Like siblings, sometimes pets in the same family don’t get along. But this shouldn’t discourage you from opening your home to various pets. There are many ways to mesh different breeds and species. They don’t have to be best friends, but they need to learn.
Challenge: Adding a pet to the family
Solution: When you bring home a new pet, dogs and cats usually go through three levels of acceptance, says Dr. Gary Norsworthy, DVM, DABVP, owner of Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio, Texas. “First, the original pet will be hostile toward the new pet. Then, in the second level, the original pet will be tolerant, changing to an ‘I won’t kill you, but don’t get in my way’ attitude. And the third level is, hopefully, bonding. Some pets go through this in an hour; some never get all the way through the process.”
To help smooth this progression, start by making a proper introduction. Let your pets look at and sniff each other, but don’t allow them to have physical contact. For example, keep the new pet in a crate while the other household pets get used to the unfamiliar smell. When not crated, keep the new pet in a closed-off room, such as a utility room. Allow supervised interaction only after you think the behavior on all sides seems calm and friendly. Keep favorite toys out of the area to avoid spats, and make sure pets have access to a safe retreat, such as a pet bed or open crate.
Depending on how your pets react, you might need to monitor short meetings for some time before giving the pet full access to the house. Also, consult your veterinarian about introduction tips specific for your pets and family.
Challenge: Cats and dogs that bicker
Solution: While your cat and dog may never snuggle together, you can ensure they don’t hurt each other. “Cats usually know enough to stay away, but we have to work on training the dog to stay away from the cat, especially the hunting breeds, like Terriers or Retrievers,” Dr. Burcham says. She recommends starting the learning process by doing what she calls “training an incompatible behavior.” Here’s an explanation: “Teach the dog what ‘go lie down’ means. If the dog gets up to chase the cat, tell the dog to ‘go lie down.’ If he lies down, he won’t be able to give chase, and maybe he’ll get a treat.”
Even pets of the same species tangle over toys, food and your attention. If these scuffles are happening, try adding more toys to the mix so pets don’t have to share. Also try coaxing each pet into its own space, Dr. Burcham says. To separate cats, place each cat’s food, litterbox, scratching post and bed in a different area of the house. Give dogs quiet spaces of their own, such as a bed or crate where they can escape from the other household animals. You may need to completely separate dogs at meal times to avoid conflict. Consistent training and enforcement of the house rules will keep you in charge of the pack.
Challenge: One pet dominates your attention
Solution: Whether because of its personality or needs, you may find yourself doting on one pet. For example, a new puppy may absorb your time with veterinary visits, obedience class and potty training. Or your cat might not interact with you as much as your dog. “Cats aren’t gushy with their affection the way dogs are,” Dr. Norsworthy says. “But they still want and need affection.”
Remember that all your pets require daily exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy, healthy and well behaved. Some pets even develop undesirable behaviors if they feel bored or lonely. Spread your love around — and keep your pets out of trouble — by taking all your dogs for a walk every day and spending quality time with each cat. Soon your harmonious household will be the envy of families everywhere.