Use these helpful tips to introduce a new pet to an existing household pet.

Having a dog or cat in your home can be a great joy, and numerous studies have shown the benefits of pets in our lives. Many people want to add a second or third pet to the family, but can be uncertain as to the best way to do it in a way that is easy on both the newcomer and existing pet.

Introduce on neutral territory

If possible try to introduce the pets in a neutral setting such as outdoors or at the shelter where you may be adopting. Keep them on a leash or harness and let them first see each other at a distance before bringing them closer. Allow them to sniff and examine each other while you watch their body language and interactions, separating them if there are signs of aggression. Reward positive interactions with a treat and praise. Let your dogs or cats determine when they want to come close to each other and when they want to retreat to a safe place.

Keep initial interactions separate and safe

When at home, it can be helpful to allow the pets to interact through a barrier. For dogs, this can be through a baby gate. Cats can smell and touch each other under a closed door. As mentioned before, reward good behavior with high-value treats, thus reinforcing that behavior.

Switch scents

Familiarity among animals is largely based on scent. It can be helpful to take the scent of one and place it in the environment of the other. This can be achieved by switching beds or blankets, rubbing a towel on one pet and putting it under the dishes of another or letting one pet lay on your lap and then giving attention to the other.

Avoid competition

Do not allow food, treats, beds and so on to be a source of competition. If the pets are going to fight over an item, remove it from the environment. With cats, make sure that there is one litter box per cat, plus an additional one, each in a separate location (if possible).

Consider Pheromone Therapy

The use of pheromones in dogs and cats has been well studied and in many cases will reduce stress and anxiety of both the newcomer and existing pet. These products can be found through your veterinarian or many pet supply retailers; the most common formulations are plug-in diffusers or aerosol sprays.

Having multiple pets is very rewarding and most of the time works out. If you are having problems with the pets getting along, seek the help of a pet trainer or your veterinarian.

Chris Bern, DVM, graduated from North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1997. He currently lives and practices in northern Georgia and has special interests in animal behavior, soft tissue surgery and exotic pet medicine. He shares his home with his wife, two children and 12 pets of various species.