You can’t wait to bring home a fluffy feline friend so you can play, snuggle and stare at the fish tank together. But adopting a new family member requires planning ahead, especially if you have kids or other pets. Pause to consider what you’ll need to do to keep the fur from flying.

Get family approval

Make sure everyone in the household wants a cat (or another cat, if you already have one). It could be a problem if some family members are not on board, says Terri Bright, PhD, director of behavior services at the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in Boston.

Choose your feline soul mate

Skip the adoption floor at the shelter and head straight to the adoption counselor. Describe exactly how you see your life with this kitty. Would you like a bouncy kitten or a lap cat? Do you want her to follow you around or sleep on your desk like a diva? “Don’t adopt the cute orange cat” just because of her looks, advises Bright, or you might end up disappointed. Shelter staff and volunteers can identify which kitties may fit your desires and lifestyle best.

Set up a safe room

Never bring a cat into the house and just let him loose. “There’s no such thing as a second impression, especially with cats,” says animal behaviorist Mary Huntsberry, MA, ACAAB. “Cats are very sensitive and easily frightened.”

Prepare a feline safe haven — a room where he will spend at least the next two weeks getting used to the new environment. No other pets should be allowed in the room. “It’s good practice to give cats a place of security right away,” says Huntsberry. “Just give them a chance to get comfortable.”

Spoil your kitty and she’ll love you even more. Consider buying these supplies for the room:

  • water and food dishes
  • treats
  • litter box
  • cat bed
  • cat tree
  • window perch
  • toys
  • catnip

If you have kids

Young children should be supervised at all times around cats. Before you let them get close, have a talk. Here are some pointers:

  • The cat is not a toy. He’s an animal that can hurt you if you’re not careful.
  • Always let the cat approach you. Never chase the cat.
  • Be patient. When the cat comes, hold out one finger to the cat and let her sniff you.
  • Be very gentle with the cat. Don’t pick him up.

The best way to help kids and cats get to know each other is to teach kids how to play with the new pet and his toys, says Bright. When the cat seems to be getting comfortable around your children, show the kids how to pet the cat, advises Huntsberry.

If you have other pets

First of all, avoid surprises. “Every time you think, ‘let’s see what happens,’ don’t do it,” says Bright.

Block the door so the animals can’t touch or see each other. “All you want is the animals to smell each other under the door,” she adds.

As soon as the newcomer is relaxed, create a routine of confining the other animals and letting your new cat out to explore the house. Play with her outside the room, so she can build confidence. When she’s done, take her to her room, close the door and let the other pets out, says Bright.

Feed and play with other pets in front of the door, so they associate the new animal with fun things. When all pets are relaxed by the door, it’s time to let them see each other.

Put up a tall gate or screen and open the door for a bit. Give the pets lots of treats to focus their attention on the food. You may try to play with them. If there’s hissing, growling, barking or too much excitement, close the door and try again the next day, says Bright. Let them be face to face “only when you see them interested but relaxed.”

When to call a pro

Sometimes no matter how consistent and careful you are, things may not improve. If two weeks have gone by and your cat is still hissing, won’t come out from under the bed or seems scared all the time, it’s time to call your vet or an animal behaviorist, says Bright. Some cats may need extra help to calm down, such as food supplements, pheromone diffusers or even prescription medication.

With lots of patience and love, even the skittish kitty will warm up. It may take two to four weeks. In difficult cases, says Hunstberry, it may even take six months. No matter what, “take it slow and easy,” adds Bright. The secret is “baby steps all the way.” 

Daniela Caride is a freelance writer who has four cats and two dogs. She blogs about being a pet parent at Taildom.com and founded a nonprofit called Phinney's Friends.