With the holidays just around the corner, many people will consider adding a new pet to their home. According to recent statistics, more and more Americans are adopting not only their first companion animal, but their second and even third. The pervasiveness of multiple pet households indicates just how important pets have become in our lives, and that we want our existing pets to have companions of their own.
Having multiple pets increases everything: the joy, the cost, the hair, and the cuddles. As a veterinarian, I am often asked for advice on how best to integrate a new pet into a home that already has resident animals. In this post, I’ll be focusing on dog-only and cat-only households.
In a Dog-Meet-Dog World
When seeking to add an additional dog to your family, be sure to choose a breed, gender and personality that compliment your current canine. For example, it’s unwise to match a tea cup poodle puppy with a large or giant breed dog, especially an active one. Even if no harm is intended, the puppy could easily be injured. Similarly, be conscientious if you already have an older dog with arthritis, as a puppy could prove overwhelming. In general, opposite genders get along better, as do spayed and neutered pets (procedures I heartily endorse). In general, we would recommend the adoption of a dog younger than the resident dog; if the ages are reversed, tension could result, leading to recurring fights over who claims dominance. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, personality is an important factor. You know your resident dog’s disposition and it’s essential to take that into consideration when bringing a new dog into your home.
It’s always a good idea to have your existing dog as well-trained as possible prior to bringing a new dog into your home. Trust me, it will make your life easier and may even help facilitate the training of your new dog. As pack animals, dogs instinctively pick up the habits of their pack members. If you have a well-trained resident dog, then he or she can show the newcomer ‘how things are done’.
Even if your dogs seem to hit it off great from the get-go, don’t leave them unsupervised until you are certain that they have fully accepted each other. To that end, some experts advise that the dogs have time away from each other, as well as time off from you, too. This will help foster their bonds to you while also teaching them that it’s okay to be alone.
Feeding time can be a challenge with more than one dog. If the dogs compete for food, it may result in snarly spats and possibly overeating (at least, for one of the dogs). In addition, the dogs may develop the habit of ‘bolting their food’, or eating too quickly while not chewing their food sufficiently. Bolting may lead to serious problems like chunks becoming lodged in the throat, or cause GI distress like vomiting or diarrhea. The simplest way to avoid these problems is by feeding the dogs separately. If you have dog crates, consider feeding them while they’re safely ensconced inside their individual crates. Short of that, consider feeding in separate rooms, but be sure to close the doors! Whatever method you choose, make sure the feeding areas are places where your dogs will feel safe and will be able to eat undisturbed. Remember to remove the bowls after your dogs are finished eating.
Lastly, make sure that you purchase separate bedding, bowls and toys for your new dog. Some experts believe that it’s vital that each dog has his or her own property, as this will help your resident dog feel less threatened by the newcomer.
Cat Plus Kitty Doesn’t Have to Mean Catty
Just like with dogs, be thoughtful of your resident cats when bringing a new cat into your home. If your existing cat is quiet or reserved, then a mature companion can be good choice; if you have an active cat, consider getting a cat with an energetic disposition. If you choose to introduce an adult cat, try to find one who has lived in a feline community before. The best combinations are based on personality, so choose a cat with a temperament that compliments your resident cat. Adding together two unneutered male cats can be recipe for conflict. Please make certain that your newcomer has had a thorough veterinary exam and tests negative for intestinal parasites, feline leukemia and AIDS, as the latter two are highly infectious diseases.
The best way to introduce a new cat is gradually. A new feline in the home will likely lead to some measure of stress for your resident cat, especially if your cat has no prior experience living with other pets. Keep the new cat in an area separate from your resident cat, such as a bedroom or bathroom with a shut door, and introduce them in stages, using progressively increasing increments of exposure time. Never leave them unattended until both the cats appear to fully accept one another. Be forewarned, sometimes this process can take between a week and a month, depending on the temperament of both cats. Cats, by nature, don’t like change. Chances are, your resident cat may hide, ignore or hiss at the newcomer for a few days, so give your kitty some time to adapt. In the majority of cases, the household will resume normalcy over time.
In the meantime, there are things you can do to ease the transition. Give the new cat its own bedding, litterbox, food dishes and toys in an area separate from the resident cat’s belongings. Make sure both cats have separate areas where they can retreat to if threatened. Add additional cat trees and scratching posts around the house for environmental enrichment. You might also consider purchasing plug-in Feliway dispensers, which can reduce stress during the introductory period.
With a little bit of forethought and patience, you too will be able to welcome your home (and your heart) to a new companion animal and incorporate them safely into your existing family.