Introducing a second pet to your home

For a long time, Karen’s apartment home had been shared with one cat. Now, Karen was getting ready to move to a larger place, and she wanted to get a second cat.

When she arrived home with a young, energetic female tabby cat, her existing female was initially uninterested. But as the newcomer began to explore, the hisses and growls started. If it hadn’t been for Karen’s intervention, a full-blown fight might have started. Deflated, Karen wondered if she had done the right thing and if the two cats could ever get along.

Karen’s story is not unusual. Many people don’t even think that a new pet might not fit into the household without proper introductions, and simply put that new animal in the middle of the house right away. While a lot of times animals will be friendly to each other immediately, that’s not always – or even usually – the case. Slow introductions will be a hassle, but will the best way to keep peace in your animal family.

With cats, for example, change is not always a good thing – especially change that comes in the form of a rival for food, playtime and affection. But having two of the same kind of animal is often best for the two animals involved, since they have another entity that speaks their language and can act as a grooming and cuddle partner. Being patient and not expecting love at first sight is the best approach.

Start by making sure your resident cat is spayed or neutered. Your new cat should also be altered – even kittens can be altered before bringing them home. Make sure the new cat has had a vet exam and is free of parasites and disease. Introducing two healthy cats with minimal hormones is the easiest way to get started.

The new cat should have a room prepared in advance of coming home, complete with food and water bowls, litter box, scratching post, and toys that do not have to be shared. Some cats prefer their own “stuff,” so be ready to have two of these items in your house. Then, being able to consolidate will be a bonus rather than an expectation.

Bring your new cat home in a carrier, and set it down in the room you’ve prepared. Let the resident cat come in and sniff around – some initial hissing is to be expected. Your goal is to avoid a hostile interaction that could keep them from ever being friends.

After the new cat is alone in the room, open the carrier and let it come out on its own to get used to its new digs. Keep the cats apart for a week or so, as they get used to the knowledge there is another cat nearby. Start by opening the door just a bit, and let them – at their own pace – meet and greet through the cracked door. After a few more days, open the door a little wider and let the two cats decide what they are going to do. More hissing is okay at this stage, as the cats do have some territory negotiating to do. Be watchful but don’t separate again unless a full-blown fight starts (and don’t use your hands to break up a cat fight – a broom or pole will keep you from getting a cat bite).

Encourage them both to play together, perhaps with a toy on a string that you control. Begin to feed them in closer proximity until they are eating together. This whole process should take at least three weeks and could take as long as eight weeks, unless the cats immediately take to each other and become inseperable.

If you are introducing dogs, patience is still important. Usually it’s best to take the resident dog to meet a potential new dog before committing, so that you minimize any problems right from the start. Dogs should meet on neutral territory and not at your home or a place where you frequently go.

With dogs, positive reinforcement is important. While the dogs are doing the right thing, sniffing each other and not being aggressive, speak kindly and happily to them and give them both treats. Take the dogs for a walk together and see how they interact.

Chapters could be written about dog body language in such meetings, but look for one or both dogs to crouch as an invitation to play. Teeth baring, growling, and staring are bad signs and the dogs should be distracted if such behavior begins.

After the initial investigation, if both dogs seem relatively good natured about each other, they can go to your home together. Continue to monitor them together until you are certain that neither one is using aggressive body language or behavior. If you are having trouble, reconsider the adoption of the new dog or consult a dog behavioral specialist for assistance.

Other animals also need time to get used to each other. Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and other rodents, and birds all should be introduced slowly – minutes at a time initially. Just because the animals are small and docile to you, does not mean they will act the same with a new member of their own species. But with all these animals, the work is worth the good relationship that the two animals will eventually have with each other.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, two pets won’t get along. Before bringing home the second pet, have a backup plan. Can you return the newcomer? Can you keep two pets separately? Will a friend or neighbor adopt the new pet if it doesn’t settle into your household? Being prepared for a rare worst-case scenario will mean you don’t have to worry if things don’t go well. But remember, all good relationships take time to develop, so be patient and go at your animals’ pace.