You have fallen in love, and now you and your significant other are merging your lives — and your pet households. Whether you are relocating together into a new place or moving to one or the other’s present home, you will be bringing together your pets under one roof. What is the best way to go about it?
Like so many aspects of our pets' lives, the key is to set them up for success from the start. Even one fight can create ill will that could take a long time to resolve. Instead, ensure the success of your pet household by introducing them in baby steps as you work to blend your furry families.
Before the Move
Make olfactory introductions. Before your pets meet face to face, you can introduce your pets by scent alone. Your pets will already have picked up the scent of the incoming pet on your mate’s clothing – but now it is time to put that scent to work by creating positive associations. Have your significant other bring over a blanket that belongs to his dog or cat. It should be one that the pet sleeps on (not one that has been used to transport the pet to the veterinarian’s office — or it will be filled with stress pheromones.) Place the blanket in a positive place in your home – perhaps in an area your own pet likes to nap. Do not place it near the food bowl or any place that may make your pet feel territorial. Similarly, send your partner home with a blanket, crate mat, or plush toy filled with your own pet’s scent. Both pets will become acquainted through the many smells that we can only imagine permeating those items.
Introduce in a neutral place. Although this does not work well with cats, it is great to have dogs meet outside the home in a neutral setting. Rather than bringing over your new arrival to the resident dog’s home, meet up on a dog walk. Let the dogs meet each other and keep everyone walking. Walking together creates the feeling of a pack -- just what you are seeking! If you can, do this multiple times so that the dogs will become friends long before one welcomes the other to “my” house.
Get away together. Again, this works much better when you are blending dog families than cat families, but consider some getaways with your pets before relocating. From day trips to outings such as patio dining at local restaurants, shared experiences at a neutral location can help your dogs to bond. Another alternative is a day of doggie day care fun together. Once you’re comfortable with these situations, consider an overnight stay at a dog-friendly hotel.
After the Move
Create a safe room. If your newly blended family includes one or more cats, you will want to create a safe room, whether you are moving to a new house or in one of your existing homes. A safe room is just a small room (often a bathroom or spare bedroom) that can be closed off from the other rooms. Make it a happy place for your cat with special toys, a scratcher, and his bed as well as plenty of petting – but without the attention of other pets. Cats often do best with at least one week of a safe room to help them decompress; other pets often can “meet” them by sniffing beneath the door. A few days before integrating your cat into the rest of the household, swap positions: move your cat to the rest of the house and the other pets to the safe room. They will all become familiar with each other’s scents in a safe manner.
Create a pack scent. Smell plays an important role in our pets’ lives, and it is also key to creating a happy household. Packs and families all share a common scent among the members, and you will be able to speed up the process of forming a new household by creating your own pack scent. Use an old hairbrush (which already has your scent) to brush the resident pet (or any pet, if you are moving to a new home). Next, brush the incoming pet, thus transferring the resident pet’s scent (and your scent) to him. Finally, go back and brush the resident pet again, transferring the scent of the incoming pet to the resident pet. Do this for several days, all while talking in a happy voice and even giving your pets special treats. (Do not do it on a day you are stressed by movers and boxes!) Your pets will learn to accept each other’s scents as a positive part of their day.
Give them space. Unless you are moving into a home where neither you or your partner have lived previously, it is important to give the pets some room when one of you moves in with the other. The resident pet will suddenly feel that there is an intruder; the newly arrived pet will feel out of place. Pick up and put away any high-value items (chews, favorite toys) that can cause resource-guarding fights, and then make sure you have your incoming pet’s items in their own special place. You may want to place your resident pet’s bed and bowl in one room and the new arrival’s items in another room. Feed them in separate rooms. Separate litter boxes are necessary for cats. Be sure to monitor the pets carefully the first few days, quickly (but calmly) separating them if you see any tension.
Blending your families can be an experience you will look back on with fond memories in the years to come. If you take the time to introduce your pets and to build their relationships properly, you may soon find that, like you and your new partner, you have helped to form a lasting bond between your four-legged family members.