Some people feel lonely around the holidays, but for shelter cats, that feeling can persist long after you’ve put away the decorations. “A shelter environment is very stressful for cats, no matter how nice we make it,” says Jenn Smith, cat co-chair at Danbury Animal Welfare Society (DAWS), a Connecticut nonprofit dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of homeless cats. “It is especially hard on those who have lived in a home and lost the security of both their owners and their physical home,” adds Smith.

The winter holidays lead to a surge of gifted animals that are later taken to shelters by unprepared owners. You can help counter this trend by bringing home a new feline friend for you and your current kitty. Our five-step process will help you to introduce one or more new cats into your household without any hair-raising glitches.

Step 1: Consider the personality of your current cat
Your cat’s personality should play a big role in deciding what kind of additional feline to adopt. “If you have a cat with a dominant personality, you would not want to bring home another dominant, or ‘alpha,’ cat,” says Smith. A quieter cat without leadership ambitions would help alleviate feline politics in that situation. If your cat has lived with other felines before, try to remember how it interacts with others.

Step 2: Talk to shelter staff
A quick Internet search will help you locate local shelters. As you visit the cats at the shelters, “don’t be afraid to ask the staff or volunteers specific questions about each cat,” offers Smith. Tell the staff that you have another pet. They will help you determine which cats will best suit your needs. “Doing this upfront can prevent a lot of problems later down the line,” says Smith.

Step 3: Check up on your prospective new cat’s health
Before adopting, get the specifics on your new cat’s health requirements. “All our cats and dogs are spayed or neutered and receive age-appropriate shots and vaccines prior to adoption,” says DAWS President Christine Benezra. The adoption fee usually covers those costs, but new cats entering a home with a resident cat should also first visit a veterinarian to be tested for feline AIDS and leukemia.

Step 4: Redecorate with “multi-cat” in mind
Cats are territorial, so offer your new cat its own room. This will prevent your resident pet from feeling intruded upon and will help the new cat acclimate to the home and to the new owner. Choose a small room with few hiding spots and place a litter box in one corner. Water and food bowls should go in another corner. Don’t forget to include a few toys and a scratching post. Once the new cat arrives, visit with it often so it learns to trust you before meeting the resident cat.

Step 5: Introduce the cats slowly
A gradual introduction, full of pleasant experiences involving treats, attention and play, is vital to securing a happy, long-term relationship between your new cats. Here’s how to do it smoothly:

  • Day 1 When you bring the new cat home, sneak it into its new room right away. Let it explore its surroundings for a few hours. In the meantime, play with your resident cat, which will smell the new cat on you.
  • Day 2-3 Continue to play with the cats separately but exchange the cats’ bedding so they get further acquainted with each other’s smell before meeting.
  • Day 4-7 Rotate the cats between the closed-off room and the rest of the house on a daily basis. This way, they’ll rub their own scent all over. Feed the cats and play with them in each area, twice daily (without bringing them in contact with each other yet). This will help to alleviate feline anxiety as they begin to anticipate the routine.
  • Week 2 If the cats seem relaxed with each other’s smell, bring out the new cat in a carrier to meet the resident feline. Do this for a few short sessions each day until the cats become relaxed in each other’s presence.

Although the process could take weeks or even months, Smith believes that it is possible for most cats to learn to get along with others, as long as you’re prepared to put in the time, energy and money that come along with being a responsible pet owner.