If one dog makes you happy, two will surely double your joy. A purring cat curled up on your lap is relaxing; sitting on a settee surrounded by couple more felines is the ultimate stress-buster.
Or so the thinking goes, as you visit the animal shelter to find a brother or sister – or both – for Buster or Bella. And if you pet-shopping with your spouse, be prepared, writes psychologist Suzanne Phillips:
“A friend who recently lost one of her two nine year old wire haired terriers told me that she and her husband went to the breeder to pick out a new little companion puppy for Lulu. Delighted, they found a precious little female. Just before finalizing the decision, my friend stepped out to use the Ladies’ Room and on returning found Jack holding two little puppies.
‘Jack what are you doing?’
‘I’m not leaving without this little guy.’
‘Jack that means three dogs – I only have two arms.’
‘I’m retired. I need another male in the house.’
They call the two new additions Zoe and Jesse James - their twins.”
Before you head out the door, consider what an additional dog or cat in your household will mean for you and other family members (both 2- and 4-legged).
Benefits of Multiple Pets
Before you start to weigh the benefits, check to see if the housing association, landlord or retirement community allows multiple pets. Many advertise as “pet-friendly,” but limit the number of pets.
OK, now that you got the green light, think about your lonely pet at home while you are out and about. Companionship is a popular reason people get a second cat or dog. While you’re out exercising and having fun with friends, your pet can be doing the same at home.
“Multiple compatible pets play together, helping stave off under-stimulation and boredom that can lead to behavioral problems. This enriching relationship may also reduce or prevent separation anxiety and ease your conscience when you have to go out,” according to Purina.
A second pet can also be a companion to you, especially if your other dog or cat is older and sleeps a lot. A puppy or kitten will be a buddy to you too, and get you more active indoors and out.
The American Humane Association estimates 8 million animals enter a shelter every year, and almost half are euthanized because no one adopts them. Rescuing a pet, and encouraging animal-loving family and friends to do the same, is a small, but positive step. (So is having your pets spayed or neutered).
Many animals are in a shelter because of reasons other than abuse or trauma. People move, or don’t want such a large pet, or are ill and can no longer care for the animal.
And a rescue might go both ways, as a popular T-shirt sentiment declares: “My Dog Rescued Me.”
For children, a multi-pet household could mean fewer allergic conditions such as ragweed and dust mites, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Consider the Cost
Since you already have a pet, you know about all the costs, obvious and hidden. Food and cat litter. Toys. Vaccinations, flea and heartworm medications. Bedding and car carriers. Kennel costs when you travel. Training classes or books.
But have you ever added it all up? Financial writer David Weliver did, and estimates that the first year of owning a cat or dog is $1,000 to $1,200, and about $700 annually after that. However, costs can climb with pet injuries, illnesses and aging issues.
“Owners will likely incur at least one $2,000 - $4,000 bill for emergency care at some point during their pet’s lifetime, says Dr. Louise Murray, vice-president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, in New York City.
So double the cost, plan for the unexpected and see how that fits into your budget.
Also consider that your cat or dog might enjoy being an “only” pet. She has her favorite sunny spot for naps and doesn’t want to share it, or her toys, or you with another animal. So instead of doubling your pleasure by adding a second pet, you might be increasing the stress in your life, and your pet.
Talk to your veterinarian, who is familiar with your pet’s disposition and could offer advice. He might be able to suggest breeds and ages that would be a good fit. Also find out the shelter’s policy when an adoption is unworkable.
Taking the Step
After all these considerations, you have decided to add a pet to the household.
If you have a dog, and are bringing home a second dog, the Humane Society of the United States has four suggestions:
- Introduce on neutral territory outside, with both dogs leashed;
- Pay attention to each dog’s body language, ready to interrupt if growling, teeth baring and other aggressive behaviors occur;
- Let the dogs determine the pace of the introduction, not forcing them to interact;
- Monitor closely at home, using baby gates to separate them until you are sure they safe to be together.
Introducing a dog and cat, no matter which animal was there first, has its own set of rules.
“If there's going to be a problem during cat and dog introductions,” says Katherine A. Houpt, James Law Professor of Behavior Medicine - Emeritus at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, “it's usually caused by the dog. Most dogs will chase a rapidly moving object. So if a cat gets frightened and runs, a dog often feels honor-bound to chase it.”
Make sure your cat can run and hide (maybe time to install a cat flap into a door) and don’t force physical proximity.
If both siblings are cats, keep them in separate rooms for several days.
“If all seems to be going well and your cats aren’t hissing or growling under the door at each other, after a week, you can try visually introducing the cats. Installing a screen door or even a high baby gate (that neither cat can jump over) can work. It’s helpful to have another human with you so there is one person and one cat on each side of the barrier,” according to Petfinder.
Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.