If you're an animal enthusiast looking to adopt another furry friend, consider the following pointers to help your newest family member acclimate to its new environment.
Show some extra TLC to the existing pet(s)
Dish out extra treats, love and attention to the current pet (especially if it’s a dog) before introducing a new animal. Jenny Luke, veterinarian at Canal Street Veterinary Hospital (4022 Canal St., 504-200-2784), calls this “positive reinforcement” and says your canine companion will associate these gestures with a good experience.
Meet on neutral ground
Michelle Ingram, director of Zeus’ Rescues (2520 Napoleon Ave., 504-309-2144) and owner of Zeus’ Place (4601 Freret St., 504-304-4718), recommends that dogs meet for the first time in neutral territories outside the home. Be prepared for one to express dominance. “Usually, dogs are good at figuring out a social hierarchy,” she says.
The introduction process for dogs is “much easier if they’re well-exercised and socialized,” Ingram says. Walking them together can foster a strong bond and let them know that they won’t need to compete for attention.
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When cats are involved, consider pheromones
Luke recommends using a spray or plug-in, such as Feliway, which contains calming pheromones. It can “set the mood” and create a more relaxing environment, she says. Jessica Hartnett, a board member of Animal Rescue New Orleans (271 Plauche St., Harahan, 504-571-1900), who handles behavioral issues and adoptions, says it’s important to get the pets acquainted with each other’s scents. If you’re bringing a dog into a cat home, place a blanket with the dog’s scent in the cat’s space, so the feline can become accustomed to the smell and won’t be taken completely by surprise once they meet face-to-face.
Separate pets during feeding time
This is especially important in the beginning, as it reduces feelings of competition or aggression. Ingram says that after this warming-up period, it may be fine to feed them in the same room, “but make sure they have plenty of space.”
Spay or neuter the animals
Luke says spaying and neutering pets — aside from preventing pregnancy — prevents several illnesses pertaining to reproductive organs. It also can mellow pets’ aggressive behaviors.
Supervise the animals together, and give them alone time
It may take a while for pets to warm up to each other — especially in a cat-dog dynamic. “Dogs are quicker to socialize and accept one another,” Hartnett says. It helps if they spend short, supervised increments of time together, and then are separated. This lets them “build up a tolerance for each other and get to know each other without any sort of escalation of energy or aggravation,” she says.
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Research the drive to prey
In households with smaller, more vulnerable animals like rabbits, rodents or birds, get an idea of the newcomer’s prey drive. “Always ask the shelter staff if they know this about the animal,” Hartnett says. For dogs, she recommends using a basket muzzle (after conditioning the dog to it) so the dog “can’t use its mouth while you teach them how to act around the other pet.”
Adding a new pet to your family is an experience that takes getting used to. “Go slow and don’t force it,” Hartnett says. Many adoption agencies offer a trial period, but even then, it may still take extra time and patience as pets acclimate to their new homes and each other.
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