Two dogs enjoying the holiday season.

Holiday How-To: Introducing Your Pets to Family & Other Animals

Heading home for the holidays is always something to look forward to once there’s a chill in the air. Seeing family, baking holiday cookies, bundling up and hitting a sledding hill, watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for the 25th time. For some, it’s also a treat to see their old family pet, the one they miss so much since they moved away from home.

But what should you do with the pet you live with now? Many pet owners choose to bring their pet along with them on their holiday travels. Leaving your cat or dogalone while you’re on an extended vacation isn’t advisable, and kenneling your pet can rack up a pretty large bill in a hurry. With travel and gift-giving already taking up resources, who wants the additional expense of kenneling a pet? If you’re bringing your pet home with you, there are a few things you’ll need to think about and prepare for in advance.

Is Anyone Allergic?

Before heading home for the holiday break, talk to any friends and family you expect to see. You’ll want to let them know that you’re bringing along a new pal. If you have cat, there’s a reasonable chance that someone in your family will be allergic to Mr. Kitty.

About 10 percent of people are allergic to cats, and if they aren’t prepared with their allergy medication, their holiday break will be spent coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. If a friend or family member does have a cat allergy, the best course of action is to keep the cat out of the room that they’ll be sleeping in. If there is a floor away from that bedroom (ideally a basement) that your cat can set up as their base for the trip, that’s the most ideal scenario. Keep your cat’s litter, food, and toys down there and away from the allergic family member or friend. Dog allergies are also something to consider, but are far less prevalent than cat allergies.

Will There Be Other Pets?

After getting a read on who might have allergies to your pet, the next step is collecting an inventory on the other animals that might be present. No, your Uncle Eddy does count as an animal. It’s important to understand if there are animals at the house both for the safety and comfort of your pet and the other animals. If your cat or dog is playful with others, that doesn’t mean that the other animals will play nice back — and vice versa. This is especially true with cats, who are very territorial, and animals of different ages. If your family has an older dog who’s lived at the house for a long time, they might not receive the energy of a puppy very well.

Make sure you ask the other pet owners about vaccinations. You’ll want to make sure that all the animals at the house are properly vaccinated, including your animal. If one of the animals hasn’t been properly vaccinated, or is behind schedule on vaccinations, you need to talk about a solution for that. Suggest that the pet that isn’t up to date on their vaccinations take a visit to the vet before you and your pet arrive. The last thing anyone wants is for someone’s pet to get sick over the holiday break.

Introducing Your Pet to Other Pets

The key to introducing animals is to be patient and take it slow. Though we all want animals to immediately snuggle up in a state of calendar-worthy cuteness, the chances of that happening, at least right away, are incredibly rare. When you arrive at the house with your cat or dog, settle them into a bedroom or closed off room at first. You’ll want the resident to get used to the smell of your pet before they meet each other. The smell of your pet will register rather quickly with the resident pet, and you’ll notice a change in behavior. The resident pet might become nervous, scared, excited, curious, or confused. Give the resident pet some time to come to terms with the smell. Also, make sure the pet of the house is getting plenty of attention and petting.

After giving the two some space for a bit, take a sock and rub your pet down with it. Pet around the ears with the sock, under the belly, and up the back towards your pet’s neck. Then, take the sock and pat down the resident pet with it. The resident animal will start to associate the smell of your pet with a positive experience. After you are done showering the resident animal in affection, take the sock back to your animal and do the same. When done with each, give the pets a treat to double down on the positive reinforcement.

Once you’ve completed this step, you’re ready to introduce your pets. Do this slowly as well, and if the animals show signs of aggression, separate them and try again after some time passes. If you’re dealing with dogs, this will likely do the trick. Cats can be a bit more standoffish to other pets, so be patient with them and don’t get frustrated. If you grow frustrated or raise your voice at the animals for not getting along, you’re compounding the negative experience.