Managing a multi-pet household

Are you wanting to expand your pet brood? Maybe you want a companion for your pet or you selfishly want another furry friend to cuddle up with. Whatever the reason may be there are some important things to consider before you welcome a new addition into the family. Petcover have put together a list of pointers to help you effectively manage a multi-pet household.

Choosing a good match

The dynamics of any family household is bound to change when you add a new personality to the mix. We all know it can be a shock for an only child to be confronted with a new cute member of the family. Suddenly they have to compete for their parent’s love and attention and they may not initially welcome this change. It’s much the same for domestic pets who are not accustomed to sharing their master’s affection. A period of adjustment is inevitable for both pet parties but you can increase your chances of a smooth transition from a single to multi-pet household by choosing a good match. Consider factors like age, personality, temperament and energy levels if you want your pets to get along. For example an energetic young pup is unlikely to be a good fit with an old and slow moving feline that is easily irritated. If you’re going down the adoption route, ask the previous owners if your potential pet has had much interaction with other animals and if they tend to get along with them. If possible, introduce your pets to each other at a young age as socialising animals when they are young is a lot easier then introducing them as adults.

Minimise conflict

Even if you do your homework and are confident that you’ve chosen a good pet match, conflict can still erupt between your animals. Here are some tips to minimise conflict:

  • Keep food bowls separate during mealtimes. Aggression over resources is a common source of pet rivalry so eliminate any potential conflict by placing their bowls at opposite ends of the room, or if you have a particularly feisty pet, in separate rooms.
  • Don’t show preferential treatment. Just like siblings get jealous if one child gets something the other doesn’t, pets will notice if their furry roommate is getting extra cuddles, treats, walks etc. Be mindful of showing an equal level of affection and attention towards each pet.
  • Identify your pets’ stressors. Sometimes fighting amongst pets does not have an easily identifiable trigger like competition over a bone or toy. This is where it helps to understand stress factors that might be contributing towards tension in the household. Pat Miller from WholeDog Journal explains that when dogs attack other dogs in the home, it’s often the result of a ‘’stress load that pushes a dog over his bite threshold’’[1]. Common stressors include physical and verbal punishments, loud or unexpected noises (fireworks, doorbell, thunder), car rides, illness such as arthritis or ear infections, physical and verbal punishments and passers-by that are spotted through the window. The best and most obvious way to deal with this is to remove anything in your pet’s environment that may be stressful for them. If this is not possible, the other option is to find strategies for minimising exposure to the stress. Consult your vet for tips on how to manage common stressors.
  • Manage aggression. You can use training strategies to reduce or re-direct aggressive behaviour in your pets. Behavioural Adjustment Training (BAT) is a technique that uses environmental reinforcers to change your pet’s behavioural response. In situations where your dog responds with aggression you can use food and other treats to encourage behaviours other than aggression. Stress-reducing strategies may also help reduce aggressive behaviour in pets. Plenty of exercise and fresh air, good quality nutrition and a predictable routine are all solid foundational tools for alleviating stress. Seek advice from pet behaviourists or trainers for strategies on how to manage aggression in pets.

Routine

If you come from a big family or maybe have a few kids of your own, you will understand the importance of routine to ensure day to day life runs smoothly and all hell doesn’t break loose (although it inevitably will at times!). The following is a simple checklist for creating a bullet-proof routine:

  • Cleaning roster. Extra pets equal extra mess! Stay on top of it by creating a cleaning roster and if you live with other people who share pet responsibilities, divvy up the tasks. Cleaning litter boxes, washing pet bedding, vacuuming/sweeping (particularly if your canine or feline is a shedder!), putting away pet toys, picking up poop from the yard are all cleaning chores you may want to include in your roster.
  • Schedules for bathing, grooming, feeding and walks. Pets love predictability and a disciplined, well-behaved pet is one that has a consistent routine. And by sticking to your dog’s daily, weekly and monthly schedule you create habits that become automatic, eliminating headaches and allowing you to enjoy your pets rather than stress about the responsibilities that come with them.
  • Set yourself reminders for when vet checkups and vaccinations are due.

Have a plan B

If you have an early morning meeting and can’t take your dogs for their scheduled walk or if one of your pets get sick and needs to be taken to the vet, have provisions in place to handle these situations if and when they arise. If you have neighbours with pets, maybe propose an agreement where you help each other out with walks and feed times. Or ask a friend or family member who lives nearby if you can call on them in emergencies.

Costs and resources

It’s easy to get carried away in the excitement of growing your pet family. But it’s vital that you first make sure you are in a position to care for more than one pet. If money is an issue, crunch some numbers to check whether you can finance another pet, factoring in pet food, accessories, vet bills, insurance and any other expenses you anticipate. If you are time poor or juggling multiple commitments, do some mock up scheduling and see if it’s feasible to fit another pet’s needs in your life. Space is another important consideration, particularly if you are housing different species who fight like cats and dogs (pun intended) they will need separate areas of the home to occupy for time apart. Large puppies with excess energy will also not fare well in small spaces, particularly if there is not an adequately sized backyard for them to run around in. Remember to consider what’s best for the whole family so if you are already bursting at the seams or if it’s going to place too much of a strain on your time and financial resources, hold off until you are in a position to accommodate multiple pets in your household.

1. Miller, Pat, ‘Dog-On-Dog Household Aggression’, Whole Dog Journal, April 2010, last udated June 5, 2018, https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/13_4/features/Dog-Fighting-Behavior-Aggression_16214-1.html

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