Your New Cat Checklist

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There’s nothing like the thrill of knowing that you’ll soon be bringing a new cat into your home. Whether you’re getting your cat from a shelter or a breeder, the excitement is the same. You’re looking forward to spending lots of quality time with your feline friend and want to get her off to the right start. Here are some things you’ll need before the arrival of your four-legged bundle of joy.

A litter box

Buy two simple old-fashioned litter trays or fancier, specialized ones once you figure out your cat’s litter box preferences. Buy the largest ones that will fit in your home (at least one and a half times the size of your cat), because your cat needs space to turn around and dig.

If getting a kitten, purchase ones with a short entry way. The rule of thumb is one more litter box than the number of cats. (If you have one cat, then two litter boxes.) If the litter boxes aren’t big enough, there are not enough of them, or they are not kept clean enough, this can cause litter box misses.

new cat checklist

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Cat litter

Along with the litter boxes, you’re going to need something to put in them. There are all sorts of cat litters out there, and the sheer variety can be confusing. Ask your breeder or shelter what brand of litter they use, and buy the same kind for your cat to use in her new home. You can always transition her to your preferred brand later.

new cat checklist

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Food and water dishes

Your cat needs food and water dishes of her own. These should be stainless steel, glass or lead-free ceramic that are dishwasher safe. Get a separate food and water dish, not a combo dish, so the food and water don’t spill into each other. Get two sets so one can be cleaned while she eats from the other set.

new cat checklist

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A cat tree

Maximize your cat’s territory even in a small space by buying a cat tree and placing it near a window where your cat can have a view of the outdoor action. Buy a tree that’s at least 6 feet tall. It should be sturdy and heavy enough to not go flying if your cat jumps and plays on it. If you’re buying online, always read the reviews; you’ll learn a lot about what size is best and the benefits or problems with the product.

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Ask your shelter or breeder what they feed the cats in their care, and buy the same brand. They might even send you home with some food for your new cat, but be prepared and have food handy if they don’t. Make an appointment right away with your veterinarian to discuss your new pet’s diet going forward based on her particular health needs.

Scratching surfaces

If you want to keep your cat from scratching your furniture, buy things she can scratch. Cats tend to prefer either horizontal or vertical scratching surfaces, so have both types ready. A good scratching post should be at least 3 feet tall with a heavy base so it doesn’t wobble or fall over when your cat uses it. Sisal rope is better than carpeting as a surface for your scratching post because it’s more durable. Cardboard scratch pads are inexpensive and easy to find, so purchase several of those and put them in various places in your home.


Toys are crucial for any cat, no matter how young or old. They help to build confidence, keep your cat’s mind stimulated and can prevent unwanted behaviors like biting or scratching. Interactive toys like fishing poles with lures on the end of a string are particularly important. “[Fishing pole toys] are great bonding tools for getting a new kitty to enjoy being close to their human, but at a ‘safe’ distance that’s not scary for the shy ones,” says Amy Shojai, CABC, author of many go-to books on cat health and behavior. She says they are also an appropriate option that play-aggressive cats (especially kittens) can target. Amy also recommends enrichment tools like tunnels or empty paper bags and boxes for very shy or older cats who may not be as interested in interactive play. These tunnels from FRISCO are Kitty-approved ($18.98, Get some toys your cat can enjoy playing with on her own, too.


Even though your cat will probably spend most of her time sleeping on your furniture, give her at least one bed of her own. Cats prefer beds with high sides where they can curl up for a nice, comfortable nap. If you’re bringing an older cat into your home, try a heated bed; it’s a great way to ease the pain of creaky joints. Heating pads aren’t recommended because they can get too hot and burn your cat.

Photo: LuckyBusiness | Getty Images


All cats should be microchipped in case they slip outside and get lost. If you adopt from a shelter, the odds are good that your cat will already be microchipped. But in order for a microchip to be effective, you absolutely must register it and keep your contact information up-to-date. Microchips are the best way to legally prove that a cat is your pet.

You’ll also want to get a collar with tags, so anyone who finds your cat can get her safely home. Be sure to get a “breakaway” collar, so your cat won’t get hung up under the furniture or in the brush if she escapes.

Photo: Courtesy Catio Spaces

Extras for even more feline happiness

If you’ve got all the basics in place, go shopping for these items to ensure kitty is healthy and happy.

A drinking fountain. Many cats love running water, so instead of sending your water bill through the roof by keeping a faucet running, get your furry friend a fountain instead. I recommend a stainless steel, like these from Drinkwell ($49.95, or ceramic fountain, as those materials are least likely to build up bacteria.

Puzzle toys. Puzzle toys are a great way to keep your cat’s mind stimulated when you’re not around. You can buy pre-made puzzle toys — they vary from the basic to the very elaborate — or you can make your own with simple cat-safe things you have around your home like empty soda bottles or toilet paper rolls with paper on each end. There are lots of great instructions online about how to make your own DIY cat toys and treat dispensers.

Related: 5 Homemade Cat Toys I Made from Empty Toilet Paper Rolls

Window perches and cat shelves. Because cats view their territory in three dimensions, the more above-ground surfaces they can have, the happier they’ll be. Window perches can be purchased at pet stores or online, and there are lots of great books on “catifying” your home with shelves and other accessories. Consider these window perches from K&H Pet Products ($25.10,

Catnip. Not all cats respond to catnip, but a significant majority of them do, and it’s a delight to watch a cat roll around in unabashed joy. Get the good stuff, though — don’t settle for a dry, dusty mess. A catnip kicker toy is the best choice for maximum fun — you can buy them at pet stores or online from independent crafters.

A “catio.” If you want your cat to be able to get some fresh air or feel the grass under her paws, the best and safest way to do that is to build her a catio, an outdoor enclosure that she can access through a window or a cat flap. Catios can be basic or elaborate multi-level play spaces with above-ground walkways, perches and jungle gyms. There are several companies that specialize in creating catios, like Catio Spaces  where you can buy DIY Plans like the Window Box ($39.95).

The last word

Prepare for your new cat’s arrival with all of these things, and you’ll be setting yourself up for many happy years together. Enjoy!

Featured photo: dentharg | Getty Images


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