Merging pets into family not easy
She has fallen in love with him, and he with her. The time has come to blend their lives by living in the same house, and the whole idea is romantic yet sobering, uplifting yet scary.
One reason it’s scary is that she has a cat and he has a dog and a cat. Dog and cat happy Pets can learn to get on. They really can . . .
How will the four-legged family members get on with each other as the two households merge?
It’s a big question that’s been on the mind lately of a Four Legs Good reader named Katherine.
‘‘Looks like I will be moving in with my boyfriend in the not too distant future,’’ Katherine emailed me to say. ‘‘He has a dog of about one, a boisterous Viszla, and a cat of about nine years of age. The cat and dog exist relatively happily together. The dog is outside most of the time and the cat gives him a swipe every now and then to show who is boss!
‘‘I’m pretty nervous about how my cat and his cat, and my cat and his dog, might get on. She is a bit of a toughie in my neighbour- hood despite being a small cat, and chases other cats off. She’s none too sure about dogs though! Any tips?’’
The ‘‘will they get on?’’ question faces anyone who decides to take on another pet, whether or not a human being is part of the deal. And a lot of people have done that – introduced a new pet to an ‘‘old’’ pet – with brilliant success. We’ve even managed it in my house.
Here are some distillations of that wisdom:
1. Take it slow. Give the new pets and the old pets some time to adjust to the new set-up. Think about taking a staged approach, starting with the brief encounter and working toward the extended one.
2. Give them space. Let your established pet have an exit route in case meeting a new pet is stressful. Allocate a certain space – a spare bedroom, say – for the new pet to occupy for a time and become confident in, before giving it the run of more rooms. When your pets are at the stage of being in the same room together, allow them each a bit of space such as a bed or blanket or the top of a catclimber.
3. Be a sensitive diplomat. Supervise things, be patient, be generous with treats, use the tool of distraction. It’s just like foreign policy, only with more tummy tickles.
4. Be aware of the importance of smells. Your new pet and your old pet need to get use to each other’s scent and you can help this along through using the same brush on them, or otherwise bringing the pets’ smell into play before a physical introduction.
5. Use cages and crates – they give you some control. Have the new pet in a cage or crate when first meeting the animals it is to share the house with; the crate can be the new pet’s safe place.
6. Use doors. A door can close off an area for one pet to feel safe in. A glass door can mediate the early meeting so the pets can start getting used to each other’s presence.
7. Use neutral ground. For example, if you’re bringing Cat No 2 into the home, first have both it and Cat No 1 stay a few days in the same cattery – they’ll get to know each other.
I’m sure you can add to or sharpen these ideas from your own experience. There are countless success stories – such as the way my old cat slowly adjusted to having one dog, then two dogs, sharing his house.
And Katherine has updated me, a week or two after the family merger. She reports the ‘‘odd hiss or rrreeow, a bit of chasey, and definitely the odd paw in the face for the dog’’, but the two cats and dog are co-existing ‘‘fairly well’’. ‘‘We have only just started letting my cat outside now, but all in all a success so far.’’
Love uniting: So what happens when two people merge their lives and their pets? Nick Barnett tackles the issue.
STRESSFUL TIMES: South Waikato SPCA inspector and centre manager opens up about the stress of her job.