It can be a stressful process to bring a new dog or cat into your home when you already have pets. Dogs usually adjust to changes more easily than cats. And sometimes it can take months for an established pet to accept a new one. In some cases the new dog or cat is not welcomed, no matter what you do. Here are some suggestions to help ease the transition for both you and your cherished companions.
Introduce pets to each other slowly. Expect the blending of your pets to be a two- to four-week process. The more time you allow for this, the less likely you are to have issues with aggression, destruction of property, and other behavior problems such as urine marking. Please remember that animals are very territorial and that a new dog or cat in the home is a threat to the original pet’s domain.
For cats, I recommend having a separate room for the newcomer, with an individual bed, toys, litter box, food and water dish in a location that other animals are not able to enter. Having individual areas also lets you observe your new household member for any signs of illness; and monitor eating, drinking, and voiding habits. Bring the animals together in a room of the house that doesn’t belong to either pet. Supervise all contact between the animals, and don’t force the pets to get close to each other. Keep these initial visits short, 15 minutes or less. If introductions go well, gradually increase the amount of time the animals spend together. As things progress, step out of the neutral area, leaving the pets together for short periods of time. A squirt bottle with water is a useful tool that can help in curbing undesired behaviors. Use this same technique for puppies.
For older dogs I recommend introducing them off leash in an area that is securely fenced, in a location where there are not a lot of other dogs. A friend’s yard might be an ideal location. Dogs are less defensive when they are off leash. The introduction should last 15 to 30 minutes maximum. Schedule another visit in two to three days. Do not bring treats to these visits, as dogs can often become aggressive over food.
Once you bring a dog to your home, give him or her an isolated area with a bed, etc., and monitor for signs of illness as described above. Bring both canines to a neutral room for gatherings as described above for cats. Make sure you give each dog individualized attention as well, for several minutes each day, to decrease the chance of one of them becoming possessive of you. A baby gate can be a good way to allow partial contact. Continue the off-leash play sessions in a neutral location as well. Remember to always be careful with treats and toys. These are hot items that pets can frequently fight over. If you want to give out treats, it is best to bring each canine to a separate area for food rewards.
If you want to bring a dog into a household with cats, try to find a canine that has already lived with felines. Remember that many breeds of dogs have been raised to hunt prey, and this instinct can transfer to cats. A puppy is also a good choice when you already have felines. Set up an individualized area for both pets, and provide slow supervised introductions as described above.
Please keep in mind that dogs and cats are more likely to accept young puppies or kittens. With adult dogs, try to introduce a pet that is of similar size and life stage to the dog that you already have. Also, animals are less threatened by a new pet of the opposite sex. Animals that are spayed or neutered are less likely to show aggression or territorial behavior. In addition, make sure the pet you are introducing is current on vaccines, has been de-wormed, and has had a fecal sample tested for parasites. For cats, make sure to also test for feline leukemia and FIV.
Bringing a new pet into your home can be a wonderful, rewarding experience. The more planning and time that you take with introductions, the more likely for a harmonious union to form with all of your cherished companions. If you are looking for an addition to your household, please remember that our local shelter and rescue organizations have many terrific felines and canines to select from.