For many, one pet is never enough. For them, the happiest homes are those with as many pets as can be cared for, a mix of species or multiples of the same. The more the merrier!
Are you one of these pet parents, or are you planning to become one? Have you checked your finances and researched care needs for your next addition? Maybe you’ve already chosen your next pet, and just one question remains: How will they all get along?
The answers depend on the species, breeds and individual pets you’re trying to introduce.
Getting along isn’t always ‘natural’
Among the many kinds of pets we take into our homes are those who’d never get along normally. We keep predators – notably dogs and cats – and expect them to squelch their instincts and leave prey such as pet rabbits and birds alone. We keep pets such as cats who often tend to prefer their own company (and ours, of course) to others of their own kind, and we expect them to be welcoming to newcomers. We mismatch sizes and ages, expecting big, rambunctious young dogs to play gently with tiny dogs, or frail old ones.
Let’s face it: It’s a lot to ask.
Some kinds of pets are just never going to be safe around others. And some individuals aren’t good candidates for multi-pet homes, either. In these cases, you’ll have to set up separate living quarters if you choose to go forward. That can be hard to maintain.
While exceptions do exist, it’s generally not a good idea to pair a dog with a high prey drive towards rodents or similar small pets – terriers are the prime example – with hamsters, rats, guinea pigs or rabbits. Likewise, dogs who already behave aggressively towards other dogs or cats probably are best kept as single pets. Veterinarians see plenty of injuries in pets sharing the same home, and that’s a situation you’ll want to avoid.
Successful introductions take time, space
While many small mammals, reptiles and birds will always be safest kept in their own space, perhaps with a companion of their own kind, other pets may be fine with careful introductions. Even if you suspect things will go famously from the get-go, proceed with caution just in case you’re wrong.
Dogs can often be introduced on neutral turf – a nearby park, for example, and walked home side by side. Even if they’re getting along, feed separately and pick up any toys to prevent conflicts until you’re sure everyone’s willing to share. In some cases, getting a puppy may be the best choice, since many dogs cut youngsters some slack, at least initially. If conflicts show no sign of easing, get help from a trainer or behaviorist. Rehoming a pet shouldn’t be your first move, but it may need to be the final one if that turns out to be the only way to keep both pets safe.
Cats are generally best introduced by not introducing them at all – at least not at first. Set the new cat’s carrier in a spare bedroom or other separate space, along with litter box, food, water and places to scratch. Open the carrier door, and let the new cat choose when to come out. Let both cats get used to each other’s presence through a closed door for a couple weeks, paying attention to both separately. When both cats seem acclimated to each other, crack the door and let them choose whether or not they want to interact. Some cats will eventually be fine together, but some will choose to live separately in the same home. Don’t force things: Cats need to work out territorial arrangements for themselves. (Many, if not most, cats will always prefer their own litterboxes, by the way, and behaviorists say the rule is one per cat, plus one extra.)
Feline to canine introductions are similar: Give the cat a separate space, and keep the door closed for a while. After all parties seem comfortable, put a baby gate at the entrance to the cat’s room. That way, the cat who’s just had enough can get away from the dog while tolerance for each other grows.
Shortcuts to a multi-pet home
If you already know you want more than one pet, you can shortcut the introduction process by checking shelters and rescue groups for bonded pairs to adopt. Since many people don’t want to take two new pets at once, you’ll find rehoming organizations delighted not to break up pets who already get along. Bonded pairs of cats are pretty common, but you can also find two-dog pairings, dog and cat pairs, and even bonded pairs of rabbits, guinea pigs and birds.
No matter how you get there, though, opening your home to more pets is well worth the trouble to make it all happen. You’ll be providing good care and lots of love to some lucky pets and getting the joy of having them in return.