Introducing a new puppy or kitten to your existing pets

 

puppy in arms

 

It’s becoming more and more common these days for households to have more than one pet, often resulting in multiple cats and/or dogs living under one roof. Whilst cat and dogs can often become great friends, if they get off on the wrong foot then their relationship might end up being a little less ‘Homeward Bound’ and a little more ‘Tom and Jerry’! To help with this, we have put together some tips on how to introduce a new puppy or kitten to your existing pet(s).

 


 

 

Preparation

 

Here we will consider some of the tools you might need when introducing a new puppy/kitten to your existing pets.

  • Litter trays: If you plan on having multiple cats in your household, it is prudent to purchase multiple litter trays, to avoid any potential issues of territoriality. A good rule of thumb is to have one litter tray per cat, plus one extra.
  • Feeding time: In the same way, provide each pet with their own food bowl. You will want to feed them separately (at least to begin with) to prevent disagreements.
  • A safe place: It will be useful to provide a private, safe area for both your existing pet and for your new arrival, where they can hide if they feel scared. For your new kitten or puppy, a spare room is an ideal location to keep them at first; they can gradually explore the rest of the house as they get more confident. The same goes for your existing pet; move all their essential requirements (food, water, their bed and a litter tray) to a private area that is just for them. Even confident pets may be unsettled by a new arrival, so easy access to these necessities away from the new puppy/kitten will help to reduce the stress associated with this process. Ensuring that your cat has access to lots of high places can also be a handy tip, as they’ll often feel safer when observing the action from higher up!
  • Stair gates: Stair gates are a great tool for separating areas and keeping dogs upstairs/downstairs; they’re also great for early face-to-face meetings because pets can see and smell each other without being able to reach each other!
  • Dog crates: Given how small some young kittens and puppies are, sometimes stair gates won’t always be appropriate for face-to-face meetings with as they can easily slip through the bars. In these cases, dog crates provide a fantastic alternative. Get your kitten used to the crate by setting it up in the room that you have set aside for them, and arrange a litter tray, bed, water bowl and some places to hide inside. This way the kitten can get used to going in and out of the crate, and the crate itself won’t be an added stressor when it comes to introducing them to your existing pet! For puppies, many people will be planning to crate train them anyway, and if not then this is another great reason to consider it!
  • House lines: House lines are like short leads that are designed to stay on the puppy without them really noticing. The lead will simply trail behind them for the most part, but can be picked up if the puppy is getting over-excited. These are great training aids, and may be useful for introducing puppies to your existing dog or cat.

 

Getting started - the power of smell! 

kitten asleep on bed

 

As many of you will already know, smell is a hugely important sense for cats and dogs, providing them with lots of information about their surroundings and any other animals nearby. Chances are your existing pet and your new arrival will both be aware of each other long before they first see each other. This means that you can start to get them used to each other before their first meeting by harnessing the power of smell!

Once they’ve arrived, we would recommend keeping your new puppy or kitten separate from your existing pet for the first few days. This will give your new arrival time to adjust to their new environment (without overwhelming them), whilst also allowing your existing pet to start to get used to their new housemate’s scent for a few days. During this time, you can help things along through the process of ‘scent swapping’. There are several ways to do this:

  • Stroke each pet one after the other without washing your hands.
  • Swap their bedding regularly.
  • Using a soft cloth, wipe the top of your new pet’s head, and then spread their scent around the house by touching the cloth on the furniture, carpets etc.
  • Over the course of the first few days/week, allow your new pet to explore the rest of the house when your existing pet is not around.

Through this process, your new and existing pet will begin gathering information about it each other, so they won’t be total strangers the first time they meet face-to-face!

 

Stop and think…

Okay, so you’ve prepared your safe places, stair gates and dog crates, and you’ve been scent swapping for a the past few days/week and it’s almost time for your pets to have their first face to face meeting! However, before you introduce them, be sure to give some thought to how your existing pet is going to feel about this. If you have a cat already, what previous experience have they had with other animals? Have they been chased by dogs in the past meaning that they’re terrified of the mere sight of them, or are they a chilled out character that is unlikely to bat an eyelid at the arrival of a new housemate? Think about your dogs in the same way; are they a placid pooch who’s likely to leave your new puppy/kitten to its own devices, or are they the kind of highly-strung hound who’s likely to chase a new arrival out the door at the first opportunity?

By giving some thought to these things, you can plan out their introductions and decide how quickly/slowly to take things. Careful planning will make a successful introduction much more likely, and will ultimately give your pets the best chance of becoming friends.

First introductions

kitten and cat

 

This is where things become a little different depending on the species of pets you are thinking about introducing, we’ll look at each of these different situations one at a time.

Introducing a new kitten to a cat

Although they are the same species, introducing a new kitten and an older cat can still be a difficult process and needs to be carried out carefully. In these circumstances:

  • Ensure both cats are healthy and up to date with their vaccinations.
  • Keep the kitten in a crate initially, and allow the adult cat to approach in their own time. Do not force the adult cat to approach.
  • Make sure that the adult cat has an easy route back to their ‘safe place’, and make sure that the kitten has places to hide in the crate if they are scared.
  • Use food to distract both cats during early interactions. This will also help to create a positive association in each animal’s mind.
  • If either cat begins to get aggressive then distract them or separate them; this is a signal that you will need to take things more slowly. Do not let the cats fight; claws and teeth can do serious damage to a small kitten (or an adult cat!).
  • We mentioned earlier that each cat should have their own space in different parts of the house. As they become more familiar with each other, allow the kitten to explore more and more of the house, allowing their territories to overlap and eventually merge into one.

 

Introducing a new puppy to a cat 

This is potentially the most difficult of all the situations we will consider. Puppies are often excitable and boisterous, and (at the risk of offending the cat-lovers out there) cats can sometimes be quite anxious and antisocial.  If handled badly, this could potentially be a very stressful situation for your cat. Here are some handy tips:

  • Take your puppy for a long walk (or a tiring session of playing!) before the meeting, so that hopefully they will be calmer.
  • Start with your puppy behind a stairgate and on a lead (it is crucial that they are not allowed to chase your cat!)
  • Make sure your cat has an easy route back to their ‘safe place’ Have some treats on hand and reward your dog for calm behaviour; use food to distract them at first so that your cat can have a good look without too much unwanted attention.
  • Allow your cat to approach in their own time; do not force your cat closer at any point.
  • Keep these interactions short at first, and stop them if things are getting too much for either pet.
  • As they get closer, if your cat is getting aggressive then avoid letting them swipe at the puppy. Whilst a quick bop on the nose can be an effective learning tool, cats’ claws can do a lot of damage, especially to eyes!
  • Gradually increase the length of these interactions as your pets get more comfortable with each other. Hopefully, your cat will grow in confidence and your puppy will become more relaxed on each attempt.

 

dog and puppy

 

Introducing a new puppy to a dog 

Introducing a new puppy is often easier with an existing dog than a cat, however, this process still needs to be handled appropriately to prevent potential harm to either dog. In this situation:

  • Ensure both dogs are healthy and up to date with their vaccinations.
  • Put away your existing dog’s favourite toys and anything else they might get possessive over.
  • Try to carry out the introduction in a ‘neutral area’, or at least somewhere that your existing dog isn’t likely to get particularly territorial over. Make sure that the meeting point provides both dogs with an escape, should they feel scared.
  • In most instances it will be fine to keep both puppies on a lead at a safe distance, however if you have any concerns about the temperament of either dog then it would be sensible to use a crate or stair gate for extra protection.
  • Keep treats on hand to distract both dogs if necessary, and reward good behaviour.
  • Let them sniff each other and even play together – if that’s what they want to do. Keep a close eye on them and keep any interactions gentle, using the treats to distract them if things get too rough.
  • Try to remain calm. Dogs can sense when you feel uncomfortable, and this has the potential to put them on edge.
  • Keep these interactions short, and gradually increase them as both dogs get more comfortable.

 

Introducing a new kitten to a dog 

Introducing a new kitten to a dog can be carried out in a similar way to introducing a new puppy to a dog, with some slight variations:

  • Take particular care. Kittens are often smaller and more delicate than puppies, and any bite (even an accidental one) could be very dangerous and even fatal. It is advisable to the kitten in a crate for early interactions.
  • Keep the dog under strict control at all times, especially early on; they may be more likely to try to chase a kitten.
  • When using a crate, keep the dog at a good distance at first as the kitten will have fewer escape options and this could be quite a frightening experience.
  • Gradually let the dog and kitten get closer and the interactions get longer, eventually removing the crate when you think the time is right.

 

Becoming long term friends

puppies

 

In all of the instances above, it is important to pay attention to how things are going and only allow things to progress at a rate that is comfortable to both animals. Be sure to supervise every interaction between your pets, and never leave them unattended until you are absolutely certain that they will both be safe. Even then, it is sensible to provide escape routes and safe places for each animal, should they want to spend some time alone! This could include cat flaps, and beds in high areas for cats; and designated beds or crates for dogs.

We hope this advice proves helpful if you are considering introducing a new puppy or kitten to your existing pets. Remember to take things slowly and tailor the process to the specific requirements of your pets’, bearing in mind their unique experiences and personalities. Although this can seem a little daunting, if handled correctly it can result in loyal friendships and a harmonious household, which can make you and your pets lives much happier!

 


 
Getting ready for the arrival of a new family kitten or puppy? View our guide on preparing for your new puppy or kitten!

 

Meet the Author

James Henderson

James graduated Cambridge University and went straight into general practice as a small animal vet. James always had a keen interest and passion for nutrition and its role in the treatment of disease in small animals.

In his spare time James enjoys travelling, playing rugby, reading and spending time with his cat.