These five strategies will help you manage your brood
Like siblings, sometimes pets in the same family don’t get along. But this shouldn’t discourage you from opening your home to various pets. There are many ways to mesh different breeds and species. “It’s really about having ground rules and being consistent with them,” says J.C. Burcham, DVM, with Olathe Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kan. “Pets need to know that you’re the one who makes the decisions. They don’t have to be best friends, but they need to learn to coexist peacefully.”
To help keep your pets—and you—happy, take a look at these common challenges associated with housing multiple pets. The solutions should help fuse both canine or feline kinfolk.
Challenge: Adding a pet to the family
Solution: When you bring home a new pet, dogs and cats usually go through three levels of acceptance, says Gary Norsworthy, DVM, DABVP, owner of Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio, Texas. “First, the original pet will be hostile toward the new pet. Then, in the second level, the original pet will be tolerant, changing to an ‘I won’t kill you, but don’t get in my way’ attitude. And the third level is hopefully bonding. Some pets go through this in an hour, some never get all the way through the process.”
To help smooth this progression, start by making a proper introduction. Let your pets look at and sniff each other but don’t allow them to have physical contact. For example, keep the new pet in a crate while the other household pets get used to the unfamiliar smell. When not crated, keep the new pet in a closed-off room, such as a utility room. Allow supervised interaction only after you think the behavior on all sides seems calm and friendly. Keep favorite toys out of the area to avoid spats, and make sure pets have access to a safe retreat, such as a pet bed or open crate.
Depending on how your pets react, you might need to monitor short meetings for some time before giving the pet full access to the house. Also, consult your veterinarian about introduction tips specific for your pets and family.
Challenge: Different dietary needs
Solution: Pets need to stay out of each others’ food bowls for various reasons. First and foremost, pets of varying ages and breeds often require different nutrition. If your dog gets into the cat food or vice versa, serious health problems could result. Sometimes veterinarians prescribe special food for certain pets. For example, pets with chronic systemic diseases might require special diets, as would overweight pets.
The key to ensuring dogs and cats eat only the food intended for them is to feed all your pets at the same time in separate areas, Dr. Burcham says. “Feed one in the kitchen, one in the laundry room, et cetera, and then put away the remaining food,” she says. Given the feline propensity for high places, another solution is to place the cat’s food on a counter or other lofty location out of your dog’s reach.
Challenge: Disparate veterinary care
Solution: You may find your senior dog has you at the veterinarian for various ailments and checkups several times a year, but you can’t remember the last time you took your cat to the doctor. Even though making multiple trips to the veterinarian can be time consuming, every cat and dog should visit at least once a year. “Many problems go undetected by pet owners,” Dr. Norsworthy says. “Seeing pets for an annual exam allows veterinarians to find these problems early and keep pets healthy.”
One way to ensure all your pets get this vital preventive care is to schedule all their wellness appointments in the same month. This way you’re reminded that every pet needs to see the veterinarian in April, for example.
Another idea is to ask your veterinary practice about the possibility of scheduling appointments for multiple pets at the same time. Your veterinarian might limit the number of pets seen during a single visit. Keep in mind, the purpose of wellness appointments is to provide you with a chance to discuss changes to your pets’ health and for your veterinarian to conduct a thorough examination. This can be difficult if you’re juggling more than one pet, so opt for this strategy only if it seems realistic for you.
Challenge: Cats and dogs that bicker
Solution: While your cat and dog may never snuggle together, you can ensure they don’t hurt each other. “Cats usually know enough to stay away, but we have to work on training the dog to stay away from the cat, especially the hunting breeds, like terriers or retrievers,” Dr. Burcham says. She recommends starting the learning process by doing what she calls “training an incompatible behavior.” Here’s an explanation: “Teach the dog what ‘go lie down’ means. If the dog gets up to chase the cat, tell the dog to ‘go lie down.’ If he lies down, he won’t be able to give chase and maybe he’ll get a treat.”
Even pets of the same species tangle over toys, food, and your attention. If these scuffles are happening, try adding more toys to the mix so pets don’t have to share. Also try coaxing each pet into its own space, Dr. Burcham says. To separate cats, place each cat’s food, litter box, scratching post, and bed in a different area of the house. Give dogs quiet spaces of their own, such as a bed or crate where they can escape from the other household animals. You may need to completely separate dogs at meal times to avoid conflict. Consistent training and enforcement of the house rules will keep you in charge of the pack.
Challenge: One pet dominates your attention
Solution: Whether because of its personality or needs, you may find yourself doting on one pet. For example, a new puppy may absorb your time with veterinary visits, obedience class, and potty training. Or your cat might not interact with you as much your dog. “Cats aren’t gushy with their affection the way dogs are,” Dr. Norsworthy says. “But they still want and need affection.”
Remember that all your pets require daily exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy, healthy, and well behaved. Some pets even develop undesirable behaviors if they feel bored or lonely. Spread your love around—and keep your pets out of trouble—by taking all your dogs for a walk every day and spending quality time with each cat. Soon your harmonious household will be the envy of families everywhere.