Education Center

INTRODUCING A NEW PET TO OTHER PETS AT HOME

Help your pets adjust and find out about:

• Choosing appropriate companions

• Preparing for the big event

• Customizing a smooth transition

So you’re ready to take home a new family member, and your pet at home will have a new buddy. Great! The more the merrier, right? It can be – with some planning, thoughtful matchmaking, and awareness of how your pets will respond to each other.

Getting acquainted can be awkward, especially since your pets must suddenly share you and your home as well as accept each other. Like children, pets usually must be reminded to share!

The actual time of introduction is important, but the planning before and the transition period afterward are vital. Every stage of this adjustment can be smooth if you stop and consider some basic points of animal manners and social rules.

Is adding another pet a good idea for my resident pet?

Yes, in many cases. But don’t make a snap judgment; consider as many aspects of your decision as possible – positive and negative:

POSITIVE Dogs and cats are social animals and enjoy the company of others (including humans, of course!). Pets with playmates have more companionship, more stimulation, and more exercise…therefore less boredom. They can chase and wrestle, groom each other, and curl up together, IF they get along.

HOWEVER Be careful about making quick assumptions. It’s true that bored pets have more behavior problems, and many such problems can be solved by providing a buddy. But a problem can be made worse by adding a new pet. The newcomer may even learn the same behavior, giving you double the trouble!
Before you add a pet to solve a problem, realize that you still have to address the reason behind the behavior through training. It is best to have your resident pet(s) trained to your rules before adding companions.

POSITIVE The relationship doesn’t have to be active to be valuable. An older pet who may be unwilling to play with a single puppy or kitten can be greatly entertained by simply watching a pair of young pets play together. This interest, and helping to teach them proper manners, may actually renew the older pet’s interest in life.

HOWEVER Many older pets may be so set in their ways that such a change in their lifestyles will upset them tremendously. Discuss adding another pet with a qualified trainer or your veterinarian, who knows your older pet’s history and can help you consider your pet’s health and well-being.

With these points in mind, it’s clear that an important part of your decision is not onlywhether to add another pet, but which pet would be right for your situation.

How do I choose the right companion for my pet?

In general, pets of different sexes and ages will most easily and quickly become friends. For example, your female dog will feel less threatened by, and most comfortable with, a younger male dog. There are other general “rules of thumb” to consider:

If possible, avoid introducing males to males or females to females. A spayed or neutered pet is less likely to feel threatened but will still recognize a stranger as male or female. Avoid combining females of equal temperaments.

It’s best to introduce a younger animal to your existing household pet, but not too young. Your adult cat or dog may respond to a very young kitten or puppy as prey to be hunted. In addition, the older pet may not like the constant bother and play. Very young pets lack the social graces to read your older pet’s irritation and the reflexes to escape if the situation becomes tense.

Four to fourteen months is a good age range to introduce a pup or kitten to your adult pet. Cats and dogs are still “teenagers” at eight to twelve months.

If your dog or cat is very protective of you or your home, is a little pushy about food and toys, or has been known to attack other animals – then you probably have a very dominant pet. If you bring in another pet that is also dominant, you are much more likely to have major problems.

Consult your veterinarian or another animal professional to help you determine your pet’s level of dominance and how to consider a possible companion pet.

How can I prepare myself for the transition?

The best way you can help your pets make this adjustment is to be aware of what is most important to them: smells, sounds, and social order. Understanding your pets’ point of view will help you plan ahead:

Dogs and cats are highly sensitive to smells and sounds. Animals use these abilities to gather information, especially about new situations. Even the tone of voice you use when you speak to the newcomer is important to that first encounter.

The first priority in any animal encounter is to determine who will be top dog (or cat). Dogs and cats live by a “pecking order,” an unwritten code of ranking in their relationships. For most animals it isn’t really important which one comes out on top – only that the rank be decided.

In most cases, differences in size, temperament, age, and sex will help the animals to establish rank and settle down to peaceful co-existence. You can have little input in this decision of social position, except for one vital point: YOU must always be the top-ranking animal in your family–and you don’t need physical force to establish your rank.

If possible, bring the new pet home when you have a few days to spend with the animals. Your presence will reassure your resident pet, and the new pet will get to know you right away. Avoid “too much-too soon;” don’t throw a party the first day for friends to meet your new pet!

Plan to spend part of the time training. Teach the new pet your voice, your smell, his or her new name, and the basic household rules. Establish your routine and stick to it. Be fair – keep the rules consistent for everyone. Make it clear to all of your pets that you are head of the household.

How can I help my pets adjust on “The Big Day”?”

Your resident pet and the newcomer need time and space to explore and understand the situation. You can help smooth the adjustment:

Play it cool. Animals are very sensitive to moods of their human companions. If you are nervous, the pets are more likely to become nervous themselves. So be calm and positive. Give your pets equal time (especially important with dogs). Use both pets’ names often as you talk to them in a calm, friendly voice.

If one seems to be jealous of attention you give the other, try touching one while looking at and speaking to the upset pet; then reverse the scene. Insist on good manners from the beginning. Don’t accept any whining, growling, or pushy behavior in attempts to gain attention.

Be patient, don’t push, and don’t panic if the adjustment takes more time than you expected. Each situation is different. The transition period may take a day, a week, ten days, or more.

However, if a pet hides or refuses food for more than 48 hours, consult your veterinarian and make sure that you give that animal plenty of time and space away from the other(s).

You can expect some growling or hissing and maybe even a scuffle. The noise is normal as your animals work out who outranks whom. Most animal altercations sound much worse than they are. Don’t worry unless fur starts to fly.

If the situation becomes serious, separate the animals into different rooms for “time out” (see below). Throw a blanket or heavy towel over the pet nearest to you or place a piece of wood or a chair between them and pull that animal into another room, closing the door. Never pick up an angry or frightened animal, and never separate fighting animals with your hands. Calm your pet, without physical contact, by talking in a quiet voice.

Take the introduction slowly, in gradual steps. Allow your pets to adjust to each others’ smells before they’re thrown together face to face. It is too much for either of your pets to handle: they are forced to protect territory, watch for possible danger, and gather information about the other animal all at once. There are several ways to separate the “newness” into phases:

  • Neutral zone introduction – This works well with two dogs, if you have a friend to help, to avoid that first feeling of “intruder-alert!” from your resident dog. Take your dog to a safe, neutral territory – a quiet corner of a park or playground – and have a friend bring the new dog. Supervised get-acquainted sniffs and play sessions will help break the ice between the dogs. When you get home, adjustments will be much easier. (Don’t take them home in the same car!)
    A variation of this method should be used when a cat or cats are being introduced. A resident cat in a “neutral” area away from home will be nervous and defensive. Have a friend bring the newcomer into your home (cat in carrier, dog or pup on leash). Allow some sniffs, if you like, or go straight into “time out” zones – see below.
  • Switching home base – Establish a “time-out” room for each pet. For a cat, puppy, or kitten include a carrier or box for hiding. Supply each room with a water bowl (plus a litter pan for a cat) and a nest composed of a soft towel and some worn, unwashed clothing with your smell on it. Confine everybody to their rooms, and spend a few calm, pleasant minutes with each.
    After an hour or so, let your new pet out for a leisurely exploration of your home, including sniffs at the closed door of the other pet’s room (cats may even play “footsie” under the door). With lots of positive talk, put your new pet back into the time-out room and reverse the procedure with the resident pet.
    This method allows each pet to adjust to the new and threatening smells without physical contact, and the new pet will start out with its own little piece of territory for retreat if any disagreements arise.
  • Screen door separations — With any of the methods above, the first physical meeting should be a supervised encounter through a screen door or baby gate. (If possible, add another step, a glass door, for two cats.) Let your pets touch noses and get the first excitement and grumblings safely out of the way.

No matter which method you use for the initial introduction, remember to take every opportunity for pleasant associations.

Plan short periods of playtime, treat-time, and snuggle-time with the animals separately and together. Meals should be eaten in the same room and at the same time (don’t push your luck, though; start out with bowls on opposite sides of the room).

Give plenty of equal time, attention, and things. One or more of your pets (especially dogs) may react negatively about sharing toys, space, and you.

At the actual moment your pets first see each other, don’t hold either of them in your arms. In your pet’s struggle to get to solid ground you could be injured.

Until your veterinarian has given a completely clean bill of health, the newcomer should be isolated for everyone’s safety.

What about dog/cat introductions?

If planned carefully, most “mixed marriages” work out well. Dogs and cats are not natural enemies; puppy/kitten teams can be great buddies for life. Supervision and a positive attitude are vital to the transition period. The personalities and past experiences of the animals are also important.

With any combination of cats and dogs, the primary goal is to teach the dog or puppy not to chase (information available in our library). Even a dog that chases cats invading your yard can learn that this cat is a member of the family.

Unfortunately, there are a few dogs (such as sighthounds) whose chase instincts are so strong that it is difficult or impossible to train them away from cat-chasing. Knowing more about your breed or breed mix and its prey drive (instinctual, in-bred desire to chase) will help you to decide if a cat is an appropriate companion. Obedience training is recommended for any dog, especially one who may have a cat as a future playmate. Close supervision is required until you know for sure that the cat is not in danger.

Help the cat, whether newcomer or resident, to relax by making escape routes and hiding places available in every part of your home. When the cat feels fairly safe and confident, the cat will teach the dog good manners. For safety’s sake, trim those cat or kitten claws. At some point the dog will get too close for comfort, and the cat will swat a nose. The dog’s feelings will be hurt more than the nose, and an important lesson will be learned.

If the cat is the newcomer, the confidence level will be low. Use the “home base” and “screen separation” methods above. Praise both pets for appropriate behavior; scold and remove the dog immediately for any growling or lunging.

Avoid adding your own loud, yelling voice to any din your pets may raise. Speak quietly to calm everyone down instead.

This information is part of the Atlanta Humane Society’s SmartHeart Educational Series.

The AHS depends on friends to provide funding for our services and programs of animal aid, support for individuals with animal related problems, and community animal issues.

The Atlanta Humane Society and Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization for the purpose of preventing cruelty, relieving suffering, and providing humane treatment of animals. The Society’s mission is to eliminate causes of animal suffering with an emphasis on education and the human/animal bond.