With their endless supply of unconditional love and the desire to make you the center of their lives, pets of all kinds offer us so much more than we can give to them. Is it any wonder that many of us opt to share our homes with several furry friends?
But the key to survival in a multiple-pet household is harmony—not barking, hissing battles. Here are 8 tips to make sure that all your four-legged friends get along.
Survey Your Space
Your heart may hold all the warmth in the world to love lots of pets, but before bringing them into your home consider your living quarters. For yourself and one petite Calico or tiny Chihuahua, a dorm-sized studio apartment may feel cozy and tranquil. But every new wagging tail or set of whiskers means less breathing room for all.
Multiple litter boxes or dog beds need space to spread out, and animals, like siblings, can require timeouts in separate rooms. And if you’re a renter, check your lease to make sure your landlord approves of new furry roommates.
“More pets come with several costs,” says pet expert Wendy Diamond, who often appears on NBC’s Today Show. Take a close look at your budget, so you won’t be forced to skimp on care and nutrition for your trusting companions.
Diamond reminds all pet owners that every animal requires paying “for quality food, regular veterinary care, and possibly the additional costs of whatever your pet chews up in their early months.” However, when you buy in bulk, says Diamond, you tend to save on costs.
Consult Your Vet
Talk with your vet about the challenges of supporting multiple pets—which includes more flea and tick treatments, more vaccinations, etc. Your vet can advise you on the medical basics and what you should expect—if, for instance, you’re adding a puppy to a formerly feline household, or welcoming a cat to your dog’s domain. Your vet may even be agreeable to a discount rate on exams or shots if you bring all the pets in at once. Ask about special deals, too. My vet offers great discounts on dental services twice a year, so the cost of two cleanings doesn’t take quite as big a bite. Another good idea is to consider pet insurance, which can help with basics and even some more specialized treatments if your pets get sick or have an emergency.
Breed All About It
Before mingling dogs and cats, learn which dog breeds will be the best fit. The American Kennel Club (AKC) reminds pet owners that “sight hounds,” such as Greyhounds and Whippets, Terriers and Hounds—all dogs bred for hunting or sniffing out vermin—have strong prey drives and should not be trusted around cats.
To keep your cat safe and unstressed, choose a dog that will respect and enjoy your cat’s company, or if you’re adding a dog, be sure your resident pup will be a good match with a new canine. Visit a shelter or rescue group, and talk with volunteers and other pet parents of both cats and dogs, who can provide guidance.
It’s A Dog Meet Dog World
With the arrival of a new pet, double up your patience, for resident animals and new ones. The ASPCA recommends introducing a new dog to the resident one on neutral territory.
Let them sniff, size up and tolerate each other before bringing the new one home. Then, keep the dogs separate, with their own toys, food bowls, beds and living space. Always supervise their time together, gradually increasing exposure, for as long as it takes for them to become friends.
“Not all pets get along,” says Diamond. “If one animal feels threatened or scared of the other one, it can cause a stressful home environment instead of a safe, loving one. Be sure to take your existing pet’s needs into account, too.”
Diamond recommends choosing animals of the opposite sex because they seem to get along with each other more easily.
Let’s Be Catty
Cat Meets Dog: When a cat and dog meet, the ASPCA reminds pet parents that the cat’s claws should be trimmed in case she tries to ‘correct’ the dog’s behavior, and to let the cat set the pace for getting to know the dog.
To help boost Fluffy’s confidence, remember to give both animals their separate spaces while slowing increasing interaction time. It’s also helpful to keep the dog safely leashed when around your cat. Cats can take months to accept a new companion, which is why disappointed, impatient cat parents sometimes return a cat to a shelter, complaining that the animal is shy or unfriendly. Adapt to “Cat Time” which has no deadlines or to-do lists, and your new feline will reward you.
Cat Meets Cat: Author Mieshelle Nagelschneider’s book “The Cat Whisperer: Why Cats Do What They Do and How to Get Them to Do What You Want,” recommends co-mingling the scent of the new and resident cat along with your own on socks, one for each cat, in his own space, so even before the cats meet, the scent is familiar and unthreatening. Expect hissing and posturing, but cats will usually settle into tolerance, and eventually friendship.
Cats and dogs eat differently. Dogs gobble, but cats may consider whether a meal is worthy of consumption, walk away, and then return for a bite. When you have canines and felines, separate feeding is a must. Feeding the dog, then taking him out for a walk while the cat eats, is ideal. If you’re not home, food timer dishes for each pet, in separate rooms, will prevent the dog from enjoying a cat food feast. Placing your cat’s food dish on a high shelf or cat tree may also work, but an energetic dog won’t take long to spot that trick.
More pets means more fun times, more love… and more attention. Be certain you can give each of your pets the daily quality time and reassurance they crave and deserve. “Time should be set aside for training and one-on-one time with each animal,” says Diamond. “Pets living with a buddy might feed off of each other’s bad habits, so training in a multi-animal household is essential.”
Make certain your pet sitters and dog-walkers are comfortable with any household changes. Will the dog-walker willingly change litter boxes while you’re on vacation? Is the pet sitter who adores cats equally happy to walk your 60-pound tail-wagging dog when you’re stuck at the office?
Multiple pet ownership means added responsibilities, but the joyful rewards multiply daily, with endless dividends of unconditional love.
Kathy Blumenstock is owned by cats, loved by dogs, writes about both, and still longs for a horse.