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As with other aspects of moving in together, it’s essential that everybody keep an open mind when introducing pets. Veterinary assistant Jonathan Covert talks to pet owners all the time about the do’s and don’ts of pet introductions. “You can never tell how an animal is going to react when introduced to another animal. Even if you think you know your pet’s personality, they may still have the capacity to surprise you. An introduction to a strange animal is the most likely scenario for that surprise to happen.”

Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for a successful meeting, and the first step is introducing the pets’ scent. Covert explained, “Introducing the scent of another pet before meeting is a lot like showing your cat or dog a picture, and it prepares them for the actual encounter by priming them with the idea that they’ve met before. You can introduce this scent by swapping the pets’ bedding, blankets, or toys—anything with a positive association. You can reinforce this positive association by rewarding good behavior toward these items with treats. If your pet lays down in the other’s bed to sleep, feel free to give them a small training treat.” With this in mind, Covert also recommends making sure that these materials are washable or disposable in some way: “It’s common for pets to pee on bedding in order to mark it with their own scent, thereby establishing ownership.”


Introducing Dogs? How to Pick the Perfect Spot

The next step is to pick a location. If you’re introducing dogs, try to meet outside in a large, quiet park, where the dogs meet in a neutral territory under calm, controlled circumstances. Indoor introductions are also problematic, especially in smaller living spaces, because the dogs may be raucous and insistent about meeting each other even when separated. “Getting a face-to-face introduction out of the way often helps to deflate the situation and allow the dog to move on.”

“Be sure to keep your pet on a leash, and always exhibit full control over the situation,” Covert advised. “As a pet owner, you are most likely to be able to intuit what your pet is displaying to you, but if not, there are lots of guides online to help you understand what your pet is feeling. Look at the ears and tail. Ears up, tail up? Your dog is unconcerned. Ears back, tail down? Your dog is fearful.” The most important sign to look for? Growling. “Growling is the direct precursor to biting, so if either dog growls, it’s time to back off.” Moreover, if your dog is especially protective of you, he recommends letting another person—an experienced dog walker or professional handler—manage the introduction.


Introducing Cats? How to Pick the Perfect Location

Introducing cats is much the same, except the introduction will most likely occur indoors. A purely neutral territory is still best. This ‘neutral territory’ is one more benefit of creating a new home together with your significant other, rather than having one of you move into the other’s place. It also shows that we’re perhaps not so different from our pets.  

Still, if a neutral spot isn’t possible, fret not. Covert explained, “Cats are small and can be easily housed in separate rooms. This may be uncomfortable for the time being, but it’s best to let cats get used to each other through gradual proximity: Allow the cats to be aware of each other’s presence, then allow them to see each other, then finally allow them to meet.” The length of this gradual introduction often depends on the animals’ dispositions.


Preparing for the Worst

For potentially tense situations, Covert advises keeping a towel on-hand and to never intervene with your bare hands. “Pets in distress don’t mean to do it, but they often bite down on the thing nearest to them. If you’re trying to break up a fight, that thing is you.” He explained that, for all the expensive heavy-duty animal handling equipment out there, there is nothing more versatile or practical than a big, thick towel. “You can use it to block an animal’s vision, control an animal’s head, swaddle a struggling pet, obfuscate a path of attack, distract attention, clean up blood, bind a wound, use it as a stretcher or sling—there is just nothing better.”

Another helpful tip for introductions that don’t go well right off the bat? Try a pheromone spray or diffuser. Covert explained that synthetic pheromone sprays like DAP or Feliway have been shown in some cases to relieve stress. “It’s not toxic or narcotic, and it’s not possible to overdose your pet—it’s a chemical that mimics the pheromone cocktail a mother releases after giving birth. It doesn’t work in every dog or cat, but it never hurts to try.”


How Do You Know When Enough is Enough?

The first introduction can be a precipitous balancing act. If both pets are displaying aggressive or fearful postures, you may want to discontinue the introduction and try again. This is entirely natural. Your pet won’t adapt without being allowed to do so. “For dogs, I tend to err on the side of caution,” Covert explained. “Aggressive or fearful posturing can quickly escalate to a fight, and fights can be dangerous not only for the animals, but for their human owners. If your dog is trying to hide behind you, take that to heart and understand that they’re not ready; if they’re curious, let them explore; if they seem too insistent and excitable, pull back and let them calm down—even well-intentioned play can turn violent if one dog gets overwhelmed. If a dog yelps, be it in fear or pain, game over: discontinue the introduction and try again later.”

These guidelines also apply to cats, but they tend to be more vocal and make grand displays of aggression. Hissing, growling, and swatting in the direction of the other animal are attempts to intimidate a perceived threat. Covert explained, “It can be difficult to know when your cat is bluffing and when it intends to do real harm—and cats can sound incredibly scary when they put their little minds to it. However, because I know that a) cats are naturally suspicious, b) most cats would rather run away than fight, and c) a human’s cloistering presence can make them even more anxious, I tend to give cats a little more leeway to work out their differences.”


Moving Day Tips for Introducing Pets


  • When moving, it helps to have a bag with a few items of clothing and basic toiletries. We recommend putting toys, blankets, treats, disposable covers, and other pet supplies in with this essentials bag—or at least some place that’s readily accessible. If you’re like most people, it’s going to be hard to wait to introduce your pets. You want to have supplies ready to jumpstart the process as soon as you bring the pets over to the new place.


  • Introductions aren’t the only pet challenge associated with moving in. Even pets that don’t normally bolt out the door may try to escape to avoid the new animal or even just the stress of a new living space.


  • It helps to gradually move into the new living space if you can. If your living room is full of boxes, animals—especially cats—have the opportunity to hide, fight, and surprise each other. By only unpacking a few boxes at a time, you can keep a more watchful eye over your pet’s behavior.


  • Slowly moving into a new residence poses challenges of its own, especially when dealing with an expiring lease or a recently sold home. Keeping a cat or small dog in one room for an extended period of time may prove necessary for gradual introductions, while also proving disastrous for your belongings. If you’re worried about potential damage, consider purchasing furniture covers and/or keeping certain belongings in storage during this transition period.


Be Prepared for Anything

Though there are tips to manage the conflicts that may arise, be aware that the outcome also depends on your pet’s disposition and attitude. “Some animals don’t really care, but some absolutely do,” Covert continued. “Whether or not you think a change to their territory will stress out your pet, it’s important to prepare for every possibility and mitigate those stressors.”

At the same time, no matter if you’re introducing a dog to a dog, a cat to a cat, a cat to a dog, you should follow the same general principles of preparation, perception, and patience. By taking steps to ensure your pet’s comfort, you can more easily create a relaxed, happy residence. A successful pet introduction is a great opportunity to build a positive environment, as well as a stronger relationship with your new roommate—whether it be a lifelong friend or a significant other.