So you've added a new pet to your family. Congratulations! Now you might be wondering: How long does it take for a pet to adjust to a new home? Here are some tips to help a new dog or cat transition into your household.
Adopting a new pet
Before bringing home a new pet (whether a puppy, kitten, dog, or cat), do your best to make sure they are as healthy as possible. You can start by acquiring the animal’s complete medical history. If possible, find out the following:
- Whether your pet is up to date on vaccines
- Whether your pet has been tested for heartworm disease and has been on a consistent preventative. Ask which heartworm prevention medication the animal has been taking and whether the medication has been well tolerated.
- Whether your new pet has been on flea and tick prevention. Again, ask for the specifics of which preventative has been given and whether any side effects were noticed.
- What food your new pet has been eating. If you’ll be feeding the animal something different, you’ll want to make a gradual transition to the new diet to avoid gastrointestinal upset.
You should ask for copies of all medical records and give them to your veterinarian in advance. If your new pet hasn’t been examined recently, make an appointment with your vet for a physical exam. At the appointment, your vet can administer any necessary vaccines and test for fecal parasites.
Keep in mind that any change — even a positive thing like moving to a loving home — is stressful for animals. Stress, travel, and transport can aggravate underlying disease and can even cause disease. So do what you can to minimize stress during this time of transition.
Cat-proofing or dog-proofing your home
Once the basic medical needs have been assessed, take some time to inspect your surroundings. Are your home and yard appropriately dog- and cat-proofed?
Some common safety concerns: toilet seats, electrical cords and outlets, houseplants (some are toxic to pets), garbage cans, and inadequate kitchen food storage. You also might want to move valuable or fragile items. It’s a good idea to have a crate or a safe room where you can confine new animals when unsupervised or for gradual introductions to existing pets.
Bringing home a puppy or kitten
For young animals, keep in mind that they are still babies. Puppies and kittens do best with consistent feeding and eating schedules; this also helps facilitate potty training and litter box training.
Some other things to consider when bringing home a new puppy or kitten:
- Use age- and size-specific pet toys. Also, be watchful of objects or toys that might look interesting and tasty from your pet’s perspective — and that could be ingested and cause potential stomach and bowel problems.
- Use caution when exposing puppies and kittens to older animals, and don’t take them to high-traffic locations, such as dog parks or pet events, until they are fully vaccinated.
- Make sure your puppy or kitten gets enough quality time with you and the rest of your family. Discuss in advance which behaviors you want to reward and which behaviors you want to ignore, and make sure everyone in the family is prepared to be consistent with training. Avoid rough play patterns, as they teach bad habits that are hard to reverse later.
- Supervise puppies and kittens closely, especially in the first few weeks in a new home. Consider placing a bell on your pet’s collar so they're easier to monitor when not in sight.
Bringing home an adult pet
For older animals, see whether you can learn about any training or health problems they have, and be proactive: Make a plan to deal with any issues. Don’t try to do everything at once though; gradually introduce new experiences under controlled circumstances.
Remember, lots of quality time is very important during the first weeks that a pet is in a new home, and consistency and routines make things easier for everyone. Adult animals should also be confined to a safe room or crate when unsupervised, particularly during the first few weeks.
Helping a pet adjust to a new home
If you have other pets in your home, keep in mind that you need to plan introductions carefully. If possible, implement a quarantine period of seven to 10 days in case your new pet comes down with any illness secondary to the stress of travel.
For cats, a safe room or transition room should be set up to house the new cat as you gradually introduce them to your other pets. Be sure the door can be securely closed. Two weeks before bringing the new cat home, consider using a pheromone diffuser. Cat-appeasing pheromones, such as Feliway, help ease the stress of new cat introductions.
Once the quarantine period is over, try placing a toy near the bottom of the door separating the new cat from the other cats. This might facilitate play under the door. To help with scent transfer, use a towel or glove to pet all the cats daily, focusing on the cheeks and base of the tail.
Once the new cat seems settled and relaxed, start to rotate locations. If this goes well, progress to short (five minutes or less) visual introductions. Do this several times a day until all the cats are relaxed, and then try supervised contact. To be prepared for breaking up an altercation, have a squirt gun or spray water-bottle handy. If everyone is getting along, the length of time the cats spend together can gradually be increased and human supervision can slowly decrease.
For dogs, it’s best to let them meet on leash in neutral territory. If possible, have one person for each dog. And if you have more than one dog, introduce the new dog to only one dog at a time. If you can, bring the dogs together multiple times before they live together. Try to do introductions when everyone is calm.
After you bring the new dog home, don’t leave the dogs together unsupervised; use a crate or a transition room to keep dogs separate. You’ll want to separate new dogs during feeding time and remove highly desirable toys, treats, and beds during the transition period.
Follow these simple but important guidelines, and before you know it, your new pet will be a well-integrated member of your household.