The silver lining to the pandemic is that shelters across the country are emptying out as people now have enough time to adopt a pet. If you’re considering or in the process of adopting a puppy or a kitten (or you recently welcomed a furry friend), we’ve rounded up some gear you’ll need to transition them to forever home life.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that you still need to be sure you’ll have the time, patience, and desire to keep this pet once shelter-in-place requirements have lifted (however long that may take). Fostering a pet is a good way to dip your toes if you are unsure about the full-time commitment. Also, consider adopting a senior dog or cat, as well as special-needs animals; they’re often overlooked.
Be sure to read our guide on the Best Dog Tech and Accessories when you’re ready to level up your pup’s gear, and if you’re wondering, yes—we’re working on a cat accessory guide.
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First, Find a Vet and Trainer
If you don’t already have a veterinarian you like, try to find one before bringing your new pet home and set up an initial appointment. Ask if they use any telehealth services. It will come in handy for when you have questions that might not require a trip to the vet (especially in these quarantine times). It’s a good idea to ask your vet what pet insurance they accept, too.
Both puppies and kittens will also benefit from a training plan. There are behavior professionals that do virtual consultations as well as in-home services. Your local PetCo might offer on-site classes, too. Ask the shelter and vet for suggestions. You can also find directories through:
Feline behaviorist and training consultant Marci L. Koski (whom I spoke with when I was testing Pretty Litter) recommends Fear Free Happy Homes no matter which pet you’re adopting. It has free resources and guides on training, health, animal anxieties, and much more, as well as tips on things like how to groom.
And, of course, you can try training your pet yourself. A clicker is a good tool for dogs especially, and make sure to check out the plethora of experts available on YouTube, like Zak George (for pups) and Kitten Lady (for kittens), who have helped some folks at WIRED.
Socialization and Separation
I also spoke with Hannah Lau, who works at the Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos, California. She stresses the importance of socializing your new pet—dog or cat—with other people and animals. While that can be difficult right now, she recommends asking your vet for the best advice on how to do this safely.
At the same time, it’s easy to be attached to your new pet 24/7. Lau suggests giving some alone time for your pet, so they can experience separation early on. When we eventually go back to normality, there could potentially be tons of pets suffering from separation anxiety. Talk to your vet for the best way to get them used to you being out of the house.
The Necessary Gear
All pets will need some accessories the moment you bring them home. You don’t need to go overboard—you can always upgrade and add to your supplies later after learning what they like—but they should feel comfortable and at home. Below, we’ve listed some of the essentials for kittens and puppies.
I use Chewy for all my pet supplies. It has great customer service, a generous return policy, and fast shipping. Plus, you can sign up for automatic shipments for things you’ll regularly need. The site also has a section called Pet Central with informative guides on pet parenting and all that goes along with it.
Cats usually don’t need much training in the litter department, as they tend to instinctively know where to do their business. You just need the vessel (and keep it clean).
Koski suggests using simple, shallow, under-the-bed type storage containers because they can be less expensive and kittens tend to outgrow their boxes quickly. For fully-grown felines, she recommends a litter box that’s at least 1.5 times the length of the cat (not including the tail). I prefer a covered litter box for my adult cats and small apartment (specifically, this plant-disguised one), but not all cats like a covered toilet. Make sure you have enough litter boxes, too. Most professionals recommend one box per cat per floor.
Chewy has litter pans in several sizes, including one that fits nicely in a corner, but you can find them at any grocery or pet store. An open box with a shield will protect your house from kicked up litter and possible leaks. If you want to try a covered box, Booda Boxes are particularly nice with their grooved steps that catch litter as the cat exits.
And for litter, Koski recommends fine-grained unscented clumping clay as “it’s soft on their paws, is easy to dig in and clean, and won’t bother sensitive kitty noses.” I use Arm and Hammer’s Clump and Seal Multi-Cat litter, which is light and produces almost no dust, but it’s scented. There are plenty of unscented options though, even from the same brand.
Dogs don’t need a litter box but they will need to be housetrained. Lau doesn’t recommend using training pads, as it can be hard to then transition pups to the outside world, but they’re fine if you live in an apartment where it’s harder to regularly get them outside (or if you just want some on hand for a really young puppy).
You’ll need poop bags for when you bring your pup on a walk—please do not leave your dog’s poop all over the sidewalk for your neighbors to step in. Scoop it up with a bag and toss it in the trash. Some dog-owners here at WIRED are fans of these biodegradable bags. They’re more eco-friendly than general plastic bags, and the company donates 10 percent of profits to the Soi Dog Foundation.
Some animals will need diapers whether they’re sick, special needs, elderly, or in heat. There are a lot of disposable and washable dog diapers to choose from, as well as truly adorable diaper suspenders if your pet needs a little extra help. There are not as many cat-specific ones, but these washable diapers from Pet Parents are nice. That site also offers helpful guides to buying and managing your sweet diaper-wearing pet.
Food and Water Bowls
For food and water bowls, you should start small for kittens and puppies and get larger ones as they grow. Try to avoid plastic bowls as it can harbor bacteria that can lead to cat acne—yes, it’s a thing! Instead, opt for glass or stainless steel food and water bowls. Wider bowls prevent whisker fatigue, and bowls with rubberized grips at the bottom are helpful for pups to prevent spills (we like this one).
Take note of the food and feeding schedule the shelter was using, and talk to your vet for recommendations. Koski says you should feed your kitten a variety of flavors and textures so they don’t get so used to one thing they’ll refuse something else if you have to change their diet. For dogs, it’s important you do not immediately change their diet so as not to upset their stomach. Mix some of the new food in with the old and slowly add more over the course of a week.
Toys and Scratching Posts
Both puppies and kittens need stimulation and fun. You might be able to sit on the couch endlessly scrolling on your phone, but they can’t. Let them play! Lau suggests having a good variety of toys and rotating them in and out so they don’t get bored. Avoid anything that’s small enough to swallow, and supervise your new pets while they’re playing. Put the toys away after. Kittens and puppies can rip toys apart and try to eat them.
Ropes and bones made for puppies will allow them to chew on something that’s not your shoes. There’s also the classic tennis ball for playing fetch. Pups will chew a lot, too. You can let them mouth on your hands, but when they bite a little too hard, make sure to make a high-pitch yelp so they learn to moderate their bite strength. Kittens are the opposite.
“Never play with kittens using your hands directly since this teaches them that it’s OK to bite and scratch hands,” Koski says. “As they grow up, they may have a hard time changing that habit.” She suggests long wand toys like Da Bird.
Cats like to scratch. It helps them hone their claws, stretch their legs, relieve anxiety, and mark their territory. Don’t get your cat declawed—give them scratching posts and mats to scratch instead. Koski says offering them multiple scratching surfaces early on allows kittens to learn where to scratch.
Just like litter boxes, cats are particular with what they like to scratch. Most will go for the corrugated cardboard scratchers that are affordable, but it might be a good idea to try others like sisal rope, carpet, and wood in various angles. My cats love the PetFusion Jumbo Cat Scratcher Lounge, but it’s expensive and big for kittens. Koski recommends investing in at least one post that’s 30 inches tall or above to allow for a full-body stretch.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll fall asleep with your pets cuddled into you at night as well as lounge with them on the couch. That might take some bonding time, and it doesn’t mean they won’t want a bed of their own, especially if it’s hard for them to get up onto high furniture. It’s a good idea to have a few in different parts of the house.
You’ll want something comfy and easy to clean. This two-in-one bed, which will work for both kittens and small dogs, can be used covered or as a regular bed depending on what your pet likes; you can also throw the whole thing in the washing machine. WIRED Associate Editor Julian Chokkattu says his dog loves Purple’s Pet Bed, and its removable cover can be cleaned, but it’s pricey.
You’ll also want to put a bed inside a new puppy’s crate, which we go into greater detail about below. If you’re adopting a senior pet, consider an orthopedic bed to keep them comfortable. Cats like to be warm—Koski says they have a higher thermoneutral zone than humans, so they’re comfortable at higher temperatures—and there are heated beds available. (I would monitor them while it’s in use.) There are also self-warming beds that don’t need to be plugged in, but I’ve never tried them.
Crates and Muzzles
Though I hate the thought of locking a puppy in a crate, if done properly, it can be beneficial and keep them safe. If you have to leave the house for a bit, you can put them in there knowing they won’t destroy everything and possibly hurt themselves in the process, and it gives them a little home to escape to if they need it (you know, like when their parents are annoying them). A crate should never be used as a form of punishment.
You should get a crate that’s big enough for a dog to stand up and turn around in, and will fit a comfy bed and bowl of water. Take their collar off when they’re in the cage—they can get stuck and can lead to tragedy. For more information, the Humane Society has a very helpful guide to crate training.
A muzzle is often required in apartment buildings. Just like you want your pup to be comfortable in their crate, you don’t want a muzzle to feel like a scary punishment. WIRED writer Adrienne So says every so often she’ll fill up the nose with peanut butter so her dog likes it. “She thinks it’s her face food basket,” she says. Editor Julian Chokkattu uses the Quick Fit muzzle which comes in many sizes and doesn’t sit too tight.
Carriers, Collars, Leashes, and Trackers
Your pet will need a well-fitting collar. Katy Nelson, a senior veterinarian at Chewy, says a helpful hint for fit is that you should be able to slip two fingers between the collar and your pet’s neck comfortably. A leash is necessary for when walking your dog (or cat!), too. Nelson suggests a 6-foot leash made of leather, canvas, or cord, and pair it with a harness to avoid putting undue pressure on your pet’s neck.
If your dog pulls while on a leash, she suggests trying a 4-foot one. Avoid retractable leashes—they can hurt your dog and you. Consider breakaway collars, which will open up if pulled hard enough. Cats are climbers and you don’t want them to be stuck, and possibly killed, because their collar got attached to a branch.
For both dogs and cats (especially cats that go outside), a name tag and phone number is a good idea. There are a lot of fun designs you can get on Etsy, and the seller can engrave your pet’s name and your cellphone number in case they get lost.
Cats need a carrier so you can transport them safely. Koski recommends hard-sided carriers as soft ones can be pushed in, making it feel like the cat is being closed in on. She suggests training your kitten right away to enjoy being in the carrier so they don’t associate it with a stressful situation. Leave it out and put a nice comfy blanket or bed in it with a treat or toy. She doesn’t recommend cat backpacks. For dogs, a hard-sided carrier might be a good idea for bigger dogs, but a soft carrier like this one should suffice for smaller pups. It’s also airline approved and can sit under your seat on a plane.
Most veterinarians will probably recommend getting your pet microchipped. That way if they get lost and are brought to a vet’s office, their chip can be scanned and traced back to you. That’s good if the pet is found and brought to a vet, but it doesn’t always happen that way, so you may also want to get a pet tracker. Writer Adrienne So likes the Fi Dog Collar, Jiobit Location Monitor (8/10, WIRED Recommends), as well as the Whistle Go Explore, which tracks both location and health data.
Toothbrush, Nail Clippers, and Cleaning Supplies
You should start regular tooth brushing early, Lau says. Tooth problems can be hard to handle, painful, and expensive, but if you’re brushing their teeth every day (or at minimum, three times a week) you should be in good shape. You can get finger toothbrushes that can be easier to use on young animals, or smaller toothbrushes for cats and dogs. Consult with your vet about what type of toothpaste is best.
You should also get your pet comfortable with getting their nails clipped. To avoid them associating it as a stressful situation that happens once a month, Lau suggests leaving nail clippers out and snipping them every so often to get them used to the sound. Both cat nail clippers and dog nail clippers are easy to use, but I suggest asking your vet for a lesson first. You don’t want to clip too high, which can cause pain and bleeding.
Pets can get into a lot of messes, so you should have some remedies on hand. I recently moved into a carpeted apartment and purchased a Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner, which easily cleans up puke and hairballs without leaving any stains behind. Other folks on WIRED’s staff have lint rollers to remove pet hair from clothing, and this lint brush does a great job of removing hair from upholstery.
Talk to your vet about shampoos and flea treatments, and ways to wash away odors. Familiarize yourself with the ASPCA’s tips on poison emergencies and keep the Animal Poison Control number saved (888-426-4435).
It might seem like a lot, but caring for another living creature is no joke. When in doubt, always check with a vet and always shower your pet with affection.
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