routine.


Help Them Settle Into Your New Home

Tip: Move the house before you move the pet, setting up as much as you can – even if it’s just one room – before your pet’s first introduction. Include familiar toys, blankets and surroundings. Then, it’s safe to gradually open the door to other areas of the house, so they realize that this is their new home. Place food and water dishes in the same sort of location they were in the old home; stick to the same feeding schedule. Before your pet sniffs and wanders around the house, make sure you pet-proof inside and outdoors, looking for any hazards, holes in the ground or possible ways to escape the backyard and run away.

Moving Tips For Pets By Type

Again, all species of our beloved pets come with their own set of unique needs on moving day. Here’s a quick recap of moving tips for each type of pet:

  • Moving With a Dog: Keep a routine, keep them comfortable, keep them moving with exercise and give them lots of love.
  • Moving With a Cat: Make sure your kitty is comfortable in her carrier, let them play with boxes while you pack, deep-clean your new home to take away any unfamiliar scents, and make their food and litter box easy to find (their safe space).
  • Moving With a Bird: Even if your bird has always perched on your shoulder, it’s best to put them in a cage on the move.
  • Moving With a Fish: For short-distance moves, you can transport fish in bags that are filled with their old tank water (or a minnow bucket topped by a lid with air holes makes a good carrier); for long distances, it’s best to let a friend adopt them, empty and clean the tank, and buy new fish for your new home.
  • Moving With a Small Caged Animal: Gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and more can travel in their cage from home; remove the water dish to avoid spills, but give them fresh water at each stop to avoid hydration.
  • Moving with Horses or Ponies: Transport your horse or pony commercially via air freight or tow them in a horse trailer behind your vehicle (rental trailers are also available).


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