Thinking of adding to your fur family? Adding a dog or cat sibling can end up being the best thing you ever did for your pet. Many cats and dogs benefit from having another animal in the house, because when the humans are too busy for a nap or play session, someone else is around. Even if they don’t end up becoming best buddies, it’s still possible to get the pets to a place where they’re cohabiting in peace and harmony. Either way, when introducing a new animal to the house, you’ll want to start things off on the right paw.
Things to consider before adding a pet to your household
If you’re thinking of adding a dog or cat to your household, you’ll want the new family member to mesh well with the other animal. Take stock in what you know of your pet. And if it’s possible to get detailed information about your new pet, use that as well to help you decide and plan.
Do they jump at every chance to interact, or need quiet time?
Exposure to animals
How much experience and exposure do they have with other animals? If you’re in a single pet household, and it’s been that way for several years, helping them adjust could take time. While many solo pets can accept a “sibling,” some dogs and cats prefer being the only pet.
You can certainly train your elderly dog to accept a puppy or a kitten. Do set aside a space so the older pet can retreat and get some rest when they want a break from the young ‘un.
Are the animals friendly and easygoing in new situations, or do they show signs of aggression (growling and hissing) and fear (cowering and hiding)?
Are there major size differences between the pets? Making space for the smaller pet to claim as their own can ease some of the stress of co-habitating.
Remember, pets can and do live together peacefully every day, even when these major differences are present. But animals can get competitive for territory and your affection, so make sure you create a game plan to head off conflict.
[Cats not getting along with each other? Read more to learn how to calm the aggression.]
Introduce pets with separated closed-door feedings
After arrival, take a few days to let the new pet settle in to their environment in their own section of the house, somewhere closed off from the original resident.
When it’s time to eat, feed both animals at the same time, on either side of a closed door. Yes, they’ll be interested in the new being on the other side, and will want to sniff under the door crack. But the excitement of dinner can refocus the animals. A few days of calm dinners will give both a chance to desensitize and associate the scent of the new dog or cat with the positive event of getting fed.
Prepare for the first face-to-face meeting between pets
To keep your pets safe, and to start the path to long-term harmony, go slow on the introductions of the new household pet. Some settle in peacefully without a hitch, while for others, it can take weeks before both pets can stand being in the same room together. It’s a lot like human friendships — it often comes down to the individuals. Before you get them in the same room for the meet-and-sniff, have a plan and keep the first meetups brief to keep them positive and conflict free.
Let dogs meet outside
The best place for two dogs to meet outdoors, in a park or some other neutral environment that doesn’t “belong” to either canine. Keep both dogs leashed, and allow them to sniff each other at a safe distance. However, you’ll want to confirm your new dog is comfortable wearing a leash, or he may be too stressed to put his best paw forward. Leash reactive dogs respond with growling or fear, so in that case, try holding the meeting in a fenced yard.
Tire them out
For young, energetic pets, take the edge off by going on a run, or having an extra active play session before the meeting for a calmer intro.
Create a calming environment
Just before the meetup, spray the room with pheromones for a soothing effect on stressed, anxious pets. (While pheromones can put an anxious dog at ease, it’s worth pointing out they’re not effective on aggression.) Shop your local independent pet shop to find products that are specific to dogs or cats.
Keep all dogs clipped to a non-retractable leash and hang on to it, without offering slack, until they’re calm. The new cat can be brought in for the introduction in their carrier. For dog-cat meetups, give kitty an escape route to a place the dog can’t access, especially if the dog is one to chase. For example, use a baby gate at the foot of a staircase or the entrance of a room.
Focus on positive reinforcement
Have treats handy to reward calm behavior, obeyed verbal commands and good manners.
[Check out this episode of Raising Your Paws Podcast on how to peacefully blend a dog-cat household.]
Take it slow when letting pets get used to each other
For the next few days, continue the closed-door feedings along with the brief face-to-face get-togethers. With each passing day, as their responses become less eventful, gradually increase the time spent together.
Once the interactions are calm, you can release the dog into the room, but keep the leash fastened so you can easily step on it and restrain them when needed.
If your pets end up being easy-going with each other, this baby-steps process should take just a few days. However, some have more prickly beginnings and pet parents find they’re in it for the long haul. Again, it all depends on the individual personalities of the pets, and how they mesh. Be patient, calm and consistent. Eventually, as the new roomies get used to each other, the meetups will evolve into non-events. At that point, you can ease off the restrictions and let both pets come and go as they please.
Happy pets, happy house
Like any sibling relationship, it’s hard to predict just how the relationship between the two pets will turn out. Some become inseparable BFFs. Others behave like the other animal doesn’t exist. And there are those who learn to tolerate the presence of the other pet, with occasional spats and flare-ups along the way. But in the end, most pets find a way to make it work so they can keep on rocking their adorable selves.
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