This Impulsive Choice Can Stress Your Pet in Unexpected Ways

new pet

Story at-a-glance -

  • If you’re considering getting a younger pet as company for your senior dog or cat, it’s important to stay focused on your older pet’s needs
  • Select a second pet whose size and personality mesh well with your existing cat or dog
  • Introducing a new pet to your senior pet requires advance planning and high-level diplomacy — especially when introducing a dog and a cat
  • Each pet should have his or her own bedding, toys and feeding areas; pets should also be fed separately
  • It’s very important that your senior companion is never ignored in favor of the new pet

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

If your dog or cat is getting up in years and you’re thinking about adding a younger pet to the family, you’re certainly not alone. Many people hope a youngster around the house will encourage their senior pet to play more and stay active. And many pet parents, dreading the inevitable, also secretly hope a new furry family member will soften the blow when their older friend passes.

Bringing a new pet into a home with a senior dog or cat can be a huge success or a disastrous and regrettable decision. When an existing pet and a new pet don’t get along, it can create both predictable and unforeseen behavior problems and stress for everyone in the household. Before you take the leap and add a new furry family member to the household, here are some things to keep in mind.

8 Tips for Successfully Adding a New Pet to the Family

1. Pay at least as much attention to the needs of your senior pet as you do to the new addition — Your current pet has been your loyal companion for a long time, and she deserves to spend her golden years in peace and comfort. Some younger animals will be better for your current pet than others, so decisions about choosing a new pet should revolve around what’s best for your senior dog or cat.

2. Choose a new pet that has the best chance of getting along well with your older dog or cat — For example, if you currently have a dog and want to adopt another, it’s often best if dog No. 2 isn’t or won’t grow bigger than dog No 1. You don’t want a young, energetic dog intimidating your existing pet because of a size disparity. It’s also a good idea to get a dog of the opposite sex, as males and females tend to get along better than dogs of the same sex.

Also look at personality. Pairing a quiet older dog with a more subdued, shy dog is more honoring to your senior pet than foisting a wildly extroverted housemate on him. The good news is many shelters have programs where you can bring home an adoptable pet for a day before adopting.

3. If your current pet is an older cat, consider getting a calm dog — Adult and especially senior kitties are often entirely unaccepting of a new feline in the household. Cats get along best if they’re adopted together as siblings, or are introduced at a young age. After that, things can get dicey.

Even kitties who have lived together for years can develop relationship problems as they age. Make sure you choose a dog with a calm temperament that is honoring to your senior feline.

cat and dog best friends

4. To successfully introduce a new dog to a senior cat, let kitty call the shots — The first several meetings between a new dog and an existing cat should happen on the cat’s terms — never the dog’s. Make sure kitty has escape routes from every room and safe places to climb to and hide under that the dog can’t access. Use baby gates or other barriers to keep the dog from entering certain rooms or areas in your home to establish safe spots for kitty.

Keep the dog on a leash and restrained so he’s unable to lunge at or get close to your cat. Once your cat understands she’s not in imminent danger, you can lead the dog a distance away and take off the leash. At the same time, distract the dog with a toy, some treats or a short walk so he doesn’t become intensely focused on the cat.

At no time should your dog be allowed to corner or unintentionally intimidate your cat, and reward the dog whenever he focuses on you rather than kitty.

5. Introducing a new kitten or cat to your senior dog — Dogs tend to be more sociable than cats, so much of what I discussed in No. 4 applies here as well, regardless of whether the dog or cat is the newcomer to the household. The goal is to ensure kitty feels safe despite your dog’s eagerness for a meet-and-greet.

I recommend preparing a room for your new cat before you bring her home — a room where she can be alone until she settles into her new life with you. It should be equipped with a litterbox, bedding, a few cat toys and hiding places. Feed her and water her in the room. Don’t close the door, but limit access with a baby gate so she feels safe, but not isolated.

When you bring her home in her carrier, take it directly to her room. Put it near the litterbox, unlatch and open the door, and spend a few minutes speaking softly to her. Let her venture out of the carrier on her own schedule, and likewise, let her get acquainted with your dog on her own terms and timeline.

6. Make sure both pets have their own belongings — Your dogs and/or cats should have plenty of their own toys and their own beds and sleeping spots. They may share or even make trades, but don’t just assume they will — let it be their idea. If you have two cats, each should have a litterbox, plus one to spare.

7. Feed pets in separate areas — This approach eliminates resource guarding and food fights. It also allows you to ensure that each pet is getting the appropriate type and amount of food. Also place a few water bowls or fountains around the house so everyone has access to clean fresh drinking water at all times.

8. Give your senior pet lots of time and attention — Getting a new pet acclimated to your home takes considerable time and energy — especially if the new furry family member is a puppy or kitten. While you’re busy falling in love with your new pet, make sure not to ignore your senior companion.

woman hugging dog

You never want him to feel abandoned or second best, so make sure the newcomer isn’t sucking up every bit of your time and attention. Your first focus must be on your long-time companion, which also sets the stage for a healthy pack order. It’s a good idea to get other family members involved so that both your pets get plenty of attention, affection, exercise and playtime.

If all this seems like a lot of work, it is. But you’ll be thankful down the road when your pets are getting along and your household is peaceful. Remember to plan ahead in both selecting and preparing for a new pet, take things slowly, and make adjustments as necessary along the way.

The good news is that many new pet housemates get along right from the beginning. Others grow to be friends over time. And some learn to peacefully coexist by simply ignoring each other.