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How To Guide: Correctly Introducing New Pets to the Family

Updated on December 17, 2020
CaitBooth profile image

Caitlyn loves animals of all species and sizes. Yes, that includes creepy-crawly bugs and snakes.

Anyone who has had a dog or cat knows that sometimes, much like people, new pets don't always get along with the other members of the family - human or four-legged. Fights can break out in the worst cases, which can lead to hospital bills or even death. Introducing the new members of the family in a safe and controlled manned, therefore, is extremely important. For the current family pets, children, and even owner safety. Not to mention being able to accept the new member into the family.

Neutral Ground First

Something people need to know and understand about dogs and cats is that they are very territorial, especially of where they sleep and eat. Anywhere they pee and patrol on a daily basis is considered, by them, their territory, but the house is like their headquarters or home base. No one wants a total stranger just marching into their base. This is why dogs and cats can seem more aggressive when meeting new pets than they usually are. Even most mild-mannered pet will become agitated and upset with a potential danger in their home.

New Dogs Meeting Other Dogs

The safest thing to do, if possible, is introduce any members of the family to the current members onto neutral ground. Basically, if the dog believes the house and yard is theirs, take them away from that area to meet the new dog - preferably at a park or somewhere neither dog will be on the defensive. Let them greet each other. If there is any aggression - growling, hair raising, teeth-baring, etc - take the new dog away to a safe distance.

If the dog must be brought to the home to meet the family, put the dog that currently lives in the house outside in a crate they can clearly see through (and that the owner can see through as well) and let the new dog come up to them on their own.

New Dogs Meeting Cats

Cats are often much smaller than dogs, meaning an over-excited dog could seriously hurt a new cat. Introducing a new cat to a dog has to be done very carefully to avoid any injuries or fights between them.

Yes; cats and dogs will fight each other if allowed.

The easiest thing to do is to have someone hold the dog on a lead and sit on a chair or couch. They should try to keep calm so the dog remains calm. Then another person should bring the cat in. They can be brought in a carrier or just by holding them. Try to not let the cat escape. Allow the dog to see the cat if possible, making sure to keep the leash in hand in case he gets too excited. Sit down in another chair or couch (near the dog, but preferably not right next to him). When it seems the dog isn't too excited, allow him to sniff the new cat and check him out.

The new cat may not like the dog at first (i.e. there may be hissing and growling for a little while), but given time and patience they can end up being best friends!

Note: Always observe how the animals interact and correct any behaviors that could lead to fighting or that could harm one of the animals. Separating them for a few minutes can help them to calm down enough that they won't attack or fight anyone.

New Cats Meeting Cats

Cats are a little different. They are dangerously territorial, often injuring other cats and sometimes dogs so badly they need a vet visit. If it is possible to introduce them away from the cat's home then that is best, but most people can't do this because the cat may try to escape or it's just easier to bring the cat in. In this situation, hold the new kitten or cat in your lap and allow the other cat(s) and/or dog(s) to approach on their own to investigate. Allow them a minute to work things out on their own. If the cat in the home becomes aggressive, take the new cat or kitten away from them and keep trying.

Another trick for cats is putting them in a large enough crate that they don't feel cornered or trapped and allowing the other animals to meet them that way. The crate should be one that allows the other animals to see into it, and so the owner can see the interactions between the new animal and the current.

New Cats Meeting Dogs

Bringing a new dog or puppy into a cat home is a little easier than any of the other combinations. The process is similar to introducing a new cat to a dog: keep the dog on a tight leash, allow them to examine each other carefully, and keep an eye on their body language as they interact.

Take it Slow

As stated in the previous section, it is best to go slow if possible. Give the animals time to investigate each other and work out the initial imbalance someone into the home causes. Keep them separated if necessary (still allowing them to see and smell each other). This process cannot be rushed.

No Adults - Dogs

An interesting fact about dogs and cats is that when they are babies, before they reach sexual maturity (around 6 months), the other animals cannot detect a male or female scent on them! This makes it much easier to move a puppy into the household versus an older dog. Male dogs, even neutered ones, do not often like other male dogs (neutered or not) coming into their domain. They can become aggressive and a struggle to maintain dominance can almost ensure fights will break out between them. Female dogs, surprisingly, are often the same towards other dogs that come into the house, especially female ones.

Dogs are pack animals, which means there is an order in the house the humans occupying it might not even realize. This is especially true if there is more than one dog in the house. The human is often the alpha or leader of this 'pack', and the dogs organize themselves through body language accordingly. One dog, for example, will be the more dominant one while the other is at the bottom of the hierarchy. Humans need to respect and understand this when it comes to introducing new animals into the house. This is why sometimes bringing in an adult dog can be really difficult. The two dogs have to establish who's the more dominant one between them.

(But remember - you need to be the alpha of their pack.)

The younger the dog coming into the house is, the more likely the other dogs will accept them without a problem, even once the new dog reaches sexual maturity. Problems between them at that age can be avoided by neutering or spaying the dog as soon as they reach 6 months.

No Adults - Cats

Cats, again, are a little different than dogs. They don't necessarily like a strange cat, baby or otherwise, in their home. Regardless of whether or not they can detect male/female scent on the new cat, they don't generally like other cats in their territory. Cats are notoriously solitary animals and only tolerate the other cats in the house if they have to. Outside cats, for example, do not usually hang around each other. Still, a new kitten is much more likely to be accepted by the older cats because they don't smell like an adult cat who would be seen as competition for resources in the house. As with any animal interaction, always use precaution.

After introducing a kitten to the family, keep them separated for a little while. Depending on how old the kitten is, they would not be big enough to get away from an over-eager dog or defend themselves against a cat trying to show the new cat who's the boss. Allow the other animals to continue to meet and smell the new cat, but don't let them run around together until the kitten is bigger and able to protect themselves. Be sure to correct any bad behaviors displayed by the other animals in the home once the kitten is allowed to run freely (i.e. some dogs chase cats around thanks to their hunting instinct).

No Adults - Side Note

This is not to say that it is not at all possible to introduce an adult dog or cat to the family. Depending on the personality and temperament of both the new animal and the one(s) currently living in the home, they can get along no problem. The animals become like best friends and everyone is happy.

Other times, the animals will never get along and there will always be tension between them. Animals are a bit like people; some personalities just don't go together.

Important Note:

Always spay and neuter your pets! Of course for the obvious reason of not having more puppies that need homes in the world, but there can be benefits for the dogs themselves.

Male dogs can especially benefit from this as it lowers the testosterone in their bodies, making dominance less of an issue. Fewer fights and aggression will lead to them being happier. Neutering your dog will also reduce their muscle mass and general size, making larger dogs easier to control.

Female dogs will be less likely to bicker because they won't go into heat, so they won't see female dogs as competition for a mate.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2019 Caitlyn Booth


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