How to add a second pet to the family

Getty Images Image by: Getty Images Author: Canadian Living


How to add a second pet to the family

For many people, a house just isn't a home without a furry friend underfoot. And with so many animals in need of homes, many animal lovers can't stop themselves from adding a second pet, or more, to their families. However, when there's already a pet that rules the roost, there are things to consider before arriving on the doorstep with a second pet, and ways to ease the transition for everyone.

Some pets like having friends
According to the Humane Society of Canada, there are more than 16 million household pets in this country, with dogs and cats being the popular choice to the tune of 14 million. And while each animal is different, it's safe to say that they are generally social creatures that enjoy each other’s company. "Animals are definitely less lonely when they have a friend," says Michael O’Sullivan, chairman and CEO of the Humane Society of Canada. They're not even picky about what kind of friend, so feel free to mix cats, dogs, rabbits and more. "In farm situations with horses, you'll always find a goat. For some reason, horses like having a goat around," says O'Sullivan.

More important is knowing the personality of your current pet and gauging how they react to other animals. If your feline is an older, settled cat, he may not appreciate having an overactive kitten as a mate. In the same vein, if your dog tends to be aggressive at the dog park, she may be better off flying solo at home.

Money matters
No matter how fond you are of animals, O'Sullivan would like to stress that love is not enough when it comes to having pets. "You have to have enough time to give individual attention to each animal, enough patience to deal with them and enough money to care for them." The financial implications cannot be denied. Depending on where you live in Canada, the average cost of keeping pets can be $1,200 per pet every year. And that cost can increase significantly as your pets age or should they become ill. By taking an animal into your home, you're committing to care for that animal for the rest of his life, so consider your resources carefully before adding a second pet to the family.

How to prepare your pets for a second cat, dog or pet
Once you've decided to get another pet, you should ideally lay some groundwork before you bring the new animal into the home. "Animals are very keyed in to smell," explains O'Sullivan. He suggests rubbing an old T-shirt or towel on the new animal and then leaving that item around your house. "Leave it near your current pet's food or bed. Let them get used to the scent."

How to introduce your pets to each other for the first time
The most important thing to remember when introducing the animals to each other is to create a controlled situation in an open environment, such as a park or spacious room that doesn't have any items that "belong" to the current pet, such as food dishes, toys or litter boxes. Make sure that there are enough people present for each animal to have an attendant. Dogs will circle and sniff each other, but can also growl a bit and even try to stand on each other's shoulders. This is normal and shouldn't be interrupted, as they are trying to determine who is the dominant dog. Warning signs include raised hackles, prolonged stares and snapping. If you see this behaviour, O'Sullivan suggests separating them by squirting them with water or calling their attention with a training clicker. Cats prefer to be introduced more gradually, through a screen or a small opening in a door. Hissing, growling and swatting is to be expected, but if they are causing physical damage to each other, use the water squirting technique to discourage them. Once they can encounter each other without the nastiness, it's time to let them fully interact. "The nice thing about animals," explains O'Sullivan, "is that they don't want to hurt other animals."

Pets need love and affection
Just like children, pets need individual love and affection. That's why each animal should have their own bed at night, their own toys and their own food dishes, although a communal water dish is fine. "If you give attention, you have to do it equally," says O'Sullivan. Try not to change too many old routines with your first pet, but be sure to spend one-on-one time with the new pet as well, to allow them to bond with you. After all, happy pets make a happy home.   

Are you ready for the responsbility that comes with pet ownership? Check out how to decide if your family is ready for a pet.


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How to add a second pet to the family