Change happens: Tips to help your pet adapt

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher / Photo

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

I make changes to my medication and anesthesia protocols constantly. I read up on new medications, new ways to treat things and new ways of looking at old diseases. Outside of medicine and surgery, however, I despise change. Looking for a new car, new jeans or new phone is a torturous experience. I don’t even love it when my bedtime changes very much.

Don’t worry, I can function with some change here and there, but I certainly empathize with our pets, who don’t typically like change. However, life happens. So here are some things to keep in mind as you change apartments, partners, states, jobs and living situations.

First of all, remember that our pets view things differently than we do. We often know this, but forget it. Dead animals don’t look delicious and catnip doesn’t smell that good to me, just like packing up boxes and moving into an empty room doesn’t look hopeful to them. Our pets cannot look into the future and know that things will settle down, all they know is that everything is different. Make sure that you always take a moment to think of how things seem on a right-now basis, since that is all they can see.


Getting a new animal or having a baby is exciting, but also adds a lot of change to a household. Your time management, schedule, and attention will change. Make sure that you introduce pets to the new family member slowly.

If you have a new pet, rub them with a washcloth and then let your pet(s) smell the washcloth. Have them be introduced but not left alone in the same room right away. Your pet may react calmly at first, but become upset when the new pet goes near its favorite bed/bowl/toy/person. Always make sure you are around to monitor transactions until they have gotten used to each other (this may take days, or months!) I like starting them off over a baby gate so that they can see and smell but not touch each other.

Cats are usually territorial about certain places in the house, so while they may not be aggressive, they can feel threatened by a loss of space. Make sure that your cat always has an “escape route” and access to a safe space. Cats may not be as outwardly aggressive, but any stressful interactions can delay the formation of new appropriate bonds.

If you have had a baby or adopted a child, make sure you introduce them slowly. Children have very different ways of moving, smell funny and are very loud. Even sweet animals may become alarmed if a baby starts screaming or a child wakes them from a nap suddenly. Make sure that you monitor all of these interactions carefully until a new routine has been established.


Keep as much around pets as familiar as possible until they have settled in. If you walk your dog twice a day, continue that routine once you move. Don’t pick this time to get them a new bed (even though it may be tempting for a new house.) Stick as closely to the routine as your life change will allow, at least for the first few weeks. While the surroundings may be different, they will be comforted by any familiarity.

Time change

If your job or schedule has changed, try to adjust them to these changes slowly. This may mean shifting their mealtime by five minutes a day until you have reached the new time, or walking them at different times of the day but for the same length of time. If you know about your schedule change in advance, start before the change in getting them used to it.

Behavior changes when pets go through life alterations are a common reason for them to be given to shelters. Often, animals display their anxiety as a backslide in training. You may notice them chewing, going to the bathroom outside of the litter box and reacting to situations differently. If you can manage this anxiety with routine, exercise and comfort, they will adapt more quickly.

As someone who likes to plan things out weeks in advance, I can sympathize with the stress of sudden changes for our pets. The yogurt recently moved around in the grocery store and it took me a minute to collect my thoughts. Exercise is always a good antidote to anxiety, so keeping your pet mentally and physically exercised through changes helps tremendously. If you have specific questions about upcoming changes, always feel free to speak to your veterinarian or a qualified trainer. Sometimes we will use herbal supplements to help them deal with the anxiety better, and sometimes we can help you adapt their routine to make them happier. The better we can prepare pets for upheaval, the faster they will adjust and the happier they will be.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL:

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