So after talking about mental health in our lives and the importance of having your own personal space, I thought it was also important to talk about our pets and how we can help them have a positive mental life. I know it sounds kind of super hippy and new age of me but give me a chance to explain.
Your pets' mental health is often a reflection of your own, and vice versa. It is well known that cats purring has healing powers (the frequency of their vocalization can improve bone density and promote overall healing1). Dogs on the other hand are incredibly smart and capable of being trained to give all sorts of assistance to the disabled, as well as give comfort in time of sorrow or sickness, reduce anxiety, depression, and blood pressure2. Multiple recent studies show that horses are able to sense a person's emotions, moods, and trust3 . So it's not a far leap to say that making sure your fur baby is comfortable and at peace in your home is important for the overall well-being of the family.
In the Home
Just like a humans, having a little special place for our animals is good for their mental health. We have a rescue scaredy cat so it is imperative that we have a safe space for her to hide when friends with dogs come over or we have a get together. I have always created this out of that first room I put them in when we move because it is the first sight and smell they connect with during the moving process in the new home and therefore stays ingrained as "their" room. The space has their water, food, cat tree, and their carry bags. Most days I often find them lounging in there, as seen below, left, my little Maggie sitting on her perch in the sun. For my mom, this space the mudroom where the dog beds and crates are. Also below is her pup Benji, happily sitting in his crate playing with toys and newspaper. Often, we find him napping there and taking a rest from playing.
The other thing that makes animals feel safe and secure is a routine. Just the same as it is important for small children. It is widely believed that animals can't tell time and don’t know how long you have been gone. But my cats, and friend's and family's pets, know patterns. They know when it feel like time for dinner, bed, treats, a walk, etc. For example my cats know that on the weekends or a holiday, basically anytime my boyfriend and I are both home sleeping late, that they will get a little bit of milk when we get up and make coffee. So on the weekends they anxiously wait for us to get up sometimes if we sleeping very late they start jumping on us and running to the kitchen. On normal weekdays, they abide by our routine of getting up and out to work and don't really beg for any milk. Similarly when we clip their nails or give them medicine, it is always followed by a treat. So while they don’t enjoy the activity, they often sit still knowing they will get a reward afterwards. And should we hesitate on the reward, oooh they let us know! My sister told me the other day that her older cat comes downstairs and starts meowing at them if they don't come up to bed by a certain time. So it's obvious that while they may not know the time, they definitely know something! Patterns and routine things train or condition them to understand cause and effect, action and reward, but it also gives them a sense of security of the known - Knowing they'll always get dinner around the time the sun goes down, or time you come home from work, etc.. Whatever the pattern, a routine increases their feeling of security and stability.
Our pets are always intrigued with what we are doing. When you start piling your clothes on the bed to spring clean do your animals come to see what you're doing? When you are packing dont them come in and check out what's going on? Often sitting in or on your belongings and luggage? I would say this is 1) they just want to be in the same room as you, 2) they don't want you to leave, 2) as we discussed above, they can tell if something is going on with you mentally. So when you are moving or transitioning, seeing familiar items put into boxes and leave the house doubles intrigue with concern. And if you have a rescue pet that is prone to abandonment or separation anxiety, this can be very scary for him or her..
What I have learned from moving 5 times with my cats and helping friends with animals move is that you have to make the process as easy and carefree for them as possible. You have to conisder ift from their point of view - they can't ask where the boxes are going, why and more importantly if they are invited too. When you leave on vacation, they often don't get to come, so how should they know this is any different? They can only watch and hope.
The last time we moved was our most successfully planned and executed, because we had a new rescue kitten who does have some anxiety. Here are the things we leared and the tips we received from friends and family. (Note, these tips work if you are moving close by and completing the move in a day or two.)
- Pack the small things you don’t use often first just as you would any move. These items are not important to you or the animals and may seem like a spring cleaning activity to them.
- Find a room in the house that the animals are most comfortable with and that can be moved last. If it's not "their space" move some of their favorite items in and set it up for the animals a few days prior to your move so they get used to it - Ours had a litter box, cat tree, toys, a futon and a blanket they both like to cuddle on. We even gave them food in there the day before our move to get them adjusted.
- Be sure to keep a few of their things out of this room. Ideally if you have a two day move, you can spend the night in the old house and a new room with toys and food set up at the new place for arrival.
- On moving day, try to stay as close to your animals' normal routine - food, walks etc. Some friends give their animals help relaxing in the form or homeopathic "Rescue Remedy" or vet prescribed assistance.
- Close them into "their" room.
- Get everything loaded for the move.
- If possible, go to the new home and unload items. Then go back to retrieve the furbabies and the last few things.
- If that is not possible, load them last. Make sure they have a comfortable hiding spot in the smoothest riding vehicle. Provide them with their toys, water, favorite blanket/bed/crate, etc. I will never forget my cat hiding inside his litter box for the entire 7 hour drive to move from Connecticut to Maryland. To him, that was safe. My rescue cat hid inside the hole of the cat tree on our short move across two towns (see below).
- Take them to the new place and set up their new room for them with the few things you brought. Maybe put a couch or blankets that they like in the new room with their food, water, and toys. Close them into this new room to learn the new smells while you set up the rest of the house. If possible have someone hang out with them – a child, friend, spouse – whom they know to reassure them and give them comfort during this confusing time.
- When things are calmer and the majority of unpacking is done, the house has all the things they recognize unloaded, let them out to explore the new spaces.
If you have the ability to spread the move out, and/or are buying new furnishings this process is a little bit easier. As you can leave more at the old home for familiarity and can introduce the animals to the new home once everything is on its place. Instead of having them locked in one room. But the essential steps are the same.
Do you have any tips or tricks you have used when moving your pets? Do you follow a daily or weekly pattern for your animals? What kind of things do you do? Do you have a special place your animals are drawn to? A place they like best, where they can hide when the thunder rolls or many people come over? I would love to know your comments, thoughts, and ideas! And pictures are welcome on social media! I'll leave you with one of my favorite pictures, four of my mom's dogs, all lounging on the bed like it's theirs... well, it is.