I’ve often “prescribed a pet” to help boost a furry family member’s quality of life – especially if they’re aging. Adding a tumbling kitten or playful pup to your furry family can reinvigorate and revive a cat or dog lagging in spirit. Not only do they enjoy a renewed interest in life, I’ve also observed these senior citizens pass along incredible skills and traits to their understudy. (I also secretly believe many older pets like the annoyance of a youngster’s pestering and enjoy being a boss.) Plus, some pets – no matter their age – just enjoy the company of another four-legged companion.
Here are some of my top tips for introducing a new pet:
Before You Bring Home a New Pet
Pre-Pet Vet Check
Before you adopt a new pet, have your existing dog or cat checked by your veterinarian. It’s important to uncover any hidden conditions such as heart, respiratory, liver or kidney diseases, hearing or vision loss and painful arthritis before introducing a new pet. By identifying these issues early, you can avoid complications from increased stimulation and physical activity.
Raising a new pet is hard work, especially if your existing pet is older. Talk your vet about your plans and make sure you’re addressing any pain, understand your pet’s stamina and tolerances and recognize how any sensory losses may affect interacting with a new pet. For example, an older cat with bad hearing may not be able to hear a somersaulting kitty approaching. It’s a good idea to provide them with a private, quiet space several hours a day, especially during the first few weeks. Otherwise your cat may become fearful or aggressive toward the new cat simply because they’re constantly being startled.
Puppy- and Kitten-Proof your Home
Exposed outlets need to be covered, power cords concealed, cabinets fastened with child safety locks, garbage cans secured, harmful cleaning supplies stored away, toilets and exposed water containers closed and all off-limits areas gated. Just because your pet didn’t try to eat kitchen cleaner or break into the pantry doesn’t mean your new companion won’t.
Separate Food and Water Stations
Fights over food and water bowls top the list of pet home wreckers. Each pet should have their own food and water bowls separated as far apart as practical, but at least 18” to 24”. For most dogs (and probably cats), that distance is outside the “zone of ownership” and helps lessen the chance of mealtime clashes.
Sharing food, water, bedding and toys can be a stretch for some pets. Do everyone a favor and provide each pet with their own stuff from the start.
Brush up on basic commands such as sit, stay and come before the big day. Your pet will exert tremendous influence on an impressionable pup or kitty, so make sure they’re on their best behavior. Additionally, you’ll sometimes need to divert and grasp your pet’s attention, so a refresher on sit and come is a great idea. I’ve also discovered housetraining a puppy is much faster and effective whenever a well-trained pet is helping to teach them.
Create private rooms or spaces for both the existing and new pets. Everyone needs a break and time alone to rest, recuperate and refresh. Crates, cat trees, rooms or a simple cardboard box can provide a much-needed respite from frenetic fur balls.
One Cat = 2 Litter Boxes
In general, for each household feline you need one litter box, plus one. That means if you have two cats, you need three boxes. Once you get to three or more cats sharing the same space, you may need even more litter boxes to avoid inappropriate eliminations. Litterboxes should be wide, low, open and cleaned frequently.
I’m a fan of using dog or cat calming pheromones in the house a week or two prior to introducing a new pet.
The First Weeks
You must closely supervise introducing a new pet to an existing pet. If you anticipate or observe mild nervousness, go slow, remain in control and always maintain a positive attitude. Your new pet can be kept in a carrier or on a leash and harness for an hour or two so they won’t provoke your older pet.
The First Meet & Greet
Keeping both pets on a leash or head halter, urge your dog to sit or stay calmly in the presence of the new pet. Gradually allow both pets to slowly investigate each other. Expect lots of sniffs, snorts, licks and glares.
If one of the pets becomes too anxious or excited, separate them for about 10 to 15 minutes to cool down. Typically, within a few hours of controlled contact, each pet understands what’s happening and then the real supervision and training can begin.
You may have a little less direct control of cat-to-cat introductions, although these principles should be followed. Most adult cats are fairly accepting of kittens. If you provide each cat with private spaces and introduce them when the kitten is eating or playing, you can further ensure successful bonding.
Pets need daily structured interaction with both humans and animals. Teaching basic commands, playing with toys and leash walks are essential for healthy brain and body development. Set aside time each day for your new addition, and you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of joy.
Calm, Cool and Composed
It’s easy to become frustrated with a new pet. Your pets study your behavior to gauge how they should feel and react. If you’re constantly feeling negative energy toward a misbehaving pup or kitty, your existing pet will pick up on this and may begin responding differently to the new guy. Keep calm, cool and composed and you’ll find training goes much more smoothly and quickly.
It’s important to expose your new pet to a variety of environments, people and pets. Car rides, trips to the vet and dog parks and visiting friends are vital steps in teaching them good manners. Plan on weekly excursions to unique places and take it slow. The world should be an exciting and happy place, not something to fear and cower from. Socialization is the key to raising a contented companion.
Everyone has spats occasionally. When tempers flare, immediately separate the pest and give them private time. Research what triggered the disagreement, and try to avoid it in the future. You may have to further separate food and water bowls, change how you dispense treats or work on a command. Remain calm, retain your composure and appreciate the teaching and learning opportunity you have. If the fights escalate or persist, talk with a certified professional dog trainer about more advanced training techniques.
Consistency and Patience
I can’t tell you how many times a pet parent has told me, “My other (dog or cat) never did THAT.” Time soothes all wounds and we conveniently forget yesteryear’s training challenges. I can almost guarantee you that: 1) No new pet ever arrived in perfect condition and perfectly trained, and 2) With a little effort and time, any pet can be trained. Some pets are trained in a few weeks while others may take a few months. The key is consistency.
Reserve 15 to 30 minutes twice a day for the first six months. If you can’t devote that time to a new family member, you don’t have time to add a new pet. Even if you plan to ship your new pup off to a training center, you’ll still need to devote time to teach them when they return. In addition to commitment and calmness, patience is the common trait I see in the best pet parents. Never forget these new pets are similar to human babies; they need us to provide, protect and teach them.
Training Never Stops
Most of the healthiest pets I treat are also incredibly well-behaved and are constantly learning new skills and experiencing new stimuli. You can teach old dogs and cats new tricks; sometimes it takes a youngling to remind us – and them – that teaching never stops.
These are only a few tips to help you introduce your new pet to an existing one. Before you adopt or if you need help during puppy- and kitten-hood, ask your veterinarian. No one is better trained to guide you through the formative months and into a lifetime of health. If you’ve got an older pet whose energy is beginning to dim, or a pet who you think just needs a friend, ask your vet if “prescribing a pet” is right for your family.