When two people move in together, dozens of issues must be considered: Furniture, sharing rent and utilities, schedules, grocery shopping, closet space, chores, laundry…. with so much to focus on, it’s no wonder many people blend households while simply expecting that their pets will get along without extra help. But in most cases, this “strategy” turns out to be anywhere from misguided to downright disastrous. Most pets don’t like change, and many are territorial. If you’re blending two households that include pets, your plans should include a series of introductions and sleepovers, starting several weeks before you plan to finalize the move.
Dogs should be introduced for the first time at a neutral location, like a park or a mutual friend’s house with no other pets. If one of the dogs is known to be reactive to other dogs, start even slower by exchanging bedding and toys before the dogs meet. When you do introduce the dogs in person, start by having both owners work on simple obedience behaviors with their dogs at opposite ends of the neutral space. Then walk the dogs past one another and allow them to greet briefly by sniffing. If this goes well, a brief off-leash play session should be permitted.
Cats are more difficult to introduce. Begin by swapping bedding and toys so they can each become accustomed to the other cat’s smell. After this has been accomplished, bring one cat to the other cat’s home and place it in a bedroom or bathroom, shutting the door securely. Encourage the resident cat to smell the room where the strange cat is hidden. If possible, dangle a toy or bit of string along the bottom edge of the door so the cats bat at it and can see each other’s paws. Don’t allow the cats to see each other with no door between them until this has been repeated several times.
Moving In Together
When the move finally happens, take steps to avoid fighting by eliminating sources of territorial aggression and providing ample opportunities for the pets to avoid seeing one another when they’re not interested in socializing. Reduce the overall stress level in the household by minimizing rearranging and schedule changes until the pets are used to living together. Consider using a pheromone product like Feliway or an aromatherapy product like Rescue Remedy to help pets stay calm.
For dogs, avoid territorial aggression by putting away both dogs’ favorite toys for the first few weeks. Always feed dogs separately and provide at least two water sources. Make sure both dogs get plenty of attention from their owners and opportunities to exercise solo as well as play together. Don’t leave the dogs together unsupervised until you’re absolutely sure they’re the best of friends.
Cats should be separated at all times for at least the first week. When the new cat is allowed out to roam freely, continue to provide separate litterboxes and bowls. If possible, have as many litterboxes as you have cats, plus one extra for good measure. If the cats hiss and fight, try to avoid stepping in unless absolutely necessary. Cats will quarrel initially until they establish a routine.