Safe Introduction Of New Unequal Pets
With Willie’s arrival we are experiencing the process of introducing pets of different species to each other. You may be able to benefit from our experiences.
Poor Martha has been through this before. When Pearl and Peyton came to live with us as tiny babies, Martha was traumatized. So much so that I asked myself over and over, “What in the world have I done to my sweet kitty?”
Within three weeks, however, Martha was interacting with them and before long she became dependent on their presence. If I took them to work for the day, she missed them and roamed the house looking for them.
When Peyton passed away in 2005 we knew she acted a little differently, but it was subtle.
When Pearl died, earlier this year Martha fell into a deep funk and barely left the bedroom for days. Because of her kidney disease, we didn’t know if she was having trouble with that or grieving. As she began to bounce back, we knew it was missing her interaction with Pearl that was her problem.
When Willie showed up, Martha was stunned. He’s quite the yapper, so he announced his presence to the street pretty quickly upon arriving. Again, she stayed secluded in the bedroom, this time for a full week. When they did interact, usually with Willie wandering into the bedroom, it consisted of Martha hissing and growling down at him from the bed.
We went on a four-day vacation. Willie stayed at the clinic during our absence, as his youthfulness makes him high-maintenance, while Martha stayed home. Perhaps absence made her heart grow fonder of him, because when we arrived home Martha began to venture into the living room at night, which is her routine. The first night she hissed, growled, complained and left. However, the next night she decided to jump to the back of the couch (where he can’t yet reach) and complain from her lofty perch.
This, then, is the foundation of the best approach to use in the cat/puppy introduction scenario. First, create some mystery. Keeping pets separated allows them to “wonder” what’s going on beyond the door or room separating them. “I hear new sounds, I smell new smells, I can be aloof or I can investigate further.”
In our case we were confident that Martha would position herself where she was safe from Willie. And, we were none too sure that Willie was safe from Martha, should her grouchy self decide she should lash out at him. Thus, the second important principal in this scenario is to be sure that all pets involved will always be safe. Supervision is your first line of defense. A physical barrier, such as a securely-closed door is another. If there is any possibility that harm might come to any party, strictly monitor all interaction. Large pets should be controlled with leashes so that they can be pulled away if their approach becomes too exuberant.
Allow each pet to proceed at his own pace. Sort of. While Willie would barge right in and make a face-to-face meeting immediately, Martha isn’t ready for that. Therefore, Martha gets to set the pace, and we limit Willie’s access to her domain (the bedroom) so that she can have a haven, yet she can come and go in other parts of the house as she feels she is ready.
I predict that in a few weeks’ time Martha will come around and consider Willie part of the family. A “pesky little brother” part of the family, perhaps, but family just the same.
The most difficult invader to accept is probably a new cat into an existing-cat household. We will look at that scenario Friday.
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.