Introducing a new pet into your home can be exciting, intimidating, fun, and stressful, all at the same time. Not only do we wonder how our new addition will adjust to life with us, but if we share our home with other furry family members, we worry about whether everyone will get along.
It can be a justifiable worry. However, if introductions are done slowly, carefully, and with lots of positive reinforcement, the process can be much less stressful for the new pet, the existing pets, and the humans in the household!
All pets experience some degree of stress when they are introduced to new family members. For the pets who already live in the household, the newcomer can seem quite threatening. Resources are everything to animals. When you start thinking like a dog or cat, it’s easy to imagine what they might be feeling. Will the new stranger try to steal my food or my toys? Hurt me? Take all my human’s time and attention? And for many new pets, being dropped into the middle of a strange place with an already existing family hierarchy can be downright terrifying.
However, there are lots of things that can be done to help alleviate that stress, for everyone involved.
Tips For Introducing A New Pet Into Your Home
If you’re ready to add another furkid to your family, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Keep in mind that although many pets eventually become the best of friends, some merely learn to tolerate each other, and that’s okay too. The important thing is that everyone lives harmoniously together and has a great life with you.
Here are a few tips to help ease the transition when you introduce a new pet into a household with other pets.
- Do your homework and be prepared BEFORE you bring your new pet home. Make sure your new pet has everything they need before they arrive, including their own bed, food dishes, toys, etc. You may also want to pick up a few other things to help facilitate introductions, like a tall pet gate or some pheromone diffusers for cats.
- Bring your new pet home when you have plenty of time to help them settle in. Long weekends (or taking a few extra days off from work) are ideal for giving you time to bond with your new family member and providing them ample time to adjust to their new home.
- Give your new pet lots of time and space to explore their new environment before introducing them to the rest of the family. Yes, this includes to children too. It’s much better to put your new pet in their own quiet room for a while to calm down and become comfortable, rather than to just toss them into the family mix, which may feel chaotic and frightening to them.
- Start the process by introducing pets to each others’ scents BEFORE they meet face-to-face. Animals rely heavily on their sense of smell to interpret the world around them. Let them get used to each others’ scent first by swapping bedding or blankets, or simply placing a sock over your hand and rubbing one pet with it for several minutes, then presenting it to the other pet to investigate.
- Make initial introductions in a very controlled manner. Once your new pet is ready to meet the rest of the household in person (which can be anywhere from one day to several, depending on the personalities of all pets involved), help by setting them up to succeed. Keep dogs on a leash and introduce cats through a pet gate, exercise pen, or crate if possible (more on that later). Make sure both your new pet and the current pets in the household have an escape route if they need to quickly leave the room.
- Use positive reinforcement like crazy during introductions. This includes lots of verbal praise and treats. All the pets will quickly come to associate each other’s presence with good things.
- Give everyone time and space – don’t force the relationship. Every animal’s personality is different. Some are shy and timid, others are outgoing and friendly, and there’s a wide range in between. Let all the pets adjust at their own pace. If the process is forced, their relationship can get off on the wrong foot – and it can take a long time to overcome an initial negative impression.
- Never reprimand or punish your pets for growling, hissing, or trying to fight with each other during the introduction phase. Not only are these behaviors completely normal when animals meet for the first time, but punishment can backfire. The pet being scolded can come to associate punishment with the presence of the other pet, leading to more aggression and bad feelings between them.
- Always supervise your pets until you are 100% sure they get along. It only takes a split second for someone to get hurt badly enough to require a trip to the vet. If your pets begin fighting, use a blanket, large pillow, or other object to place between them to startle or distract them long enough to separate them. Never try to separate them by reaching out and grabbing them yourself; you could get hurt.
- Keep your new pet’s and existing pet’s food and water bowls in separate places, at least for awhile. This will help reduce any feelings of competition for resources. The same also goes with cat litter boxes.
- Try to stick to your regular routine as much as possible during the introductory period. Keep feeding, walking, and playing with your existing pets at their regular times. This will help keep stress levels down for them, as well as teach your new pet the household routine.
- Give all pets in the household lots of attention, love, and reassurance. Existing pets may need extra attention to help them feel more secure, and your new pet will need reassurance and comfort as they adjust to their new environment.
Above all, don’t rush when introducing a new pet into your home. Many pet parents underestimate how much time the introduction process can actually take. Introducing my new kitten Piper to my two adult cats, Trouble and Squirt, literally took months, since Trouble had a bit of a hard time adjusting to his new little sister. Piper is very small, and Trouble is 12-plus pounds of pure muscle, so I wasn’t taking any chances. Keeping the introduction process between them slow and consistent really paid off for all of us in the end.
Additional Tips For Introducing A New Cat
When introducing a new cat to a resident cat, keep in mind that cats a) are extremely territorial, and b) hate change. The best way to introduce cats is through a closed door at first, then a cracked door, then a pet gate if possible. Feeding them on either side of a closed door works well too, since they can hear and smell each other without actually seeing each other – and they come to associate something good (getting fed) with being in each other’s presence.
Once the cats are finally face to face, expect some hard staring, hissing, even minor squabbles, but don’t let them attack each other. Contrary to popular belief, cats don’t always “work things out” on their own, and their aggression can continue to escalate until their relationship is permanently damaged.
You can help reduce tension by placing litter boxes throughout the house so each cat has plenty of places to go without being harassed by the other cat. Also make sure there’s plenty of vertical territory like cat trees, cat shelves, and window perches where the cats can get away from each other.
When introducing a new cat to a resident dog, remember that dogs can seriously injure cats, even if they’re not trying to. Always introduce cats and dogs with the dog on a leash and the cat free to move around. Use lots of treats, keep the introduction sessions short at first, and try to always end the interaction on a positive note.
Once the cat and dog become accustomed to each other, you can eventually take the dog off leash, but continue to supervise their interactions and keep them separated when you’re not at home until you’re very sure there will be no aggression between them.
Additional Tips For Introducing A New Dog
When introducing a new dog to a resident dog, you’ll need 2 people for this process, since both dogs should be on a leash. Always conduct the initial introduction on neutral turf, such as a park or a sidewalk down the street from your house. This keeps your resident dog from feeling the need to defend his territory, and allows him to focus purely on meeting the new dog. Watch for signs of stress and fear in either dog, and if that happens, separate them and distract them with toys or treats.
Once inside the house, continue monitoring them and giving them lots of attention and treats. Make sure each dog has their own space, beds, toys, and food dishes so there’s no sense of competition for resources. Supervise play between the dogs at first, and distract or separate them if there are any signs of aggression. Don’t leave them alone together until you’re sure they are fully comfortable with each other. The use of crates or kennels works well in this situation too. Be patient; most dogs get along well once they’ve gotten accustomed to each other.
When introducing a new dog to a resident cat, the dog should be kept on a leash and the cat should have an easy escape route. Let them see each other from a distance, then work on gradually decreasing the distance between them. Keep these sessions short, use lots of treats, and remember not to scold anyone if there is hissing or growling.
Introducing A New Pet To Children
I firmly believe that unless there’s a compelling reason otherwise, all kids should have the opportunity to grow up sharing their lives with a pet. Having pets when I was growing up was not only my lifeblood, I credit it with making me the person I am today (the good parts, at least!)
That being said, children can often appear scary and threatening to new dogs or cats joining the household. By nature of their size, young children are often at eye level with dogs, which can lead dogs to misinterpret inadvertent direct eye contact. Children also tend to make sudden, jerky movements and loud or high-pitched noises that can be frightening to pets.
When introducing a new pet to children, it’s important to explain to them how the new pet may be feeling, and how to make the pet feel more at ease. You can also prepare children by teaching them the following:
- Explain the proper way to interact with a dog or cat. For dogs, show your child how to offer a closed fist for the dog to sniff, while keeping their gaze down towards the ground. Once the dog sniffs, show them how to gently stroke the dog’s neck (not coming from the top of the head), and how to avoid sensitive areas like the ears and feet. For cats, show them how to sit quietly on the floor and let the cat approach them at their own pace. Explain how it’s never okay to grab a pet’s tail or try to pick them up if they are struggling.
- Encourage your child to be involved in all aspects of the new family member’s life, including feeding, walking, playing, and cleaning up after them.
- Teach your child to never startle a dog or cat by touching them when they are eating or sleeping.
- Let your child know to never put their face into or near a dog’s face. The possibility of an inadvertent dog bite is just not worth the risk.
- Never let your child play roughly or aggressively with a pet. Show your child what’s appropriate while playing, and never tolerate your child teasing, chasing, or inflicting pain on a pet.
- If your new dog growls at your child, try not to punish the growl. Growling is a dog’s way of communicating that he is afraid or uncomfortable, and if you punish him for his verbal warning, he may simply bite the next time. If this scenario occurs, remove your child from the situation and follow up with a call to your veterinarian for advice.
Above all, never leave children unsupervised with pets.
Part Of The Family
When introducing a new pet into your home, it’s hard to predict whether it will be an easy transition or a challenging one. Many factors can come into play, including the species, breed, gender, age, and individual personalities of those involved.
But if you remember that every pet is different, and try to see their environment from their perspective, with a little time and patience your new addition will soon fit right in and become a loved and respected member of your family.
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Have you recently welcomed a new furry member to your family, or are you thinking about it? If so, do you have any tips on what to do (or what not to do) to make the transition a smooth one? Please share with us in the comments below!