Adopting a New Cat Checklist
You’ve scoured pet listings, researched local adoption groups, and even debated the benefits of homing an adult cat versus a kitten (or two, or three, or four). Now you’re ready to welcome a pet into your life. You probably know that you’ll need a litter box and pet food. But there are a few additional items every first-time cat owner should have before bringing home their new pet.
At the very least, you’ll need a way to carry your cat home, some cat-friendly food bowls, a litter box and litter, and a long-lasting scratcher. Once your new cat is home, you can see where they like to perch and sleep, and then consider adding nice-to-haves like a cat tree or a bed. After you two have settled into your new routine, don’t forget to follow up with your veterinarian for the medical necessities, such as immunizations and a microchip. We also recommend investing in a whole lot of TLC, which is always free.
Durable pet carrier
Many rescue groups, breeders, and animal shelters don’t provide new pet owners with a durable pet carrier. Some offer a cardboard carrier for smaller pets, such as kittens or rabbits. But those aren’t particularly secure or tough, and they aren’t suited to repeatedly toting your pet to and from the vet. We love the Sherpa Original Deluxe Carrier because its shell is durable, it’s well ventilated, and it’s available in three sizes, for pets up to 22 pounds. The medium Sherpa, designed for pets up to 16 pounds, will accommodate most cats as they mature from kittens to adults. It’s made with thick, tough nylon that’s more resistant to claw punctures than most other carriers. And the bag has wide entry points on the front and top so you will have an easier time loading your anxious cat into it, compared with most carriers we tested.
Large litter box
One of the benefits of adopting cats is that they can use a litter box, rather than having to go outside. But that doesn’t mean any plastic box will do. Some are too small, and some are too tall. Still others are enclosed, something our experts say makes most cats feel trapped. We like the Nature’s Miracle High Sided Litter Box because it’s large enough for a cat to turn around in, has high sides to contain spray, and has a low entry lip (so it’s easy even for less-mobile cats to enter). If your litter box will be in plain view, and aesthetics and smell containment are higher priorities, consider the ModKat Flip, our upgrade pick.
Cat litter that controls stink and tracks less
A cat will go through a lot of litter in their lifetime. Since you’ll both be around so much litter, we recommend Dr. Elsey’s Ultra. It forms sturdy clumps, has good odor control, and is less dusty than other litters. In our test, the litter clumps didn’t stick to the pan or crumble into dozens of pieces, as some of the other nine brands we tested did. The litter is scent-free, so it won’t release any perfume-y smells when you add litter to the box or scoop up waste; this is something that cats, with their sensitive noses, will definitely appreciate. Plus, Dr. Elsey’s has large litter granules, so this litter is less likely to track across your floors, and cats won’t kick up a lot of dust during use. If you find that litter tracking is still a problem, the Easyology Premium Cat Litter Mat is a simple and affordable way to help keep the mess contained (you can learn more about it in our review of the best cat litter mats).
For more information, read our full guide to cat litter.
Food and water dishes
Your cat’s water dish should be big enough to hold a full day’s supply of water so they don’t run out.
For water dishes, we recommend bowls that hold at least 20 ounces of water—which is about a two- to three-day supply, depending on your cat’s size and diet. Wirecutter staffers like the AmazonBasics Stainless Steel Bowl for its decent size, non-skid bottom, and dishwasher-safe design. (It’s called a dog bowl on the listing, but it works great for cats too.) You can also use a water fountain, which should help encourage your pet to drink more and requires refilling less often.
A water fountain is a great way to entice your finicky cat to drink more water. The Catit Flower Fountain is a great option because it’s very quiet, and your cat won’t be spooked by the trickling water whenever they take a sip. Its smooth surfaces and minimal number of parts make it easy to clean and maintain (and though it’s not explicitly dishwasher-safe, the parts survived a trip through on the top rack). The plastic water fountain holds 100 ounces of water, so you’ll need to refill it only once or twice a week.
If you prefer a stainless steel option or also have a dog, consider the Pioneer Pet Raindrop Drinking Fountain. It holds 96 ounces of water, but it has a wider drinking reservoir for larger dogs to use.
Tall (and tough) scratching post
If you have a cat and value your furniture, you need a cat scratcher or two. Pioneer Pet’s SmartCat The Ultimate Scratching Post is the most durable one we’ve tested. At 32 inches tall, it’s big enough for an adult-size cat to fully stretch out in a vertical position. And its solid-wood base is sturdy, so this model won’t tip over during energetic scratching sessions. This scratcher is covered in woven sisal fiber, which lasts years longer than carpet or sisal rope (which can easily pill, fray, or come unraveled). As we share in our cat scratcher guide, several Wirecutter staffers have owned this model for years. And Elizabeth Llewellyn, a feline welfare and behavior specialist, says she’s had hers for over five years. (But do keep in mind that not all cats love sisal rope or vertical scratchers, so read our advice on how to pick a cat scratcher before buying one.)
Secure, comfortable cat bed
Some cats will nap in dirty cardboard boxes, on dank water heaters, or on the dusty slats under your bed. However, if you’re buying your cat a bed, it should be comfortable, secure, and great for kneading. Since cats can be picky, you may not find the right cat bed overnight. In our cat bed guide, we rounded up seven outstanding selections, with prices ranging from $10 to $80. They include a cave bed for cats who like to hide (The Cat Ball); a plush bolster bed for snuggle time (Best Friends by Sheri’s OrthoComfort Deep Dish Cuddler); a thick mat that’s ideal for travel or crate use (MidWest’s QuietTime Deluxe Ombré Swirl), and even a cardboard-style bed (Omega Paw Scratch’n Massage Bed) and a multicat lounger (PetFusion Jumbo Cat Scratcher Lounge).
Place to perch
Cats enjoy surveying their surroundings from high perches. The New Cat Condos Premier Triple Cat Perch gives your pal the freedom to examine their new home from the security of a spot high above the ground. This cat condo is 32 inches tall and has a base and three platforms. At 11½ by 19 inches, 14 by 11 inches, and 16 by 9 inches, the platforms are large enough for most cats to rest on comfortably or to enjoy a horizontal scratching session. The condo is stable, thanks to its large base and sturdy construction—it’s more durable than any other cat furniture we’ve tested. And the condo is covered in carpet with sisal-rope accents, a design that’s better for cats who don’t like scratching sisal-only scratchers.
Playtime is a great opportunity to bond with your new cat. It offers them an outlet for their energy, and it gives them the physical and mental stimulation they need to be happy. Although a crumpled-up ball of paper can entertain in a pinch, the Veterinary Centers of America says that cats respond better to play sessions involving a variety of toys. A few of our favorites (which our own cats swear by) include a small stuffed bird that chirps like the real thing (Petlinks System Parrot Tweet Cat Toy); a feather-wand toy that mimics a bird’s zany flight movements (Petmate’s Jackson Galaxy Air Prey Wand); a 10-pack of colorful plastic springs that bounce about (Frisco Colorful Springs Cat Toy); a crinkle tunnel perfect for zoomies (SmartyKat Crackle Chute); and a robotic bug that wiggles about (Hexbug Nano Robotic Cat Toy).
Let’s face it: Cats sometimes throw up hairballs after an intense session of self-grooming. You can prevent this by regularly grooming your cat to ward off tangles. Brushing is also a good bonding opportunity, and it gives you a chance to check your cat for any bumps, fleas and ticks, or problem areas (like a sore back or mysteriously broken tail). Cats with short, smooth coats can be brushed weekly with a curry brush or slicker brush, like the Hertzko Self Cleaning Slicker Brush. Cats who have longer coats that easily mat (like Ragdolls) need to be brushed multiple times a week. A rake-style dematting comb for long-haired cats, like this Oster option, can do wonders, as can a deshedding tool by FURminator. Finally, never cut out a matted clump of hair, because it’s easy to slice your pet’s thin skin. Instead, hold the fur below the mat, separate it into sections, and brush it out as you normally would.
A better litter pail
If you hate hauling dirty litter to the trash each day, the Litter Genie Plus is a convenient item—it’s a small, odor-sequestering pail that you can dump dirty litter in and then empty out about every two weeks. We prefer the Litter Genie Plus over a small trash can next to the litter box because the Litter Genie holds more waste than a traditional bin, traps odors well, and prevents nosy pets and small children from making a mess. You scoop the dirty litter into a bag-lined bin, pull a handle to drop the mess into a smell-proof section, and walk away. The bin holds up to two weeks’ worth of cat litter, so you don’t have to constantly carry cat waste to the trash. Litter Genie’s thick plastic liners trap odors between trips to the trash can, and a cartridge of liners should last about two months in a single-cat household. (If you can’t swing the specialty liners, a kitchen trash bag will also do the trick.)
Cleaning supplies for hairballs and litter-box messes
To deal with everyday cat messes like hairballs and litter-box gunk, you need an all-purpose cleaner. In our own homes, we use Method All-Purpose Naturally Derived Surface Cleaner for tasks like removing cat vomit from hardwood floors. It comes in nine scents; we recommend avoiding citrus scents, which cats dislike. French lavender is easier on a cat’s sensitive nose. (Method used to be a pick in our guide to all-purpose cleaners, but we have since retooled the piece to focus on surface cleaners that destroy the novel coronavirus.)
Pair your preferred all-purpose cleaner with a strong paper towel to wipe away cat dander, hairballs, and litter messes. Bounty Select-A-Size paper towels are a staff favorite and former pick, and they’re strong enough to stay in one piece when you’re scrubbing away gunky messes. They also hold more moisture than other paper towels we tested. And Bounty paper towels don’t leave behind any lint, so they’re great to use on glass surfaces and stainless steel pet bowls. The sheets have more tear-off points, so you don’t waste a big paper-towel square on a small pet mess.
For more information, read our full guide to handheld vacuums.
Finally, there are a few things you’ll need to take care of with your vet or shelter soon after you bring your cat home: vaccines, microchips and tags, and sterilization, among others. See this blog post for more information.
- Cat carrier
- Litter box
- Cat litter
- Food and water dishes
- Water fountain
- Scratching post
- Cat bed
- Cat tree
- Enrichment toys
- Cat brush
- Litter Genie
- Cleaning supplies
Print a copy of this checklist (PDF) to keep on hand, so you will be sure to have everything you need before heading out to pick up your new cat.