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Monday, May 11, 2009

Moving An Elderly Cat

Here's a tough situation sent in by Jackie.

I have an elderly cat,17 years old, and showing signs of her age - cataracts, vomiting, limping, dull coat, but she still has an appetite. She has always been a very anxious cat, does not like to be touched, but will lay next to you. I am moving from a home in Florida to an apartment in Colorado and fear the 3-day trip, by car, will be too hard for her and then the adjustment there, as well. She has never been outside except for the necessary vet appointments. I feel that euthanization would be more humane and would like your view on this. Thank you.

I know this is a hard situation for you Jackie, and I'll try to help you out. But realize that this may be a discussion to also have with your personal vet, as he or she will know your cat's health status better. If there are some strong health-related reasons for a poor quality of life, then euthanasia may be a valid option regardless of your situation with moving.

As I've mentioned in previous entries, I believe that euthanasia is an option of last resort, and should never be done for convenience. Seventeen is very elderly for a cat, and most don't make it to this age. What you have mentioned of her condition is not uncommon for a cat of her advanced age, but also doesn't mean that she is at the end of her life. Your vet may be able to help you with supplements, diets, or medications that can help with any digestive, arthritis or coat problems. Simple things may help improve her quality of life.

Most cats don't adjust to new situations easily, and a long move to a new location can be difficult even for a young cat. An older cat may have a harder time with this situation. However, the key word here is "may". We don't know how she will react to the trip or the move. She may completely freak out and begin having behavioral problems. Or she may settle in and make the adjustment just fine. We don't know what will happen until it happens. And to me, making the decision to euthanize her based on a "maybe" is not the right decision if she is otherwise in good condition. Euthanization is an irreversible decision, and not an easy one. Even if she hasn't been the most overtly friendly of cats, she has still been your companion for almost two decades, and I don't feel you should give up on her just yet.

You asked for my thoughts, so here they are. I would recommend getting her used to the cat carrier for several weeks prior to the move. Leave it out all day and night, and put her food and water bowls in the back of it. This way she has to walk in and out throughout the day, and learns to see it as just another piece of furniture. About a week before the move go to your local pet supply store and buy spray and plug-in Feliway (often under the brand name Comfort Zone). For the last week prior to the move, spray the carrier with the Feliway every couple of days. Once you get to your new place, plug in the diffuser in an area she will likely spend the most time. Feliway is designed to help reduce stress in cats, and can help in situations like this.

If you get to your new apartment and see that she has become frantic and is showing a complete mental breakdown, you can always make the decision to euthanize her later. But if she turns out to make the move easier than you thought, you will be able to keep her in your life for a longer period of time.

Good luck, Jackie!


  1. This is a complete and loving response to an important question. I appreciate your thoughtful reply to the question of euthanasia based on a "maybe" and completely agree with everything you wrote. The only thing I would add would be hints about travel with your cat (have the microchip number and a copy of the rabies certificate in your glove box, along with current photos in the event you have to make "lost cat" signs, an ID tag with the owner's cell phone number and destination, pack a couple of gallons of the water the cat is used to drinking and a crate fan, if the cat will tolerate it).

    Thanks for writing your blog. The common sense is refreshing and you remind me of my Mom, who was a veterinarian. I enjoy your straight forward advice and your willingness to share your experiences with us.


  2. Thanks for the nice words, Luna. And I completely agree with you about things to consider on a long car ride.

  3. Hi,
    I moved to the US four years ago with my then 14 year old cat and I will take her back end of this year because fortunately she's still around and healthy. She does not like to travel but she seems to acknowledge that sometimes it is necessary because the only other option is being left behind and that's worse. I think a calm and relaxed attitude, reassurance that I'm in control and take care of her and seeing or hearing me at all times is most important when we travel together. In addition, I give her something that smells like "home" so that when everything is new and scary, she has a place to retreat to. She will walk into every single room and lie on every single new furniture but after about 2 weeks she's usually her normal self again.
    Lastly I want to stress that even though cats do not travel well it is not impossible, it just needs a lot more work on our part. If you travel with a cat it's not about how you can get from A to B fastest and most conveniently but how to best accommodate that scared little bundle you do not want to leave behind.

    1. Maybe I'm just lucky, but my Cat Rosie has driven everywhere with me. We just drove across the country and back. She just became resigned to the situation. She did have a complete mental breakdown once when I had to leave in the car overnight.
      She doesn't like the car..but she hates the alternative. She just puts blinders on!

  4. I have three indoor cats and we want to move to the UK from North America next winter. I have one young adult who will get freaked out, but he's very healthy and will be with his companion, an easy-going young cat. However, I also have my old girl who will be 18 this March. She would have to be microchipped, get a rabies shot (she hasn't had one in years) and titer test. She has had several changes throughout her life, so I think she would accept the move better than my young boy, but are the physical requirements too stressful for a cat who, let's face it, is on borrowed time? I want to take her by ship, as I think air travel would be stressful on her resperatory system. She is showing age...she sleeps more, she isn't always successful jumping onto the couch the first time she tries, she wheezes now and then and, most disturbingly, she sometimes has tremours. She's been with me since she was a kitten, and when she goes, I'll be a basketcase in any circumstances.

  5. I am in a similar situation. We are moving from New Jersey to South Carolina in 3 weeks. My 16.5 year old beautiful cat has the beginning stages of crf and is on medication. She also had a couple of seizures which worries me regarding the trip but I will give her meds in the morning before we leave. I will pack plenty of bottled water and food. My vet recommended benedryl to reduce stress to make everyone more comfortable as we will be traveling with3 cats and 1 dog to our new home. I will also be using feilaway spray in their carriers. I am hoping for the best for a safe trip for everyone. Does anybody have any other advice. I love my 16 year old cat very much and it would kill me if something happened to her. Euthanasia is not an option because I will not give up on her. Thank you for the feedback.

  6. My cat is 13yo. I recently moved out of my parents house and my parents want me to take her. I am so scared if I take her it will be a big shock for her and she will die. She loves where she is living right now with my parents. Her favorite things are running around the house and going outside to roll around on the grass. I live in a small top floor apartment so she won't be able to outside ever again and it's really cramped. What should I do?

    1. I would give it a try, as she may make the transition easily. A cat won't literally die from a move like this, and you might have the option of taking her back to your parents if it doesn't work out. Make sure there are familiar things brought with her, such as the same litterbox, and beds or scratching posts, and so on. Also make use of Feliway in the apartment. If there are behavioral issues contact a local vet who can do behavior consultations.


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