Health and Safety

Important Information about Moving Boxes and Cats

Imagine the situation. You are excited about your move to a new apartment and home and have been planning it for weeks. One of the reasons you have chosen this new place is that it has a great space for your best friend, your cat. You spend hours packing things up, dealing with the movers, and arranging things with the new landlord. When you arrive in your new home you realize there is something missing—your cat.

There are many stories about cats who end up missing after their owners’ move to a new place because they preferred their former residence. This, however, isn’t the only reason cats can go missing during a move. Cats love boxes and enjoy exploring and making new adventures. In the process, they can end up in moving boxes and can get “packed” with the rest of the stuff. There are many stories about this kind of occurrence, but an extreme example is what happened to a cat whose family moved from Virginia to Hawaii.

Ashley Barth and her family were looking forward to the big move. She was using one of the best moving companies in the business and trusted them to take care of things when she wasn’t around. While Ashley and her baby had gone to a doctor’s appointment and the movers were busy in the house, their cat, Mee Moowe, went missing. The Barths were dedicated to their pet and spent an extra three days in the empty house hoping for their faithful feline’s return but to no avail. Saddened, they realized the only thing to do was to go ahead and make the journey to their new home. They figured at that their cat had simply sensed that they were moving and decided she did not want to go along, as many cats do. However, the Barths found this difficult to accept since Mee Moowe was not exactly a standoffish cat. She would sleep with the Barth’s daughter, who greatly missed the cat. Their pet’s disappearance was so out of keeping with its usual behavior, that the Barth family took on additional expense to stay in the home and sent out notices of a missing cat.

The devastated family had difficulty enjoying the move they had all been waiting for, even though they were changing locations to the island paradise of Maui. They spent their first days worrying about their cat. When there is such a long move, there is often a delay in receiving boxes and other items, and in this case, it was over a month. Thirty-six days after the Barths left for Maui, they finally received their boxes from their Virginia home. They were surprised and alarmed to hear an unexpected “meow.” The representative from the moving company looked startled and thought there might have been a cat behind the box. The Barth family wondered how a cat had found its way into the home, but no one saw any evidence of a feline hanging around. When they realized that the source of the “meow” was inside the box.  The Barth’s 10-year old daughter tore open the box and came to Mee-Meoow’s rescue.

Trapped inside a sealed box for over a month with no food or water, it wasn’t surprising that the family pet was greatly transformed from the adorable, cuddly kitten they thought they had left in Virginia. The cat showed signs of starvation, it had lost over half its body weight and its eyes were crusted shut. However, the fact that the pet was still alive was a miracle. Mee Meoow was taken immediately to receive medical attention. Even in the best of circumstances, the cat would have had to stay in quarantine because of Hawaii’s strict animal vaccination laws. She was supposed to have received some of her vaccinations in Virginia, but since she disappeared, she was behind on these crucial shots. Although the Barths were overjoyed by the miraculous reunion with their cat, they hardly had a chance to celebrate and welcome the cat before she had to be quarantined for three months. The family was thrilled to have their cat back, but they were upset with the moving company and blamed them for the event. However, rather than focusing on what went wrong, the Barth’s were grateful to be reunited with Mee Meoow on Valentine’s Day.

One could read a story like this and think, “All’s well that ends well.” One could be filled with outrage against the moving company for incompetence. However, cat owners know how easily something like this can happen. Sadly, most cats would not survive an entire month trapped in a moving box, but it would be easy for a cat to end up with one without anyone realizing it. Since felines spend many hours a day asleep, it may be impossible to know if your cat has found its way into a moving box and is having a good sleep. The cat could easily get sealed into a box without anyone realizing it. Therefore, during a move, it is important to keep essential tips in mind, like keeping your felines out of the way while the packing and the moving is taking place. Checking boxes to make sure that no cat is inside is another way to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

One reason many people who move may not do an important double-check of the boxes to make sure their pet isn’t inside is that not many cat owners really “get” their cat’s fascination with boxes. If we only knew how much felines loved cardboard boxes, we’d always check boxes to make sure cats are not inside. Cats love paper. If you have ever seen a kitten chase a newspaper and get wrapped up in it, you are likely to get this concept. If you are writing on a sheet of paper, your cat probably likes to get right in the middle of it. The same is true of keyboards. Many cat owners think their feline simply wants their attention, and the attention factor may be a part of it. However, it is the physical comfort that paper provides to cats that is one of the main reasons they are attracted to the substance.

Laptops also produce the kind of warmth cats love. Paper to the lesser extent than electronics traps warmth and is a great insulating material. Although you wouldn’t choose to put old newspapers on your roof rather than the famous pink insulating stuff, it does reflect warmth back on cats. Even though cats have fur that covers their entire body, they still crave additional warmth. Part of the reason is that it is a kind of return to kittenhood when they would spend all day and night snuggling with their mothers and their litter mates. One thing many people don’t realize is that, although cats are furry, they actually enjoy temperatures above 85 degrees F. Therefore, it makes sense that cats would cuddle not only with a newspaper or a piece of writing paper, but with cardboard, which is heavy-duty paper, and may want to lose themselves in the ecstasy of purring in a box—as long as they don’t actually get lost.

In addition to being attracted to the warmth provided by cardboard boxes, cats also like the fact that they give them places to hide. It has been shown that cats in shelters hide much more than cats with homes, and this could be due to the anxiety cats experience when they feel displaced. Felines are territorial by nature and may want anything to call their own, including a cardboard box. Pets can sometimes pick up on more than we realize, and even though they can’t communicate with us through speech and discover our plans in detail, they sense stress and changes. It is said that moving is one of the most stressful events in regular human experience, so it is not surprising that cats may pick up on the stress level of their owners when they are in the middle of a move, even though they don’t realize what is going on. If the cat’s don’t pick up on the stressed-out energy, they will see frenetic activity and objects being taken from one place to another. Cats as territorial creatures are sensitive to things that are being moved, particularly things that they have “marked” with their scent (even though we can’t always perceive the scent). With the displacement of things they hold dear, cats could find solace in a box as a replacement item that is truly theirs. This makes sense in the context of a move and is another reason why cats can disappear into moving boxes.

Another reason why cats love boxes so much is their sense of play. A cat doesn’t have to be a little kitten to enjoy running, jumping and hiding. Whether your cat is one month old or ten years, chances are he or she loves a game of hide-and-seek now and again. Kittens may be a cause of particular concern, not only because of their frisky nature but their diminutive size. They like to play actively during every waking moment and can easily get lost inside a box. If you have a kitten who regularly likes to hide as a way of playing games, it is worthwhile to give the boxes an extra inspection to make sure there are no kittens playing hide and seek while you are moving.

If you have children, you may notice that they pick up on the stress of a move. The same is true of your pets. As mentioned above, cats can get nervous and decide to find new territory in boxes as a reaction to the stress their owners are experiencing. Also, they see items being moved out of the house and are concerned that “theirs” are next. Of course, you will want to check your boxes thoroughly before sealing them, but keep in mind some general strategies to keep your cat more relaxed during this stressful time and to ease him or her into the move. Your cat might want to retreat amid all the activity of people packing things in boxes. Provide your cat with a safe place instead of a cardboard box. The most logical place is his or her carrier. Many cats have a notorious dislike for their carriers, and it can be difficult to coax them in, even with the promise of food or treats. There are many reasons why you should help your cat make peace with his carrier.

For one thing, if there is a fire in your house, you will need your cat to hurry into the carrier so you can bring him to safety. When you have to bring your cat to the vet, she will need to be taken in her carrier. During a move, your cat may have to spend a significant amount of time in this conveyance. Make the transition as smooth as possible by getting your cat used to the carrier. Even if you aren’t taking your pet anywhere, give him an incentive to move into the carrier with a treat. Do some trial runs with walking your cat down the street in it. Once your cat no longer flees from the sight of the carrier, you can be less worried about his diving into one of the moving boxes. If your pet already views the carrier as a special safe place, that makes your job easier, whether you are moving or taking your pet to the vet.

Cats are scent-oriented creatures. Although we may not be able to detect their fragrance, unless cats have a tendency to spray or urinate around the home, they pick up on each other’s scents and random fragrances. There are certain smells that cats hate. A safe cat repellent is green apple spray. Although many humans love the smell of sour apple, felines loath it. This spray can be useful to keep your cat from chewing on wires or clawing your sofa. If you are concerned about your cat finding a hiding place among your moving boxes, you can also spray the inside corners with green apple spray. Although it is fun to let cats play with boxes, it is a good idea to avoid this indulgence before you have moved. Using green apple spray in the boxes can keep your cat away from them and can help her avoid the prospect of getting packed up inside. However, there can be downsides to using green apple spray in boxes. It could put your cat off the idea of moving entirely. This, however, depends on the type of cat you have. If you think the danger of his or her getting lost in a box is a significant risk, for instance, if your pet is a frisky kitten, it may be worth using the spray.

If your cat spends part of the time outdoors, it might be tempting to let him go outside while you are moving to keep him from being underfoot. However, this may not be such a good plan, because your cat could get lost and confused during the activity of moving. If your cat is timid by nature, he or she might find a hiding place in the box. If this is the case, give your cat his own box and label it carefully or make sure it is a different color from the rest. Since he is not allowed to go outdoors during the move, he may need the box as a place to get away from the tension of the move.

You can avoid the problem of your cat bolting out of the door or getting trapped in a box by finding an alternative place for him to be during moving day. In addition to the above-mentioned problems, the traffic in and out of the house can mean that your cat could easily get stepped on, which is particularly dangerous if you have a kitten. Keep in mind that movers may be wearing heavy work shoes, which could be particularly painful if one of them steps on your cat. Keep your pet in a separate room that is empty of boxes or items. Give him his carrier as a place to hide from the stress and close the door. If you are moving out of a large house and if it is a problem to keep your cat in one room for hours at a time, consider boarding your pet for a day or two. This will prevent your cat from becoming nervous with all of the disruption and will allow you to more peacefully introduce him or her to a new home. It will also prevent your cat from ending up where she shouldn’t be—inside boxes.

One important pointer for preventing mishaps with your cat during moving is to let the movers know that you have a cat. Their suggestion may be sensible enough—to keep the cat in a separate room—but if that room is opened for just a few moments, the cat can escape. Even if you have your cat in a room (make sure there is someone to keep her company in there), it is a good idea to inform the movers anyway so they know to pay attention. If you live in a studio apartment, consider leaving your cat in the bathroom during the move. Your cat is likely to signal his or her dissatisfaction, but it is a higher priority to keep your cat safe. A better solution is to board your cat for a day or two during the move.

Before getting to the new house, make sure it is cat proof and ready for your cat. If you have a kitten, you may have similar issues as a parent of a toddler. Kittens can get into everything, including chemical cleanser under the sink that can be poisonous. Check the windows for screens to make sure your cat can’t fall out. There are a number of plants that are poisonous for cats, so check all existing houseplants to see if they can co-exist with cats. Look for the placement of electrical cords and watch out for places your cat can get stuck. Doing a thorough inspection of the home before you place your cat there can help you prepare properly for the move. When your cat steps out of his carrier, he might tread cautiously at first. He could dart right out of the carrier and hide somewhere. Your pet’s reaction could be somewhere between these two extremes. Even though you feel you know your cat well, it is a good idea to expect the unexpected. Cats in a new place can behave very differently than they did at home. Notice where your cat retreats to and realize that your cat might think of it as home base. You might find that “home base” could be one of the moving boxes. The danger that moving boxes pose to cats may not fade after the move is over. It could be possible for a cat to fall asleep in his home base in the new home, other objects could be thrown in the box, and the cat could accidentally be thrown in the dumpster. This may sound far-fetched, but it is as likely to happen as a cat getting sealed in a box prior to a move. The added danger, in this case, is that if your cat wakes up in the dumpster, he or she is in an unfamiliar place and may not be able to find his way back home. Always make some distinguishing color or label on your cat’s box and let that be your cat’s special place that isn’t used for anything else.

Anyone who has cats knows that they love cardboard boxes. This may be fine under ordinary circumstances, but it can mean disaster if your cat cuddles up to a box prior to a move or nestles in a box that is used for refuse. Always check the inside of boxes before sealing them and dumping them. If your cat plays with boxes, make sure they are made to look different in some way so you know which ones “belong” to your cat. Try to ease your cat’s stress as much as possible prior to, during and after a move. This can prevent your cat from becoming anxious and hiding in boxes.


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