HI, HOW DO YOU DO? TOP TIPS FOR INTRODUCING NEW PETS.
One of the questions we’re most often asked is how to safely introduce a new cat or dog to the existing fur-family. Although every introduction and settling-in process will be different, depending on the individuals and household, there are some basic principles which should certainly help.
It isn’t always possible to plan things down to the letter – pets sometimes have a way of finding us, rather than the other way around, eg. when the photo of a lonely soul on a rescue site “speaks” to us and we just know they need to become part of our lives, or when a friend or family-member emigrates or passes away and we step in to provide a home for their pets, etc…. However, unforeseen circumstances aside, the following points can make things easier.
- If you have a male pet, introduce a female, and vice versa.
- Avoid introducing cats into a dog family unless you are sure the dogs are cat-friendly. It’s always preferable to introduce new dogs to established cat/s.
- Think carefully about the nature of the breeds of animals involved. Fighting breeds like Pitbulls, Bull-Terriers and Staffies may have a problem with other dogs coming into their space and are also likely to be a danger to cats unless they have been brought up with them. Some hunting breeds like Greyhounds, Whippets, Dachshunds, Jack Russells and Fox Terriers, are also generally not an ideal mix with cats, as they are bred to chase and kill animals which look and behave a lot like cats.
- Consider size and age – a boisterous, large breed puppy or a kitten with no “off switch” might turn into an absolute nightmare for a small or fragile older pet.
- Ensure that all pets are sterilized, or will be as soon as they reach sexual maturity (6 months). Hormones can be a real trigger of disharmony, amongst both intact males and females, and this is effectively dealt with through neutering.
When introducing new dogs, ALWAYS do so in neutral territory like a fenced-off park, someone else’s pet-free home or the exercise area at a welfare or dog-training centre. With neither party having a vested interest in “protecting their domain” from newcomers, you will get a good feel of whether or not the dogs have the potential to bond. Animals are like humans in that they may really like someone else’s vibe and want to be friends. Or they might feel that the other rubs them up the wrong way entirely. This first meeting will be a great indicator of things to come. If the animals don’t get on, it would be best to abandon the idea. Dissention will only escalate once the new animal is brought into the home territory of the existing pet/s, and trying to push the animals on one another will create a stressful and potentially dangerous situation for all of them, as well as for you and your family. In a follow-up article, we will cover the techniques to ensure success in this all-important first introduction. It’s not practical to introduce cats in this way, due to flight risks, but see our other points below for tips on introducing them successfully within the home.
Whatever the circumstances, the VITAL piece of the puzzle is ensuring that existing pets don’t feel threatened by the arrival of a new animal. In fact, they need to feel the opposite. The newcomer must be a good thing to have around. The easiest way to achieve this is through positive reinforcement via praise and treats. It may be our natural instinct to focus on the new animal, as we feel it needs extra care and support to settle in its new environment – especially in the case of young animals and rescues (who may have health or behavioural issues). However, if we allow our existing fur-family to see us suddenly focusing on another pet whom they see as a threat to their share of your attention, food and other resources such as treats, sleeping areas and toys, we will only succeed in creating animosity and resentment and setting the new animal up to be bullied. As counter-intuitive as it seems, if we ignore the new pet in the presence of the others, while praising them, giving treats and ensuring that they feel secure in their position in the home and in our affections, we short-circuit all the angst and facilitate a much smoother acceptance of the newbie. Make sure that the new pet does not have free access to the existing pet’s favourite resting places, toys and food. Ensure that the existing pets are greeted and fussed over first and that ny special attention given to the new pet, such as cuddling and coo-ing take place away from the others. Maybe have the kids take the rest of the family out for a walk, or arrange some special play time with the cats in a separate room, while someone feeds the pup/kitten or enjoys bonding time with the new arrival.
Mealtimes are pivotal points in animals’ hierarchical structure and the way that they’re managed by us can make or break an introductory process. If special feeding is required for the newcomer, this needs to happen away from the established fur-family. They can’t be seen to have a special fuss made of them, as this will most certainly ruffle feathers.
Until you are sure that everyone gets along, feed all the pets together with the newbie separated by a sliding door or baby gate – this allows them to be part of the proceedings, but not seen as a threat. It also prevents any scuffles from breaking out if the new furry ventures near someone else’s bowl. Feed in this way until you are 100% sure that the animals have accepted one another. It works very well for cats too – you can even feed them in separate rooms with a closed door between them. Gradually move the bowls on either side closer and closer to the door until they are eating right next to one another, separated only by the door. Then open the door and use a baby gate instead. Or the glass sliding door is also a perfect option.
And always ensure that the top-dog or the most established member receives his or her food first and the new animal, last.
No matter how accommodating your existing fur-family may seem towards the newcomer, safety for all must be the top priority. Until you are convinced that all the animals are completely comfortable around one another, do not risk leaving them alone unattended. If you’re not familiar with animal body language, resources abound on the internet and these will enable you to quickly judge if any of your animals is feeling uncomfortable, threatened, or overwhelmed. In this case, you need to intervene quickly and appropriately. (Our follow-up article will provide more detail on this). And once they are all socialising happily while you’re away at work, continue to observe the Safety First rule and avoid leaving treats or toys out that may become “bones of contention” in your absence. Dogs in particular use “resources” as a means to feel comfortable in their environment and to exert dominance over other members of the group, so always expect food, toys, territory and YOUR ATTENTION to be potential catalysts for aggression between established fur-family-members and new arrivals, and be vigilant for signs of disharmony between individuals.
When introducing cats and dogs for the first time, ensure that the cats are in carriers and the dogs on leads for everyone’s safety. Place the cats higher than the dogs so that they don’t feel intimidated by their size. Allow them to sniff each other out in this controlled environment and get used to one another’s presence. Reinforce calm behaviour with treats for both the cats and the dogs.
A technique that works nicely with cats is called cross-scenting. Initially you’ll be keeping your new kitty in a separate room for safety, so try placing some of the established cats’ blankets/beds into the newcomer’s room and take any blankets or covers that he or she has been sleeping on back to where the established cats are. This allows them to get used to each other’s smells without the shock of a face-to-face meeting. You might find they all start sleeping on each other’s blankets and you can then swap them back. This helps reinforce that they are all part of the same family group. You can even transfer scents directly from one cat to another, by rubbing your hands (ever-so-slightly damp with water) along the body of one cat and then stroking the other. Repeat later the other way around, from Cat 2 to Cat 1. This is pretty much what cats are doing when they nuzzle faces or rub their bodies against other cats or their humans: they’re scent-marking each other and us!
Pheromone-based calming products like the Feliway and Adaptil range (CEVA) can be exceptionally helpful in the process of introducing pets to each other or, indeed, to any new situation. The “pheromones” are laboratory-formulated substances that mimic the natural pheromones given off by animals to ensure that they feel comfortable in their environment. Pheromones are the scents that are applied when cats rub items with their faces, bodies, scratch mark, or when they spray, and when dogs lift their legs to urine mark their territory.
Adaptil collars can help dogs feel calm and at ease in an unfamiliar situation and you can use the spray product on your hands when interacting with both the new dog and the existing dogs in the home.
Feliway Diffusers can be used very successfully during cat-to-cat introductions, as the feel-good pheromones help all cats to feel “at home” in their environment, eliminating the need to scratch mark, spray or fight each other. The Feliway Spray can also be applied to strategic points like bedding, cat carrier, etc. to help the new cat feel like he belongs, or sprayed on your hands to put him at ease when you handle him.
The full Feliway and Adaptil product ranges are available at Twisted Whiskers.
Anxious animals that meet each other will be defensive and reactive, which will prevent a positive introduction. Create as calm an environment as possible: calm and observant humans, (no raised voices, fussing over the pets, excited children running about) and each animal feeling as safe as possible.
ASK THE EXPERTS
If you don’t feel confident enough to facilitate a positive introduction, or despite all your efforts in applying the above pointers, you’re still struggling to get all the members of the fur-family, both “new” and “old”, to get along and accept one another, do yourself a favour and reach out to an accredited animal behaviourist. These wonderful people have spent plenty of time studying the finer nuances of how animals interact and have a deep understanding of the factors that influence how pets feel and behave in different circumstances. They will give you reliable advice on some changes to make to ensure that all your animals feel comfortable, and they will also be honest with you if the mix of “fursonalities” is one that just isn’t going to work. Enlisting the help of an expert may prevent an unfortunate tragedy, and, at the very least, will equip you with some new “animal whispering” skills. Twisted Whiskers can recommend highly skilled behavioural consultants, so feel free to ask us for a contact.
Here’s to happy families!
© Written By Twisted Whiskers