News & Politics

Twice the Tails

Thinking about a second pet? Here are tips for helping your cat or dog welcome a new friend.

Donna Gaffney’s dog, Jethro, was lonely. When Gaffney and her boyfriend dog-sat for a friend’s yellow Lab, their six-year-old terrier mix didn’t want to say goodbye to the dog.

“He would be sad when his buddy wasn’t around,” says Gaffney, who lives in Takoma Park. “He would stare out the window.”

The couple was planning to get a second dog, and when they spotted a six-month-old terrier mix at a Washington Humane Society adoption event, they knew they’d found Jethro a permanent playmate. They named the puppy Elly May after a Beverly Hillbillies character, just as they’d done with Jethro.

Adding a new family member wasn’t easy. “It’s like when people talk about going from having one kid to two,” says Gaffney. “It’s exponential.”

Diana Foley of the Washington Humane Society urges pet owners to take it slow. A puppy or kitten will be more time-consuming and can overwhelm an older pet.

“Some adult dogs just have no patience for puppy antics,” says Gaffney.

Mixing genders can curb competition between new siblings, Foley says. “Jethro and Bubba roughhouse like a couple of guys,” Gaffney says of her dog and his occasional visitor. “With Elly May, it’s like Jethro senses she’s not as strong and he dials it down.”

Foley says to look for a dog with a similar energy level as the one you have; canines often do well with their own breed. Many shelters or breeders require you to bring your dog to meet a prospective new one. “That way your dog can have a say,” she says.

Jannette Kouwenberg of Cloverly was worried about bringing her 130-pound French mastiff, Kooper, to meet the five-pound mixed-breed puppy she wanted, but when she brought the pair into the shelter yard, they were curious and friendly.

“There was no growling, no showing of teeth,” Kouwenberg says. “As soon as I saw their tails go up and start wagging, I thought, ‘This could work.’ ”

When you bring home a new dog, keep the animals separated for a few days and let them get used to each other. Gaffney introduced her dogs outside: “It was less that she was coming into his house; it was ‘Oh, look what we found on our walk—let’s take her home with us.’ ”

Squabbles are possible as dogs work out their hierarchies, Foley says, so it’s best not to leave them alone together right away.

When bringing a second cat home, consider whether your cat has lived with other felines before. If you have your heart set on a kitten and already have an older cat, the Humane Society suggests bringing home a pair of kittens so the young cats can entertain each other.

“Cats typically don’t deal with big changes in their environment well,” Foley says.

For at least the first three or four days, a new cat should be isolated in a room with a litter box, toys, food, water, and a safe place to hide. Allow the cats to hear and smell each other through the door. Foley suggests using toys, bedding, or towels to help one cat get used to the other’s scents. If there’s no hissing or growling, prop open the door so the animals can see each other, then let the cats interact under your supervision.

Dogs are natural predators, Foley says, so introducing them to cats can be stressful. If you have hunting dogs or terriers, bringing home a kitten can be dangerous—the dog’s instinct is to chase smaller animals.

Unless they’ve grown up with cats, greyhounds, Jack Russell terriers, pit-bull terriers, shiba inus, and huskies can have problems with them.

Keep dogs and cats apart for the first week unless they’re supervised, and make sure the dog is leashed when they meet. It’s key to have a safe space the cat can get to that the dog can’t, Foley says. The Washington Animal Rescue League recommends having a squirt bottle of water nearby to separate the animals if needed.

Jannette Kouwenberg’s dogs took longer to get adjusted than she expected. “At first Kooper totally ignored him,” she says. Within two weeks, the five-pound Krum was licking food off Kooper’s face.