Some of you might be surprised to know that I, in fact, have a multi-pet household made up of 5 cats and 2 dogs. One could even say I am more Cat than Dog Mom (blame the last 2 years of lockdown, which resulted in 2 kitten foster fails). We also regularly foster kittens that we take from feral colonies that form part of our TNR (trap, neuter, release) programme. So, I am no stranger to introducing new additions, even temporary ones, to my household.
I am proud to say that, overall, everyone gets along – cats with cats, dogs with dogs and dogs with cats, but it certainly didn’t start out this way. There was a lot of hissing, yowling, swatting, and chasing that went on before we got to this stage. Even now, it is by no means perfect. Within the pack we have different dynamics – some get along very well, others hiss and bite an ear if they get too close, a dog will snap at a cat if they dare wander into their space (it’s all bark and no bite, thankfully).
But this is all to be expected as not every animal is going to become BFFs. I mean, you don’t like every person you encounter, so why should your pets be expected to? Being prepared, however, and implementing the tips below can help to make the transition as smooth as possible and get your pets off on the right foot.
MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Before bringing a new pet into the household, it is important to manage your expectations. If your dog has never encountered a cat before, their first instinct might be to chase them or, like in our case, a 13-year-old dog might not take too kindly to a rambunctious puppy who doesn’t understand boundaries. Building trust and creating a bond takes time, so never force your pets to interact with each other as you could end up achieving the exact opposite of what you wanted. Your pets may never become the best of friends that you hope for, but if they can tolerate each other and coexist without any altercation, take that as a win.
CREATE A SAFE SPACE
When you first bring a new addition home, be it a dog, cat, puppy or kitten, it can be a very overwhelming experience for them. They have been taken from a place where they felt comfortable, from their mom/siblings, and placed in a new foreign environment. To help them better adjust to their new home, place them in a separate room where the other pets are not allowed. This will create a safe space for your new pet to decompress and get used to their surroundings. This also helps the new and resident pets to get used to each other’s presence – while they may not be able to see each other, they can hear and smell each other. This space will also provide a haven where your pet can retreat should they start feeling overwhelmed, when the physical introductions start.
SLOW AND STEADY
Do Not Rush. As in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race. Introductions can take place over a few days, or even weeks. There is no magic amount of time where your animals will suddenly get along, as every situation will be unique and will depend on your pets’ personalities. It is best to begin with short face-to-face introductions, while for the rest of the time the new pet is confined to their safe space. This reduces the pressure on all involved and allows them to adjust at a gradual pace.
REMAIN CALM AND POSITIVE
When first starting with face-to-face introductions, it is essential to remain calm. Often excitement in dogs can lead to overstimulation, which can then manifest itself as aggression. Use gentle voices and slow movements to foster a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere, all while reassuring your resident and new pets that everything is okay.
Another key element is to constantly reward calm and good behaviour, in both the new and the resident pet. By rewarding your pet in the presence of the new addition, they will begin to create a positive association with the new animal. However, the moment either animal starts to show signs of aggression, overexcitement or high levels of fear, stop the rewards and introductions, and try again another time.
INTRODUCING A NEW CAT
When introducing a new cat to the resident dog/s, secure the dog on a short leash while allowing the cat to move around freely and approach the dog on their own terms. Continue doing this multiple times a day over a period of time, until you feel you can start to relax the leash and give your dog more freedom. Once the animals appear to be getting along, you can drop your dog’s leash and monitor their interactions. Always make sure that your cat has an escape route, a high area to jump on and access to their safe place.
INTRODUCING A NEW DOG
With dogs it can be beneficial to introduce them on neutral territory like in a park. However, once you enter the home, the resident dog may become stressed and act territorial. To help prevent any issues relating to resource guarding, pick up any toys, bowls and beds. Once the dogs are more comfortable with each other, you can reintroduce items like toys and beds, but make sure that each dog has their own.
KNOW WHEN TO ASK FOR HELP
f you notice that the introductions seem to be heading in a negative manner, unwanted behaviour is escalating, or if you have any concerns at all, seek professional help from a qualified animal behaviourist. Do not wait until the animals have had a physical altercation, or have a complete dislike for each other, as you may find that the situation cannot be easily reversed.