How to introduce current pets with a new pet
If one pet is great then more than one pet is amazing right? Well, that depends on several things. One – you will want to make sure that you are able to financially care for all pets, this includes proper food, supplies and vet care. Second – you will want to make sure that there is plenty of space for all living creatures in the home (meaning both humans and pets). Third – make sure that you have enough time to properly care, socialize and exercise all the pets you have. Fourth – you will want to make sure all the pets get along peacefully in the household or that will make everyone miserable. Making sure you properly introduce your new pet to your current pet is a very important step to ensure that co-habitation is successful. This blog will go into some details to keep in mind when bringing a new pet into the home with an established pet.
There are different steps and different modifications that should be done depending on whether you are bringing a dog/puppy into a dog home, cat/kitten into a cat home and bringing a cat/kitten and a dog/puppy into the same home. The blog will be broken down into each one of those categories.
First, a few things to remember regardless of the pets that are coming together. No matter who is new to the home or who has been there for a while, the first couple of months living together is stressful to both parties. It is your responsibility to help ease the stress during this time. Even if you follow all the suggestions in the categories below, there may be stresses that need additional help with any of the following: pheromones sprays, animal behaviorists or pharmaceuticals. Also, it is a very good idea to have everybody go to the veterinarian before being introduced to one another. Your current pet should visit the veterinarian to make sure they are healthy and up-to-date on vaccines. Stress can exacerbate health conditions like diabetes, seizures, thyroid issues, and feline lower urinary tract disease. New animals should have vaccines and be examined to make sure they are free of contagious diseases that can harm your current pet. Because all animals are territorial, make sure that there is at least one water bowel in two separate areas of the home, each pet has their own food bowl (preferably away from one another), and that there are enough toys so they don’t have to share.
Dog to Dog
Doggie ancestors and current wild canine species live in packs. They have a social structure called a hierarchy. The hierarchy is based on rules – often governed by dominance. In the wild, there are never two dominant canines living in one pack. The less stronger canine is attacked until it leaves the group. The same thing can happen in your home if you have two extremely dominant dogs, except that they will continue to fight and one will be unable to leave unless serious injuries occur, or one is relinquished to another home. By knowing the body language and behaviors of a dominant dog, you can utilize these skills when it comes time to bring a new dog into the family. Even puppies will display dominant body language and behaviors, so if you know you have a dominant personality dog at home, it is best to choose a puppy who is less dominant with its litter mates. By thinking like a dog and keeping the following suggestions in mind can help create a pack that gets along well with one another.
- Keep your current dog in mind when choosing to bring a new canine into the home. A hyperactive puppy may be too much for a senior dog.
- Pay attention to whether your current dog has issues with certain types of other dogs. I had a spayed female lab mix who was fine being around any size and age female dog but had huge issues with any males she met. I also knew of a medium size dog that had issues with dogs the same size but totally fine with dogs that were larger or smaller.
- Dog introductions are best done in a neutral area (meaning take your current dog away from your house and other areas it is comfortable with to have it meet the new canine companion). This helps to decrease the need for your current dog to feel like it needs to defend its territory.
- Allow the current dog to be the first one out the door.
- Allow the current dog to be a further ahead on a walk. New dog is following behind.
- Allow the current dog the be fed first.
- If you allow your dogs on the bed or couch, the current dog is sitting higher on the couch/bed. For the first month or so, your new dog shouldn’t be allowed on the furniture.
- Keep an eye on who moves out of the comfortable spot on the couch. The chosen comfy spot is the ideal spot for the dominant dog. If your new dog keeps chasing the current one away from the spot, you may need to step in and correct the new dog by removing it and letting the current dog back in the spot.
Cat to Cat
In the wild, all cats except for lions are solitary. Territories are set and adhered to and, with a few exceptions like a lack of food sources, cats only come close to one another during breeding times. So, bringing multiple cats together in a household is asking them to go against their natural behavior. But the good news is that cats are highly adaptable species and with the correct introductions and supplies, you can create a harmonious multiple cat household. Unlike dogs who have conflicts due to dominance issues, cats usually have issues with each other due to personal space and territory. Learn to identify cat behavior signs (happy, angry and stressed posturing) and act accordingly. It is important to prevent conflicts before they start because cats like to hold grudges. Once a conflict between two cats start, it is very hard to resolve it and have them become friends. Even two cats that have lived together before but have had conflicts, may have to be gradually reintroduced again to ease the tension. Senior cats can be less tolerant of kittens as well.
- When you bring home a new cat/kitten, don’t allow your current cat to see the new one. Put the new cat in one room in the house with all the necessities (food/water bowls, litterbox, toys, scratching post). This will give the new kitty a chance to adjust to the new home, give you a chance to have it checked by a veterinarian and let the current cat process the smells of the new animals without having to confront it immediately. Let the new kitty stay in this room for at least a few days. This is especially important if you have a new young kitten. Remember they are just babies and can forget where they need to go to the bathroom at. By giving them only a small location to explore, there should be less of a chance for accidents.
- Take several old towels or washcloths and rub each cat with one. Then take the towels to a location where the other one likes to be (i.e. favorite sleeping location, food dish, by you). Even give your kitties a special treat when the new smell is around. By doing this, it will help them associate the smell with good things.
- Once both kitties have been checked by a vet and are deemed healthy and the new one seems to be adjusting well to the room, swap locations. Confine your current cat to the single room and allow your new cat to explore the rest of the house without being confronted by the other cat. Switch the cats from room to room a few times before introducing them.
- During the times when one of the cats are confined to a room, make sure they are able to smell each other through the closed door. The cats should be calm and relaxed in response to each other’s scents and sounds before they are ever allowed to see each other.
- Allow only limited visual encounters between the cats by wedging the door open just a few inches. When neither cat is fearful or aggressive, you can allow supervised contact between them.
- Once both cats share the same living spaces, don’t take away the extra litterbox, food and water bowls. Remember – each cat needs to have a litterbox, plus one extra box. By providing more than one water and food bowl, it allows them to not have to compete for those resources.
- Once they are together, observe that they are not consistently avoiding each other.
- Observe that the “play” isn’t mutual. If one cat is being chased by another but is never the one initiating the chase, it can be a sign that it isn’t actually play.
- Create “safe spaces” for the cats. Give each cat plenty of hiding places like boxes, crates, paper bags, etc. Also, cats like having higher ground, so kitty shelves are helpful to give them some extra space. Another option that I have heard about is installing a magnetized indoor cat door where one cat wears the collar that controls the door and the other cat isn’t able to access the room with the kitty door. This way the cat with the collar can escape to another room without being chased by the other one.
- Make sure that there is enough environmental enrichment for both cats. For more information, read our blog here.
- If you need more instructions or information, you can visit the helping kitty website.
Cat to Dog
The amount of time it takes a cat to have a good relationship with a dog can depend on if either has ever been around the other species before, the age of both animals and how the dog acts around the cat. Even the breed of dog can play a part in the success of a happy dog/cat house-hold. Dogs bred to have a high prey drive like the hunting, terrier and sight-hound groups can have a more difficult time adjusting to life with a cat. It is important to understand that dogs don’t typically communicate with their “prey”, so if there is going to be an issue with a cat, they may not growl, raise their hackles or bark before attacking the cat.
- Make sure your cat’s litterbox is in an area where the dog can’t get to it. First, if your cat gets cornered and/or is attacked by the dog while it is in the litterbox, it may make your cat no longer want to use the litterbox due to fear of another attack. Second, for some reason dogs love to eat those little cat “tootsie rolls” inside that litterbox. By keeping the dog away from the litterbox, it will not be able to eat the cat litter/ feces. I have had medium to large dogs and the easiest way I was able to keep the dogs away from the litterbox was by using a baby gate. At first, I had a simple gate that I raised about 7 inches off the ground. Later, I got a gate that had a small cat size opening and that was much nicer. I know of a lot of cat/dog owners who put the litterbox in the basement with a little cat door so the cats can go down into the basement but the dog can’t.
- Make sure the cat’s food bowl is kept out of the reach of the new dog. Cat food has nutrients that smells great to dogs but can cause them to get diarrhea if they eat too much of it. Also, give your cat a water bowl that the dog won’t be able to drink from because some cats will not like to drink water with dog drool in it.
- Make sure cat toys are in an area where the dog can’t get to them. The small toys and strings can be easily swallowed by a dog and can cause a blockage that requires emergency surgery.
- Make sure your cat has plenty of ways to be able to escape in case it wants to get away from the dog. Just like in the Cat to Cat section, provide a “safe zone” for them like higher areas or a room that the dog can’t get into but the cat can.
- It is a good idea to figure out how well your dog understands basic commands, such as sit, stay and leave it before having a cat introduction. One way to test it is by having the dog sit, then putting one of its favorite toys or food/treats on the floor and having them stay. Puppies and dogs who don’t know this command should definitely receive training because those commands will come in handy when you need to verbally control your dog if it is harassing your cat.
- Before the dog meets the cat, make sure to exercise the dog to allow some of the energy to be released.
- Have the cat in a different room (safe place) and let the dog to get familiar with the scent for about 30-45 minutes. Then take the dog for a walk and let the cat “meet” the dog by scent. This allows them to meet each other by smell only.
- Have your dog on a leash and sitting, allow the cat to come into the room, if the dog goes after the cat, correct him to sit, stay and leave it. If the dog continues to pull on the leash and will not disengage from trying to get the cat, take the dog out of the room and house and do not allow them to meet until the dog can calmly leave the cat walk around the room for several consecutive days. You can practice this 2-3 times a day. Remember to give positive reinforcements (treats, praise) when the dog listen to your commands.
- Once your dog and cat seem to be comfortable around each other while holding onto the leash, you can drop the leash but leave it on in case you need to grab it quickly. A cat may swat at the dog – which is okay – a lot of dogs will get hit and realize the cat is not to be messed with; others though will want to go after the cat, distract the dog with a toy to separate them.
- Once that step seems to be going well, remove the leash and supervise them closely. Keep an eye on both animal’s body language – this might be your only clue there is a problem. If the issue doesn’t resolve with a few simple voice commands and calmly calling the animals’ names, go back to the previous step. Gradually make the no-leash sessions longer and longer.
- When the animals can’t be supervised, keeping the dog in a crate or in separate rooms will keep the cat safe.
- I have trained my dogs to have no resource guarding but for a lot of great reason, I have always fed my dogs in their crate. One of the reasons for that is to protect my cats during feeding time. Once a cat is comfortable around the dog, it may stick its head into the food bowl to see what is in it and could accidently get hurt while the dog is trying to eat its food.
- Never introduce multiple dogs to a cat at the same time. One on one they may be fine but together they can become a pack and kill the cat.
A puppy’s socialization period is between 4 – 12 weeks of age. This is the best time to teach them that cats are part of their pack. If you can, introduce your puppy to confident, “dog-friendly” cats that will not jump, run away or smack at the curious puppy. Your pup should have good experiences around cats. While still on a leash, allow the puppy to meet the cat but encourage the pup to do other things than focus strictly on the cat. Gradually let the puppy observe the cat doing normal cat things like running and jumping, but make sure that the pup is on a leash to prevent it from chasing the cat. NEVER allow/ encourage the puppy to chase the cat. You can distract the pup from focusing on the cat by calling it to you. Kaylee was 7.5 weeks old when I started fostering her. She had the luxury of being around several cats who were very good with dogs. After I became a failed foster home (meaning I adopted her), she has been very tolerant of the cats treating her like anything between a giant bed cushion to an enormous cat.
A word of warning: as successful as you are with dogs and cats living together, accidents can happen. Kittens can get hurt from a dog playing a little too rough. The size of the dog can accidentally hurt a cat. I constantly have to keep an eye on Kaylee because she likes to lay down on the couch without looking where she is sitting and has sat on one of the cats more than once. 90 pounds of dog on top of 12 pounds of cat could end badly if I wasn’t paying attention to what they are doing. Here she is cuddling with Harvey as a kitten.
When the time comes to increase the size of your furry family, your veterinarian should be happy to discuss any personalized training/ techniques since they are going to be more familiar with your current pet’s health and behavior. When your household is happily cuddling on the couch together, if you are anything like me, it will be the best part of your day!