Some cats love company. Some cats don’t. Introducing your existing cat to a new pet can feel like a stressful time for everyone, but there are a few things you can do to help make the process as smooth as possible.
Here’s what our experienced vets want you to know about bringing home a new pet when you already have a cat.
Before You Decide to Get Another Pet…
The preparation phase actually starts before you decide whether or not to bring a new pet home. It’s important to ask yourself some tough questions about your existing cat. Is she sociable? Is she generally pretty go-with-the-flow? Does she love other cats but hate dogs? Is she advanced in age and very set in her ways?
If you do think your cat is ready for another pet or would specifically benefit from having a playmate, carefully consider what kind of pet makes the most sense. Cats and dogs may have a reputation for being at odds, but some cats are actually more territorial around other cats than animals of other species.
- A shy, skittish cat is a bad match for a rambunctious puppy
- A lazy cat who likes to be entertained may be a good fit for a kitten
- A cat who previously lived with other cats will match best with an existing cat
Only you know what your cat can handle. If she’s an all-day sleeper, a highly-active, vocal second pet is going to turn her whole existence upside down. At the end of the day, if you think introducing a new pet into your cat’s world will reduce rather than enhance her quality of life, think twice.
Preparing to Bring the New Pet Home
Before you bring a new cat or dog home, prepare your house. Set aside a space in the house specifically for the new pet, preferably far away from the area your cat has already marked as her own. This area is where you should store the new pet’s bedding, and toys, and even food and water (for the time being.) The space should also have a couple of “hiding” spots available if the new pet should need some time to retreat. If you’re bringing home a new cat, you might want to get a second litter box so each cat has her own.
If it’s possible, you can swap blankets or other clothing items with each animal’s scent before the big day. Pheromones are really important to cats and yours will adjust better if she recognizes the smell that comes home with you on The Big Day.
Whether you’re bringing home a puppy or kitten, be sure they’ve been fully vaccinated for worms and other communicable diseases before they come home!
Bringing a New Pet Into Your Cat’s Home
The day is finally here! Try and create a calm and collected atmosphere before you leave to pick up the new pet. Play with your cat to tire her out a bit and assure her you’ll always love her just the same! Don’t bring your current cat with you in the car to pick up the new pet; this just confuses things.
Introducing Your Cat to a New Dog
Cats are generally pretty wary of dogs, usually because dogs are much stronger, larger, and louder than felines. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s probably going to take several weeks or even months for your cat to warm up to the idea of adding a dog to the family; expect her to sulk, hide, and generally act very e tu, Brute!? for quite a while.
Before you bring the dog inside, allow your cat to sniff something with the dog’s scent on it if you haven’t already. Take your cat into her safe spot – preferably a room with a door or somewhere else the dog can’t access – and play with her calmly for a few minutes. When you let the dog inside, your cat will probably “hide” somewhere in her safe place for a while until the dog calms down. Eventually, take the dog on a walk so your cat can “smell” the dog around the house without the threat of the dog himself.
Over time, allow both pets freedom to roam but keep your dog nearby to pet him soothingly and reward him with treats while he’s calm. Do not force either animal to “meet” the other; they’ll do this on their own time. Don’t leave the pets alone together until you’ve had at least a week of incident-free interactions. Allow bonding to take place at your cat’s preferred speed.
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Introducing Your Cat to a New Cat
When you first bring the new cat home, take her straight into her new “private” area. (It’s helpful to have two people involved in this part of the process!) Spend at least 30-60 minutes playing with the new cat in her space so she can get acclimated. If possible, have someone else simultaneously playing with or petting your existing cat to assure her everything’s fine.
The next step is to let the cats smell each other through a closed door. Watch the cats as they investigate each other and note any signs of aggression or apprehension. If either cat becomes aggressive, separate them and try again in a few hours or even the next day. It may take several days for the cats to relax around one another…remember it’s a process!
In the beginning, everything might need to be done separately. Over time, your cats will learn to live with one another in some capacity and will hopefully become friends! It usually takes 6-12 months for two cats to truly form a bond to one another. If it’s been more than a month and or or both cats are still showing signs of aggression, talk to your vet about whether or not cohabitation is the most responsible option.
Need more help? Adding a new animal to the family can be a big adjustment. Talk to your vet about what she recommends you do given the specific temperament of your cat. There’s no question too small!