Your decision to adopt a cat or kitten is one that will enrich your life immensely. And good for you: You're doing your homework first to get off on the right foot as a new pet owner. These tips will give you a helpful overview of what to bring home and why it's needed. Add love and attention, and you're off to a great start!
Collar, ID Tag & Microchip
Think safety first for your new pet. Even if you plan to keep your cat or kitten indoors, there's a chance it could escape from your home and become lost. Two things will help prevent this potentially heartbreaking situation: a collar with an ID tag attached and a microchip.
There are many materials, patterns, and colors to choose from for a cat collar, but the most important trait to look for is a safety breakaway feature. Cats are dedicated explorers and can easily find themselves in situations from which they need to escape, even within your home. Should a cat find itself caught on something by its collar, this type of collar will allow it to break away and escape from the object holding it, rather than choke to death. Choose a collar size that fits comfortably: not so tight that it chokes or chafes your cat's neck, and not so loose that the cat can easily slip out of it. Need an example? Be sure you can fit two fingers between your cat and its collar. The attached ID tag, which can be ordered online or purchased from your veterinarian, should include your pet's name and your contact information (name, phone number, and address).
You may consider a microchip to ensure your lost pet will be returned to you. A veterinarian injects a tiny identifying integrated circuit under the surface of your pet's skin between the shoulder blades. The process is not harmful or painful, and can be compared to your pet receiving a vaccination. The microchip contains an ID code unique to your cat that you register with a microchip company, along with your contact information. If your lost pet is found and turned over to a shelter or veterinarian, its microchip can be scanned. This provides your pet's rescuer with the information necessary to contact you so your pet can be returned safely.
You'll appreciate a secure, size-appropriate carrier to transport your cat or kitten home from the shelter or breeder, on a road trip, or to the vet for checkups. It's not safe for you, or for your cat, to leave it free to move about your car where it can distract you from safe driving. Your cat will also feel safer and more secure when confined to a carrier's concise space.
You'll find three different types of carriers to consider: cardboard carriers, hard-sided crates, and soft-sided carriers. See which one works best to meet your needs.
Cardboard carriers are the least expensive. They cannot be cleaned, are not well-ventilated, and become flimsy when wet. This type of carrier is best used in emergencies or on short road trips. Shelters will often send a newly adopted pet home with its new owner in this temporary type of carrier.
Hard-sided crates are better ventilated than cardboard carriers and are easy to clean. These crates are sturdier and offer more protection for the pet inside should the crate be dropped. Hard-sided crates are more expensive than cardboard carriers and bulkier and heavier to carry.
Soft-sided carriers, the most expensive of the three, often include convenient features such as wheels for ease of transporting and holders for pet supplies. But these carriers aren't as well-ventilated and are more difficult to clean than hard-sided crates. They offer less protection for the pet.
Look for a carrier that offers the following options when you get ready to buy:
- The carrier/crate should let the cat stand up, move around, and lie down comfortably.
- The carrier/crate should include plenty of openings for air to move and circulate within. Cats generally are not good travelers and easily become overheated.
- The carrier/crate should be easy to clean and maintain.
- Travel note: If you are thinking about taking your cat on an airplane, check with the airline for its specific guidelines on carriers.
Store the empty carrier in an accessible location in case of a medical emergency or the need to remove your pet from your home quickly (for a flood or fire).
Your cat or kitten will need a nice, cozy cat bed to curl up in during the 15+ hours it sleeps in a day, or to take a break from family activity. If funds are tight, a sturdy box lid with a soft towel tucked inside will do. If you're in the market for a purchased bed, you'll find cat beds, pads, hammocks, igloos, blankets, hideaways, and tunnels made from materials such as foam, polyester, plastic, wicker, and more. A few things to keep in mind as you shop for a bed:
- Size of your cat or kitten. Choose a bed that's large enough for your cat to stand up and turn around as it attempts to find the perfect snoozing position, but small enough for your cat to feel snug and secure.
- Comfort quotient. Look for a nice soft material that feels cuddly and snuggly. If you choose a rigid plastic or wicker container, include a soft, fleece-type filling to place inside it.
- Easy maintenance. Look for a low-maintenance washable material or bed. Dirt and hair will quickly build up; you'll want to be able to toss the bed or filling in the washing machine once a week to keep it fresh.
- Location. Find an area to place the bed where your cat will be protected from household activity as it sleeps, but where it will still feel like part of the family. If in doubt, simply observe where your cat slips away for some "me time." You might want to place a bed near a window or attach a cat perch on a windowsill (if the frame is set up for that option). Cats love to look outside and lay in the sunlight. Placing a little catnip and a toy or two within the bed helps the cat feel at home.
Litter and Litter Box
Start by choosing a litter box that is large enough for your cat to easily climb in and out of and move around. It should be longer than your cat's body length. Traditional litter boxes are rectangular, about 4 inches deep, and suit most cats. Avoid covered litter boxes, as they limit a cat's ability to view his or her surroundings.
When deciding on a litter brand and type, first continue with the brand your cat was using at its previous residence. If you prefer to try a different brand, do it gradually, as cats are not fond of sudden changes. Changing brands a little bit at a time will encourage a cat's continued, consistent use of the litter box.
Litter comes in two types: clay (non-clumping) and clumping.
- Clay litter, which is generally less expensive, is heavy and does a decent job absorbing and controlling odors. Scoop and then dispose of the feces and urine at least once daily, and clean out the entire box and add fresh litter at least once a week. Clean the box out twice weekly if odor and usage warrants. Scented varieties do not eliminate the need to clean the box out regularly. If the resulting dust is a problem, consider a low-dust variety.
- Clumping litter does not need to be thrown out and replaced as clay litter does. Simply scoop the clumps that form around the urine or feces at least once a day and dispose of them. Add fresh litter regularly to help continue and maintain the litter box's freshness. This type of litter also offers a low-dust variety, as well as scented and non-scented varieties.
Choose the type you prefer, but make sure your cat concurs with your decision by monitoring its usage. Using a scoop, add 2 inches of the litter to the box to start with, then follow up as directed for each type of litter. Add more to freshen and maintain a high enough level that your cat is able to cover its droppings. As always, check with your veterinarian or another cat owner if there are concerns or questions. A litter box issue is often fixable with some good guidance or a change in your routine.
Bowls for Food and Water
Provide your cat with a bowl for fresh, clean water and another bowl for its food. You'll need two food bowls if you decide to offer your cat both wet (canned) and dry food.
The best materials for bowls are stainless steel or ceramic with a lead-free glaze. Stainless steel is durable, easy to clean, and dishwasher-safe. Ceramic containers are easy to clean and dishwasher-safe, although they can chip or break if dropped. Choose food bowls that can hold one to two cups of either canned or dry food. Choose a comparable-size water bowl (some cats prefer two water bowls in different locations). Note: Make sure your cat gets unlimited access to good clean water daily.
Keep the dishes clean for your cat's health and to avoid attracting ants and other pests. Place pet dishes in the dishwasher at least every other day. Slip a washable, waterproof plastic mat under the water and food dishes; it keeps the dishes securely in place and catches food and water spills.
Choose a well-balanced, quality, age-appropriate kitten or cat food for your new pet. If you decide to change its food from what it was previously eating, start with the original brand, then gradually add in your preferred brand while reducing the original product. An abrupt change of diet can be difficult on your pet's digestive system.
Provide your cat or kitten with the highest quality, healthiest food you can afford. Checking the label is a good place to start. A statement from the American Association of Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) is a positive sign you've made a good choice. Cats are carnivores, so look for an animal protein (chicken, fish, or beef) to top the list of ingredients. Check to see that the "dry weight protein" is at least 26 percent for your adult cat, and higher for kittens.
Also watch for a food that's appropriate for your cat's life stage or situation, such as kitten, adult, senior, or weight management. Start with a smaller bag of anything new and let your cat give it a taste test first. Refer to the food labels for guidelines on how much to serve, and discuss with your veterinarian. Watch your cat's weight to make sure you're feeding it the right amount.
Note: Give your cat treats, if you like; several small pieces a day is plenty. And understand that most human food is not healthy for felines.
A scratching post offers essential physical and mental health benefits for your cat or kitten. The reaching, stretching, and pulling movements cats perform as they work their claws against scratching posts relieves stress. This activity also helps cats shed old claw sheaths, work incoming claws, and perform the natural act of leaving their scent on the surface through scent glands in their paws.
Scratching posts come in a range of sizes, shapes, materials, and prices. Carpet, sisal rope, and cardboard posts are the most common; corrugated cardboard is usually the least expensive. Start with two scratching posts, if possible, made of different material and shapes. Choose one that allows for vertical stretching and one that allows for horizontal stretching. Then observe your cat's preferences and reactions to the materials, angles, and the shapes to guide your future purchases.
Cat toys help you build a bond with your cat, so set aside time daily to play with your cat and its favorite toys. Choose household items or purchase toys appropriate for cats. Fun household items include:
- Round plastic shower-curtain rings
- Small, lightweight balls, such as Ping-Pong balls or plastic practice golf balls
- Paper bags without handles (for hiding in -- toss a toy in for extra fun)
- Empty cardboard boxes and lids
- Toilet paper and paper towel cardboard tubes
- Crumpled piece of paper for batting around
- Laser pen (move the red light along floors and walls and watch your cat get a great workout as it chases it)
Retail cat toys include balls with bells in them, small stuffed mice, and even rods with toys attached at the end of cords to encourage your cat to jump and swat at it. Some toys include catnip, an herb from the mint family that attracts and stimulates cats. Note: Watch for and remove small parts and decorations that cats can chew off and swallow.
First Aid Items
mKeeping basic pet first aid supplies on hand might help your pet through a crisis and offer you peace of mind. Post emergency contact information where you can find it quickly: your regular veterinarian, a 24-hour vet clinic (if your vet doesn't provide this service), and the national Animal Poison Control Center phone number (888/426-4435). Keep your pet's medical records handy. Below are some good supplies to keep on hand in case of emergency:
- Antiseptic cleaner
- Cotton balls and a roll of cotton padding
- Compact thermal blanket
- Digital rectal thermometer
- Eye dropper, sterile eye lubricant, and sterile saline eyewash
- Hydrocortisone ointment (for insect stings or mosquito bites)
- Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent; watch expiration date)
- Ice pack (keep in your freezer)
- Over-the-counter topical antibiotic ointment
- Petroleum jelly
- Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl)
- Small, blunt-ended scissors (for use with cutting material such as a bandage)
- Sterile gauze pads, rolled sterile gauze, white surgical tape
- Tweezers or needle-nose pliers
Note: Having a first aid kit does not replace proper vet care. Take your cat or kitten in for annual vaccinations and checkups, and ask your vet how to prepare for any special needs your pet might have.