A houseful of pets can be wonderful, provided everyone gets along.
However, the initial introduction phase can be tricky because you want to navigate this time without any scuffles that could create a long-lasting negative impression. Whether you are introducing a cat to a dog, or same-species pets, here are a few tips that will help ensure your new pet and your current pet become fast friends.
#1: Learn to Read Cat and Dog Body Language
Learning how to understand what your pets say to each other is the best way to prevent an altercation. If you can pick up on subtle warning signs that your pets are not getting along, you can quickly step in and separate them before a fight breaks out.
Body language cues that indicate your dog is uncomfortable include:
- Lip licking
- Body freezing
- Whale eye (i.e., when your dog turns their head away, but looks out of the corners of their eyes, showing the whites)
- Tense, closed jaw
- Low tail carriage
- Piloerection (i.e., raised fur)
If your cat is nervous or anxious, they may:
- Flick their tail back and forth
- Carry their tail low
- Tuck their tail under or around their body
- Lower or flatten their ears
- Display large pupils
- Hiss or growl
While nervous behavior is common during pet introductions, ensure your pets slowly calm down rather than letting the situation progress to the more serious warnings they send right before a physical altercation.
#2: Allow Your New Pet Time to Settle in Before the Introduction
Imagine heading to a new place, and then immediately being forced to meet a ton of new people and pets, all while you are trying to get your bearings. Meeting every member of your family-two- and four-legged-can overwhelm a new pet. Hold off for a few days to allow your new pet time to settle in and decompress before gradually introducing them to all your family members.
#3: Let Your Pets See Each Other With a Barrier in Place
When initially introducing your new pet to your current pet, avoid letting them rush toward each other. Instead, first place a physical barrier that allows them to see each other without being able to touch. You can also swap bedding to let your pets sniff each other's scent and familiarize themselves with their new housemate. Next, as long as your pets are not staring intently through the barrier or displaying other nervous body language signals (i.e., raised fur, growling, hissing), you can remove the barrier and let them meet.
#4: Introduce Your Pets on Neutral Ground
Pets can be highly territorial, especially when strange pets enter their space. Help ensure a smooth introduction by letting your pets meet on neutral territory. For dogs, walking them parallel to each other around the neighborhood, slowly drawing closer before letting them sniff, is best. For cats, choose a large, open room with multiple exits and high vantage points that provide comfort and security. Let your cats explore the large area together, never forcing them to make close contact, because many cats prefer to check out someone new from a distance and need time.
#5: Ensure Each Pet Has Their Own Resources
Pets usually do not like sharing food, water, bedding, or their family. Until your new pet has settled in and you know your pets are happy to share, set up separate resource stations to prevent guarding, bullying, or fighting. Multiple litter boxes are especially important in a multi-cat household, whereas separate food dishes are essential for dogs. Spread these resources out around your pets' living areas, where they are easy to find and access. Additionally, ensure you give each pet individual one-on-one time, so they don't need to compete for your attention while they get used to one another.
Unfortunately, new pets can bring more than joy into your home-they can also bring infectious diseases and parasites-so ensure your new pet and your current pet are protected from illness with up-to-date vaccinations and parasite prevention. Contact our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team to schedule an appointment.