Making a Good First Impression
While bringing a new furry companion into your home can be one of your most exciting days, your current pet may not share your outlook. Expect a period of transition for not just the new pet, but the resident one as well. And be patient—some pets can adjust in a week or two, while others take much longer or become bossy, attention-seeking or elusive.
Want to help things go smoothly from the start? Make sure all involved pets are healthy, vaccinated and not carrying any transmittable conditions, and then help make their first impressions memorable—for all the right reasons.
Whether you’re introducing cats to cats or to dogs, or dogs to dogs, remember supervision is key. If you are not able to watch the pets 100%, then they should be separated for the time-being to ensure safety. The resident pet should be kept to his or her original schedule, routine and access to the home as much as possible.
To help acclimate your new pet to the home, make his or her space a neutral area (i.e. spare room, brightly lit bathroom, finished basement, etc.) that is pet-safe. Provide ample enrichment and basic necessities: toys, bedding, water, litter boxes, perches and music. And make sure you’re giving enough attention as well.
Wait until the pets are calm to perform gradual introductions. They should be positioned at a distance where they can see each other but not physically interact or become upset. Once this distance is determined, they can actually be on either side of a barrier as long as they know the other pet is there. Begin feeding the pets in these spots on a regular basis. Both should be rewarded for remaining calm and going about their own business. If a barrier is used, it can be removed if things are calm.
Rewards can be special tasty treats or their food, paired with attention. Providing they remain calm and not upset, you can slowly over time begin feeding them closer and closer until they can eat calmly beside one another. If at any point one of the pets become upset and/or aggressive, immediately move back to the last distance in which the pets remained calm. The goal is for the pets to associate each other with positive things, like tasty food and praise.
Someone lashing out or acting inappropriately? The instigator should be put into time-out immediately in a neutral zone that the pet does not see as either negative or positive, such as a spare bedroom or bathroom they don’t normally visit. End the time-out after just a few minutes or until the pet has calmed. You may try the introduction again when the pet is calm, but any other outbursts will result in another time-out and no other introductions for that day.
And though it may be your instinct to get between animals having a physical disagreement to stop them, take a step back. It can lead to a bite. Instead, use brooms, a sheet of cardboard, a blanket or towel, or a spritz from a water bottle. If the aggressor can be identified, that pet should be put into time-out. If they both seem like equal culprits, both should receive a time-out.
While you can’t read their minds, you can read their body language. Pets will communicate how they’re feeling through body positions, actions and vocalizations. Learn to watch for subtle behaviors that can lead to potential problems. For dogs, this may include: hair lifting up on their neck or back, staring, snarling, stalking, side-by-side posturing with growling or lip-lifting (you know, Elvis-style). For cats the behaviors may be subtler: direct staring, ear positioning, elevated rump with a tail that may be puffed up, hissing, snarling or pouncing.
Having one person per pet will make the process easier and safer. If additional help is not available, take advantage of using leashes, harnesses, crates and baby gates.
Once the pets are able to eat calmly side by side, remove any restraints, but be prepared to intervene. Always monitor the pets closely and end on a positive note. It is best to do short, positive interactions than long, extensive ones.
Information adapted from Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals.
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