A child hugging his new kitten

Welcoming a new, furry family member into your home is exciting for everyone. But if you’re a first-time cat owner, you may feel equal parts exhilarated and unsure—particularly when it comes to buying all the gear that you’ll need to take care of your new addition. This checklist covers all the cat essentials, plus it includes tips for choosing the obvious items (cat food and litter, of course!) and the extras that might not be on your radar.

Your Cat Essentials Checklist

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A cat eating wet cat food out of a metal bowl

Before you buy anything else (except maybe litter), make sure you’re stocked up on food and feeding supplies.

  • Food dish or dispenser: A simple bowl will do just fine, but if you want to give your cat a little extra enjoyment, consider a puzzle feeder. These types of feeders, where your cat must solve a problem or use their paws to get at the food, are a great enrichment tool because cats are natural hunters.
  • Water bowl: Make sure this dish is large enough that your cat’s whiskers don’t touch the sides when drinking.[1]
  • Cat food: You’ll want to pick up the appropriate food for your cat’s age—either kitten, adult or senior. It’s a good idea to offer a combination of both wet and dry food. Many cats don’t drink enough water so wet food offers extra hydration to help them maintain a healthy urinary tract. For more information on choosing cat food, visit our cat food buying guide.
  • Cat treats: Treats are a great way to train or reward your new cat. Just make sure they don’t make up more than five to 10 per cent of their diet.[2]
  • Water fountain (optional): Some cats prefer running water. A water fountain helps encourage frequent sips throughout the day.

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A cat walking out of its litter box

Cats are a little like newborns in that they spend most of the day doing one of three things: eating, sleeping or pooping. Make sure they have a clean, quiet place to do their business.

  • Litter box: Pick a litter box that’s large enough for your cat to turn around in, has high sides to contain any litter that might get kicked around and one lower side for easy entry. An enclosed box can keep things a bit tidier, but if your cat feels trapped, they might avoid using it.[3] Quick tip: Make sure you have one litter box per cat and, if you live in a multi-level home, one box per floor as well.
  • Litter scoop: You’ll need this accessory to scoop out waste at least once per day in between more thorough litter-box cleanings.
  • Cat litter: Clumping clay litter is easiest to scoop and most brands offer low-dust options. Other litter types are made from newspaper, wheat and even hemp. If you’re unsure about which type of litter to use, set up several boxes with different litters to find out which one your cat prefers—and is most likely to use consistently.
  • Litter box liner (optional): These plastic liners can make cleaning a breeze and eliminate the need to scrub down the interior of the litter box.
  • Litter box mat (optional): Some cats almost leap out of the litter box once they’ve done their business; choose a mat that’s large enough that they’ll still land on it.
  • Cleaning supplies: Keep sanitizing spray and deodorizing treatment on hand for any accidents, including hairballs and litter-box messes.

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A cat having its head brushed

Cats are self-grooming (and have the hairballs to prove it), so it’s rare that they’ll need a bath. They will, however, appreciate regular pampering, complete with brushing and a mani-pedi.

  • Cat brush or comb: Brushing helps keep their coat clean and shiny, will reduce shedding and hopefully cut down on hairballs. For short-hair cats, a slicker brush will do the trick. For medium- to long-hair cats, you’ll want to get a dematting comb or deshedding tool.
  • Nail clippers: Trimming your cat’s nails every 10 days or so will keep them from getting too sharp and limit damage to furniture (and humans!).[4] Always press down from top to bottom, not squeezing in from the sides, to prevent crushing the nail and causing it to splinter.[5]
  • Toothbrush: An estimated 85 per cent of cats ages four and older have some degree of periodontal disease.[6] Getting into the habit of brushing your cat’s teeth at home can help cut down on expensive dental bills later. For easier maneuvering, consider a silicone toothbrush that slips over your finger.

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Cat playing with a mouse cat toy

Play is one of the best ways to bond with your new family member, whether they’re an energetic kitten or a mature adult.

  • Cat toys: Toys that encourage movement and activity will help your cat maintain a healthy weight, while also providing mental stimulation. Pick up a variety of types, such as interactive toys (like laser pointers and teaser poles) and toys your cat can play with independently (like soft mice and crinkle balls).
  • Scratching post: Scratching is a natural cat behaviour, but that doesn’t mean your furniture has to take the brunt of it. Look for a scratching post covered in durable carpet or sisal material and make sure it’s tall enough for your cat to use while standing stretched out on their hind legs (at least three feet high).[8] Some cats prefer to scratch vertically, while others scratch more often on a flat horizontal surface, so you might want to offer a combination of the two. Quick tip: The scratching post should live in a common area of your home (your cat wants to feel included!), so choose one that you won’t mind looking at day after day.[9]
  • Catnip (optional): Not all cats will react to catnip, but for those who are sensitive to the herb (meaning it creates a feeling of pleasure and encourages chewing and licking),[10] it’s a fun way to liven up playtime.

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5Sleep and Lounging

Cat sleeping in a cat bed

Cats need plenty of rest (a.k.a. cat naps) so it’s nice to have a place for them to snooze and hang out.

  • Cat tree or perch (optional): Often available as a two-in-one tree and scratching post, cat trees (also known as cat condos) give your kitty a fun and exciting place to call their own. Your cat will love a tree with multiple levels so they can jump to and fro while watching over the rest of the family.
  • Cat bed (optional): While not essential, a comfortable cat bed can encourage your fur baby to sleep in a select spot and may deter them from sleeping or lounging in less-than-ideal locations like your bed. Then again, some cats prefer to curl up in a cardboard box, so it really depends on their preferences and personality.

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A cat in a hard-sided cat carrier

Most cats prefer to stay close to home, but if you do need to go to an appointment or plan to go on an extended vacation with your furry friend, always transport them in a secure, durable carrier.

  • Cat carrier: Some hard-case carriers can be easily taken apart (usually by removing the top), which will allow nervous kitties to stay seated in the bottom part of the carrier during most of a vet exam. If you’re going to be carrying your cat a lot, though, a soft case might be more comfortable for you to sling over your shoulder.
  • Collar and ID tag (optional): If you plan to let your cat outside, or there’s any chance they might break out on their own, you’ll want to make sure they’re wearing a collar and ID tag so they can be safely returned if lost. Just make sure the collar has a breakaway safety feature in case it gets snagged on anything.
  • Cat harness or leash (optional): If you choose, your cat can explore the outdoors while you keep a close eye—and leash—on them.

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Article Sources

  1. Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. A Cat Owner’s Handbook.
  2. ASPCA. General Cat Care.
  3. Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. A Cat Owner’s Handbook.
  4. ASPCA. Cat Grooming Tips.
  5. Washington State University. Clipping Your Cat’s Claws.
  6. Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. A Cat Owner’s Handbook.
  7. VCA Animal Hospitals. Cat Behaviour and Training: Play and Play Toys.
  8. ASPCA. General Cat Care.
  9. Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. A Cat Owner’s Handbook.
  10. Fetch by WebMD. Truth About Catnip.