Essentials to Buy Before Your New Pet Arrives

What you need to help your companion feel right at home

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Welcoming a new pet into your home can be both exciting and stressful. CR spoke with animal experts for advice on how to minimize hassle and prepare for the arrival of a new dog or cat. The following essentials can all be purchased before the pet arrives, though you’ll need to know the size of the animal to purchase several of them.

Buying online offers a lot of convenience but also a lot of choice,” says veterinarian JoAnna Pendergrass. “If you have questions about a product, always ask your veterinarian or shelter for advice before you buy.”

Food and Water Bowls: Pendergrass recommends stainless steel bowls. “Unlike ceramic and plastic, stainless steel bowls won't develop hard-to-clean scratches or cracks that could lead to bacterial contamination,” she says.
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Dog crate: “A crate provides a dog with its own safe space within the house to rest and retreat to,” says Irit Grader, a veterinarian and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “You want the dog to be able to comfortably stand, turn around, and lay down splayed in the crate,” Grader says. Some crates have a partition that can be inserted to reduce the space when a dog is young, then removed to provide more room as a young dog matures and grows. Pendergrass recommends also buying blankets with the crate. “Draping blankets over the crate and placing them inside helps create the denlike environment dogs are comfortable in.”
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Cat carrier: “Cats want to rule the house and don’t like to be crated, but a cat carrier can provide a safe space for the animal and an easy way to transport it,” Grader says. She recommends a hard-shell carrier with a door on the front and also on the top, which can make it easier to place the cat inside. “The carrier needs to be big enough for the cat to sit and stand comfortably,” Grader says. “And be sure it’s long enough. You don’t want to have to shove the cat into it.” She recommends placing a soft fleece blanket in the carrier to make it especially welcoming and placing it in the bedroom or living room when not in use. “Keep all of the carrier’s doors unfastened, so the cat can circulate as it pleases and acclimate to it,” Grader says.
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Climbing tree or perch: A climbing tree or perch provides cats with a high place to do two of the things they like best: isolate and observe their surroundings. Grader recommends choosing one that incorporates a scratching post to allow the cat to stretch and mark its territory (and not your furniture).
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Litter and litter box: Grader recommends having a litter box set up to welcome a new cat, noting that it should be placed in an area that provides privacy, such as a bathroom (avoid the basement, which can be difficult for older cats to reach). The box should also be easy for the cat to access (make sure the sides aren’t too high if you’re adopting a kitten) and for the owner to clean on a daily basis. “The more open it is, the easier it will be to clean,” she says.
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Food: At the outset, you’ll want to feed the pet the same brand and type of food it was eating at the shelter or breeder. “An animal’s digestive system can be sensitive to change,” Pendergrass says. “Find out what they’ve been eating and have the same food on hand when you bring the pet home. If you want, you can then slowly transition it to a new diet.” Grader recommends choosing only foods that meet the nutritional standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and have been trial tested, which many large pet food companies do.
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Bed: Though your dog or cat may ultimately end up in bed with you, experts recommend buying a new pet its own bed before you bring it home. “Even if you ultimately allow the pet in your bed, you don’t know if the animal will prefer to sleep with you or on its own,” Pendergrass says. “So, it’s good to give them an option, especially if you’re adopting an older dog. Sleeping on the floor could be hard on its joints.”
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Treats and toys: Pendergrass says that treats are good to have on hand for training purposes and to offer positive reinforcement, though she cautions that they are also high in calories and can contribute to weight gain when given too generously. “There will be some trial and error in what the pet will like, so you may want to buy a few types to start with.” Pendergrass says that soft treats with a bacon or beef flavor tend to be popular, and that crunchy treats are good for removing plaque and maintaining dental health. Food puzzle toys that incorporate treats can keep dogs occupied and mentally stimulated, Pendergrass says. Other experts recommend seeking toy recommendations from veterinarians or shelters. Toys that are too hard or not flexible can lead to fractured teeth, Grader says. “If you could crack your own tooth on it, don’t give it to your dog.”
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Kevin Doyle

In my 30 years as a journalist, columnist, and consumer advocate, I've traveled with a secretary of state, investigated corporate wrongdoing, and once persuaded a very reluctant Nelson Mandela to sit for a magazine photo shoot. It's a privilege for me to be able to help CR protect consumers and arm them with the news they need to make the most of their money and live healthier, safer lives. Follow me on Twitter (@Kdoylejourno).