How to introduce a puppy to other pets

Wondering how to introduce a new puppy to a cat, older dog, rabbit or other pet? We asked Petplan behaviourist Nick Jones for advice and his tried-and-tested strategies to help your puppy and existing pets become pals.

What’s the best way to introduce a puppy to a cat?

The sooner you can introduce a new puppy to existing cats, the better. A young puppy’s personality and behaviour are more of a blank slate, so begin your introductions to other household pets during their first week at home.

Start with scent transference, swapping a piece of bedding from each animal to familiarise them with the other’s smell. Next, spend a few minutes playing with the puppy alone, sitting on the floor so your lap and hands become laden with the puppy’s scent. Then get your cat's favourite treats and start interacting with the cat while the puppy is present.

Close the doors but make sure the puppy can’t jump on or chase the cat, even though they might be eager to play! Keep a lead on your puppy but let the cat walk around freely. If everything goes well, you can use treats to encourage your cat towards the puppy.

The learning is more on the puppy’s side than the cat’s. If the cat is moderately confident, they may be content to be close to the puppy from the first session. Most puppies and cats will be fine in each other’s company, but always supervise them until you’re certain they can be trusted together. Some dog breeds are poorly suited to living with cats; breeds such as Greyhounds and Beagles are bred to hunt smaller animals and their instinctive behaviours, such as chasing, are likely to distress your cat (and other smaller pets).

How should I introduce a new puppy to my pet rabbit?

The advice differs for indoor and outdoor rabbits. Indoor rabbits are likely to be fully exposed to everything in the household, including other pets. Most household rabbits roam freely for part of each day. With a new puppy, that roaming should be done with supervision and a lead on the puppy. Watch that the puppy isn't showing inappropriate behaviours such as jumping or barking at the rabbit. With repeated and careful introductions, the two can learn to share a home.

If the rabbit lives in a hutch, make sure that your puppy can be aware of the rabbit without showing any untoward or predatory behaviours. As the puppy becomes more settled, calm and trustworthy, allow them increased freedom until you reach a point where the dog can be in the garden unsupervised and not attack the hutch. That said, it’s best not to leave a puppy and rabbit (or other small pet) alone together in the puppy’s first year.

However, due to their instinctive behaviours, some dog breeds are not suited to living alongside other small animals. Breeds such as terriers (traditionally used to catch vermin), and hunting or farm dogs with a high prey drive may struggle around rabbits, ferrets or guinea pigs and will cause unnecessary distress to these smaller pets. You don’t want to put your pets in a situation that’s not going to end well.

Any tips for introducing a puppy to other dogs?

When introducing your puppy to another dog, keep the first meetings short and positive. Introduce the pair outdoors on neutral territory if possible, perhaps in a local park. Keep the puppy on a lead and let the dogs see each other from a distance before they approach one another.

Let the animals set the pace, provide plenty of reassurance and don’t put them under any pressure. As the puppy owner, you should constantly assess and control the situation. Never allow children to make the introductions or leave the dogs to their own devices. Don’t force things if you are concerned about either animal’s body language.

What body language signs show your puppy may be getting stressed?

When introducing your puppy to other pets, keep an eye out for the following body language:

  • Backing away
  • Trying to run off
  • Ears flat
  • Tail between legs
  • Excess salivation

These can indicate your puppy may be feeling anxious. Stop the proceedings at that point, have some time away and maybe try again the following day.

Are there products that can help with introducing a new dog to existing pets?

You could use a baby gate to separate your older pet from the new puppy. Watch how they react to one another through the bars and offer treats when they respond well. Once you’re confident they’re ready to be introduced, remove the gate but keep a close eye on both animals until they’re comfortable in each other’s company.

You can buy dietary supplements, pheromone sprays and even collars that are meant to relax dogs and help them feel more at ease in unfamiliar situations. If you feel your pet needs a little extra help remaining calm, then speak to your vet about natural remedies, especially if you’re a first-time puppy owner. But these products are no substitute for proper training and careful supervision – that’s where you should be focusing your efforts.

By taking the time to introduce a puppy and cat or other pet in a sympathetic and careful manner, you could help build a firm animal friendship that lasts many years.

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