SPCA New Zealand

Introducing a new furry family member

09 March 2020
Introducing a new furry family member

Introducing a new furry family member

Bringing a new furry family member home is an exciting time for the humans in a family, but for your pets, it can be a little stressful or scary.

Just like the arrival of a new baby, everything changes for the existing members of the family, and you can't assume that everyone will welcome the new arrival just as happily as you.

Give your existing pets plenty of attention. Remember, their life has been disrupted by the new arrival so make time to give them all the attention they have received in the past. Try and keep the existing routine the same while they adjust and cut your existing pet a little slack, change is not easy for anyone!

Here’s our best tips on how to introduce your new pets and start a happy relationship together.

Dog to cat

Introducing a dog and cat takes time and care. A dog can seriously injure or kill a cat, even if they are only playing. Dogs may want to chase and play with cats, and cats usually become afraid and defensive. Some dogs have a high prey drive and should not be left alone with a cat until you are confident they are not a threat.

Do not introduce your cat and dog face-to-face immediately. Instead, let them sniff each other’s bedding and toys while the other animal is not around. This will help them to get used to each other’s smell while feeling safe.

Next, feed them at the same time on opposite sides of a closed door, so they associate something enjoyable with each other’s smells and noises. Gradually move the dishes closer until your pets eat calmly on either side of the door. If your cat or dog is not very food motivated you could replace the feeding with something else they like (for example, grooming or cuddles).

Once the two animals are happy and calm on either side of the closed door, you can try a controlled face-to-face introduction. The cat and the dog should be on opposite sides of the room. Put your dog’s lead on and ask them to sit or lie down and stay. Muzzle your dog using a basket style muzzle if you have concerns about initial aggression towards your cat. Have a second person offer your cat some treats or grooming and cuddles as rewards, if that is preferred.

Don’t rush or try to force interactions. Allow your cat the freedom to explore the room. Keep rewarding your dog for calm behaviour (e.g. with praise and food treats) to reinforce appropriate behaviours around the cat. If your cat runs away or becomes aggressive, you are progressing too fast and need to go back to previous steps.

Lots of short periods of introduction time are better than a few long periods of time. Do this until both pets are tolerating each other’s presence without fear, excitement or aggression.

Never allow your dog to chase the cat, as once this starts it can quickly change from play to hunting and can be very dangerous for the cat. Always ensure your cat has an escape route and a place to hide. Cats like to be able to climb higher than your dog.

Until you are certain your cat and dog will be safe together, keep the two separated when you are not home. Unfortunately, some dogs will never be safe to leave alone with cats, especially if they have a very high prey drive. In this case, you should always make sure the cat and dog are never left together alone.

Dog to dog

If you already have a dog, you should have a controlled meeting with your potential new dog to make sure they are compatible before bringing the new animal home. Once they have come, have someone take your existing dog for a walk while you let your new dog explore your house. He will be able to smell your dog but won’t have the added stress of meeting him while in unfamiliar territory. This will make sure that they have some familiarity before they meet.

Set up a separate area or crate for your new dog/puppy with water and bed. This will prevent negative interactions at night or when unsupervised. Let your new dog explore the house and garden on a lead with you there to disrupt any unwanted behaviour and let them become familiar with the area without being frightened.

Introduce your dogs with both of them on a lead in a neutral, fenced area (such as outside). It is best to avoid a face to face meeting at first; instead, recruit another person to parallel walk with the other dog and gradually reduce the distance if both dog’s body language remains soft and loose.

If dogs are calm, you can let them briefly sniff and interact but keep first sniffs short and to avoid keep the interaction positive. Keep dogs moving to avoid tension building. Try to remain relaxed, as your behaviour will influence how the dogs react. Release both dogs from their leads once they appear relaxed. Monitor but don’t interfere as they get to know each other.

If there is aggression, such as excessive snapping or snarling, you may need to intervene. Take great care not to get yourself hurt. You may want to have something to hand like a cushion to push the dog apart if needed without putting parts of your body at risk or something to distract the dogs, such as a water pistol or hose.

Once separated, give them time to settle before introducing them again. Discuss with a reputable dog trainer or your veterinarian the best way to handle the specific aggression being shown.

Only introduce toys once your dogs are getting along and you can supervise them. Keep feeding bowls apart or in a separate area to begin with and always supervise feeding. You could start by feeding the dogs with a leash when they are on the lead, so you have control if one dog finishes first. Always use separate bowls.

Cat to cat

Cats are territorial and need to be introduced to other animals slowly so they can get used to each other before a face-to-face meeting. Try to be patient, it may take a few weeks or months for them to settle in and get on.

When you bring your new cat home, confine them to one room with their own litter box, food, water, a bed, and a hiding place (this can be an igloo style bed or even a cardboard box). Take your new cat directly to this room and don’t be tempted to let your resident cat have a look!

Swap the cats’ sleeping blankets or beds so they become used to the other cats’ scents. Try using a calming cat pheromone diffuser (Feliway, for example) in the new cat’s room and a room the existing cat spends a lot of time.

Let your new cat explore the house on their own while you confine your other animals to the new cat’s room. They can experience each other’s scents without a face-to-face meeting and the new cat can become familiar with the house.

Feed existing pets and the newcomer on opposite sides of the closed door to the new cat’s room, so they associate something enjoyable with each other’s smells and sounds. If normal food is not rewarding enough for your particular cat, you can give treats or use grooming and cuddles as rewards. Gradually move the cats closer to the door until they eat (or are groomed/cuddled) calmly on either side of the door.

The next step is to visually introduce the cats. Use the same feeding procedure but with the door open and a screen or baby pet gate to control physical access. You can drape or pin a towel over the gate, to allow you to gradually increase the amount of visual access your cats have to each other. Signs your cats are getting comfortable with each other include, sniffing noses, playing through the door or rubbing against the door.

If this goes well, you can allow cats to meet in person! Introduce the two cats slowly, keep meetings short and monitor the meetings at first. If you see signs of aggression, separate the cats immediately, go back a few steps in the process and give the cats a chance to calm down before reintroducing them.

Never raise your voice if a confrontation occurs. You can expect mild protests, maybe a little hissing or vocalising. Don’t intervene if small spats occur (hissing, growling, or posturing). However, you should intervene if you see any kind of physical confrontation or aggression (for example chasing, swiping, charging etc).

If you need to intervene separate the cats carefully. Do not try to pick them up or raise your voice. Again, have something on hand like a cushion to push the cats apart if needed without risking injury to yourself! Cats can redirect aggression if they are wound up, afraid or upset and may hurt you unintentionally.

Keep feeding bowls apart or in separate area and always supervise feeding. Each cat will also need theor own food bowl and a safe hiding place. Provide at least one litter tray per cat plus one extra tray in separate locations.

If things don't go to plan

You can’t force your pets to like each other but following the tips above maximizes your chances a harmonious household.

If introductions don’t go well, seek professional advice immediately. The longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve. Most conflicts can be resolved with professional guidance: discuss your options with your veterinarian, a behaviourist or SPCA.

Unfortunately, sometimes animals are not compatible. If you have tried everything and your pets still do not get along you may have to consider keeping them separated long term or whether your home is right for the new pet.

Hello! Choose your nearest SPCA Centre and see content specific to your location:
Hit enter to submit