Tips for multi-pet households
For many of us, our pets are more than just animals; they're beloved members of the family. With the immense joy and companionship that one pet brings, it's no surprise that many pet parents consider adding another cherished addition to the mix.
Having multiple furry, feathered, or scaled friends under one roof brings its own unique set of benefits and possibilities. Multi-pet households bring together a diverse mix of personalities, and can provide both human and animal residents with a source of comfort, companionship, and amusement.
However, sharing your home with a variety of pets can come with its own set of challenges. To ensure a harmonious and happy coexistence it's essential to understand their needs, as well as have a good understanding of the best practices for multi-pet living.
In this article, we'll run through what to consider before adding a new pet to your family, discuss the introduction process, and provide practical tips for developing a peaceful and enriching environment where each of your pets is able to thrive.
So, whether you're a seasoned multi-pet enthusiast or just considering expanding your animal family, read on to discover valuable insights and expert guidance on how to create a fulfilling and joyful multi-pet home.
What to consider before adding a new pet to your family
Bringing a new pet into your household isn't a decision that should be taken lightly. Below we've listed some important considerations when deciding whether a multi-pet household is right for you, your family, your existing pet/s and your potential new pet/s.
First of all, consider your current schedule and lifestyle. Do you have the space, time and energy to invest in both integrating a new pet into your home, as well as maintaining a beneficial environment long-term? Introducing pets is not usually a quick and easy process, and making the effort to do this properly can go a long way in ensuring long-term harmony.
Next, it's vital to understand the needs of each pet, at both a species and an individual level.
Consider the type of pet you are looking to add to your family. Will you be able to provide for all of their species-specific needs? Generally speaking, dogs need more space than cats, and while a small apartment may be suitable for a feline family member, dogs will often benefit from a yard, or at the very least daily walks.
Take care not to buy too much into species stereotypes, however. While dogs have long been thought of as being more social, and cats more solitary, there are always exceptions to the rule. Cats can bond closely with their fellow felines, while some dogs may prefer to be an 'only child'.
It's for this reason that you need to consider your existing pet's personality and preferences. Are they friendly around other animals, or anxious? Do they seem content to be the only pet in the house? Are they possessive or territorial over food, toys or other resources?
Age and health conditions are also important to take into account. If you have an old and/or ailing pet, it may be more difficult for them to accept a new arrival. As a general rule, the younger your pet is when introduced to another, the more likely they will be able to get along.
And what about your new addition's personality? While you won't know your potential new pet in as much depth, make sure to read their adoption profile carefully. Often their favourite activities, personality traits and compatibility with other animals (of the same and other species) will be listed. This can help you to narrow down the pets that may be a good fit for your existing household.
While you can't be entirely certain how your pets will interact until their introduction, following these 'screening' steps can help minimise the chances of incompatibility.
Pet Rescue provide comprehensive profiles for ALL pets available for adoption including:
Establish a Safe Space and Separate Feeding Areas
Having a 'safe space' is important even for solitary pets, so is especially vital for multi-pet households. Each pet should have a designated area within the home that's purely for their own use. Ideally this is somewhere they can go to sleep, play or relax that other pets can't access.
Before you bring a new pet home, decide where this will be. This should be somewhere that is quiet and peaceful, so avoid using high-traffic areas like main hallways or family rooms. For dogs, a crate or kennel is a good option. For cats, a high space or a smaller room such as a laundry with their favourite bed is perfect.
Similarly, pets should be fed separately. Using different areas, such as indoors and outdoors, varying heights (like cats on a counter and dogs on the floor), or even separate rooms can create the necessary space for each pet.
As your pets become more comfortable with one another, more shared spaces may develop throughout your home, but safe spaces should always be available to ensure that all of your pets have an 'escape' if they need it.
Introduce your pets gradually
A correct introduction between pets can go a long way in ensuring ongoing harmony. The most important thing is not to rush this process! A rushed introduction can make pets feel unsafe and therefore threatened. An anxious or threatened pet is less accepting of change and much less likely to respond well to a new animal in their territory.
Many rescues will offer supervised meetings between your current dog(s) and potential canine adoptees. These meetings generally occur on neutral ground, allowing you to evaluate their interactions and determine if their temperaments align. This is a valuable initial step. However, even if they've met before, it's essential to follow the proper process once you've chosen your new addition.
While the introduction process for each species follows a similar framework, below we've outlined specific recommendations for the most common species pairings. The exact method, and how long it takes, will depend on the individual personality of each pet. It's also a great idea to read up on how to interpret canine and feline body language so you can assess whether or not your pets may need a 'time out'. The key is to ensure a slow, gradual approach that prioritises the safety and well-being of all the animals involved.
Introducing Dogs to Dogs:
- Allow the new pet to explore alone: When you bring your new dog home, get a friend or family member to take your existing pooch out for a walk. During this time let your new dog explore the home and get familiar with the smells of your house and other dog.
- Separate them and provide smells: Once your existing dog is back from their walk, have your helper take the new dog to a closed room or outside and give them your existing dog's toys or blankets to play with.
- Swap locations: Alternate which dog is in the house every 20-30 minutes to help familiarise them with each other's fresh scent and encourage them to play with the other dog's toys.
- Meet in neutral territory: Start the introduction in a neutral location, like a park, where neither dog feels territorial.
- On-leash greeting: Keep both dogs on leashes initially to maintain control. Allow them to approach each other gradually.
- Observe body language: Watch for signs of aggression or fear, and be ready to separate them if needed. Positive body language includes wagging tails and relaxed postures.
- Gradual interaction: Gradually increase the time they spend together, allowing them to get acquainted in a low-stress environment.
- Supervised Play: Once they are comfortable, allow supervised play sessions in a controlled environment.
- Repeat the on-leash greeting in your home, then progress to supervised playtime at home.
- For more information, see Introducing a new dog to your existing dog.
Introducing Cats to Cats:
- Scent exchange: Start by swapping bedding or toys between the cats to familiarise them with each other's scent.
- Separate living spaces: Initially, keep your new cat in a separate room with everything they need (food, water, toys, litter tray and bedding) and gradually let them explore each other's scent under the door.
- Supervised meetings: Once they seem curious rather than hostile, allow short, supervised face-to-face meetings. Try to do this in a neutral place where the cats can see each other from a distance, for example a long hallway, and ensure that each cat has their own escape route so that they don't feel trapped.
- Positive reinforcement: Reward calm and friendly behaviour with treats and praise, helping to create positive associations.
- Give freedom to interact, with separate resources: Once the cats are comfortable in each other's presence with free access to the house, be sure to continue providing them each with their own litter tray, food and water in separate areas to avoid any potential conflict over resources.
- For more information, see How to introduce a new cat to your cat.
Introducing Cats to Dogs:
- Gradual introduction: Start by keeping them in separate rooms, allowing them to hear and smell each other through a door.
- Controlled face-to-face: Leash the dog and let the cat approach at its own pace. Ensure the dog remains calm and controlled. Reward both the cat and dog for calm behaviour with treats and praise. Provide escape routes for the cat, such as high perches or hiding spots.
- Progress to off-leash interactions: Once both pets are comfortable, trial off-leash meetings. Supervise their interactions closely and be prepared to separate them if necessary.
- Positive reinforcement: Reward calm and friendly behaviour with treats and praise, helping to create positive associations.
- Separate spaces: Ensure separation during meal time, and separate sleeping areas.
Anxiety supplements are a fantastic tool to help pets feel calmer and more accepting of change during stressful periods. We recommend using them for both new and current pets during the introduction phase, and they can also be used on a long-term basis to help foster lasting harmony within your household.
Here are some of our top picks for pet anxiety supplements:
The Importance of Routine and Consistency
Just like humans, pets feel more comfortable when they know what to expect, and many thrive on a predictable daily routine. One of the most notable advantages of establishing a steady routine for your pets is the reduction of anxiety and stress, which is particularly important in multi-pet households.
As your new pet settles in, it's important to start building a long-term daily routine that will remain mostly consistent as they start to mix with your other pets and eventually find their place in their new home.
The foundation of a daily routine is consistent mealtime pets should be fed at roughly the same time each day. As already mentioned, ideally all pets should be fed separately.
If regular mealtime is difficult due to your schedule, why not consider an automatic feeder? These can be set to dispense food at a particular time of day, and some can even be controlled via an app on your phone.
Another vital part of the routine is daily playtime. Play serves many functions- entertainment, mental stimulation, exercise and valuable quality time spent with you. Try to do this at a similar time each day.
A consistent, regular bedtime for your pets can help promote a healthy sleep pattern. But, of course, maintaining a bed time isn't always easy. If you need to stay up late, try to at least keep a crate or comfy, warm bed nearby for your pet, and encourage them to 'go to bed' at the same time each night.
Fair Playtime and Attention for All
It's only natural to be concerned about your new addition being anxious in their new home but be careful not to skew your attention in their direction. It's important to remember what a significant adjustment this will be for your existing pet/s who are used to having your undivided attention. Try to divide your time equally between all pets, and allow for daily one-on-one playtime. This time is invaluable for bonding and will make you feel much closer to your pet- and vice versa!
As your pets become more comfortable with one another, you may be able to add in some group playtime as well, provided they are of a similar size and of good temperament. Fetch, tug of war, hide and seek and agility courses are excellent options for dogs. For cats, an interactive toy session (such as dangle or feather toys) and treat treasure hunts are sure to be a hit. Always make sure to keep an eye on your pets' body language during group play to ensure the safety of everyone involved. For more information, read Pet Rescue's article Keeping doggy play safe and happy.
Ensure Proper Nutrition for Each Pet
In a multi-pet home, feeding pets of the same species the same food might seem convenient, but it's not always the best choice. Generally, healthy pets in the same life stage can share the same diet. However, if your pets vary in age or have specific health requirements, their nutritional needs will differ, necessitating individualised diets. For more information on nutritional needs, see Are You Feeding An Age-Appropriate Diet, and our articles on nutrition to support health conditions in dogs and cats. For individualised advice, reach out to your pets' treating veterinarian.
How to prevent food-stealing
Of course, if multiple different diets are being used, ensuring that your pets don't steal each other's meals can be a challenge! Here are some strategies to assist you:
- Feed your pets in separate rooms or designated areas
- Consider using microchip-controlled feeders to prevent food theft
- For pets that graze throughout the day, keep their food in a secluded spot inaccessible to other pets, like on a counter, shelf, or behind a baby gate.
- For healthy pets not requiring specialised diets, certain brands offer all-life-stage options. Brands such as Ziwi, K9/Feline Natural, Taste of the Wild and Advance all provide diet options suitable for pets ranging from kittens and puppies to seniors. Make sure to always check the label to confirm which life stage/s the food is suitable for.
Preventative Care and Regular Check-ups
Staying current with vaccinations and parasite prevention is of paramount importance in multi-pet households. It not only prevents the spread of diseases and parasites between pets but also protects those who may be more vulnerable due to age or health conditions. Even indoor pets can be at risk, as diseases and parasites can be brought in from outdoors.
To get them up to date, puppies and kittens will generally need a series of three booster shots, spaced four weeks apart, starting when they're around 6-8 weeks old and wrapping up at or after 16 weeks. For adult cats and dogs over 12 months of age, annual health checks and vaccinations are recommended. Once your pets reach their golden years from age 7 onwards, it's a good idea to bump up the health checks to every six months.
Fleas, ticks and intestinal worms can easily be transmitted between pets, and affected animals can be a constant source of re-infection for themselves and other animals in the household. Parasites of importance in Australia include fleas, ticks, heartworm, roundworm, whipworm (dogs only), hookworm and tapeworm.
One advantage of adopting a pet from a rescue such as Pet Rescue is that their vaccinations and preventatives are already up to date with a very clear protocol provided on what you need to continue at home.
If you're unsure about your current vaccination or parasite prevention regime, it's always a good idea to check in with your vet regarding your pet's specific requirements.
Creating a Positive Environment
Establishing and maintaining a positive environment in multi-pet households is essential for the wellbeing and harmony of all residents. A positive environment promotes social interactions and companionship among pets, reducing stress and loneliness. It also enhances the bond between pets and their human caregivers.
One great way to do this is by making sure all of your pets are provided plenty of opportunities for enrichment and mental stimulation. This can lead to happier, calmer, and more contented animals. Here are some ideas to provide enrichment for all pets in your home:
- Interactive toys: Invest in some interactive toys that dispense treats or engage your pet's mind through puzzles and challenges.
- Puzzle feeders: Also known as slow feeders, these make mealtime more engaging. They require your pets to work for their food, mimicking natural hunting or foraging behaviour.
- Rotate toys: Switch out your pets' toys regularly to keep them interested. Novelty can be exciting and prevent boredom.
- Play with scents: For cats, use scents like catnip or puzzle feeders with scent components. For dogs, scented toys are a great option.
- Training and tricks: Engage in training sessions to teach your pets new tricks or commands. This not only stimulates their minds but also strengthens the bond between you and your furry friends. And yes, cats can be trained too!
Enriching your pets' environment is an ongoing process, and it's essential to tailor activities to the specific needs and preferences of each animal. Observing their behaviour and adjusting their environment accordingly is key to keeping them engaged and content.
Preventing Behavioural Difficulties
Each of your pets will bring its own unique personality, quirks, and habits into the mix. Differing behaviours, such as playfulness, shyness, or assertiveness, can add variety and richness to the household dynamic. However, sometimes these differences can lead to discord. It's important to recognize that the occasional disagreement between pets is common, and isn't a negative reflection on them; instead, these provide a great opportunity to nurture understanding, patience, and a deeper bond between all members of your pet family.
Luckily there are things you can do to help minimise the chance of disagreements occurring, as well as manage them if they do occur. While some of these have been touched on already, here is a nice overview of some of the most common possible issues and management strategies:
Preventing Pet Jealousy or Resource Guarding
One pet may become possessive or jealous when you show attention to another pet or guard valuable resources like food, toys, or a favourite spot.
Strategy: Always make sure everyone gets their fair share of love and attention. Provide separate feeding areas and gradually desensitise the jealous pet by rewarding them when they show positive behaviour around your other pets.
Preventing Territorial Aggression
Some pets can be territorial and may vocalise or get into scuffles to defend their turf in a multi-pet home.
Strategy: Increase the available territory by adding more beds, hiding spots and litter boxes (if applicable). Use calming pheromone-based products, like Feliway or Adaptil, to reduce tension. Gradual introductions and positive associations with shared spaces can help.
Managing Disparate Energy Levels:
Pets with different energy levels may struggle to find common ground for play and exercise. For example, an older pet may need more alone time and struggle to keep up with a boisterous youngster.
Strategy: Provide opportunities for individual exercise, and engage in playtime according to each pet's energy level. Gradually introduce activities that can accommodate both high-energy and low-energy pets. For example, some pets prefer to watch others play, but still like the opportunity to partake occasionally- so a game of fetch or a teaser toy session in a shared space will give older pets the opportunity to join in if they wish.
Each of these challenges can be approached positively, with a focus on fostering cooperation and understanding among pets. If the behaviour doesn't seem to be responding to at-home measures or starts to escalate, make sure to reach out to your veterinarian.
Multi-pet homes offer a unique and rewarding experience, and there are many things you can do to navigate the complexities of these dynamic environments and encourage harmony in your household. By embracing the importance of gradual introductions, positive interactions, behavioural understanding, environmental enrichment and regular veterinary and preventative care, you can help ensure that your furry, feathered, or scaled companions thrive.