By: Dr. Clayton Greenway, B.Sc., DVM | Nov 1, 2016
Dr. Greenway outlines different strategies on how to introduce a new pet to a household with existing pets so that it can be a much more harmonious and positive experience. Topics covered in this video include behavioral modification techniques such as desensitization and counter-conditioning as well as anti-anxiety medications and supplements for dogs and cats.
I’m Dr. Clayton Greenway for healthcareforpets.com. What I get a lot of questions about is how to introduce a new pet into the home when you already have pets there?
I think there’s a big difference when it comes to cats and dogs with this question. The first thing is a lot of dogs are pretty accepting when they go into homes of other dogs because they’re fairly social animals. Cats are very territorial, they like their space and that can be more difficult to introduce a cat and particularly when cats get into fights, they can really do a lot of damage to each other.
So first we’ll talk about dogs. What I recommend is that you try to introduce them very slowly. We do a behavioral strategy called desensitization and counterconditioning. How this works is desensitization means introducing them very slowly so that the stress of the encounter is as minimal as possible. So if you’re letting two dogs interact and you just let them come up nose-to-nose to each other that might be a little too strong of an interaction and create a bad experience. So what we want to do is we want to keep them pretty far apart, let them at first see each other and slowly over time get closer, get up to the point where they’re sniffing each other and making that introduction very slow. All the while, you’re doing something called counterconditioning. What this means is you’re changing their emotion during that experience. So if you’re giving them treats and treats make them happy, then what happens is when they see this other dog they are happy because they’re getting treats, therefore they’re happy when they see the other dog. So while you’re letting them experience each other for the first time very slowly, you’re going to want to give them treats and praise to make the experience as positive as possible. What you can do in your home is you can try to cordon off the area, if it’s possible, to keep the dogs separated at first so that they can each spend some time in the home in an area together but apart from each other. If you can do that for a day or two and then switch them and put each other into the other one’s space, still keeping them apart but allowing them to then smell the other one’s scent in the area that it had just been in, that will be a very slow introduction to that other dog so they’re actually being introduced by smell before they’re actually introduced by sight or touch.
With cats, being territorial means that they really like their own space. They are often threatened when another animal comes into their space. So whenever I’ve rescued a cat the same thing always happens, I bring them into my home and they’ll hide for a day or two. Often they won’t even come out to eat or use the litter box in that first 24-hour period. So you’re going to want to set up an area where the cat will have its own space for that first initial time. So you could use a bedroom and cordon off that bedroom so your other cat has the run of the house and the new pet is put into that bedroom and they’re given food and litter in there and they can start to get comfortable with that area. They’ll start to come out, walk around and that becomes their space. After a few days of that you could then switch the cats as to where they’re allowed to go. You take the house cat and put it in the bedroom and you take that new cat and let it wander around the home. You can do this for a couple days and they’ll get an introduction by smelling each other’s scents that are left in these areas and that’s a very slow introduction for these cats to be introduced. I found that this is a really successful way to introduce a new cat into the home.
All the while you could be using anti-anxiety supplements and there are many which you can talk to your veterinarian about. There’s even medication which will decrease anxiety in a pet during this transition phase but I’d recommend you start with something natural or supplements that are available particularly for that house cat that has the run of the house and you put it in the bedroom, that can be a bit stressful for it to be confined to that area. You might want to provide something that’s going to address that anxiety and you can speak to your veterinarian about that.
So by following some of these simple strategies, I think you’ll make that introduction of a new pet much more harmonious and a much more positive experience integrating that pet into your family because the most important thing to us is your pet’s health here at healthcareforpets.com.
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