Part 3: Overview‎ > ‎

Relocating a cat

Cat behaviour

Learning from experience

  • The author had the privilege to work with experienced animal handlers on TV sets both in South Africa and in Italy. 
  • She also dealt with import and export of cats on a global scale. 
  • She assisted many re-homing of adult cats.
  • This chapter shares lessons learned on cat behaviour during relocation of cats and film shooting.
Bobby relaxing in his travel cage
during a TV shoot in Cape Town, 2010

In nature

  • In nature, wild cats do not dig burrows, but shelter in dens like the hollows of trees, rock fissures and even abandoned nests or earths of other animals. 
  • When threatened, a wild cat with a den will retreat into it, rather than climb trees.
  • Enclosed in a safe, dark place, the cat can concentrate to "face the enemy" or "spy the new environment".
  • Having one entrance to the den, it is easier to safeguard the den.

Domestic cats

  • Domestic cats, whether living in a human house or in a feral colony, still show the instinct to feel safe in a den. 
  • During the process of travel and re-homing, domestic cats still like to be enclosed in a safe, dark place.
  • When confronted with a new environment, things like a travel cage, a sleeping den or even hiding under a bed or chair serve as a "place of safety" den.
  • From this den, the cat can concentrate to "face the enemy" or "spy the new environment".  

The "Place of Safety" rule

Key principle

  • The key principle in traveling with a cat, or relocating a cat into a new environment, is that a cat needs a suitable travel cage that can serve as the  “place of safety” den. 

Put yourself in the cat's paws

  • Before travel, the cat was safe in his known (old) environment – this is his reference “place of safety”.
  • During travel, the container becomes the temporary place of safety. 
  • Imagine yourself in this position: your known safe environment gone, replaced and reduced to the walls of the container that carries you!

Choice of container

  • The choice of travel container is important.  
  • At best, it must resemble a natural den so that the cat feels safe in it.
  • Choose a travel box having a door through which the can see what is happening outside. 
  • The walls and roof of the box must be solid to create the illusion of a safe, "dark" den. 

During transit

  • During transit, it may help to darken the container by covering it  with a suitable material.
  • A material cover may also help to regulate temperature: blanket in winter or sheet in summer.  
  • Take care though that ventilation is not compromised.

Upon arrival

  • The key principle is that a cat still needs the “place of safety” upon arrival at he new place.
  • If the new environment has not been pre-set up upon arrival (for example during traveling), keep the door of the travel box closed until the environment has been set up with at least a litter box, fresh water and food (see next paragraph).
  • Make sure all windows are closed so that the cat cannot escape.
  • There should be are no other animals in the room.

 New place of safety

  • The small "place of safety" (travel box) is now inside a larger "place of safety" (room).
  • Open the door of the box in such a way that the cat will be able to get in or out unobstructed.
  • Allow the cat to explore the new environment at his/her own pace. 
  • Because there are no other animals in the room, the cat will soon relax and start exploring the new room. 
  • The cat will settle somewhere in the larger place of safety in a place where it feel safe enough, based on HIS/HER assessment of what is safe for survival. 
  • Any strange noise or sudden movement that frighten the cat, will cause it to retreat to its place of safety (the travel box).

 New orientation

  • If you planned to use a cat igloo or other cat bed, you can put the cat into it. Don't worry if the cat does not immediately accept it.
  • Assure that the cat can ALWAYS retreat back to the previous "place of safety" unobstructed in case he/she gets scared.
  • Gradually, the cat will relax more and the whole room will become the new place of safety. 
  • Once the cat is out of the travel box or igloo and seems relaxed, it needs orientation on where the litter box and food are.
  • Show him/her where the water and food are.
  • Place the cat inside the litter box.
  • It will probably not use the litter box or eat immediately, but will remember where the basics are for future use. 
  • Repeat above later until you observe that the cat used it.

 From room to house

  • Once settled and at ease in the relocation room, leave it to the cat to explore the rest of the house in its own time. 
  • It will soon start to grow a wider circle of confidence with its place of safety growing wider and wider.
  • If the cat is the only pet, you can open the door when the cat indicates that it wants to go out of the room, but always leave the door open in case the cat wants to retreat to its place of safety. 
  • Assure that the cat can ALWAYS retreat back to the previous "place of safety" unobstructed until the cat is used to its new environment - this may take  several weeks.

Preparing the room

Basic requirements

  • Make sure the arrival location is suitable before letting the cat out of the travel container.
  • Prepare an arrival room with no other pets and for which you can close the door and windows.
  • There must be a litter tray located at a convenient spot.
  • For a kitten: make sure the litter tray is low enough for the kitten to get into. 
  • Set up water (glass bowl) and food (e.g. dry pellets) away from the litter tray.


  • If a cat igloo or similar enclosed container is to be used, have it ready on the spot where you want the cat to sleep.
  • Recommended: have a scratching post.
  • Soft background music may assist the cat to relax as it mutes out far-out environmental sounds.

Multi-pet households

Basic rules

  • In a multi-pet house, it is advisable to isolate new cat(s) for about two weeks.
    Reason: Cats that traveled via plane share transport space with co-travelers and might have been exposed to viruses like Calici, Corona or Herpes.  Even if travel exposure is not relevant, some cats may be carriers to these viruses but their immune system cope with it so that no symptoms are present when they leave home.  The stress of travel and a new home may trigger these dormant viruses to activate. A two week window is therefore a safe period for isolation in order to assess that the traveler's immune system dealt with it. It also safeguards the resident cats from exposure of potential viruses brought into the household via the new cat.
  • The first couple of meetings with other pets should be supervised.
  • Make sure the cat(s) can always retreat to the known "place of safety" if needed. 
  • In most cases, cats may hiss at other animals (and be hissed at) for about a week, sometimes several months. 
  • The "hissing" stage should pass over time as the animals get used to each other. 
  • A two week “quarantine” period is recommended, because, should the cat(s) have picked up any latent, common, contagious disease during the travel, most symptoms will show up during this period.

 Tip on door frame

  • After isolation for 2 weeks, a wooden frame with netting can be fitted inside the door frame. 
  • Open the door but keep the netted frame secure inside the door frame.
  • The resident cats (and other pets) then come to meet the stranger. 
  • Initially, sniffing and hissing are normal behaviour on both sides. 
  • After a while both parties get used to each other. 
  • Keep the frame in place till sniffing and hissing ends - about a week. 
  • By that time, all cats know each other and the mingling should impose no serious problems.

Above: example of wooden door-sized frames with chicken wire.