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How best should I introduce my new pet to my home?

Your interaction with your new pet begins on the ride home. Cats and small dogs should always be transported in some kind of carrier in the car. Large dogs should be secured by a safety device. By teaching your pet to ride in a confined location or a restraint you are providing safety as well as starting a routine that you can maintain for future car rides. Upon arriving at home, place the new pet in a small, quiet area with food and a litter box for a cat and newspaper for a dog or puppy. If possible for a cat or kitten use the same litter material.  Also, use the same food the pet was used to previously. Any change in food should be done gradually over a week to avoid any stomach upsets.

Set up a safe and secure area where you can leave your new pet when you are not available for supervision. Do not let them have free roam of the house right away.  This location should have a food bowl, water bowl, bed and toys for a dog or puppy. In addition for cats or kittens you need a litter box, play toys, a scratching post and a resting area; be sure it is big enough to accommodate all these things.

If you have a small pet make sure to inspect the area for nooks and crannies where they might hide or get stuck. All new pets should be given time to investigate their new surroundings. For a new kitten or puppy this is a more manageable task if you limit the available space initially.  Be sure that any area where your pet is allowed to roam has been effectively pet-proofed, which includes anywhere the pet can jump or climb. Potentially dangerous items such as electric cords and items that might be chewed or swallowed (such as thread, rubber bands, paper clips, children’s toys) should be kept out of reach. After your new pet has had some quiet time in a restricted location, slowly allow access to other areas of the home under your supervision.

Your pet will naturally want to explore.  Cats and kittens will use their claws to climb up onto anything possible. In the first few weeks, slow access to the home will allow exploration as well as the ability to monitor the pet’s behaviour.

What should I do if I have other pets?

Sometimes it can be the new pet that shows fear or aggression, but usually, it is the existing pets that pose more of a problem. If you know or suspect that your adult dog or cat might be aggressive toward the new arrival, then you should seek professional behaviour advice before introducing the pets to each other.

The new pet should be given a safe and secure area that provides for all of its needs (as above) and introductions with the existing family pets should be carefully supervised. At the first introduction, there may be no immediate problems, and reinforcement of desirable responses may be all that is required. You may need to have them completely separated for the first introductions. The new pet can be kept in the safe area with a door closed in between and the animals allowed to sniff through the door. You can then switch areas put the other pet in the confined area with all the new smells and supervise the new pet as they explore the existing pet’s home.  Depending on how the introductions are going, this may need to be repeated a few times before the animals can be introduced. This is especially important for adding cats to existing cat households or introducing cats to dogs etc.

How best should I introduce my new cat/ kitten to a dog?

If there is some mild anxiety on the part of your dog then introductions should be controlled, gradual, supervised and always positive. Your new cat could be placed in a carrier or on a leash and harness so that it will not provoke the dog in the house. Then using a leash for control, favoured rewards and training commands, encourage your dog to sit or stay calmly in the presence of the cat.

Dogs that are not well trained to settle on command may need their training reviewed and improved before introduction.  Alternatively, a leash and head halter could be used for more immediate control and safety.

Calm investigation should then be encouraged and reinforced. Any initial anxiety on the part of the dog or cat should soon decrease and, if the dog is prevented from rough play and chasing, the cat/kitten should quickly learn its limits with the dog, including how to avoid confrontation by climbing or hiding.

Initially, it would be best to keep a dog and a cat/kitten separated unless supervised.  If, after some cautious initial introductions, there were still the possibility of aggression or injury then a behaviour consultation would be advisable.

A synthetic dog appeasing pheromone such as Adaptil may aid in reducing anxiety in an existing dog. This can be sprayed on a bandana or it comes in a collar form.

How best should I introduce my new kitten to an existing cat?

Most adult cats are fairly tolerant of kittens, so that keeping the kitten in its own area, and then allowing introductions when the cats are eating or playing, should help to decrease any initial anxiety. A leash and harness or a crate can be used to control one or both of the cats during initial introductions. Always make sure there are the appropriate amount of litterboxes in the house.

A good rule to follow is one litter box for each cat plus one extra. Make sure these are placed in strategic areas around the house so as to have easy access.  A synthetic cheek gland scent such as Feliway, either as a spray or diffuser, may also be useful for easing introductions. Most cats and kittens will soon work out their relationship on their own, without injury.

However, if there is a threat of aggression, then details of a gradual introduction program can be discussed with your vet.  There are also natural remedies that can be used and in extreme cases medication.

How best should I introduce my new puppy to an older dog?

While the occasional dog will delight in welcoming a pup into the house, most dogs don’t welcome a new pup “with open arms.” Puppies don’t follow the rules that the adult dogs depend on for good, solid dog communication.  Supervision is essential because the pup doesn’t have the same set of social skills as the adult dog. You need to be there to help guide the puppy toward appropriate social efforts and to keep the peace for the adult dog.  

Using calming pheromones or chews for both the pup and the adult dog can be very useful. Adaptil Collars, PAW calming chews and many other items can even be started a few weeks before the new puppy is introduced. This may help the existing dog have an overall feeling of calmness with this strange new situation.

Keep them separate at first to gauge the response.  Keep the adult dog or the puppy in a crate, behind a gate, or in an exercise pen for some quiet separate time.  Most importantly, the adult dog needs to know it can have quiet time away from the pup from the very beginning. Puppies tend to be persistent and energetic. They don’t give up quickly and may pester an older dog for much longer than the dog would allow. By setting up scheduled separation opportunities, both the pup and the dog are getting the breaks they need from each another.

Avoid punishing the existing dog for growling. This growling is used as a warning for the puppy to behave. If the puppy is not listening then you must separate them and supervise the introduction again.  Remember not all dogs will accept a new puppy and some will take much longer than others. If the adult dog growls or nips and the puppy screams this should be a sign for the adult dog to back down. If on the other hand the scream from the pup excites or instigates things further than they must be separated and introductions started again.

By following some simple rules and with plenty of supervision, you’ll begin to notice some signs of harmony between the dog and the puppy after a few weeks. Not all dogs love each another, so don’t be disappointed if your dog doesn’t fall head over heels in love with the new dog in the house. Sometimes comfortable cohabitation is all that is achieved and that is enough.