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essential tips
couple with moving boxes and a dog

The essentials

  • Combining households is stressful — One pet is moving into a new environment and must meet and live with other animals.
  • Be slow and patient — Pets can take weeks or even months to warm up to one another.
  • Watch for body cues — Throughout the transition to a combined pet household, watch your animals’ body language to tell if they feel stressed, scared, aggressive, or happy.

Moving in together with your significant other can be an exciting step in a relationship, but it’s not without its stresses. How will you split the closet space? Whose couch are you keeping? And what happens if your pets don’t seem to like each other? Maybe your pets are coming between you and your partner, your cat can’t stand your partner’s dog, or your partner can’t stand your cat. For many people, pets are like children, so you’ll need to find a way to make peace among all parties.

We’ll give you some practical steps to help everyone feel more comfortable. It’ll take some communication among the humans in the household and some patience, but you just might be able to combine pet households in a way that makes everyone feel safe and at ease.

Step 1: Establish an agreement with your partner

As you make plans to move in together, lay ground rules for moving in with pets. Start by talking about any pet allergies, which could make living with pets a challenge. If you or your partner’s pet has behavioral issues, you may want to discuss how you’ll handle that, whether by visiting a trainer or working on training at home.

Another big topic of discussion? Cleaning. You’ll already be discussing who handles the dishes in the sink and who should be in charge of taking out the trash, but you’ll also want to address cleaning up after pets. Your partner may request that you remain in charge of cleaning out your cat’s litter box, but maybe you’d like to request some assistance in vacuuming fur off the couch from time to time. In exchange, you could take your new housemate’s pup for morning walks or clean the food and water bowls at the end of each day.

Step 2: Create a safe space for your pets 

Your cat or dog may feel stressed when they enter their new environment, especially since there are other animals. The best way to help them relax is to make sure they have all their go-to comfort items, whether it’s their favorite stuffed chew toy or a cozy blanket or bed. They should also have a private space to retreat to if they feel overwhelmed by the other pet.

Bring their comfy bed — When moving to a new home, you’ll want to keep your pet’s familiar favorites close by for comfort. Pack their bed in a box that’s easy to access. Include their food and other essentials in the box so they have everything they need for their first night and day in their new home.

Pack some toys  Aside from their bed, toys can also help pets feel more comfortable in their new home. Plus, they can chew on their favorite toys to help decompress and unwind healthily. 

Make sure their crate is accessible  It’s going to take some time for the pets to get used to one another, so you’ll want to make sure they have a private place to retreat to when they want to be alone. Keep their crates separated in different rooms and make sure the door is unlocked and open, so they can go in and out as needed.

“Bringing an item, such as a blanket, toy, or pillow, that has the other pet's scent may help your dog or cat adjust to the new scent before moving day. Also, when introducing new pets to each other, always make sure it is under direct supervision. Never leave them alone. Reward each pet with praise and a treat when they are behaving well. This reinforces good behavior.”

Dr. Michelle Diener

Step 3: Arrange the first meeting between new pets  

You probably wouldn’t move into a new place without at least meeting your new roommate first, even for a quick chat. So you should also make sure your cat or dog socializes with their soon-to-be housemates, too.

Introducing dogs

To prepare for a multiple-dog home, here are some ways to safely and comfortably introduce your pups to each other.

Establish a neutral place to meet  You and your partner should meet in a neutral place, like a park. If you try to meet at one dog’s home, the dog may become territorial and aggressive. 

Try to go off-leash  Start the first few moments of the meeting, or even the first few meetings, with the dogs on leashes. But once they seem relaxed around one another, consider removing their leashes so they have an easier time maneuvering as they sniff and circle each other. Removing the restraints can also help the dogs feel more at ease.

Call your dog to you  Don’t forget to reward your pup for good manners! If your doggie is playing nicely with their future housemate, call them to you every once in a while to give them a treat.

Keep it short  For the first meeting, keep it to about one hour at most. Make sure to leave while things are still pleasant. Longer meetings can risk the dogs fighting or becoming agitated.

Introducing cats and dogs

Dogs tend to play, chase, or hide when they first meet cats but making both parties comfortable can help even these two very different mammals get along. Some dog breeds get along with cats better than others.

Here’s how to get a cat and dog to bond:

Give your cat higher ground  Make sure the cat has a safe place far out of reach of the dog. This will allow them to take a break or escape if they feel anxious or threatened.

Separate them after a short time  Keep the first meeting brief, especially if the dog is chasing the cat or is over-excited with the cat nearby. You may need to introduce the dog and cat several times, slowly increasing the amount of exposure, until they are used to being in each other’s presence.

Use rewards to encourage positive behaviors  If the cat and dog are both behaving well, don’t forget to encourage these behaviors with rewards. That’s at least one thing these furry friends will have in common: both cats and dogs love treats.

Introducing cats

Cats tend to be solitary creatures, but that doesn’t mean two or more cats can’t live in harmony in your home.

Control the space — Rather than bringing the cats to meet straight away, start by keeping them separate in the same home for at least a week. Allowing them to hear and smell each other before they meet can help minimize the risk of aggressive behaviors.

Let them see each other — Once they’ve adjusted to the sounds and smells of the other cat, you can allow the cats to meet. Make sure they aren’t hissing or exhibiting other aggressive behaviors before introducing the cats. Try to keep them separated physically with a screen door or in two separate cat carriers facing each other, and have one person nearby with each cat. Consider placing food in front of the divider, so the cats can come together to eat without touching.

Give them some space — You can remove the barrier to allow the cats to mingle, but make sure you give them their own spaces to retreat to if they need some alone time.

👉 If there is a fight or other serious situation during the first meeting, call a professional for advice before meeting again.

Step 4: Watch for body language cues 

When pets are uncomfortable, anxious, aggressive, or territorial, their body language will tell you loud and clear. You should understand your pet’s body language at every stage of the introduction process to gauge how they are adjusting to the other animal(s). Watch for these clues below.

  • Nose. Dogs may sniff to show interest in the other animal but watch their noses. They may lick their nose if they need a break. The nose may flare or wrinkle if they feel aggressive or anxious. Cats may touch noses as a sign of friendliness, similar to human handshakes.
  • Ears. Dogs and cats both can express their emotions through ear movements. Dogs with upright ears (rather than droopy ears) may pin their ears backward if they feel anxious or aggressive. Cats may move their ears backward or sideways if they are irritated or anxious, and if their ears go backward and flat, it could be a sign of aggression.
  • Tail. With dogs, a relaxed, wagging tail can show happiness or positive interest. An upright tail shows alertness, but that could mean the dog is interested in the other pet or they are feeling aggressive, so look at other body cues as well. They may tuck their tail if they feel scared. Cats will leave their tail relaxed but upright when they feel happy and relaxed. Wagging, thumping/twitching, or tucked cattails can show annoyance, fear, or aggression.
  • Eyes. Dogs may squint when they feel happy or relaxed.  A focused stare is a sign of aggression while shifting eyes can portray anxiety and stress. When cats are happy or relaxed, their eyes may be half-shut or they may blink slowly. Cats will stare if they are trying to challenge the other animal. Constricted pupils can portray aggression, while dilated pupils may show fear.
  • Mouth. Barking can be playful, but otherwise, watch for barking, snarling, or baring of teeth, which all mean a dog feels aggressive or threatened. If the dog is panting, it could be a good sign that the dog feels happy.  Cats may sniff other animals with an open mouth to get a better read on the scent. Otherwise, watch for cats that are hissing, a clear sign of distress.
  • Back. Dogs may stretch their backs with their front paws down on the ground, called a play bow, to show they are interested in playing. For cats, an arched back, often accompanied by their fur sticking straight up, shows fear or aggression.

“It is very important to monitor your pet's body language when introducing your pet to another furry companion. If your pet feels threatened or shows aggression, you need to intervene cautiously and remove your pet from the situation. Introduce your pet slowly and always under direct supervision.”

Dr. Michelle Diener

Step 5: Practice patience in a multiple-pet home

Even with plenty of time to introduce pets to one another, it’s going to take patience before the pets feel fully comfortable and happy with the new situation. To keep the peace, make sure each pet has its own space. That might mean separate pet beds, food and water bowls, and even toys until they feel less territorial — and even start cuddling in the same bed while you and your partner fawn over how cute they are!

When to seek professional help

For some pets, it can be friendship at first sight or a never-ending fight. Some pets might not be compatible but most pets will warm up to each other within a few weeks to a few months. If your pet is struggling to adapt to another animal, talk to your veterinarian or a certified behavioral specialist. The vet or specialist will offer ways to help train your pet to accept other pets in the household and may offer a behavioral supplement such as Purina Calming Care or possibly a behavioral medication such as a benzodiazepine, monoamine oxidase inhibitor, tricyclic antidepressant, or a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.

During the transition, remember to reward good behaviors. Giving treats when pets get along encourages them to continue the positive behaviors. Of course, the best pet training to improve the chances of pets getting along starts when the pets are young. Make sure to socialize young dogs and cats to make them more accustomed to other animals throughout life.

Frequently asked questions

Do pets keep couples together?

It’s no secret that these cute animals can bring happiness into our homes. However, the reality is that pets aren’t a magic cure for relationship woes. If a couple is having relationship problems, it’s best to seek professional help from a therapist rather than get a pet. Bringing a pet into an unhappy environment can be stressful for the pet, especially if the couple doesn’t stay together.

How do pets affect relationships?

While couples shouldn’t rely on a pet to try to save a relationship, couples that are in a good place with their relationship may find that a pet brings them even closer together. You may become more active together as you take the pups for walks and hikes, or your communication might improve as you work together to care for your pet’s daily needs.

How do you introduce cats before you move in together?

Start by bringing the cats into the same home, but keep separate litter boxes and food and water bowls for at least a week. You can allow cats to sniff each other under a door to help them adjust to each other’s scents. Then, you can allow them to see one another, but try to keep them apart physically with a mesh screen or in two separate crates facing each other. Allow them to come close to their respective sides of the screen for enjoyable experiences, like eating food or treats, or playing with toys. Finally, if they show relaxed body signals, you can introduce them without a barrier. Just make sure they are supervised and each has their own spaces to retreat to if they need a break.

What do you do with pets while moving?

Moving is stressful for you, but it can also be a scary time for pets. Fortunately, there are ways to make the transition more comfortable. You may want to microchip your pets before moving, in case they become fearful and try to escape during the move. Keep them secured in their kennel while you bring in the furnishings and boxes. Show them where their bed, toys, and bowls are in the new home so that they have some comfort in knowing where their belongings are. Reward them with treats when they are behaving and give them attention by petting and playing with them so that they learn that their new home is a safe and happy place where they can continue to feel comfortable and loved.