Introducing a New Pet to the Family
Before you introduce new pets to your family, be sure your resident cats and dogs will put out the welcome mat
Most people research major decisions, and adding a family pet—especially when there’s already a dog or cat at home—is a major decision. It’s important to look into the type of pet that’s right for your two- and four-legged family members before you purchase or rescue a new cat or dog. Doing so can save you time and heartache.
ASK A TRUSTED SOURCE
The best way to start your pet-finding mission is to talk with your veterinarian or credentialed technician. They’re well educated on not only the benefits of certain breeds but also their predilection to problems. For example, if you’re leaning toward a purebred cat or dog, the veterinary team can help you find out which breeds are prone to allergies, orthopedic issues, or behavior problems. They can counsel you on the dogs that are best with children, cats, or other animal family members. If you’re considering pet adoption, your veterinary team can direct you to reputable rescue groups.
You should also talk to your veterinary team about the pets that are already living with you. It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian so he or she can examine these pets to make sure they’re healthy and up to date on vaccines. What’s more, the veterinarian can warn you about any potential “sibling” rivalries. Sometimes older pets deal with arthritis issues, for example, and a new friend jumping on them could create discomfort and lead to spats.
AT HOME WITH DOGS
After learning all you can from your veterinarian, it’s time to think about how to bring that new pet into your family. Remember that introducing a new pet can be a stressful time for people and pets. When bringing a new dog to a home where there’s already a canine family member, you must plan and prepare for every step of the introduction to avoid conflict and make the transition go smoothly. Think about first impressions. As you know, they’re very important. If the first few minutes of a dog meeting are stressful, this can make the introductory process take much longer.
One way to prevent undue stress is to prepare your home before your new dog arrives. If possible, set up a special area of the house for the new dog. A laundry room or other small room where the dog can see the main living area is ideal. Accoutrements should include a food bowl, water bowl, bed, and a toy that can be stuffed with food. Also give your new dog a kennel and leave it out and accessible in the special area. It’s best to keep your new dog, especially puppies, in the kennel while you’re not at home.
Not to play favorites, your established dog also needs his own place—set up in advance of the new dog’s arrival—that’s outfitted in the same way: with food, water, a bed, and toys. Speaking of toys, it’s important that you pick up all your current dog’s valuables—such as food, bones, and toys. Leaving out desirable items invites guarding. Newly introduced dogs often find sharing difficult.
NO DOG-EAT-DOG WORLD
When you pick up your new dog, it’s best to bring along any other dogs already in your family. Introduce the “new” and “old” dogs in a neutral location on leashes with at least two people present. Keep the leashes loose and let the dogs sniff each other. Lure them apart with treats and praise to give them breaks. Also offer treats and praise when they act appropriately towards one another. Watch for growls or lip raises. This behavior is not unusual and often can be trained away. If it persists or escalates, you might want to seek help from a professional (see “School Is in Session” on page 14). Most of the time you’ll see milder signs of stress, such as raised hair behind the neck or the dogs may ignore each other at first. Work through this with patience and praise when things go right. When the dogs seem mostly comfortable, load each into its kennel for the ride home.
When the dogs are together, play with them. If they discover great things happen when “that other dog” is around, they’ll soon enjoy each other.
Once at home, keep your dogs separated by a baby gate when you cannot monitor their interactions. This may only be necessary for the first week. When the dogs are together, play with them, pet them, take them on walks, and give them special treats. If they discover that great things happen when “that other dog” is around, they’ll soon enjoy each other’s company.
THE CAT’S MEOW
There’s a process for dog meet and greets and the same is true for cats. When adding a cat to a household with an existing cat, you must prepare. The new cat, even if it’s a kitten, will not be comfortable passing by the resident cat to access a litter box or food. Why? The established cat might be nervous and try to intimidate the new cat. So, before bringing the new cat home, purchase two extra litter boxes. Keeping at least one more litter box than there are cats—two cats, equals three litter boxes—decreases the chances of inappropriate elimination from cat-to-cat stress, which undoubtedly will decrease your stress as well.
As with dogs, the new cat would benefit from her own space with her own food, water, and litter box. Your current feline friend also needs her own place and accessories. If you’re introducing a new kitten to an older cat, it’s even more important to give the mature cat a place to escape. Ideally, this would be a room where you can close her off. If that’s not possible, provide a vertical space the young cat cannot access. If you live in a smaller house, try increasing the vertical living space. Adding cat trees or ledges by windows allows cats to cross each other’s paths without getting too close.
FOSTER FELINE FONDNESS
When the new cat arrives, leave her in her carrier. Let the established cat approach and sniff. Cats are scent oriented, so try rubbing the new cat with a towel and letting the other cat sniff it. Once the cats sniff and show no signs of aggression, it’s safe to let the new cat out of the carrier for supervised interaction. If problems arise, keep the cats separate a bit longer.
If you’ll be out of the house, keep the new cat separated from the others. When you’re home, supervise the cats’ interactions, giving them extra attention and treats as described earlier for dogs. Do this until the cats seem comfortable together (about a week), which means no hissing, hitting, stalking, or blocking the other cat’s path.
TAKE IT EASY
Don’t force new cats or dogs into interacting. Usually, new pets just need a little time to become acclimated to their new life and family, both people and pets.
Consider this personal example: A retired greyhound came to live with my family, which included two jack Russell terriers and a lab mix. She wanted to live behind the recliner for the first few days. So we moved her food, water, and bed behind the chair. When she ventured out, we reinforced her decision with treats. After a few days, she started spending time in the living area with the other dogs. When she got nervous, she went back to her spot and I distracted the other dogs away. It took only about two weeks before she was completely comfortable.
As you grow your pet family, hopefully the introductions will go well. Always remember that, if you need it, help awaits at your veterinary clinic. Never hesitate to contact the qualified people there for assistance and advice.
SCHOOL IS IN SESSION
If you’re concerned about the acclimation process, don’t wait to get help. There are many qualified professionals who can assist you.
Your veterinarian: Veterinarians are educated in normal and abnormal pet behavior. Behavior closely relates to pets’ well-being, so your veterinarian will want to address behavior issues early. Your veterinarian is also able to consult with or refer to local behavior specialists or other veterinary professionals (see below). He or she also might recommend pet trainers who use positive reinforcement—such as toys, clickers, and treats—to reward desired behavior.
Behavior-focused veterinarians: Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists are board-certified and specialize in diagnosing and treating medical and behavioral problems. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior represents a group of veterinarians and research professionals who are especially interested in pet behavior and helping you train your pets.
Behavior-focused veterinary technicians: Just as veterinarians can specialize in behavior, so can veterinary technicians through the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians. Technicians in this organization complete additional training in dog and cat behavior. Veterinary technicians with a special interest in behavior can become members of the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.