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Healthy Paws: Introducing a New Pet to the Mix

Healthy Paws

Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.

Two weeks ago, we talked about bringing home a new baby.  But what about a new pet?  Sometimes this can be even more stressful for the existing pet(s) than a tiny new human in the house.  

When considering adding a new pet to the mix, here are a few things to think about:

  • Consider the needs of your existing pet:  Is is a young dog who needs a playmate to burn some energy?  Is it an older cat who rules the roost?  Are there two pets that have been bonded for years?  Is your dog cat-friendly or your cat dog-friendly?  
    • It may be advisable, when adding a pet of the same species, to get a pet of the opposite sex.  While not guaranteed, this may favor a more peaceful existence.  
    • While adding a puppy or kitten where there is an existing senior pet may be tempting, with the thought that it may bring out the inner puppy or kitten in the older pet, there is also the possibility that the younger pet will “pester” or otherwise provoke the more senior pet.  Therefore, the personality of the older pet should help dictate what type and age of pet is added to the mix.  
  • Do you have the appropriate “resources” for two pets,  or are you willing to add them?  It is important for each pet to have it’s own crate or home base, feeding area, bed or lounging area, and toys (though they may decide on their own to share).
    • A general rule of thumb is to have one more litter box than the number of cats you have — do you have the space for these additional litter boxes?
    • Do you have space for an extra bed or crate for a second dog?  
    • Can you separate the two pets during meal time?  

Once you do make the decision to bring a new  pet home, the next step is to figure out how to best introduce them.  

  • Dogs are best introduced on neutral territory.  Going for a walk is a good way for two dogs to become acclimated to one another without really interacting face-to-face. Try not to let them interact head on until the end of the walk, when hopefully a bit of the excess energy and excitement will have worn off and there will be less chance for an incident.
  • When adding a cat to a home with an existing dog or cat, it’s best to prepare a separate room or area for the new cat — with bed, food, litter box, toys, etc. Ideally, this area should be gated off but not entirely closed off from the rest of the house or the area that the existing pet has access to.  This way, the pets can sniff each other through the gate, but aren’t forced into an interaction.  This should continue for at least several days, or until hairs aren’t raising on either side of the gate.  Once the gate comes down, it is advisable to be sure there are “escape routes” for the smaller/more submissive pet. 

Once introduced, it is important to let your pets establish their own hierarchy.  Trying to do this for them can sometimes lead to worsening dominance issues between them. Additionally, where it may be tempting to favor the more submissive pet, this can actually make matters worse; it’s often better to feed and/or deliver attention to the dominant pet first.  

Despite all these precautions, adding a second pet is a fun and exciting time and a great addition to the family.  Many rescue groups and shelters will allow potential adopters to bring their pet to meet the new pet, or even bring the pet home on a trial basis.  Additionally, these groups are great resources for recommendations on what type of pet may fit in best with your household and existing pet.  We recommend taking advantage of all the resources they have to offer!  

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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