Introducing a New Pet Into a Multi-Pet Household
We’ve all been there: A pair of huge sad eyes staring back at you. The fluffiest kitten you’ve ever seen wants to curl up in your lap and stay there. A friend owns a great dog but has to move away to a small apartment and can’t keep it. Whether we go looking for pets to add to our pack or not, somehow the opportunity to adopt a new one always finds us. But introducing a new animal into a home where there are already a few other furry inhabitants can take some planning and patience.
Before Taking the Plunge
Before introducing a new pet into your home, you should first be realistic about whether your current pet(s) will be willing to adapt to the change. Do you have an old stubborn intact male dog who doesn’t play well with children? If so, a tiny new puppy that will be romping all over him likely won’t be a welcome change. How about a cat who hides under the bed all day long? Will a new German Shepherd make her feel any more comfortable in her own home? Can you safely house a rabbit, bird or fish in the same area as a cat or dog? To keep the household peaceful, you must consider your current responsibilities before taking on new ones.
Once you decide that you are ready to adopt a new pet into your home, there are some things you can do before it even arrives. If you have a blanket or toy with the new pet’s scent on it, allow your cat or dog to smell this item and get used to the new scent. Allow the new pet to do the same with your current pet’s personal items. Purchase a food bowl specifically for your new pet, and plan on feeding all pets separately to avoid any food aggression issues.
For cats, a good rule of thumb is to have one litter box per cat plus one extra and place them in different areas of the house. Lastly, make sure all pets are up to date on their vaccinations and parasite prevention. If you have any medical concerns about either pet, have them examined by your veterinarian prior to the introduction.
Keep in mind that you need secure housing for pocket pets like guinea pigs or hamsters. A scheming cat can remove a screen lid off of an aquarium or wrestle loose an opening from an unsecured cage.
Also, keep in mind the costs that are associated with a new pet, like for food, housing/bedding and veterinary care. Be sure to set aside a little financial cushion for unexpected emergencies and veterinary care.
For dogs especially, it is a good idea to make the first meet-and-greet on neutral ground such as the front yard or even a park. Make sure both dogs are on leashes so you can separate them without using your hands if there are signs of aggression. For the first few days, try keeping your new pet in a separate area of the house, such as a bathroom, so there is a door between the new and old pets, but they can still interact by smelling one another. You can also leave one pet inside while the other remains outside (weather-permitting), switching their positions after an hour or so, to acquaint them with the other’s smell without actually having to interact.
Do not force your current pet to accept the new pet by placing it in his or her bed or other area that they would regard as their personal space. Plan to be present when both pets are engaging with one another until you feel they are truly comfortable with one another’s presence and can be left alone. Initially, you may need to keep them in separate rooms when you leave the house to ensure no spats occur in your absence. Consider buying each a crate so they can be comfortably confined while you are asleep or not at home to avoid trouble occurring out of boredom or aggression.
Understand that some pets adapt easily to new animals in their home, but others are slow to accept the change. Be patient with both pets, and do not force their interactions. It is important to show your old pet just as much attention as you did before the new pet came along. Keeping up your usual routine with your current pet will help him or her feel more at ease with the change. Try to make each interaction between your pets a positive one and engage them in activities like play time and going on walks together. Be aware that sometimes dogs will guard food or toys from others in the household. In this instance, put away any items that may invoke a confrontation when you are not around.
Some pets will need extra help accepting a new housemate. You can talk to your veterinarian about supplements, pheromones and behavioral training to alleviate your pets’ stress during the transition.
With some careful attention to the needs of all pets involved and a lot of patience, you can successfully introduce a new pet into your multi-pet household with minimal stress!
Cindy Carter, DVM, is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Austin, Texas. Dr. Carter began her career as a relief veterinarian servicing more than 18 hospitals in the Austin area but finally found a home as an associate veterinarian at Austin Corner Vet.