Integrating a New Dog or Cat into a Home with a Resident Dog

Thinking about bringing a new dog or cat into your home, but you’ve already got a dog? To ensure the successful integration of a new pet takes planning. And a willingness to accept it might not be possible. Not all dogs and cats will be happy living with another animal.

Here are a few things to know about integrating a new pet into your home when you’ve already got a dog.

Is Your Current Dog Ready?

Before you commit to bringing home a new cat or dog, consider your resident pooch. Not every dog will do well with a new four-legged roommate. Being realistic about what your dog will or will not tolerate is a crucial first step that should not be skipped.

Has your dog ever lived with another pet before? Is your dog aggressive with other dogs during walks? Has he ever lunged or barked at a cat that was on the street?

How rough and tumble does your dog get when she’s playing? Will she overpower and possibly hurt a puppy or kitten without meaning to?

The honest answer to these questions will help you decide if bringing another pet into your home is feasible, and how long the integration might take.

Choosing Your New Pet

Now that you've determined if your dog is up for a new companion, you’ll need to ask the same questions about your new pet.

What do you know about the new dog or cat? Have they lived with another animal before? Are they energetic and playful? Or aloof and quiet?

If bringing in an adult dog or cat, try to find one that has been exposed to (other) dogs in the past. Working with a rescue organization? Ask what they know about the animal’s background and temperament. An extroverted dog or cat will be the easiest to integrate into a home that already has a friendly dog.

Previous exposure to dogs is less important with kittens than with cats. Many kittens come from a situation where they had many playmates. Unless they’re already showing signs of being a loner the last thing they want is to be alone. While they might need time to adjust to a dog if they’ve never been around one before, all they want is a new friend.

Temperament is Key

Matching the temperament of your resident dog with the personality of the new dog or cat is important. Bringing in a rambunctious puppy or playful kitten to a home with a grumpy, senior dog who loves his naps may not go as smoothly as you like.

Similarly, bringing in a scaredy cat to a home with a high-energy dog may result in more than a few scratches.

As much as possible, try to match the personalities of your current and new pets. A calm adult cat for a gentle dog. A high-energy puppy or kitten for a dog breed that maintains a playful personality throughout its life.

Prepare Your Home

Before bringing your new pet home, prepare your home to make the transition for each pet as easy as possible. If you have enough space, make a separate room for the new pet. If separate rooms aren’t possible, create a space where the new pet can be isolated. This may mean getting baby gates or some type of indoor pen.

Scent Introductions

The best way to introduce your dog to a new companion (and your new pet to your resident dog) is through scent. One easy method is to wrap each one in a towel and then swap the towels for a few hours or even a day. This will give each one plenty of time to explore the other’s smell.

If you’re keeping your new pet in a separate room, allow the resident dog to sniff at the door. After a couple of days, start rotating the pets between the room and the rest of the house. This will give them plenty of time to explore each other’s scents in each space. And it gives the new pet a chance to get acclimated to the full house.  Make sure you’re switching out their beds, toys, and food/water bowls each time you rotate them.

Face to Face: Dogs

When introducing two dogs make sure both are on leashes. Bring the new dog or puppy into the room with your resident dog and let them see each other. Praise both dogs and reward them for good behavior so they associate the other dog with good things.

If possible, try to make their first face-to-face introduction outside. This provides plenty of other distractions, so they’re not only focused on each other.

Face to Face: Cats

Do not introduce your dog to a cat (or kitten) until you’re sure the cat is feeling safe and comfortable. This means the cat is eating and using the litter box in the separate room normally. With cats, this can take longer and you may need to keep the dog and cat apart for several days or even weeks. By this time, your dog should also have stopped barking at the door separating them.

Your dog should be leashed during face-to-face introductions, but the cat should be free to run away. Let the cat dictate how long this first introduction goes for. Your new cat may not be ready for more than five or 10 minutes in the same room with a dog the first time.

Supervise Interactions

With both dogs and cats (or puppies and kittens), you’ll want to repeat the first introduction scenario several times. Depending on how your pets respond to each other, you can stretch out the time you keep them in the same room together.

With dogs, both should remain on a leash and under supervision until you’re 100% sure they won’t hurt each other.

With a dog and a cat, keep your dog leashed. Do not leave them alone together. You’ll know they’re ready for unleashed but supervised visits once your dog can go several hours without paying any attention to the cat. And your new cat should feel comfortable eating or using the litter box with the dog around.

If either animal expresses fear or aggression at any point, you may need to stick with separate rooms for longer. 

No unsupervised (and unleashed) interactions should be permitted until you’re 100% certain your resident dog and new pet are comfortable with each other. With older dogs and cats, this process can take a month or longer. With puppies and kittens, it might only take a week or so. The more social the pets, the quicker the process.

Warning Signs

Staring, scratching, lunging, and snapping are all warning signs to watch out for. If you can’t get your dog or cat’s attention off of the other animal and back onto you, it’s time to stop the interaction. You may also need to rethink your new pet.