A few weeks ago a nice woman brought to Wildwoods what she believed to be an orphaned bobcat kitten. Turns out it was just a lost domestic feline. After several failed attempts to re-home the sweet, fluffy, playful kitty I decided it was fate and we adopted Pickle.
He’s just 6 months old and quite the handful. Stormy, our other cat, is very cautious around him and is quite content to stare from afar and growl if he gets too close. Rye, the dog, just cannot contain his excitement and can’t stop himself from getting all up in Pickle’s face. He just wants to be bff’s! Pickle, however, would prefer to remain acquaintances for now. He’s warming up to the dog, though, and is testing his boundaries with Stormy. It’s a bit of a chaotic household at the moment, but things will calm down eventually.
I’d like to take this opportunity to advocate for the “Slow and steady wins the race” approach to integrating a new animal into an established domestic animal kingdom. We took this approach when we introduced Rye into our home after Stormy and they are now cute and cuddly with one another.
Keep in mind: I am not a veterinarian nor an animal expert. I am a person who has had this particular experience and I am simply relating what has worked for me. If you are thinking of adding a new pet to the family, talk with your veterinarian first.
- Get a room. Keep the new pet separated from the established pets. The goal is to make sure your current pets know they can still trust you, and that they are in control. We are fortunate enough to have a spare bedroom so that is where Pickle is staying for the time being. The other pets are not allowed in the new pets’ space and vice versa, however they should be able to smell one another. Swap blankets or other items that smell like one another so they can get used to it before meeting face to face.
- Smell, but not see. After a day or two, lock the current pets in another room and let your new pet explore the rest of the house for a while. He or she can get their scent around the place while smelling those of the existing pets. That way the new guy knows this is someone else’s house, but he can get used to it safely. Put the new pet back in his or her room and let the established pets explore the new smells. Do this a few times over the course of a couple days.
- See, but not interact. Next, set up an area of the home where you can keep the new pet separated, but everyone can see each other. We set up a baby gate at either end of our kitchen so the little one can’t get out, and we make sure the others don’t jump over the gate while we sit inside and play with the new pet. Everyone feels safe and non-threatened because of the physical barrier, but they can all see and inspect one another. As before, a day or two of this (new pet should still have his own separated place to be when you can’t supervise).
- Status update. At this point, read your pets carefully; if they are not ready for the next step, stay with the previous step until they are. You want to be sure that everyone feels comfortable enough to not be traumatized, creating a lasting bad impression of you or the other animals.
- Supervised interaction. If they are ready, with supervision, let everyone out in the same space without a barrier. Make sure no one beats up on anyone else, but keep in mind that some posturing and boundary testing is normal. The pecking order must be established, after all. Just make sure no one is abusive. If it gets to be too much, put the new pet back into his room. You may be at this step for a LOOOOONG time before everyone can be trusted to behave themselves. Meanwhile, the new guy should still have his own safe space, separate from the others.
- Short, unsupervised togetherness. Once the boundaries have been established and everyone is getting along without aggression, you can probably trust them to be on their own unsupervised. Test it out by leaving for an hour or so. If things went well, increase the amount of time they spend together unsupervised until they can be completely trusted with one another.
Doing things this way is not even a little bit easy. It can take several weeks to get to the point when everyone can be trusted to be alone with one another. During this time it can be hard to find time to spend with both groups. You don’t want anyone to feel neglected, replaced or threatened, but it’s important that one animal is not traumatized by meeting another one too quickly. And don’t expect your animals to be quiet about this arrangement, especially if they are young. They’ll get lonely and might whine a lot, but be strong. The point is to go slow and provide as much predictability and stability as is possible for all the pets involved. In the end, it will all be worth it.