Adopting a pet begins a new chapter for both you and your new companion. But with all of the excitement, it’s important to consider how your current pet will handle the adjustment. Pets are an important part of the family dynamic, and a proper introduction can help ensure a smooth transition. Here are tips from Dr. Jill Sackman, a veterinarian in BluePearl’s behavioral medicine service, on how to introduce your new pet to your current pet:
Test the waters before adoption day. Before you consider bringing home a new pet, learn how your current pet behaves around other members of the species you are bringing home. For example, if your dog has formerly shown aggression to cats, it might not be the best idea to add a cat into the mix. If you are unsure of how your pet reacts around other dogs or cats, test the waters in a safe, neutral environment. Try to learn as much as you can about how your prospective new pet behaves around other animals if that information is available.
Be mindful of energy levels. New pets are oftentimes adopted at a young age, and it’s important to think about how your current pet will handle the rambunctious energy of a puppy or kitten. The addition of an energetic pet may cause a lot of stress to your adult or senior pet.
Consider why you want a new pet. It’s a common misconception that pets are happier if they have playmates to keep them company. In reality, your pet is more concerned about his relationship with his humans. While some pets do well with playmates, if given the choice, most pets would decline the offer of adding another pet.
Have the two animals meet in a safe, neutral space. Some pets are territorial of their home and belongings, so it’s best to have the introduction take place outside of the home. If the introduction is between two dogs, have them meet in the front yard while both are leashed. If you are worried about aggression, have a barrier (such as a fence) between the two dogs at first. It’s not typically recommended that your pets meet inside a shelter, because shelters can be loud and stressful environments.
Make exposures positive. When your new pet and current pet interact in a friendly manner, reward both pets with treats and praise. Remember that it may take three to four weeks for your new pet to adjust to his new home and family, so continue to offer rewards during this adjustment period.
Give each pet his own space. Each pet should have his own belongings – including food and water bowls, bedding and toys. Allow your pet to have a space to be alone if desired. By giving each pet his own space, you are providing a sense of independence and helping to alleviate stress they may feel in a multi-pet household.
For more information about integrating pets into your home, talk to your primary veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist.