Updated: May 24, 2020
Lately I've been hearing more and more from people who are interested in adding a new pet to their existing family pet. Perhaps it's the nicer weather that is kindling thoughts of new beginnings, or maybe it's the increased activity of nature that inspires feelings of growth and a desire to care for something.
Whatever the reason, there are several considerations that should be made if you or a loved one is thinking of adding a new pet.
Consider your family’s lifestyle
It is important to have realistic expectations about yourself, your family, and your lifestyle. Look at yourself objectively and honestly. Consider things like activity frequency and type, cleanliness, free time, travel, and finances. For example, I want to be one of those people that goes hiking and kayaking and camping every weekend and takes their dogs along. But in all reality, that's who I want to be - it's not who I am. It's also not who my current pet is - neither of us are truly suited to such a lifestyle no matter how much I like the idea. If I look for a pet to suit the lifestyle I wished I had, no one gets to thrive. Or perhaps you are particular about cleanliness or fur on everything - in which case, a white long haired pet might not be a good choice. If you have younger kids and an active life and busy schedule, perhaps you're looking to add a pet to keep your current pet company. In such cases, a low maintenance young adult that is already trained may be a great option. Kittens and elderly pets are typically not recommended for very young children, while adult pets experienced with kids can thrive. If you are retired or at home full time or don't have young kids and do have the time to commit, perhaps a puppy could be a wonderful option. Just be honest and realistic about what you can provide and be patient as you look for a match.
The pet decides
When it comes down to it, the final decision will be up to your current pet. Imagine coming home from work one day only to find a new roommate. You didn't know they were coming, didn't have a say in it, AND it turns out you can't stand them!? Don't do that to your current pet. Instead, narrow your options down to a few individuals that seem to fit your family dynamics and lifestyle, and then let your pet make the final decision. This may involve trial adoptions, overnight or weekend stays, multiple meet and greets, foster to adopt, hiring professional assistance, or even changing course mid-way. Also, don't forget your pet's final decision may be a "no" - and that's ok! We are speed dating here, and it's a rare to find true love on the first date. Don't force it and don't rush it.
Consider your pet
There are a few general guidelines for choosing a companion for your pet. For dogs, generally opposite size, sex, and age are recommended. For cats, similar age and play style are recommended. Dogs who like to chase may do better with more confident cats who won't run away. In general it is not recommended young pets join homes with senior pets unless you know the senior will enjoy it. But these are general guidelines are just that: general guidelines - they are not rules. In every case personality plays the largest role and should always be the ultimate consideration. Each pet is an individual and should be the MAIN priority when considering adding a new pet. Keep an open mind, remember there are no black and white rules, plenty of exceptions, and again let the pets decide.
Greetings If your dog won't do well meeting another dog at a shelter or away from home, work with a rescue or breeder who will work with you. There are plenty who will meet in a neutral area where the dog feels more comfortable. Dog and cat greetings should NEVER occur at a shelter. Unfortunately, the only way to see if a cat and dog get along is with deliberate and slow paced intros in your home - but that's for another blog!
Asking for help Intros may take time and repeated tries. If you have tried 3 or 4 times and are not making progress, contact a professional. If you see fear, avoidance, or anxiety take a break and try again another day or contact a pro. If you see aggression at any point, end the session, rule that pet out or contact a professional. Do not attempt to modify concerning behaviors on your own and never punish exuberance, rude behavior, or aggression! Hiring a pro to assist the first time is much cheaper than having to hire them to address behavior problems resulting from bad intros.
Just remember, there someone out there for most pets, while others thrive best as an only child. Either one of those is ok - it doesn't mean something is wrong with your pet. In fact, it's quite normal. Your pet should be considered member of the family. They should not only be a part of the process when adding a new pet to the family - they should be the MAIN part of the process. Keep an open mind, be flexible, be patient, and ask for help as needed and you're chances of success in adding a new pet can go up dramatically.
If you'd like to learn about introducing cats and dogs, be sure to check out my Warwick RI seminar on just that topic.