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Combining Households: A guide to helping animals adapt

by Liz Braden (follow)
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Dog meeting cat
Image Source: Pixabay

There are times in life when two households with existing pets will combine, and it can be quite difficult for pets to adjust to both the change of environment and the addition of new furry housemates.

The complexity of combining two fur families depends greatly on the personality of the animals involved, but here are some basic tips that can help.

If your animal is entering an established territory:
If your animal is social by nature, you may find that no real allowances are required. This type of animal is highly adaptable and just wants to know where the food and toilet are.

Cat feeling safe
Image Source: Pixabay

If your animal is somewhat less social, or they are nervous by nature, it is wise to start them off in an area where they will not be disturbed by established residents. Give them time to feel completely at home in this area before expanding their territory or meeting other animals.
The time required to adapt to a new environment will depend on the individual, but is typically no less than 3-4 days. A nervous or territorial animal may require as much as a month to begin to feel comfortable in their new environment. Be patient, and allow them to explore at their own pace.

If your animal has new animals entering their territory:
Be aware of the implied threat that a new animal brings, and don’t worry too much if your animal resents the intrusion. Be sensitive and forgive short-term hostility or regressive behaviours.

Cat feeling safe
Image Source: Pixabay

Try to minimise disruption to the environment, particularly the location of food, toileting, and bedding. Your animal will feel more comfortable if their environment doesn’t change more than necessary.

When introducing the animals for the first time:
Unless highly territorial, cats will usually be content to hiss and spit until one or the other concedes. Actual fighting does occur, but verbal disagreements are more common. Hostile displays will typically reduce once one animal is clearly dominant.
Territorial dogs are more likely to attack new animals; where possible, allow them to smell each other through a closed door, and do not allow them to meet until aggression turns to curiousity.
Non-territorial dogs can be introduced by restraining each animal on a leash during the initial introduction, but dogs bond best when they run together; if there is no aggression, allow them to run free and sort themselves out.

Cat feeling safe
Image Source: Pixabay

Never get in the middle of fights, it is highly likely that you will be injured in the process. If necessary, use deterrents such as water or a loud noise in order to separate animals, and then remove the aggressor.
Resist the temptation to force the issue. Each animal will adjust to the changes in their own time and in their own way, just like us. Continue paying attention to each animal as usual and allow them to work things out.

Foster a feeling of security.
Ensure that each animal has a place to call their own. Figure out who feels comfortable where, and place familiar items in that area.
Try to maintain routines as closely as possible, and make changes slowly. This may mean that they are on different feeding or exercise schedules for a while, but it will make the adjustment easier for them.

Social grooming
Image Source: Pixabay

Fuss over each animal in turn without washing your hands in between, or brush each animal and do not clean the brush in between. This is a technique known as scent sharing; animals are hardwired to accept animals that smell like them. The more you do this, the more you will create a "pack scent" that convinces the animals to accept each other. It is the unfamiliar scent of a new animal that leads to hostility.

Stay alert for signs of continuing distress.
Monitor all animals to see if they are adjusting. Over the first two weeks you will ideally be noticing an interest in the environment, and reduced hostility toward other furry residents. This can happen quite quickly or over a period of time.
If a significant period of time has passed and there is no improvement, it may be time to consult a vet for advice. In some cases it may be necessary to separate the animals permanently, or consider rehousing someone. The reality is that in spite of your best efforts, some animals will never adapt to sharing a house with other animals.

Rehousing should always be the last resort. With the right approach and enough time, most animals will eventually learn to accept each other (or at very least learn to pretend the other doesn’t exist).

Social grooming
Image Source: Pixabay

Related Article
How To Introduce A New Pet To Your Existing Pet Family

#Family Pets
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