So you’ve decided to get a cat. Before you head to the shelter, consider what cat essentials like food, toys, and litter box your new feline friend—or friends—will need.

By Austin Cannon
August 24, 2020
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Excellent, you’ve decided to add to your family and adopt a cat. Maybe this is the first time, maybe not. Either way, you’ll need to cross some items off a cat essentials checklist before you can get to teaching them their Instagram-worthy tricks or their scales and arpeggios.

We spoke with Brett Kruger, the feline team manager at the Indyhumane shelter in Indianapolis, to get a pro's advice on just what gear you really need when bringing home a new feline family member. See those seven essentials below.

1. Cat Carrier

You’ll need one to take your cat home after you’ve adopted it, and Kruger recommends a top-loading carrier. This style of carrier lets you open the roof of the carrier, pick up your cat, and plop them right in. That’s easier than trying to coax them into the carrier through a door. Some cats won’t want to do it and will struggle as you try to slide them in. 

If you already have a carrier with a traditional door that swings out, there’s an easy fix. When you’re ready to load your cat, place the carrier on its end so the door faces the ceiling, Kruger says. 

2. Litter Boxes

No way around it: Your new cat will need a place to pee and poo. The number of litter boxes you’ll need to provide depends on your home and how many cats you have, Kruger says. 

You’ll need one litter box per cat, plus one additional one, she says. Two cats, for instance, means three litter boxes. You’ll also need at least one per floor of your home, and they should be separated, not right next to each other. 

As for the boxes themselves, you can certainly buy a traditional litter tray just about anywhere pet supplies are sold. But Kruger suggests buying a large plastic tub and cutting out an entryway for the cat. These bins are deep enough to keep the litter in, even when your cat flings litter around while burying her poop. Kruger says the lid to the tote should be kept off because cats want to be able to see anything coming their way as they do their business. 

The litter boxes, of whatever style, should be at least 1.5 times longer than your cat, giving them enough room to turn around. 

Cats’ wild relatives go to the bathroom in sandy places, so small-particle, unscented litter is the best way to go, Kruger says. While a scented brand might be appealing, it can overpower some cats, she says. 

3. Food & Water Bowls

Some cats don’t like having their food and water right next to each other, so Kruger suggests separating them substantially. The type of bowls are up to the owner’s and cat’s preference, but she recommends a water fountain bowl as long as the owner is OK with paying a little more and doing extra cleaning. 

In the wild, felines know running water is usually safer to drink, and a fountain mimics a stream or river. “Cats have that bias too,” Kruger says. “A lot of them prefer running water.” 

4. Cat Trees, Scratchers, Toys

Cats like to have a high, safe place to settle in and watch the world below them. Enter cat trees. Kruger says owners should find one that’s tall and sturdy. Otherwise, the cat will find somewhere else up high to climb and sit. Like your kitchen cabinets! 

Another of cats’ instinctive activities is scratching. You’ll want to give your new pet an acceptable place to do that. Like a cat scratcher. Kruger says most cats like tall ones, around 3 feet or taller, because they like to really stretch up and sink in their claws. “It’s kind of like kitty yoga,” she says. 

For both the tree and the scratcher, Kruger says you’ll want to place them in areas your cat frequents so he’ll use them. If they’re placed in a room you or your cat don’t access much, they won’t be used, and your cat might turn to scratching something else, like the couch.

As for other toys, try a variety: balls, teasers, catnip toys, and assorted household items (string, ribbons, a box). But the most important thing is that you play with your cat. Once or twice a day, sit down for playtime. This helps your cats bond with you and socializes them.

Kruger says buying a wand (or fishing pole) toy is a good idea. The object on the end of the line is fun to catch, and it will help make sure your cat or kitten doesn’t think of your hand as a toy. 

“It’s a great way, especially with younger cats, to burn off their energy,” Kruger says. 

She adds that finding the right toys for your cat is mostly “feeling your cat out.” He might prefer toys that are much smaller than he is, the way prey is to his wild ancestors. Shy cats may prefer ribbons. 

5. Cat Beds

When it comes to choosing the right snooze spot for your kitty, Kruger likes recommending enclosed cat beds because cats like to be surrounded when they sleep. They also serve as good hiding places. “Sometimes they look like a little fleece cube,” she says.

Cats might be a little temperamental about their beds, potentially spurning a soft, fluffy bed for a nice cardboard box. Watch your cat’s behavior to help you choose which bed he might like. For example, if your cat likes to curl up in sleep, a round bed might work. A mat could be the best option if your cat likes to stretch out. 

As for location, look for where your cat likes to nap. That might be the best place for the new bed, but there’s no guarantee he’ll use it.    

6. Collars

Even if your cat spends most or all of his time inside, he should be wearing a collar, says American Humane, a non-profit organization committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of animals. With a collar, accompanying ID tags, and microchip, you’re covered if your cat does somehow escape or get outside. Then, a passing stranger won’t mistake him for a stray.

It’s best to get your cat a breakaway collar, one that will unlatch if enough force is applied. That way, if your cat’s collar gets caught in a fence or bush, your cat doesn’t get stuck there.

7. Food

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) advises picking a food designated for your cat’s life stage. A kitten, for example, needs different nutrients than an adult cat. Be sure to research potential options before buying; visit food manufacturer websites to get the information you need. Like with anything else involving your cat, consult on food with your veterinarian, too.  

Kruger says new owners should ask the cat’s shelter or rescue what kind of food the cat has been eating. Dry food can be easier to feed cats, while canned food is a way for cats to get more water. If you have the time, splitting between dry and canned food over the course of a day or week might be a good idea. 

The most important thing, though, is that cats are eating at all, she says. If he likes only one type of food, that’s fine. Don’t fight it.  

“Don’t get locked into ‘This is the best food for my cat,’” Kruger says. The best kind is a nutritious, age-appropriate food your cat will eat.