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Adding a furry family member? These strategies can ease tension

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Mark and Penny Hamilton with 5 month old pit bull mix, Cassie.
Photos by Jennifer Willhite
Mark and Penny Hamilton with 5 month old pit bull mix, Cassie. Photos by Jennifer Willhite

Mark and Penny Hamilton with 5 month old pit bull mix, Cassie.
Photos by Jennifer Willhite
Mark and Penny Hamilton with 5 month old pit bull mix, Cassie. Photos by Jennifer Willhite

If having house guests for a few days this past holiday season put you on edge, imagine how your pet feels when a new animal is introduced into the family.

There is no barometer for measuring an animal’s stress level, said veterinarian Brooke Finke Case of Athens Animal Clinic in Columbus. But house pets are creatures of habit, and any disruption to routine can cause stress.

Help lessen that stress by following a few guidelines from local veterinarians when you decide to expand your furry brood.

First, be sure that new puppies or kittens are at least 8 weeks old before you bring them home, Case said. It allows them time to learn boundaries and social skills from their litter mates.

Maintain the resident pet’s routine as closely as possible, so it doesn’t feel left out or pushed aside, said Jane Irwin, shelter director for the Bartholomew County Humane Society. For example, if you normally walk your dog every evening, continue to spend that one-on-one time after introducing a new animal.

Even with these guidelines in place, cats can be persnickety about a newcomer, so you might need to enlist a friend’s help when bringing home a fellow feline.

“If you suspect your cat will be offended, as only a cat can be, by a new feline in the family, have a neighbor bring the new cat into the home,” Irwin said. “You’re not the traitor then, and sometimes that alleviates the chance you’ll be snubbed by the current cat.”

Think about your best friend, Irwin suggested.

Odds are you weren’t best friends the second you met, and cats are no different. Allow cats the chance to sniff each other with limited physical contact until you know they’ll get along, Case said. Let the cat come out a few minutes each day and explore, but keep the resident cat in another room.

Ease territorial issues by offering more than one litter box, Irwin recommended.

Never leave cats in a room together unsupervised, hoping they’ll adjust, as it’s a recipe for disaster that might not end well, Case cautioned.

“They could knock something over and hurt themselves,” Case said. “Ten-pound cats can do a lot of damage to one another and the house.”

Surprisingly, cats might respond better to the addition of a dog. But proceed with caution.

A puppy is going to be very interested in its new housemate, Case said. If the cat runs, the puppy might see it as an invitation to play. To prevent undue stress, always keep the puppy confined to a small area, known as crate training, and give the resident cat somewhere to escape to, such as another room.

“Crate training forces puppies to use their denning instinct to not soil or mess where they sleep,” Case said. “’It also gives the cat the opportunity to come out when the dog is crated.”

Introducing a puppy to multiple cats is usually less of a problem, Irwin said.

“A puppy’s learning curve is different, and the cats will put it in its place really quick,” Irwin said. “If anything, it will make the cats bond together.”

When hoping to add a cat to a household with a dog, first make sure that dog interacts well with cats, Irwin said. If you are unsure how the dog will react, take it around cats and watch. If it gets overstimulated, whines and tries to get at the cats, you might want to reconsider, Irwin said.

And in a household with multiple dogs, make sure the dogs are OK with the cat individually and as a pack, Irwin said.

When shopping for a new puppy to keep your current dog company, be mindful of the resident dog’s personality, Irwin said. Spend some time with the new pup to learn its personality and, if possible, allow it the chance to be around the resident dog before adopting it and bringing home. You’ll learn a lot simply watching the two interact, Irwin said.

When introducing two dogs, keep them both on leashes, especially if both are adults. Irwin suggested dropping the leash of the less dominant dog first. As long as they get along, drop the leash for the other.

“A lot of times they’ll ignore each other,” Irwin said. “The new guy may go around and check out the territory and sniff everything. The resident dog will usually follow behind and re-mark his territory.”

Sometimes, introducing a new puppy can help a resident dog heal after losing a longtime friend.

Mark and Penny Hamilton’s 7-year-old pit bull, Casper, recently died, leaving 3-year-old Chloe without a buddy. The Columbus couple adopted Cassie, a 5-month-old pit bull, from the Bartholomew County Humane Society so Chloe wouldn’t be alone.

“With Chloe and Casper, the bond was immediate,” Penny Hamilton said.

“There was a void,” she said. “Chloe needs a new dog in the house.”

The Hamiltons understand the transition might take time and said they are keeping Cassie and Chloe crated until they know they will be compatible.

It’s like having kids, Irwin said. Fussing is normal, but knock-down drag-outs are not. If the animals behave aggressively toward one another, separate them, allow a cooling-off period, then try again. It can take time, but you have to give the animals a chance to get along, Irwin said.

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