How to Share Custody of a Dog or Cat Between Two Homes

pets getting along

Sharing a pet between two households can be a rewarding experience for you and your pet, if you follow these helpful tips.

Most families with pets share their pet care responsibilities among various family members — but what happens when a family splits, the kids go off to school, roommates go their separate ways, or two people who don’t live together want to share a pet?

Sometimes others in an existing household can take on new responsibilities, but in some cases, sharing a pet between households may be the best answer. There are several ways to arrange things so that everyone gets time with the pet and the pet gets all the care and consideration he or she needs. But first, why split custody of a pet at all?


The Benefits of Sharing a Pet

The most obvious benefit of sharing a pet is that it can keep existing bonds intact, preserving relationships that would otherwise end when a pet that's spent years within a family goes with one party instead of another. No one wants to say goodbye to a beloved dog or cat if they don’t have to.

Some people decide to share pets between households in order to save time and/or money. Veterinary and general pet expenses can add up, and splitting the cost may make the difference between keeping or having to give up a pet.

The same goes for time. Sometimes a family member or friend with extra time can help out another with less time, giving a pet more of the attention he or she needs. More time and affection with a pet may translate to a happier pet!

How to Share a Pet

When sharing a pet, you may want to begin by establishing who’s the rightful owner. The person who registers and renews the license tag is most likely to be seen as the owner in court. You’ll want to divvy up support costs as well, discussing everything from basic pet care needs to medical care, grooming, travel arrangements, and so on. That way everyone will know what they’re responsible for ahead of time.

Next, you’ll want to have a calendar to track your agreed-upon custody arrangements. Be as consistent with timing as possible, as your pet will feel more secure knowing what to expect, and when. Be sure to have a pet-sitter on call for backup in case one of you is unable to care for your dog or cat at the agreed-upon time for some reason.

If your dog or cat is new to one or both of the households, try splitting up your custody arrangements into longer periods — weeks or even months if possible — so your pet will have more time to adjust to each location. You can bring along familiar objects like toys and bedding to make the adjustment easier for your pet.

Be consistent with training as well. Make sure both households are calling the dog or cat by the same name (you’d be surprised!), using the same amount and kind of food (and rewards for good behavior), and supporting the same training — keeping pets off the couch, for instance, if that's important to one or both parties.


Sharing a Pet with Other Pets

Sometimes the pet you want to share is not the only pet involved. Getting along with an existing pet in a new location can be challenging, but when introduced properly, many cats and dogs work out their differences over time. Here’s how to help two dogstwo cats, or a cat and a dog get along better.

Be sure to go slowly with the introductions and watch for any aggression or distress in your pets. They may need more time apart than you expected, or some special attention from you to sort things out.


What’s Best for Your Pet

Sometimes the best thing for us isn’t best for our pet. Young puppies and kittens do best when raised within a single household. Also, some pets grow more attached to a particular person, and are better off living permanently with that one person than being separated from the person over and over again.

Like children, cats and dogs can react to stress in a household, so keep an eye out for behavioral problems such as pets relieving themselves where they shouldn’t. When a pet has a mishap or behaves oddly in a new situation, it’s often out of fear or confusion. Be vigilant and honest with yourself and the person you’re sharing your pet with, and — with a little work — chances are the two of you can help your pet adjust to the changes together. Before long, sharing a pet may become as normal and natural across households as it is within one.