Adjusting to a new home
Think of getting a new roommate from another country and neither of you speak the same language. It would be confusing, difficult and would take some time to get used to one another. Now think of that same roommate with four legs – that is what happens when you bring a new pet into your home. There will be an adjustment period for everyone in the home, both people and pets. Each individual will take their own length of time for that adjustment period. Some adjust rather quickly like they have always lived there and others could take up to six months. But don’t be discouraged. There are some things you can do to help them adjust.
The first thing to take into account is that stress plays a big part in how an animal adjusts to their new environment. Identifying stress factors before bringing a new pet home, and working to alleviate as many stressors once they come home, can really help the cause. Stress triggers can come in many different sounds, shapes, smells and activities. Even the season you bring home a new pet can add stress to an animal. A big seasonal stress trigger is Christmas time. Many people coming and going from the house, excited children yelling and running around, etc can lead to a lot of anxiety for a pet already established in a home, but to a new pet it would be like being dropped into a hurricane. Not to mention housebreaking during winter storms can cause quite a few setbacks. Cats are extremely sensitive to their surroundings and can become stressed out if something changes. The Ohio State University website has a wonderful list of cat life stressors and how to help your cat.
The second step is to establish a routine. They may not always act like it but dogs and cats love being on a schedule. Creating a routine and sticking with it helps minimize some stress. Getting a new job or having a baby isn’t going to be the best time to bring a new pet into the mix. Some life changes are unavoidable. But if you just brought home a brand new baby, now isn’t the best time to go to the pet store. A new pet requires a lot of attention. Whether you brought home a kitten, puppy, cat or dog, try to get an idea from the place you are getting them from what their routine was. Asking what time(s) they were fed, how much they were fed, what type of food, bathroom habits, exercise times and keeping them on the same schedule in your home will help lessen the stress and adjustment time. If their routine doesn’t work into your schedule, slowly adjust their routine to fit into your schedule. For example, changing food brands can be a stressful time. Dogs and cats are not like people who need a variety of different tastes/food. If you want to change their food, it should take a minimum of 4 days for the switch. A few weeks for switching foods is even better. See our switching food blog for information on how to properly switch foods. Also, by providing your new pet with scheduled feeding times, it allows for more bonding between you and the new pet. By measuring out certain amounts of food, you can monitor how much food your pet is eating. If you are concerned that your new pet isn’t eating, knowing how much food was measured out you can see how much was eaten by measuring what is still left in their bowl.
Playtime! Playing with your new pet is a good way for both of you to get to know and trust each other.
New pets in your home:
Pet Proofing your home before your new pet arrives is a great practice to get in to. Even if you already have a dog or cat in the home, a new pet can get into items your current pet does not. Here’s a quick check list for you:
- Electrical wires
- People food (especially candy and chocolate) – Put food items away and not leave food on the counter or table. Your new pet may be a counter-surfer and not know this is an inappropriate behavior in your home.
- Personal care items and medications – No joke, I knew someone who had 2 adult dogs in the home and then they got a puppy. The adults stayed out of the bathroom and the trashcans. But the pup went right in and chewed up a lot of feminine products. Not only did the owners have a mess to clean up but they had to worry that the pup would get a blockage and have to have surgery.
- Hot tubs and swimming pools – just like with children, you should never leave your pet unsupervised or have access to areas where a swimming pool or hot tub is.
- Laundry machines – Curious felines or little guys looking for someplace warm could get into a lot of trouble if they climb/ jump into a washer or dryer.
- Curtains – long hanging flowing curtains seem like a lovely place to stretch those kitty muscles and the strings could pose as a choking/hanging hazard to dogs and cats.
- Remove breakable objects from shelves, windows and tabletops.
- Secure all cupboard doors – just because you put food in a cupboard, doesn’t mean it is safely out of the way of your new pet. I’ve seen a lot of animal videos that shows just how smart they can be at opening doors!
- Make sure to check both indoor and outdoor plants are nontoxic to your pet. Read our Pet Toxins blog to get more information on toxins around your home.
Crate training your new puppy/dog is a wonderful tool for you and your pet. With proper crate training, you will aid in housebreaking the pup and provide a safe haven for them to retreat to when/if they need it.
Cats/kittens should be provided a smaller room and gradually allow them to adjust to their new surroundings. This confinement also aids in litter box training and avoids the risk of ‘accidents’ elsewhere in the house. Make sure the area has a fresh food and water, bed, toys, scratching tree and a cardboard box on its side so that the new feline has a place to hide if it is feeling a little shy or unsure. Don’t coax the cat/kitten out of a hiding place; spend time in the room reading a book or watching TV. If you want to appeal to your new kitty, spend time on the floor at their level. As your new kitty is adjusting to the home, allow family members to visit individually rather than crowding into the room all at once. Make sure to provide different types of scratching materials to find out the new kitty’s preference of scratching materials.
Again, prepare the room or crate prior to bringing home the new arrival.
Rule of thumb: if any or all of something will fit in a mouth, it’s dangerous. Watch out for cigarette butts, rubber bands, balloons, sewing needles, thread/ribbon, articles of clothing. Because what goes in must come out, often via surgery.
New pets with current pets:
If you take your dog to the dog park or other locations where he/she plays with other dogs and you think it is time to get Fido a friend at home, take some time to really make sure everyone in the home is going to be fine with it. Your current dog may be good with dogs outside of his home but may be very territorial of his own home. He may not want to share his bed, toys or people with another dog. Introducing a new dog with your current dog on neutral grounds can help lessen territorial behavior. Also, your senior pet may not enjoy having a hyper, young baby jumping all over them.
Having a new pet, you will undoubtedly give it more attention than the pets already in your home. This can cause stress and anxiety for your current pet. Make sure to set aside some one on one time with your current pet. A few other suggestions:
- Always supervise pets until you know how they’ll get along.
- Keep pets – including those of the same species – on opposite sides of closed door to allow them to sniff each other without coming into full contact. Once they are comfortable with each other’s scents, use a baby gate to visually introduce them to one another.
- Keep dogs leashed to maintain control during introductions to new people and pets.
- For new cats, consider creating a “refuge room” to which they can safely and comfortably retreat.
- Separate pets when leaving home. Provide each with necessities such as fresh water, food, bed, toys, litter box, etc.
Even after your new pet and current pet are getting along in the house together – make sure to keep everyone happy by having each pet with their own food bowl, water bowl and litter boxes for cats.
New pet and children:
Pets, especially felines, should be given an initial 24 hour calming period once they are brought into their new home to get acquainted with their new surroundings. Never allow small children to pick up small pets or to be left unattended with a pet.
Other items to keep in mind:
- It is a good idea to have kittens and puppies get accustomed to being groomed from an early age. Getting them use to having people touch their paws will help when they need their nails trimmed. Long-haired pets will need daily attention to keep their fur free from tangles. Brushing cats removes excess loose hairs which can cause fur balls to build up in the stomach.
- Pets new to their home are at higher risk of getting lost, so a collar, tags and microchip is important right from the start.
Bringing a new pet into your home is often an exciting, joyous time. By preparing for them, you can help to ensure a less stressful time for all. If you have any questions or concerns, please call our clinic at 717-477-8938 and we will be happy to discuss your concerns/questions.