Thinking of augmenting your family with another pet? That has the potential to be a very rewarding decision, as long as you plan carefully. One thing pet owners often neglect to do is collaborate with the other pets on this decision. You fall head over heels for something cute, or needy, or just plain serendipitous, then burst triumphantly through the front door, holding out your prize for the others to inspect and approve. Like humans, though, dogs and cats can’t be forced into friendships if the fit isn’t right. If you want your existing dog or cat to accept your attempts at matchmaking, you will have to be artful, manipulative, and patient.
When obtaining a new pet for your existing menagerie, be sure to allot plenty of time for the proceedings. It could take weeks to months of gentle persuasion before you can leave them unchaperoned, and some families never quite reach that pinnacle of confidence. I don’t recommend inviting another animal into your home for the sole purpose of acting as a friend to your existing pet; what will be the outcome if you put in months of patient labor and the two still don’t bond? Will the newcomer still be welcome in your home, even though he has failed to serve his purpose? Will you obtain another candidate and try again? Another critical concern at the outset is whether your existing pets are sturdy enough to withstand a disruption in their daily routines. An ancient cat with appetite troubles might be put off so much by an unfamiliar face that he embarks on a full hunger strike. A fragile old dog might be injured by the rough play advances of a youngster who is trying to engage her. Old pets and those with health or anxiety issues can only thrive with dependable daily routines, and those are difficult to maintain when integrating a new member to the household.
One more pitfall to avoid is the introduction of infectious disease with a new pet. I can’t stress enough the fact that disease carriers often appear perfectly healthy. Take your new dog or cat to the vet as early as possible, ideally before bringing them into the home. A couple of lab tests and an early application of flea/tick prevention will start you on the right path, but I’d also recommend quarantining your new animal for a week or two before any direct contact with other animals. Ringworm, respiratory disease, and some types of diarrhea can prance right into your home escorted by a normal-looking dog or cat, and babies are the worst offenders. Best to let your new charge settle in and beef up his own immune system while adjusting to the new surroundings. That way he’ll have less cooties to share when he starts socializing with the general population.
I know… wet blanket, right? Where’s the spontaneity? But too many spontaneous decisions bring about sad consequences when a pet’s entire future is in our hands. If the time is right for your household, read our next piece on forging a peaceful alliance between newly introduced pets.

Dr M.S. Regan