Following last week’s feline theme, in his column from 11th April 1981, my dad mentions that a reader had sent him a letter asking if putting butter on a cat’s paws to make it stay in a new home worked.
Later that year we tried it for ourselves when we moved house. We didn’t go far, just to the other end of the village, but our cat, Marmalade, was most definitely not amused.
We relocated from an old cottage into a newly-built house, and all the carpets were brand-spanking, apart from a fetching brown, green and yellow swirly-patterned one that we rescued from our old front room and placed on the floor of my dad’s new study.
When we finally introduced Marmalade to the house, she crept slowly around the rooms commando-style, keeping as low to the ground as possible, her tummy almost touching the floor as she moved. She was quite bewildered, bless her, and found her way into my dad’s study and refused to come out for a quite some time. Obviously, it was because in there was the old carpet with its familiar scents which made her feel less disorientated.
She did eventually start to venture out of that room, but was still quite anxious, and so we resorted to the old butter on her paws trick. I think the idea is that they love butter, and by the time they have finished licking it off, they have grown so used to their new environment that they won’t try to run away.
Today, there is a lot more information available on the internet about how to settle your pet when you move house and, strangely, none seem to mention putting butter on paws!
To reduce the animal’s stress, what you should do is dedicate a whole room to it once you have moved, so that they do not feel overwhelmed by the size of the new home. Leave a litter tray, food and water in there with the door open so that it can venture out if it wants to. Make sure it has its own bed and perhaps a few items of your clothing so it has familiar scents around it.
One of the ways cats mark their territory is by rubbing themselves on walls, doors and furniture so that their scent is transferred, making them feel secure. Once they start doing this in your new home, that means they are beginning to feel more confident about where they are. If they are taking time to settle, you could try gently rubbing a soft cloth around their face and ears, then dabbing it around walls and furniture at cat height so that they are surrounded with a familiar smell .
Opinions vary as to how long you should keep a cat inside before daring to let it go outside. Some felines are quite content to stay indoors, while others resort to hovering by the door in the hope to make a dash for it when someone opens it.
We did keep Marmalade indoors for some time, although she soon began to want to go outside. I don’t think it was longer than a week before we let her out though, and it was a huge relief when she willingly returned. We had feared that she might try to find her way back to our old house, but I don’t think she ever did, and it wasn’t long before she began to feel at home in the new surroundings. She lived a long and happy life, and finally died at the ripe old of 18 in the late 1980s.
Advice for keeping them indoors ranges from a fortnight to four weeks, but I don’t know many adult cats that would be happy stuck inside for a month. One suggestion when it comes to letting them out for the first time is to sprinkle their used cat litter around the garden so that when they do go out, they know that it is their territory. It also acts as a signal to other cats in the area that there is a new kit in town.
Incidentally, that old carpet is still in my dad’s study, and I always think of dear old Marmalade when I look at it. It’s a bit tatty and worn now, but I’m not sure we will ever replace it.
Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 16th April and the Gazette & Herald on 14th April 2021