7 Tips for Blending Furry Families

Four simple letters — L-O-V-E — can turn worlds (and even tiny apartments) upside down.

You and your significant other may be walking on air this Valentine’s Day, but how will your respective pets handle more together time?

Whether you’re just dating, getting serious, or, more importantly, moving in together, it’s recommended that you approach pet introductions slowly and carefully from the very beginning.

Rachel Maso, certified professional dog trainer and animal behavior associate for the ASPCA, shared her best suggestions for introducing pets who are suddenly siblings.

1. Location is everything.

It’s widely known that most cats are homebodies, so Maso says if you’re introducing a cat to a new dog, it’s best to bring the dog to the cat’s territory. If you’re introducing dogs, plan to have them meet on “neutral ground where neither dog is likely to feel territorial.”

2. Separate animals in the beginning. 

“For the first couple of days, it’s important to keep the animals apart by confining them to separate areas of your home at different periods of time in order to allow each animal plenty of time to investigate the other’s scent and to allow the new animal to adjust to their new environment,” Maso says. “This separation could be as simple as crating your new dog or keeping them in a separate room for an hour or so each day to allow your established cat or dog time to roam free and investigate the newcomer’s smell.”

During those all important first few weeks, keep animals separated when no one is home to keep an eye on things.

3. Make leashed introductions.

A dog meeting a cat: “If you’re introducing a new dog to your resident cat, you can allow both animals to be in the same area at the same time after a few days,” Maso explains, “but keep the dog securely leashed while the cat roams freely.” Keep a keen eye on your cat’s body language for signs of stress “and if you’re concerned, introduce the animals on opposite sides of a pet gate.”  Continue with this cautious interaction “until the dog is calm and ignores the cat, and the cat is calm, eating and using the litterbox normally, and continue indefinitely until both the dog and cat seem happy and relaxed around each other.”

A dog meeting a dog: “Introduce them in neutral territory, with both animals on leash,” Maso says. “Walk the dogs side by side with a safe distance between the dogs, then cross paths to allow the dogs to smell where the other has walked.”  Do this for a few minutes, then let the dogs meet. “As the dogs approach each other, it’s important to closely monitor their body language for signs of stress or discomfort,” she explains. “If you don’t know how to tell the difference between dogs getting to know each other and dogs who don’t like each other, have someone there who does like a certified dog trainer.”

4. In the beginning, supervision is best. 

Once the animals reach a visible level of comfort with each other, you can start off-leash interactions.  “But closely monitor all of their interactions for the first 24 hours or more, until you are confident they are having positive interactions in all possible scenarios,” Maso says. “It’s also important to ensure there are no toys, food or treats left around the home that the animals could potentially fight over. In order to keep the animals comfortable, feed them their meals in separate rooms or with a gate dividing them for the first couple of days.”

5. Be patient.

Don’t force a friendship, these things take time. “If during the introductions either animal is growling, lunging, or showing other signs of aggressive behavior, give them a break and try again on another day,” Maso says. “The most important thing to keep in mind is that your current pet and new pet need to be introduced very slowly so they can get used to each other before a face-to-face meeting, and slow introductions help prevent fearful or aggressive behavior from developing.”

6. Seek professional help if needed. 

You and your mate may not be able to figure out this friendship on your own. “If you are feeling unsure or uncomfortable about the animals’ initial interaction it is never too soon to ask for help because if things do not improve, they can escalate quickly,” Maso says. “A certified professional dog trainer can give you advice on how to proceed.”

7. Do your best to reduce stress.

As your animals get to know each other — or you work toward finding a professional to facilitate the process — give them each room to breathe.

“It’s important to continue keeping the animals separated and to give both animals as much of an enriching experience as possible,” she says. “This may mean feeding them meals through puzzle toys in their separate areas, giving them additional treats, and asking a friend to help you exercise them individually. The less stress each animal experiences while the other is in the home, the more likely you are to have success when you reintroduce them.”

For more tips from the ASPCA on introducing two cats, visit their website. 


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Amy Jamieson

A former senior editor for People.com, Amy launched People Pets for People magazine in 2008. Now she writes about pets, lifestyle and more from her bucolic saltbox in Collinsville, Connecticut, usually with a cat in her lap and a dog at her feet.

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