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How to Introduce a New Pet to Your Old Ones

Plus, what to do if they don't get along.

dog and cat under covers
Photography by: LightFieldStudios / Getty

There are very few things that could break the bond between an owner and their pet, but add another animal into the mix is one of them. The choice to bring a new pet into the household could disrupt the established harmony in your household and between you and your beloved pet. While it can take weeks to months for cats and dogs to get used to new animals, Dr. Victoria Cussen, director of research with the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team, says that there are some things you can do to facilitate a smooth introduction.

 

Related: What to Do If Your Pet Doesn't Like You

 

Introducing a New Cat to Your Cat

You may think cats are sure to be hostile when meeting another cat, but they can actually learn to like other cats in their home. "First impressions are very important, so it is best not to just throw two cats in a room together," Cussen says. "If they start off by growling, hissing, or swatting at each other, it will be that much more difficult for the cats to learn to like each other." Separate them, allowing the new cat to occupy a spare bedroom or the bathroom with its own litter box, bedding, toys, plus food and water bowls. "Once the new cat is comfortable, the owner can start to introduce the cats to each other in a passive manner. This means the cats should be able to hear and smell each other, but not see or touch each other," Cussen explains, a process that includes conditioning the cats to associate mealtime with the other cat by feeding them on either side of a closed door and switching the cats' rooms so they can smell each other's scent and belongings.

 

If the cats have remained calm, you can start to introduce them visually at a distance. "Baby gates can be used in place of a closed door so the cats can see each other but cannot get to each other," Cussen suggests. "Play with or give yummy treats to each cat while on either side of the baby gate. When the cats seem relaxed after these exercises, you can allow them to be near each other without a barrier. Start off with short sessions and gradually increase the amount of time they are together."

 

Introducing a New Dog to Your Dog

It's best to introduce dogs in a neutral environment, where they can be allowed to get comfortable and interact naturally. "As the dogs approach each other, it's important to closely monitor their body language for signs of stress or discomfort. If you can't tell the difference between dogs getting to know each other and dogs who don't like each other, have someone there who does, like a certified dog trainer," said Cussen.

 

If neither dog appears to be fearful or threatening, walk them around the residence before bringing them inside. Once transitioned indoors, be sure to pick up toys, chews, food bowls, and your current dog's favorite items to prevent rivalry. Introduce such items gradually over time with each dog getting their own. For the first few weeks, give them toys or chews only when they are separated in their crates or other confined areas. While time apart can help the dogs get to know each other, be sure to provide exercise, play, and mental stimulation to both of your dogs. "This helps to keep stress levels down (just like in people) and relaxed dogs are more likely to get along in the home. Going for walks or to the park together can also help them get to know each other in a fun environment," Cussen says.

 

Introducing a New Dog to Your Cat

The first step to adding a dog to your household is to establish the age and energy level of your cat. "A young, rambunctious cat that runs around the house will elicit chase behavior from many dogs. In that case, you may want to consider a very mellow dog, or a puppy that can learn to 'respect' the cat from a young age rather than a herding-type dog," said Cussen, adding that while it isn't impossible for any two animals to get along, critical and realistic thinking can held avoid stress for the animals and yourself.

 

Bring the dog to the cat's territory but pay attention to your cat's body language for signs of stress. Having the animals on opposite sides of a pet gate is always an option when tensions haven't let up. "Don't let the dog fixate on the cat: engage your dog with fun training or play while the cat is around. This will help your dog learn that you are the source of fun, not the cat," Cussen added.

 

Introducing a New Cat to Your Dog

While feeding time tips can apply as when introducing a cat to a cat, there are some differences when introducing a cat to a dog in comparison to the reverse. Has your dog interacted with cats before, and how did it go? Consider your dog's energy level. Maybe he's a low-energy senior dog that may prefer a calmer adult cat but if you opt for a high-energy cat, provide other outlets for her to focus her energy other than the dog, which may stress him out. You can also try obedience refreshers with your dog in preparation of a new cat. "Two exercises that are important for him to do well when asked are a recall (coming when called) and a 'leave it' exercise," Cussen says. "These skills will help you control your dog if he gets overexcited around your cat."

 

For the first few weeks, keep your dog on-leash when in the living room. Give him a treat when you ask your dog to come to you or leave your cat alone and he responds. "It's up to you to protect your new kitten and set up introductions carefully so that she feels safe and has a pleasant experience getting acquainted with your dog. Dogs who have never lived with cats are more likely to treat cats like other dogs and try to play with them—keep in mind that a dog can kill a cat very easily, even in play. Similarly, cats who have never lived with dogs will likely view them as predators and may become defensively aggressive. If your dog is gentle and friendly, he may be a good candidate for successfully living with a cat," Cussen assured.

 

If All Else Fails?

Despite all of the ways to create a harmonious household for all, there's a chance that pets will merely learn to live with each other. "Not all animals will become best friends," says Cussen. If you need extra assistance, you can contact a behavior expert, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), that can better understand the needs of each animal but also understand the process can't be forced. "Some animals simply cannot live together peacefully," Cussen offers as a gentle reminder. "Chronic stress and tension aren't healthy for people or pets, so it may be more humane to keep them permanently separated in the house or find another home for one of them."