Most partners come with baggage, and for some, that baggage includes a bundle of furry joy. Deciding to move in with your partner who has a pet and potentially bringing in a pet of your own means blending two very different families into one. Blended pet families require plenty of time, patience and communication. This guide will help you on your journey, exploring what adjustments you and your partner will go through as a couple, adjustments your pet(s) will face, what pet behaviors to expect, and ways to make the transition into cohabitation a smooth one. After all, no pet owner wants to be faced with the worst ultimatum of all: “It’s me or the dog!”
Image via Flickr by Margaret McMullen
Adjustments for You and Your Partner
An important thing to remember is that just because it’s too soon to move in with your partner doesn’t mean it’s too soon to bring up the topic of living with a pet. If your girlfriend of two months can’t stand your dog, sweeping the topic under the rug until it’s relevant really won’t help. If eventually you two do decide you want to move in together, already having a basic plan for your pets can ease some of the stress.
As with any relationship issue, communication is key. Before making the move, sit down together and establish what values are important to you and what rules you think your pets should follow. Do you disagree with the idea of an outdoor cat, but feel comfortable letting her in the fenced backyard? How do you both feel about pets on the furniture? Is your partner’s dog going to continue sleeping in the bed with you? Accept the fact that you will most likely have differences in opinion, and be willing to compromise.
Also remember that your partner doesn’t have to love your pet the same way you do. If your boyfriend is more of a pat-on-the-head than a snuggle-on-the-couch type of pet owner, accept it. As long as you don’t run into issues of abuse, the two of you don’t have to love a pet the same way.
If you run into problems (and let’s face it, you’re probably going to have a couple at first), be specific with what the issue actually is. It’s easy to vent in frustration, “That dog is way too hyperactive!” when really your issue is the shower of slobber-kisses you receive upon entering the house every day. Discuss together what changes should be made and how they should be enforced.
Finally, respect one another’s need to adjust. Most partner disagreements over pets come down to differences in tolerance. Your partner may simply need time to acclimate (it’s not so much that he hates being followed room to room by your dog as much as he isn’t used to it) or you may need to fix behaviors together. Be empathetic to each other’s needs and make yourself a part of the solution. If your cat is a heavy shedder and your boyfriend is tired of sitting on a furry sofa, offer to vacuum every other day. This will show your partner that you’re truly concerned with his adjustment and want to help make it easier.
There’s also the matter of the “A-word”: allergies. Often, a sentiment is not so much, “I hate dogs,” as, “I tend to break into sneezing fits around four-legged creatures.” If the two of you are adopting, be wary of dogs presented as “hypoallergenic,” as some people still have allergy issues with those breeds. If you or your partner has pet allergies, keeping a strict cleaning regimen will be your biggest ally. Make it a habit to wipe down smooth surfaces regularly and vacuum often. Make your bed a pet-free zone and even consider making your entire bedroom off-limits. Carpet carries more allergens than wood and tile flooring, so it may be beneficial to restrict your pets to non-carpeted areas. If you allow them on furniture (especially upholstered), vacuum it often. Treat your pet to a nice, outdoor brushing session every week to cut down on loose fur.
Image via Flickr by The Man-Machine
Creating a Smooth Transition for Your Pet
Moving is tough for pets because you can’t explain to them exactly what is going on. Every pet responds differently to a new home full of fresh smells, an unfamiliar human roommate, and potentially a new furry roomie. The pet’s own temperament will be the biggest factor in determining his or her reaction, and it’s possible some will exhibit stressful behaviors for the first few weeks.
Pets may simply feel unsure in their new home. Some will respond by hiding out under the bed or in their crates. Others may take the opportunity to establish their own territory. Many will base their responses on their owners: If you’re feeling anxious, they may pick up on it and feel on-edge themselves. Keep in mind that your own demeanor will affect how your pet feels about his new home.
In general, cats are more concerned with their surroundings than dogs. Disruption to the consistency in their environments—boxes, suitcases, and a new human, for example—can lead to stress reactions. Typically affectionate cats sometimes become more aloof and independent cats may become clingier.
Again, your own attitude is everything. Pets tend to understand what packed boxes and suitcases mean. Nothing is more heartbreaking than those big, sad eyes looking up at you for an explanation, so be positive. Tell him, “We are moving into a new home together!” Pets understand your energy and tone more than your words, so stay upbeat. Though, “I’m not leaving you behind,” would be meant as comforting, it has a negative connotation your pet can pick up on, so stick to the positives.
Patience is key when it comes to merging households. Give your partner’s pet time to get to know you. Like it or not, she may completely ignore you at first and you’ll simply have to accept that. Set aside some alone time to bond just the two of you, and keep in mind that a few treats could go a long way!
Image via Flickr by Gaelen
The First Meeting and Beyond: Establishing Harmony Between Both of Your Pets
There’s more to blending your pet family than just getting your pets acquainted with new human roommates. When it comes to introducing your pet to a new four-legged playmate, there are lots of ways to break the ice.
For future canine roommates, start with a few leashed walks together. Go to a neutral spot where neither dog feels vulnerable. After success with the casual walks, progress to a play date in a fenced area. Avoid having food or toys out as these can lead to fighting. Begin with both dogs on their leashes until they seem comfortable with relaxed body posture. It could take some time, so don’t push them to each other. The goal is for them to be comfortable together. Keep the meetings short—about an hour—and make sure they end in a happy, playful, positive place.
Two Pairs of Whiskers
Introducing your feline to another cat is a whole other ballgame. Cats are territorial by nature and don’t like sharing, so this may lead to marking one’s territory (which unfortunately means marking with urine) or even fighting. It could also be way less dramatic, where the cats simply sit and stare at each other, or give each other a few sniffs. A fairly common reaction falls somewhere between the extremes with both cats sniffing each other, hissing and then walking away. But be on the lookout for signs of true aggression like flattened ears, growling or spitting, and crouching.
Fido, Meet Fluffy!
When it comes to canine/feline future roommates, the rules are significantly more rigid. Before you bring in the dog, designate a safe, quiet room that will be cat-only. She should have access to her food and litter box, and high areas to jump to as an escape route. (If she isn’t allowed on the furniture, cat trees are a good way to give her some lift!)
For the first meeting, bring the dog into the house on a leash and see how he reacts to the smell of the cat. Slowly take him to the cat, but don’t invade her designated space. Don’t rush an interaction, but wait to see how they each react. Once they’ve had a chance to respond to one another, call the dog over and have him sit. Work on holding his attention and keeping him calm while the cat is around so he understands this is the expected behavior. Don’t initially leave the pair alone together unattended. While you are away and at bedtime, the cat should be in her space and the dog crated or in his own space.
When dogs meet new cats, they tend to respond in one of three ways: play, prey, or cautious avoidance. Some dogs, especially young, small ones, immediately see a cat as a new playmate. While this seems the ideal response, the cat may not share the dog’s enthusiasm, so it’s important to monitor playtime between the two. Other dogs have a very strong “prey drive,” causing them to see a cat as something to hunt. Similarly, cats may view a dog as a predator and immediately be defensive. Lastly, the dog might be downright afraid of the cat, especially if the dog is on the older side and the cat is younger and more assertive. Your kitty may react to this response by watching your dog from a distance, or approaching him very cautiously.
Image via Flickr by Peng Xiu
Don’t get too excited too quickly when progress seems to occur. Chasing urges will vary in every dog depending on breed and prey drive, and you’re bound to suffer a few setbacks before total understanding occurs. If the cat ends up being dominant (often illustrated by a swift but harmless swat to the dog’s nose), embrace it. It’s better for the dog to fear her than end up hurting her.
Using a crate is also a useful tool when blending pet families. If the dog barks at the cat while he’s in his crate, verbally scold him. If he doesn’t stop, cover it with a sheet. Only let him loose in the same room as her when he has gone a full week without barking at her when she walks past. If you have to issue a hard-correction, such as a stern scolding or a timeout, make sure to give your pet plenty of affection later.
Image via Flickr by Kostandin Minga
Making friends, especially cross-species, is tough for everyone. It’s important to make sure your pet knows that you are (and always will be) his best buddy, and for your partner to feel like a part of the family instead of an intruder. Keep the lines of communication clear, and before you know it, you’ll have nothing but wagging tails and a happy home!