October 9, 2017

Introducing New Pets into the Home

By Dr. Jack Walkenhorst
Introducing a new pet to a household that already has animals can be challenging. To best prepare as a pet owner, it is important to do research and plan for the specific situation your animals will be in during their adjustment.

Finding the Right Pet for Your Household:

When looking for a new pet at a shelter, be aware of the environment you have at home. If you have other pets, consider finding an animal that seems it has been socialized well. A good way to tell an animal’s socialization level during a first introduction is to see how interactive it is with other animals and people.

Animals that are less social can also make great pets, but if you are concerned about adding an additional pet to your household, a highly socialized pet may have an easier transition.

Introducing a New Dog to a Home with a Preexisting Dog:

When introducing a new dog into a home with a dog already, it’s important for the owner to have reasonable expectations. These transitions take time, and it’s possible that the animals will never be best friends, but there are a few steps to take to prepare for a positive adjustment period.

Make the first introduction between the dogs at a neutral location such as a park. This introduction will hinder the original dog from already feeling territorial. During the initial interaction watch the body language of the dogs. Look for signs of aggression between the animals such as growling, stiff positions, or hair raised versus positive interactions involving relaxed, playful behavior.

A new dog introduction can be naturally difficult for both animals. As the dogs begin to interact with one another regularly, keep a close eye on them to prevent fighting or aggressive actions.  If the animals do get into a fight the adjustment process will take longer and be more stressful. The dogs should never be left alone together until the owner is confident that they will have no issues.

As the owner, it is also important to divide attention equally between both pets. The preexisting dog will instinctively feel jealous, but by treating the animals equally you will reassure them both. The dogs will naturally form a pecking order, and depending on the personality types of the dogs the newer dog could end up being the ‘alpha’ which can also be normal.  

Introducing a New Cat to a Home with a Preexisting Cat:

Unlike dogs, cats are not naturally social animals. Cats are more territorial and have less social relationships. Instinctively, the preexisting cat will try to protect its territory. Although it can be frustrating as an owner for a cat to be marking and urinating around the house, it’s important to remember how this change can be a traumatic experience for the animal and these are natural actions for it to be taking.

Introduce the new cat to the home in stages. First, prevent the cats from seeing each other when you bring in the new pet. Let the old cat have normal run of the house, and keep the new cat in one room with all of the things it needs. The old cat will eventually hear and smell the new cat before they see each other. After keeping them separated, allow them to see each other, but not yet interact. Then finally, let the cats interact face to face with the owner always present. The cats may hiss at each other, but don’t be discouraged by this as it is very normal. The cats will establish a pecking order and they may never be close friends, but the goal is for them to cohabitate.

To prevent anxiety in cats during this transition period, a product can be purchased called Feliway Spray. This product will mimic the feline facial pheromone of a cat and will create a calming environment.

Having Introduction Issues?

If an owner has tried to introduce a new pet into their home and is having major issues, then it is important to go to a professional. Make sure to ask your vet for their recommendation of a Certified Animal Behaviorist. Although there are many pet trainers, it is essential to get a certified professional to advise you with your specific situation.  

As an owner remember that these transitions can be challenging, and try to put yourself in the position of the animals to understand how they might be feeling. Allow your pets time to adjust to the new situation and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen immediately.

Remember, the process of introducing a new pet to the household will provide the basis for a successful lifelong relationship between all the family pets.  It is a critical period in a pet’s life, and success does not occur by chance – it requires research and planning.  There are many helpful resources to be found on the internet, a few of which are listed below.