How to Introduce New Pets to the Household (Part 1)

Pet Articles Posted on by Sandy Cosser

Dog and cat introductions

Think about what it would be like to be taken from your home and deposited in a strange place surrounded by strangers, some of whom may not be entirely nice. Now imagine you’re not doing it to win a small fortune on a contrived TV show. It’s pretty intimidating and overwhelming, isn’t it? That’s what your new pet feels like when you bring them home and put them face-to-face with your resident dog or cat. Your resident dog or cat isn’t too pleased with the intrusion either. The best way to ensure a peaceful household is to introduce new pets to each other properly.

The bad news is that it’s not a quick process. It takes a while to build up confidence and trust between animals. If you hurry them, you could end up with a great deal of anxiety, fear and possibly defensive aggression – which usually ends in tears, or worse. The good news is that if you manage pet introductions well, the chances are good you’ll keep everyone – pets and people – happy.

Here are some tips for introducing cats to dog and cats to other cats.

New cat-to-cat & cat-to-dog introductions

When introducing a new cat to a household that has an existing dog or cat, it’s best to confine the newcomer to a room that has been specially kitted out for this purpose. The idea is to give your new cat a chance to settle and to adjust to the idea of other animals in the vicinity while your resident dog or cat gets used to the idea of an addition to the family. Once or twice a day you can confine your other animals and let the newbie out to investigate the surroundings.

During the confinement period you should get your pets used to the idea of pleasant communal living by feeding them on opposite sides of the closed door – nothing generates goodwill so much as a shared dinner. In the beginning it’s important that the door remain closed and that the distance is sufficient for everyone to be comfortable (you don’t want anyone too nervous to eat). You can gradually move the food bowls closer until they are right outside the door. Then you can open the door a crack – just enough for them to see each other, but not enough for them to get at each other or be put off their food. Once again, you can gradually increase the opening until they’re happily eating with the door wide open. You can also baby gate as an interim measure so that your pets can eat in full view of each other but with some protection still in place.

You should also start getting everyone used to each other’s scent during the confinement. You can rub a towel or old t-shirt on each animal and put near the other animal’s bed or food bowl or scratching post or crate.

When they’ve reached the point that they can eat with the door wide open, you can start allowing short interactions. The interactions should be between 5 and 10 minutes at first, they should be kept positive and they must be closely monitored so that no negative emotions (fear or aggression) enter the scene. Some posturing is normal, so don’t panic if there is a little hissing or a bark or two, or even a little spat. Little spats should result in a short separation and the animals can be brought back when they’re calm. If one animal shows severe signs of fear or aggression, and the spat can definitely not be defined as little, separate everyone and go back a few steps in the process.

Use treats to reinforce positive behaviour; for example, sniffing each other peacefully, gentle play, lying side-by-side or just generally being calm in each other’s presence.

If you’re introducing a new cat to a dog, it’s best to keep your dog on lead for the first few meetings, so you can control the level of interaction and keep your new cat safe. Your dog should be sitting or lying down calmly – being treated for this calm behaviour – before someone comes in with the cat. The cat can be kept busy with some treats or catnip and they should be kept on opposite sides of the room for the first couple of sessions. When they’re comfortable with each other the cat may be allowed to “visit” the dog, who is being treated for being calm. Again, if either animal looks uncomfortable, separate and go back a few steps. If they’re both ok, you can move to controlled meetings off-lead. However, when you let the new cat have the run of the house, it’s best to be present at all dog-cat interactions so you can manage the situation.

Note: Never punish either your dog or cat for reacting in a fearful or aggressive manner during the introductions. You will create negative associations with the new animal, as well as increase your pet’s anxiety. In short, you’ll only make the situation worse.

Extra note: Special care is needed if you’re introducing a kitten to an adult dog or a puppy to an adult cat. In the case of kittens and dogs, it’s usually best to keep the dog on lead for all interactions until kitty is big enough to escape on her own or take care of herself. In the case of puppies and cats, it’s best to keep them separate until pup’s training has kicked in and he has a measure of self-control so he doesn’t overwhelm your cat and you have a measure of control to help maintain calm.

Find out about how to manage dog-to-dog introductions in part 2.