Pros, Cons and Managing Behavior in a Multi-Pet Home

dogs running in grass

Most people I know in Northern Colorado have more than one pet, including me. Although I started out with one cat, I had the fun task of melding critter families once I moved in with my boyfriend four years ago. While It wasn’t easy getting two older cats to become step-brothers, they have created a relationship that works (aside from a scuffle now and again).

Reflecting on their progress as “bros” got me a bit curious about what was common in homes nationwide. Turns out multi-pet households have been on the rise across the United States over the last two years.

According to the National Pet Owners Survey survey funded by the non-profit American Pet Products Association (APPA), “multiple pet ownership is at an all-time high with 44 percent of pet owning households in the U.S. owning more than one pet. That’s up from 42 percent of households in 2010. The most popular combination of pets includes dogs and cats.”

Is this earth shattering in any way? Not really, but it does indicate an interesting dynamic. More people have to effectively manage multiple pet personalities within one home.

First, let’s look at the pros and cons of having multiple pets:

Pros of Multiple Pets

  • Extra snuggly companionship for you
  • Animals benefit from having a companion when you aren’t home
  • Pets are less likely to be bored and play with each other, leaving their paws off your stuff
  • Socialization – my cat Bruiser has taught my cat Monty a thing or two about confidence and sticking up for himself

Cons of Multiple Pets

  • If pets don’t get along and you bypass formal training, they may destroy the house
  • Some pets may never get along, and it’s hard to decide which pet stays or is re-homed
  • A bit more mess – more fur to vacuum, litter to scoop, dog poop to pick up
  • Higher cost for the vet and food, especially if there are diet restrictions

Tips and Smoothing Out the Kinks of Blended Pet Families

It’s a pretty balanced list! So the real trick is in “family management.” There are simple things you can do to make an educated, supportive choice for your pet family:

  • Seriously consider gender and breed choice before getting a pet
  • Let your pet help when choosing a new family member
  • Know pets’ limits and tolerance levels
  • Position yourself as the boss first before inviting in new dogs
  • Give each animal special time alone with you

I also talked with Ameila Wieber, dog and cat behavior consultant, CPDT – KA and owner of Caring Behavior to see what she felt pet owners should look out for when expanding the family with a new dog or cat.

Tips for Managing Dog Behavior and Adding a New Pet

“First of all, make sure pets are spayed and neutered. Then match up pets of the opposite sex. So, if you have a male, get a female,” says Weiber. “Males tend to respect females more and each sex has a different role in the pack.”

“When you get two males, they can be more territorial, aggressive and will play loudly – but it’s mostly for show. Two neutered males can get along well, especially if one is “the boss” and the new dog is a puppy. Otherwise two males tend to be a bit more aggressive.”

two dogs playing

“Two females, can be aggressive towards each other, (especially in tact ones) because they are trying to fill the same role of the reproducer. You need to watch them closely because they fight more quietly than males and usually fight to cause serious harm,” adds Wieber.

“It also helps to feed the dogs separately in the home. Avoid having toys on the ground, give them their own toys separately or under your supervision.”

It’s also important to see if your dog is a barker or a chaser, and be sure to get a good sense of their overall temperament before choosing another pet. Weiber suggests reviewing who is running the show and pick the sex and age based on that animal. Early socialization is very important so your dog knows what is allowed and another dog doesn’t “untrain” the dog you already have.

“You can also do test runs with friends and their dogs to see what kind of breed and personality would work well with your pet. Dogs should be relaxed together – no high tails, relaxed body posture, relaxed ears, low wagging tails. It’s important to check these “readings” during a meeting, and plan to connect on neutral territory like a park with people both dogs know,” says Wieber. “Overall, older dogs are more forgiving with puppies.”

Cat Behavior and Adding Kittens

Cats have the same opposite sex issues as dogs, but if the animals are all fixed, it’s more about matching the personalities. If one is a tough guy and the other isn’t a challenger (like my two males) then it can work out just fine.

“Cats are not very social, so even if they don’t get along they can at least avoid. That’s why cat trees, separate food bowls and litter can help, because sharing is definitely not a cat quality,” says Wieber.


cats plyaing

“When introducing cats, start by offering a separate area to get the new one comfy in their own room or section in the house and slowly integrate the two cats or cat and dog. This way there is a safe zone for the pet to get away. Older cats are also more forgiving with kittens.”

Shared objects between cats also can help with connecting pets. “Switch up scratching posts periodically so they get used to the other cat’s scent,” adds Wieber.

“If you are mixing a cat and a dog within a home, it very important to look into the breed first. Terriers, hounds, dachshunds and greyhounds are trained to chase and lock in. So if your dog is a chaser, a cat may not be a good idea. It might just force the cat to scratch to defend itself.” says Wieber.

The most important thing to remember is that you are considered a “resource” for your pets. You give affection, food and security so if they feel they are losing a resource, they may start to guard you – which can cause problems. So just be mindful of making sure all pets feel loved! And the little bit of extra work to balance pros, cons and behavior is worth it if you really love animals and want a healthy, happy home.

cat sleeping on dog

How do you manage things in your multi-pet home?

Photo credit, header photo: Francisco Marquez

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  • barefootmeg

    Great photos!

    We have two dogs (that don’t really get along except when they’re off leash in a field and can run with each other), two cats (who don’t get along) and 4 chickens. Thankfully the newest dog and newest cat get along with each other. And for the most part everyone else has just found their niche and stuck to it. We’re a bit of a motley crew, but it seems to be working out.

    • Katrina Pfannkuch

      WOW! You really do have quite a full house! It’s good that each animal has found the place where they feel most comfortable and there is a workable system. Just like in any family, not everyone likes each other all the time ; ) Ha! I’d love to see some pictures some time!