Welcoming a new pet can be exciting, but also uncertain. No matter how much you plan, knowing how your current four-legged family members will accept your new pet is impossible. For the best chance at success, select a new pet who is a good match for your lifestyle, and your current pack. Then, ensure a smooth, safe, and comfortable transition for all, by following these 10 simple steps:
#1: Gather all your new pet supplies in advance
Your initial necessities include proper identification (e.g., collar or harness with updated tags), food—stick with your new pet’s current diet initially, to prevent an upset stomach—a leash, cleaning supplies, toys, confinement (e.g., crate, exercise pen, or baby gates), and everything your pet will need in their confined space, including a bed, food and water dishes, a litter box, or potty pads.
#2: Schedule your pet’s arrival for a long weekend
Bring your new pet home when you have several uninterrupted days and nights to devote to their homecoming. This creates consistency and a sense of security for both new and current pets. Too many comings and goings during your pet’s first few days may increase their risk of developing separation anxiety, or delay their acclimation and housebreaking.
#3: Scent swap before your new pet arrives
If possible, before your soon-to-be-adopted pet’s arrival, present a towel or blanket with their scent to your current pets, and vice versa. This non-threatening introduction for each party will allow them to gain valuable information about each other, and improve familiarity and reduce anxiety when they actually meet.
#4: Introduce pets on neutral territory
Dogs can be introduced in a neutral area, such as an unfamiliar park or school yard. Have a helper walk your new dog or puppy at a distance, while you walk your current dog. As long as both dogs are not reactive (e.g., growling, barking, or lunging), gradually converge your paths so that you are walking in parallel. Maintain a safe distance until you see relaxed and curious body language from each dog (e.g., gently wagging tails, “c” shaped spines, and play bows). Reward both dogs with a treat for all friendly behavior.
#5: Give your pets their own space
Respect all your pets by initially confining your new pet, which will allow them to feel less threatened by the others’ presence. The confined area will be the new pet’s primary environment for the first few weeks to months. Dogs can be crated, kept in an exercise pen, or kept behind a baby gate, but cats require more privacy, and should be isolated in a small room where they can introduce themselves by sniffing under the closed door. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has written a thorough guide to gradually introducing cats, which can be viewed here.
#6: Introduce adult pets to a puppy or kitten one at a time
Curious pets can overwhelm a new puppy or kitten. Keep pets leashed, and introduce them one at a time through the barrier, allowing them to sniff and investigate each other, but not to display aggressive behavior (e.g., prolonged staring, growling, barking, or lunging). Reward all pets for calm and friendly interactions. All contact should be fully supervised, positive, and brief, to prevent overstimulation or intimidation.
Again, adult cats should only meet face-to-face after successfully demonstrating calm behavior behind their barrier.
#7: Keep resources separate to reduce tension and stress among pets
Shared resources are a common reason for pet conflict and stress. Ensure your pets have mutual access to necessary resources, such as food, water, beds, shelter (i.e., hiding boxes, climbing trees for cats), and litter boxes. Resources such as toys and chew bones should be removed during the early period, to prevent guarding behavior. Feed all pets in separate locations with a visual barrier, to prevent bullying, stealing, or gulping down food.
#8: Give each pet individual attention
New pets—especially puppies and kittens—demand a lot of time. But, your current pets should have equal one-on-one attention, to prevent stress-related illness or behavioral changes. Focus attention on each pet every day, to ensure they know they’re an important part of the family.
#9: Keep your pets on a daily routine
Pattern and consistency are comforting to pets. Maintain a consistent daily schedule, including when you feed, exercise, and spend time with your pets, which will help the transition process and your pets’ behavior.
#10: Be patient with your pets and seek help if needed
Not all dogs and cats are social creatures, but most can learn to coexist peacefully with other pets. Invest time and effort in the early stages to ensure long-term success for the entire household, and be prepared to step back if necessary (e.g., return them to confinement). If one or all pets display aggressive behavior or illness signs, contact Homestead Animal Hospital for an appointment. We can rule out a medical cause for your pet’s behavior, or refer you to a veterinary behaviorist.
Depending on their personality and past experiences, pets can take weeks or months to feel comfortable in a new environment and social dynamic, so be patient. And, don’t forget to schedule your new furry friend’s appointment at Homestead Animal Hospital, so we can ensure they’re healthy, and ready for all your future adventures.
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