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The essentials

  • Create a safe space — Give furry family members their own space in the house until they are used to one another’s scents and personalities. 
  • Watch for body cues — When introducing new pets in general, watch your animals’ body language to tell if they feel stressed, scared, or aggressive.
  • Be patient — Take the first introduction slowly, and remember that pets can take weeks or even months to warm up to one another.

If you’re considering moving in together with pets, the thought of animal spats can feel overwhelming. While most cats and dogs can learn to love (or at least tolerate) one another after the introduction, there are steps you can take to speed up the process. For example: Learning how to read your pet’s body cues as they undergo the socialization and introduction process can be key to facilitating a path to quicker friendship.

It’s not only the animal communication piece that matters, however. Humans can benefit from talks about boundaries, communication, and workload distribution — keeping everyone on the same page about who is going to care for the house pets and how. 

Below, we’re giving you tried-and-true strategies to help make your move-in process a smooth one — keeping all relations between partners and furry friends as pleasant as possible throughout.

Understand body language and pet communication styles

One of the best ways to minimize stress for your pets over the course of your move-in is to watch for body language and signs of stress. We’ve compiled some things to watch for in your dogs and cats below: 

How do dogs use body language? 

Like humans, a dog’s body language communicates as much as vocalization, from body posture to the way they wag their tails. An anxious dog, for instance, may have a stiff body posture, pace, walk in circles, and avoid eye contact. A happy dog will be more wiggly and relaxed and keep their eyes and mouth slightly open.

If dogs feel like their access to food is threatened, they may display some degree of aggression. It’s something to consider when another pet is eating nearby. Food aggression can be eliminated or severely lessened with proper training. Many dogs also have a high prey drive, which may affect how they interact with cats — and how a cat will accept a dog in their territory. Be sure your cat has an escape route if they feel threatened.

How do cats use body language?

While cats frequently use their wide vocabulary of meows, purrs, hisses, and chirps to communicate, they also employ body language and behaviors to voice their moods and intentions. When felines feel anxious, they may:

  • Slant their ears backward or sideways. If their ears go completely flat, it could be a sign of aggression and extreme fear.
    Swish their tails. A quickly swishing one is a sign of stress or excitement.
    Exhibit new behaviors. In stressful situations, cats may suckle on blankets or soft clothing, lick their lips, and groom excessively.
    Retreat more often and eat less. Cats also can experience digestive issues and even have bathroom accidents.
    Purr loudly. Strangely enough, loud purring, which we associate with a happy cat, can also be a self-soothing technique for a stressed-out cat.

Create a safe space for all animals

Taking time is crucial when you’re introducing pets to each other in your new home. While some breeds and animal types can be more territorial than others, all animals benefit from a safe space to retreat to — especially if it’s their first time meeting. You can discuss how and where to do this for each animal with your partner, taking the time to make it comfortable and secluded. 

For example: For a new dog in the home, you might add their favorite “safe” blanket, safe-to-chew toys, and other fun stuff. Kittens and adult cats might appreciate a box or other “confined” space to nest in, as well as their favorite toys and treats. Consider what different species members might appreciate as you work through the logistics of safe spaces for the first meeting. 

👉 We do want to note: You don’t have to let space limit you. In fact, you can make this possible even in a single-room studio by simply giving each animal a designated area.

Prep your home for safe exploration

After the introduction and socialization process begins, it’s a safe bet that your pets will want to explore their home. Our top tip? Look at your home with fresh eyes. What could your new dog or cat get into that could be harmful? If you’re adopting a puppy or kitty, you should be particularly mindful of hazards. Store valuables out of reach and limit the amount of time your new pet spends unsupervised.

Take extra safety precautions (in every room you can)

Before merging households and pets, make a plan to keep all of the animals safe. For example: To keep your cat safe in the socialization process, you might move their feeding dish where the dog can’t reach it and provide an elevated space where your cat can take a break or escape if they feel anxious or threatened. This way, your cat won’t blame your dog for what your cat sees as unnecessary upheaval. The same goes for the dog’s environment when introducing them to a new cat. 

👉 This suggestion ties into the top tip of keeping separate “safe places,” and encourages pet parents who are cohabitating to make these places all over the house. You never know when your pet will want or need to retreat for safety or comfort.

Make a socialization strategy before you meet

Similar to introducing your young child to a new baby, the introduction process between a new cat or dog is delicate and must be handled with care. Consider the personality and temperament of both pets. Are they hyper, skittish, friendly, or aloof? Do they typically exhibit calm behavior? Talking with your partner ahead of time and strategizing your first meeting can make it a better experience for everyone — human and pet. 

Here are our recommended steps for a smooth introduction and socialization process: 

  • Have your first meeting. Do a gradual introduction for your pets at your new house and keep sessions brief. Just as humans get familiar and comfortable after years of dating, know that different pets might need more time to warm up. Simply having the intro is a big step — so don’t forget to create positive associations and reward them afterward! 
  • Have social leash time. When both partners feel comfortable, have your pets socialize for longer periods on leashes. Allow them to retreat to safety if they need to. Just be careful to monitor so leashes don’t get tangled.
  • Have open-door exploration time. After they get more comfortable, the next step would be open-cage exploration time. While leaving the cage door or safe space open for hasty retreats, you and your partner can allow supervised visits and roaming about the house.

Have the (human) conversation

When moving in or merging lives, it’s not all about the pet’s comfort level. It’s about yours too! Here are some tips to help get you and your partner on the same page for pet care and your new life together. 

  • Find a neutral place to meet —Have the conversation somewhere you’re comfortable, such as a coffee shop or your favorite bistro. It can help reduce stress and keep the conversation casual.
  • Establish cleaning strategies — Much like deciding who will wash the dishes or take out the trash, make a plan for cleaning up after the pets. Figure out who is responsible for cleaning the cat’s litter box or vacuuming fur off the couch. A cleaning station in your entryway, mudroom, or by a side or back door will also minimize messes.
  • Set boundaries and preferences early — Some seasons of life may be busier or more intense for one member of the relationship. Talking about boundaries and preferences early can help you navigate times of stress with ease, keeping your family and your furry friends as comfortable as possible.

When to seek professional help

If you’ve followed these tips and are still having trouble with pets that can’t get along, consider calling in a professional trainer or pet behaviorist. They can help with everything from excessive barking and jumping to chewing and biting. You can find one in your area here — the ASPCA breaks down the difference between pet-behavior professionals.  

They may recommend plenty of exercise for your dog so that they aren’t too hyper around a skittish cat. In some cases, you may consider supplements that can help calm a dog that is exhibiting ongoing anxiety or stress.

Frequently asked questions

Should you introduce cats before moving in together? 

Yes, it’s generally best to introduce pets before your move-in date. We recommend doing so at your or your partner’s house, without adding the stress of travel to a new, unfamiliar place. Your cats may warm up to each other after a few friendly meet-ups.  

How do you introduce dogs when moving in together?

Similar to cats, you’ll want to introduce dogs in a neutral, stress-free environment (such as either of your current houses). Plan ahead, making safe spaces to retreat and bringing their favorite toys along. Feel free to let the dogs sniff around and make their own social connection, avoiding intervention wherever possible. 

Are there precautions to take to make our pets feel safe in a new environment? 

Precautions in this area of pet socialization generally focus on your pet’s safety. Ensure that your home or socialization environment is safe and that your pet has somewhere to run to if things go awry. We also recommend close pet-parent supervision to ensure that all pets involved stay safe during first or subsequent meets. 

What should we do if our pets can’t adjust or get along in the new living situation? 

Some pets need a little extra help — and that’s okay! In this case, you might consider calling in a professional trainer or behaviorist. You can also talk to your vet if you believe that your pet’s socialization issues might be rooted in anxiety, as they can offer you supplements that can help. 

How long does the adjustment period last? 

It greatly depends on the temperaments of the animals, but after a proper introduction, it typically takes two to three weeks.