I'm a confused cat with a confused cat
November 28, 2010 8:54 AM   Subscribe

We've moved, but our cat is in denial. How do I let her know that she can't keep going back to our old house and that she has to stay here with us?

We've moved ... a whole 200 metres further up the road (think 200 yards if you prefer). The problem is that our cat keeps on going back to our old house, where she sits outside and refuses to budge. Unfortunately, we can't get to her as she's the other side of a high wall and so on a daily basis you will find us outside the house calling her and bribing her with food. We do get her out eventually and she begrudgingly comes back to the new house again, but we'll be doing it all over again within 24 hours at the most. This has been going on for about a week now.

It's slightly problematic as we really don't want to be going anywhere near this old house again as we've just had a fairly traumatic move away from there (nightmare landlord). Our cat clearly has other ideas though.

We've tried leaving her to it and waiting for her to get hungry and come back to us, but we crumbled after 24 hours. We've OBVIOUSLY also tried to sit her down and have a good talk about it, but she seems uninterested at best.

I just wonder if me-fi has any amazing ideas that we haven't managed to think of, or would simply like to form a consensus of opinion behind "goddammit, she's a cat, just leave her to it and she'll come back"?

Additional problem filter: Our move is temporary and we're currently living with my girlfriend's parents while we're waiting for the house we bought to be ready for us to move in (this is a big part of the reason that our cat isn't happy here, as she's visibly not comfortable about having people around other than us). In about two weeks or so we'll be into the new house. Problem solved you might think ... except for the fact that this house is right in the middle, equidistant from the old house and the parents' house. Yes, we're really pulling out all the stops on confusing the hell out of our cat!

Any help, sage advice, or just being told to not be silly will be greatly appreciated.
posted by BinarySolo to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Keep the cat indoors?
posted by lilnublet at 8:56 AM on November 28, 2010 [28 favorites]

Is there are reason why you aren't just keeping her indoors? I realize she'd probably yowl in an extremely irritating way, but it seems like it would be the best thing for her, as well as less inconvenient for you.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:58 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

A cat will only groom itself when (and where) it feels safe. So... spread a little butter on her paws and she'll just have to grrom herself and therefore feel safe in her new home. This worked for me when I used to have cats and moved to a new place.
posted by HarrysDad at 9:03 AM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

When moving feral cats, to convince them that the new location is now their home, it's recommended to keep them confined at least 21 days before allowing them to leave. Feral cats typically can't be handled and caretakers tend to try to take care of them without handling or interfering with them; 21 days' confinement is what untouchable, unfriendly cat caretakers have found is the minimum necessary to keep cats safely located in their new home. If you do less, you endanger the cat.

For a friendly and touchable cat, it might be a much better idea to keep them confined in their new home for longer than 21 days.
posted by galadriel at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Every time we've moved, we've kept the cats indoors for at least two weeks. Then we've used a leash to walk the cats around the house and then brought it back indoors for another couple of days or a week. This gets them used to the territory including looking at the outdoors from the windows. We've yet to have a problem with them disappearing from the new house.
posted by amanda at 9:39 AM on November 28, 2010

I would either lock that cat indoors for quite a while or try again letting the cat come back when it's hungry. 24 hours isn't that long. I assume since you let it go outdoors to begin with there aren't any coyotes trying to eat her or anything?
posted by floam at 10:13 AM on November 28, 2010

Try a feliway plug-in at the current house so she starts to associate it with good feelings, safety and comfort. Also, definitely lock her in for a while.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:00 AM on November 28, 2010

Thanks for all the answers ... I particularly like the butter one, but you didn't advise any method of application, nor provide safety precautions during the application process which we would DEFINITELY need!

We're in Italy and there's nothing that I'm aware of that eats cats here (apart from the odd Eagle maybe, but you don't get them near the city). That and the fact that she goes through a field to get back to the old house means that she's not in any danger; no roads to cross or anything like that.

The indoors suggestion isn't ideal because:

a) She'll drive us totally crazy (not the end of the world). She's the terminator of miaowing, she literally Will. Not. Stop. Ever.
b) She'll drive my girlfriend's parents totally crazy (worse)
c) She just won't be a happy cat - she's used to coming and going as she pleases and spends the majority of her time outside. When we do finally let her out, I'm not convinced that she won't just stay out for ever more.

If that's consensus opinion, though, we'll obviously listen to it.

And I totally understand why it's necessary to see a photo of the cat in question, so this, ladies and gentlemen, is what we are dealing with.
posted by BinarySolo at 11:08 AM on November 28, 2010

I personally would not worry about it. It sounds like the worst that would happen is your cat would be outside a lot for the next two weeks or maybe another week after that before it begins to settle in to your new home. Cats are tough.
posted by salvia at 11:15 AM on November 28, 2010

All of the tips above are spot on - the only thing I would add is to really soup up her new digs. Make it a fun place to be. Does she like canned fish? A little canned salmon and/or tuna can often turn on feline light bulbs. If you can, I'd also carve out a little [dark + quiet] place in her new home where she can feel secure. A big cardboard box, an unused corner of the house, etc. Someplace where she can go to get away from whatever is stressing her out.

I'd definitely keep her inside for a while. If she yowls, ignore it and it should resolve itself in a few days. (A painful few days for human kind, to be sure.) Responding to yowls will only encourage more of it.
posted by muirne81 at 11:20 AM on November 28, 2010

Yeah, you're going to have to keep her inside. Cats (unfortunately, and of course generally, there are always exceptions, but in general) are more attached to locations than people. Your cat needs to realize the new house is her new location, and that is going to take time. And it's going to be harder to convince her of that than usual because the old place is so accessible to her. The only way to "break" her of her attachment to the old place is to make it completely inaccessible, which means confining her is some way.
posted by cgg at 11:21 AM on November 28, 2010

I agree that you need to keep her inside. If she's not comfortable around other people, keep her in the bedroom you and your gf are using. Give her lots of treats and attention. Play with her a lot when she seems interested. You'll need to do this in your new house too.

I wouldn't just trust that she'll come back. Cats are stubborn creatures.
posted by Mavri at 11:50 AM on November 28, 2010

When I have taken my cat to a new place, like when I travel and he is visiting my relatives, this is what I do: I carry my cat around in my arms and show him around like a house tour. I introduce him to all the rooms and the people who he might now be interacting with. I show him where his food and facilities are located. I also make sure to have things from our house present, like his blankets and chair, or things that either have my scent or his, like sweaters I wear and he naps on.
My friend, who recently had a child, did this when they first got home from the hospital. She said she read it in one of her baby books. Cat people will understand, others will roll their eyes. My friend, with the baby, was speechless when I said I had been doing the very same thing with my cat.
Best of luck with your cat.
posted by bookshelves at 12:07 PM on November 28, 2010

We had exactly the same problem with our cat when we moved a similar distance. Tbh we just kept going back to get her and eventually she "got it". No tricks or anything. Sure cats are more attached to places, but eventually they'll learn their food is at New Place. Well, ours did anyway and she wasn't a very smart cat. (oh, maybe I should add tho that the new guy in our old house didn't like cats much and chased her away a few times... that probably helped, heh)

Also agreeing that 24hrs isn't really that long.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 1:02 PM on November 28, 2010

Well you could use an old trick to keep cats away- from the old place. People that want to keep cats out of their yard sprinkle red pepper flakes on the ground. This may help. It's harmless to the lawn and you may be able to have someone sneak over and do it for you.
posted by beccaj at 2:13 PM on November 28, 2010

Yeah, she's going to be really awful if you keep her inside for a little while, but she'll eventually adjust. Just remind your girlfriend's parents that it's temporary and do what you can to be extra nice to them while she's adjusting. As far as she's concerned right now, *you guys* moved, she didn't. Anything that changes that is not going to leave her a terribly happy cat, but they adapt pretty quickly, all things considered.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:27 PM on November 28, 2010

In about two weeks or so we'll be into the new house.

Instead of trying to acclimatise her to this house, why don't you board her at a cattery until you're in the new house? This will reduce confusion and give your in-laws some peace.

In the new house you WILL have to keep her indoors until she works out that this is 'home'.

P.S. That butter-on-the-paws thing is a UL.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 4:31 PM on November 28, 2010

Thanks very much to everyone for all the replies, they're very much appreciated.

It looks like some indoor time lies in our cat's future and a lot of disturbed sleep lies in ours! We'll do our best to make the place feel like home for her, though, and we've probably been a bit negligent in that department, so thanks for all the advice relating to that.

We've also just found out that the new tenants of our old house have a dog. When they move in I suspect we're not going to have a problem anymore, so we've only got to worry about the next two weeks or so.

Thanks again to you all!
posted by BinarySolo at 3:39 AM on November 29, 2010

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