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Best Pet Supplies and Tips for Your New Cat or Dog

We're a bunch of animal lovers here at WIRED, and we think pets make life better. If you're about to adopt a new furry friend, or have recently welcomed one, you’ll need a few things to get off on the right foot. We talked to a feline behaviorist, shelter and vet hospital staff members, and our own pet-obsessed coworkers to round up the gear and advice you'll need to transition your new family member to forever home life.

When the pandemic first started, shelters across the country emptied out as people found themselves suddenly spending a lot of time at home. I'd be remiss if I didn't emphasize that you still need to be sure you'll have the time, patience, and desire to keep this pet once life is totally normal again. Also, remember that kittens and puppies turn into cats and dogs that deserve loving homes and shouldn't be dropped at the pound for a younger model.

Fostering a pet is a good way to dip your toes in if you are unsure about the full-time commitment. Also, consider adopting or fostering a senior dog or cat or special-needs animal; they're often overlooked.

Be sure to read our guides to the Best Dog Tech and Accessories and Best Cat Toys and Supplies when you're ready to level up your pet's gear.

Updated March 2022: We added more advice on what to expect and how to help your pet transition to your home. We've also updated links throughout and labeled helpful tips with a star (★).

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Table of ContentsWhat to ExpectIf You Have Others Pets or Kids at HomeTips for Fostering and AdoptingVets and TrainersSocialization and SeparationPoop DisposalFood and Water BowlsToys and Scratching PostsBedsCrates and MuzzlesCarriers, Collars, Leashes, and TrackersToothbrush, Nail Clippers, and Cleaning Supplies

What to Expect

They need a little extra love, support, and patience. So you've adopted a new pal, congratulations! I know you want to get right to cuddles and fetch games, but give them time to get used to you and their new surroundings. This might be especially true when it comes to senior pets who have been through several homes or lived a majority of their lives in shelters. 

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I spoke with staff from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco—the shelter that WIRED art director Elena Lacey has fostered pups from. They offered a ton of advice and a peek at their take-home paperwork (you can find copies here) that can apply to all new pets, whether they're babies or seniors. The shelter you adopt from may have their own paperwork for you to take home too.

★ Expect some skittishness and indoor accidents, even for housebroken animals. Don't hit them or push their faces into it—that form of training is confusing and cruel. Be patient, show them where they need to go, and praise them effusively when they go there. If you're adopting a senior pet, they may have a harder time holding it. No one says you have to live in filth, but if the sight of a little, uh excrement, will send you into a rage, maybe reconsider getting a pet. 

“Just as the humans are going through a transition with a new family member, the dog is going through a big transition too,” says Kristin Hoff, Muttville's Adoptions Manager. ★ “Setting up a schedule is really important for dogs so they can start knowing what to expect—twice a day feedings and more potty breaks than you think your new pup will need (expect mistakes and don't get mad when they happen).” 

Muttville staff also emphasized what they call the ★ rules of 3 when it comes to dogs. The first three days might be overwhelming, and they probably won't act like their true selves. Even eating might be hard. In the first three weeks, they'll start to get comfortable, recognizing your (and their) schedule, and will hopefully form a bond with you and any other animals in the home. By three months, your pup should be fully themselves and completely comfortable in their home. For dogs, Muttville says, predictability is comforting.

If You Have Kids or Others Pets at Home

★ Kids may not be as in tune to cues of anger, fear, or discomfort, so you should supervise interactions, showing them exactly what's appropriate. You want everyone involved to be safe and happy, and you can't blame an animal for acting out if little hands are yanking at their tails, stealing toys, or interrupting meal time.

When it comes to ★ introducing two dogs, Muttville says to take a “loose leash walk" so neither of the dogs feels anxious. Keep them 10 to 15 feet apart and slowly let them get closer if all goes well. You can eventually take their leashes off and let them play, if you find they're comfortable together. At home, Muttville says to put away all the toys and food bowls that belong to your other dog, so there are no territory fights. When you won't be home, you should keep the dogs separated at first, start with a week of that and see how things go. You can use crates or separate them using baby gates or doors.

★ Cats can be more difficult, whether they're meeting another cat or a dog. Keep them separate, but let them get used to each other's scents. You can use a blanket or towel for this and then allow each pet to smell the other within different areas of the house—so let the cat roam the living room and kitchen today while the dog is in the bedroom, and then switch the rooms tomorrow. If you're introducing a dog and cat, keep the dog leashed at first, just in case. Be mindful and supervise them until you're sure all is well.

More Tips (for Adoption or Fostering)

Foster parents, especially of senior and special-needs animals, are much needed and can help the pets get used to living in a home rather than being stuck in a cage at a shelter. You should have all the essentials listed in this guide for whatever animal you're fostering, but Elena Lacey offered some advice based on her own experience as a foster parent that we think works for newly adopted pets too: Get some canned chicken, cream cheese, and hot dogs. “Often, they're scared and don't want to eat, or their tummies are upset,” she says. “Canned chicken is a pretty universal treat that won't upset their stomach, and they almost always are excited about it.” If the animal will need medication, Lacey says cream cheese and hot dogs are a fail-safe way to get them to take it.

She also suggested looking into ★ pet insurance. There are a lot of pet insurance companies out there, and we haven't tried enough to offer one best answer. You can see if your employer offers it the same way they might offer health insurance for you, that way the cost will come out of your pretax paycheck. We also suggest asking around in any pet-specific groups on Facebook or Reddit and then doing your own research.

Find a Vet and Trainer Stat

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, too (we have recommendations if they don't). This will come in handy when you have questions that might not require a trip to the vet. It's a good idea to ask your vet what pet insurance they accept, too.

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Puppies and kittens will benefit from a training plan, but it can be good for older animals too. There are behavior professionals who do virtual consultations, as well as offering 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:

Pet Professional GuildInternational Association of Animal Behavior ConsultantsAssociation of Professional Dog TrainersMonks of New Skete Dog Training program

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. If their life has been mostly in a pandemic social-distancing situation, you don't want them to be scared of new people or animals they'll eventually encounter.

At the same time, it's easy to become attached to your new pet 24/7. Lau suggests giving your pet some ★ alone time so they can experience separation early on. You can talk to your vet for the best way to get them used to you being out of the house and download Muttville's Alone Time Training PDF for tips.

The Necessary Gear

All pets will need some accessories from the moment you bring them home. You don't need to go overboard right away—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 cats and dogs.

I use Chewy for nearly all of my pet supplies. It has great customer service, a generous return policy, and automatic shipments if you get the same thing often. The site also has a section called Pet Central, with informative guides on pet parenting and all that goes along with it. If you already pay for Prime, Amazon works too, and it has pet profiles and subscriptions to litter, food, treats, and more.

Poop Disposal

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 to keep it clean).

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Koski suggests using simple, shallow containers because 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). Make sure you have enough litter boxes, too. Most professionals recommend one box per cat per floor.

You can find basic litter pans ($4), plus pans with shields ($14), nearly anywhere that sells pet products. Once you know what your cat likes, you may want to try a covered box, like Booda Boxes, which have grooved steps that catch litter as the cat exits, or house a basic pan in the pricey but pretty Frieda Litter Box Enclosure that WIRED writer Louryn Strampe loves. A litter mat is a must, too. Ones made of tight loops trap an unimaginable amount of litter from escaping onto your carpets. Just remember: No mat will catch everything.

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.” Like pans, you'll find plenty of options from many trustworthy brands.

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 the pads are fine if you live in an apartment where it's harder to regularly get them outside, if you just want some on hand for a really young puppy, or if you have a special needs pet that doesn't have as much control over their bladder.

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 into the trash. Some dog owners here at WIRED are fans of these Give a Shit compostable bags. They're more eco-friendly than general plastic bags, and the company donates 10 percent of profits to the Soi Dog Foundation.

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Some animals will need diapers, whether they're sick, have special needs, are elderly, or are 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 protection for 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 they can harbor bacteria that lead to cat acne—yes, it's a thing—and opt for glass or stainless steel ($27) (also here for $17) instead. We love Yeti's bowls ($40), but they're pricey. Wider bowls prevent whisker fatigue

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. Let them play! ★ Lau suggests having a good variety of toys and rotating them in and out so your pet doesn'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. Remember that kittens and puppies can rip toys apart and try to eat them.

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Ropes ($6) and bones ($9) made for puppies will allow them to chew on something that's not your shoes. Tennis balls ($8) are always a hit for fetch games.

Pups will chew a lot. You can let them mouth on your hands, but when they bite a little too hard, 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 kittens multiple scratching surfaces early on allows them to learn where to scratch.

Just like with litter boxes, cats are particular when it comes to what they like to scratch. It's a good idea to have corrugated cardboard—my cats love the Pet Fusion Lounge ($83)—as well as sisal rope, carpet, and wood at various angles. Koski recommends investing in at least one post that's at least 30 inches tall ($43) for a full-body stretch.

Beds

No matter how much you cuddle with your pet, they probably still 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.

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You'll want something comfy and easy to clean. There are a lot of options out there, and you can find inexpensive beds at places like TJ Maxx or Home Goods. This two-in-one bed ($29), 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 into the washing machine. WIRED associate editor Julian Chokkattu says his dog loves Purple's Pet Bed ($189), and its removable cover can be cleaned, but it's pricey.

If you're adopting a senior pet, consider an orthopedic bed ($21) 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 ($65) available. (I would monitor them while the bed's in use.) There are self-warming beds ($12) that don't need to be plugged in, but I've never tried them.

You'll also want to put a bed inside a new puppy's crate, which we go into greater detail about below. 

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 ($83) 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—these can get stuck and lead to tragedy. For more information, the Humane Society has a very helpful guide to crate training.

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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 senior associate editor 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 ($9), 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 comfortably slip two fingers between the collar and your pet's neck.

A leash is necessary for walking your dog (or cat!) too. Nelson suggests a 6-foot leash, and leather ($22) or cord ($10) are good options to try. Pair it with a harness ($12) 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. For cats, 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), get a name tag with a phone number. There are a lot of fun, engraved designs on Etsy. You can also get tags in-store using the engraving machines at PetCo or PetSmart.

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Cats need a carrier so you can transport them safely, but small dogs may like one too. Koski recommends hard-sided carriers ($80) for cats, as soft ones might push in and feel scary. 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 ($32) should suffice for smaller pups. Roverlund's Out-of-Office Pet Carrier ($149) is a WIRED favorite for our cats and dogs. The tough straps convert into a leash if you need one on the fly, and it's airline compliant. 

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 ($149), Jiobit Location Monitor ($100) (8/10, WIRED Recommends), and the Whistle Go Explore ($94), 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 least three times a week), you should be in good shape. You can get finger toothbrushes ($5) that can be easier to use on young animals, or smaller toothbrushes for cats ($8) and dogs ($6). Consult with your vet about what type of toothpaste is best.

You should also get your pet comfortable with having their nails clipped. To avoid them viewing it as a stressful situation that happens once a month, Lau suggests leaving nail clippers out and snipping nails every so often to get them used to the sound. Both cat nail clippers ($4) and dog nail clippers ($12) 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.

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Pets can get into a lot of messes, so you should have some remedies on hand. The Bissell Pet Stain Erase PowerBrush ($120) is my new secret weapon for quickly cleaning up puke and hairballs. It's easy to clean the actual device too.

We suggest stocking up on lint rollers to remove pet hair from clothing. I find the Total Home rollers from CVS to be the best, but there is no shortage of options available online. Several of us also highly recommend ChomChom Rollers ($30) for removing hair from your furniture. 

Talk to your vet about shampoos and flea treatments and ways to wash away odors. ★ Familiarize yourself with the ASPCA's poison control info and keep the emergency number saved (888-426-4435).

This might all 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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