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Guide to Cat Ownership Costs

Bringing a cat into your life can be an important milestone. They can make fantastic pet companions, and are unique animals that can occasionally be misunderstood. Although they often sleep for what seems like half their lifetimes, they can provide plenty of snuggles, purrs, and love to their owners. Some cats can even be just as loyal and protective as dogs are to their owners.

However, adopting or purchasing a cat is not a decision that should be made without first considering the long-term costs of cat ownership. Domesticated cats can live up to 15 years, and some live beyond that. The majority of cat costs come from food, vet bills, litter, and enrichment activities, and over the lifetime of the cat you may end up spending anywhere from $7,000 to $13,000.

Let’s go into more detail on this estimate, and determine what the most expensive aspects of cat ownership are. Before you go all-in on adopting a new furry friend, it’s important to make sure that your new kitty can fit into your own personal budget.

How Much Does a Cat Cost?

The cost of buying a cat can vary widely, depending on where you purchased the cat, the age of the cat, and the breed. Adopting older, “senior” cats can be the least expensive option, whereas buying a purebred kitten can be a few thousand dollars.

Cost of Adopting a Cat vs. Cost of Buying a Kitten

Cost: anywhere from free to $5,000

There are a few ways to find a cat to adopt. The most common way is to visit your local animal shelter or humane society. There are also cat-specific adoption centers that rescue and rehome cats. You can also purchase a cat from a breeder, or even find postings for “free kittens” on websites like Craigslist or Petfinder (although no cat is actually “free,” as there are a lot of costs that go into caring for them).

Adopting cats is often much cheaper than buying a brand new kitten from a breeder, especially if that breeder is breeding purebred, desirable cats like Persians or Bengals. Purchasing a kitten from a breeder can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Most breeders raise these purebred cats for cat shows, and they treat raising cats as a serious, full time job, which is why they charge so much for their kittens.

Adopting cats from a shelter, humane society, or cat rehoming complex is much more affordable, and also provides cats in need with a wonderful home. Plus, many of the cats purchased from a shelter will already be spayed or neutered, and most will also be up to date on all their shots. While some cat breeders will also provide the first round of shots before you take your kitten home, they don’t typically spay or neuter their kittens, which means you’ll have to pay for that out of pocket.

Overall, adopting a cat can be anywhere from $10 to $100, depending on the age and breed of the cat (senior cats are often in the $10 range, whereas kittens can be upwards of $50 to $100, depending on the shelter). On the other hand, purchasing a cat from a breeder can cost up to  $125,000, also depending on the breed and age of the cat.

Initial Costs of Cat Ownership

Besides the costs associated with adopting or purchasing a cat, there are other initial expenses that need to be considered when you first purchase your cat. This can include purchasing all the food, litter, and toys that your cat needs to get settled, as well as any additional charges.

Initial Expenses for First Time Cat Owners

Cost: anywhere from $70 to $1,100

Some of the most pertinent initial costs that cat owners should prepare for include:

Litter Box: $15 to $80

Litter boxes can be anything from simple plastic bins to elaborate self-cleaning devices.

Litter: $8 to $50
Cat Food: $10 to $80

Cat food price depends on the amount of food and the quality (grain-free, high protein, veterinary diet, etc). Cats also get a lot of their water intake from their food, so getting a mix of both wet and dry food can be very beneficial for their overall health.

Cat Food Bowl: $5 to $25
Water Bowl or Fountain: $5 to $100

Many cats prefer running water over water sitting in a bowl, as their natural instincts are to avoid stagnant water that may contain bacteria. Water fountains can be expensive, but many cats may prefer them.

Cat Brush: $5 to $40

Grooming your cat is an essential bonding moment you cat share with your companion. In the wild, cats often groom their loved ones, so brushing your cat will help them develop trust in you as well as help keep their coat clean and shiny. Additionally you may want to purchase a cat toothbrush and toothpaste, which will help keep their mouths clean and protect their teeth — but cats tend to see toothbrushing as a bit too invasive, as it’s not a typical grooming behavior for them.

Cat Collar: $5 to $30
Cat Toys: $5 to $35 (per item)

Cat toys allow cats to act on their natural hunting instincts and can keep them entertained and engaged. Getting multiple toys can help keep your cat interested, but it’s also an important bonding opportunity for you and your new furry friend.

Cat Scratcher: $15 to $200

Cat scratchers may seem like an additional luxury, but scratching is a natural form of marking that all cats do. Getting them a scratching post can help keep your furniture safe and intact. Additionally, many cats love cat trees made out of rope and carpet, which can be a couple hundred dollars.

Cat Carrier: free to $200

When adopting a cat from a shelter, many shelters will provide you with a free cardboard cat carrier to take your new friend home in. However, getting a carrier for vet visits is also very important, and can make trips in the car a lot less stressful. More expensive carriers can sometimes have wheels and have a lot of extra room for your kitty.

In total, you should expect to pay anywhere from $70 (low estimate) to $600 or more (high estimate) on the initial expenses; which may be even more so if you’re also renting and need to pay a pet deposit. Of course, much of these costs depends on where you’re purchasing your goods, how much you’re buying, and how much you may already have on hand at your home.

If you’re renting a home or apartment, you may also need to pay for a pet deposit with your landlord. Typical pet deposits are one time payments of about $200 to $500 per animal, but some landlords also just increase the rent by $25 to $100 per month for each additional animal that lives with you. This is also known as “pet rent.” You will need to check with your landlord to get an estimate of how much the pet deposit or pet rent is and whether or not it is refundable for when you move out. Keep in mind, not letting your landlord know about your new pet can have devastating costs, as you could be breaking your lease terms and may have to be evicted for not notifying them.

However, if you own the home in which you and the cat will be living, then your only initial costs will be in getting the home ready for your cat and any initial vet visits you may need to set up. If you currently can’t afford to pay for a pet deposit at your rental, then it may be worthwhile to postpone adopting a cat until you can purchase your own home.

Cat Vaccines

Cost: anywhere from $45 to $85 for the first year of boosters, and $10 to $35 for annual vaccines

Vaccinating your cat is essential for protecting and prolonging their life, and for helping eradicate dangerous diseases such as rabies, feline distemper, and more.

Additionally, indoor-only, indoor-outdoor, and especially outdoor-only cats should all be vaccinated. Even if your kitty doesn’t plan on going outside anytime soon, they may still get out on accident, or small rodents carrying diseases can get into the house, which will then can expose your cat to dangerous diseases. Additionally, many cities have ordinances that require all animals in city limits to have essential vaccines such as a rabies shot.

Some cat vaccines may only need to happen once while the cat is young, while others may be a yearly or every-few-years in order to keep the cat immune to diseases.

For young kittens, they normally receive their shots between the ages of 6-8 weeks and 16 weeks old. They may also need a few booster shots, spread out for about 3-4 weeks, so expect to visit the vet a couple of times in your kitten’s first year. After that, they may only need a yearly booster. According to WebMD, the most essential vaccines for kittens include:

FVRCP or “Distemper shot”: These shots will typically make up the majority of the first initial boosters your kitten receives in their first year. You may also need to re-vaccinate your cat later in life, but it’s best to speak with your veterinarian about what their preferred plan is for your cat’s vaccinations. This shot is made up of:

Panleukopenia (also known as feline distemper)
Feline calicivirus
Feline viral rhinotracheitis
Rabies vaccine:

This shot is typically annual, although there are some variations of the shot that can last 3 or more years after the first initial booster. Ask your doctor if the extended 3 year shot is available.

Depending on where you live and what diseases or pests may exist in your area, your cat may need additional shots as well, including:

Feline chlamydia:

This is sometimes combined into the FVRCP shot.

Bordetella:

Also known as “kennel cough” as it is often spread in kennels or boarding homes, this bacterial infection causes upper respiratory issues and can spread fast between unvaccinated dogs and cats. If you plan to board your cat in a kennel, set an appointment with your vet to get this vaccine prior to boarding your pet.

Feline leukemia (FeLV):

Unlike human leukemia, feline leukemia is a very contagious viral infection that cannot be cured. It can cause lymphoma and severely weaken the immune system of cats. If you have an outdoor cat, it may be best to get them vaccinated to protect them. It can easily be passed from saliva, feces, urine, and other bodily fluids. For more information, visit WebMD.

The cost of these vaccines can vary depending on the price set by your veterinarian, as well as which vaccines you decide to get. In general, all the booster shots will cost anywhere from $45 to $85, and any additional boosters after that (such as the annual rabies shot) can be $10 to $35 per shot. If you’re adopting a kitten from a shelter, chances are their in-shelter veterinarian already gave the kitten all the essential shots, but ask for the medical records of the kitten before taking them in to get more vaccines.

Keep in mind, this is just the cost of the shots themselves, and not the cost of the whole veterinarian visit, which will be discussed in more detail below.

Cost of Neutering or Spaying Your Cat

Cost: about $50 to $600 for females (not including aftercare), and about $30 to $300 for males (not including aftercare)

There are many benefits to spaying or neutering your pets, including preventing potential cancer, preventing unwanted offsprings, and preventing undesirable behavior.

As the ASPCA notes on their site, fixing your cats can help prevent the following:

Medical Benefits:

Spaying females (removal of the reproductive organs, namely ovaries and uterus) can protect your cat from any diseases or cancers related to those organs, including ovarian cancer, uterine infections, and more. It’s best to spay females before their first heat which is normally around five months of age (although when the first heat happens also depends on the cat).

Neutering males (removal of the reproductive organs, namely testes) can protect your cat from any diseases or cancers related to the testicles, such as testicular cancer and some prostate problems.

Behavioral Benefits:

Spayed females are less likely to run away from home, as intact female cats in heat can get frantic trying to find a mate. Additionally, females in heat will often yowl constantly, and may urinate more frequently in the house.

Neutered males are less likely to spray, which is a common form of marking where male cats will shoot urine on vertical surfaces to mark their territory. Males can still spray after being neutered, especially if they were neutered later in life, but if you fix your cat at a young age you can increase the chances of avoiding this damaging behavior. Additionally, intact males are more likely to fight other cats and roam far away from home in search of a mate.

Additional Benefits:

Fixing cats can help prevent unwanted litters, and cats can have up to four litters within a single year. This can easily lead to overpopulation and can cause many unwanted kittens to be euthanized in order to prevent the spreading of diseases and overpopulation in feral cat colonies. Fixing your cats can help prevent serious overpopulation in your area.

It is advised to fix cats as early as 8 weeks, or as small as 2 pounds. Cats can be fixed at any point in their life, but it’s best to do it young so as to avoid the development of behavioral issues.

When adopting a cat or kitten from the shelter, many shelters will fix the cat prior to allowing it to go home, and may include some aftercare instructions for your new pet. However, if you purchased a cat from a breeder, or your kitten wasn’t fixed prior to adoption, then you may have to pay for the procedure out of pocket.

As PetMD notes, spaying females is often a more extensive procedure than neutering a male. Because of this, spaying can sometimes be more expensive.

To spay your cat, PetMD estimates the average cost is anywhere from $200 to $600, not including potential aftercare medications such as painkillers or antibiotics to prevent an infection.

To neuter a male cat, PetMD estimates the cost is normally significantly less: about $125 to $300, depending on the vet clinic and not including aftercare painkillers.

Luckily, if this seems unaffordable, there are many clinics scattered across the states that offer low-cost spay/neutering for cats in order to keep this procedure accessible for low-income families with animal companions. The ASPCA offers a handy map to find the closest low-cost clinic to you. Typical low-cost clinic costs can range from $50 to $70 for females, and about $30 to $50 for males. These clinics often have long waiting lists, so once you find one near you, be sure to get an appointment scheduled as soon as possible.

Annual Cost of Owning a Cat

The first year of owning a cat is typically the most expensive, as you’ll have to pay for all the initial immunizations as well as spaying or neutering your cat. On average, the first year can cost about $1,000, although this varies depending on where you bought the cat and if you were able to find a low-cost spay/neuter clinic.

Since the average cat can live to the ripe old age of 15, it’s important to make sure you can afford to budget for your cat for the duration of their life. Although the first year may be the most expensive, the overall cost of owning a cat can add up. Below, you can see the monthly break down of cat ownership, as well as some additional costs to consider.

How Much Does a Cat Cost Per Month?

On a month-by-month basis, cat care can seem a bit more manageable. Assuming there’s no need for vet visits or additional large expenses in that month, cat’s will only need food, litter, and the occasional new toys. However, even these costs can add up fast.

Every cat will have different feeding requirements, which is based on their weight, age, metabolism, daily exercise, and more. This can make it tough to determine just how much food you’ll need in a month for a cat until you’ve lived with that cat for a while and developed some familiarity with their eating habits. However, cats tend to be about 10 to 15 pounds, and most cat food guidelines suggest a half-cup per day for cats around 10 pounds, and about 3/4 of a cup per day for cats around 15 pounds. For conversion purposes, 2 cups is equal to 1 pound, which means within 2 to 4 days, cats can eat about a pound of food.

Typical bags of cat food come in 5 to 7 pound bags, or larger 15 to 20 pound bags. They can also range in price due to the quality of the ingredients. Overall, you may only have to buy one bag of cat food a month, which can be anywhere from $10 to $80.

As for litter, the Humane Society states it’s best to replenish your cat’s litter about once a week for clay litter, or about once every three weeks for clumping litter (if you also regularly clean it). Additionally, if you have multiple cats, you should have one litter box for every cat in your home. This means litter costs can easily be the most overwhelming, as you may need to get two or three bags of litter in a single month. Depending on the quality, brand, amount, and where you purchase the litter, the prices can range from $5 to $50 or more. For multiple bags a month, that can make the total monthly charges $15 to $150 per month.

Toys can be replaced on an “as needed” basis, but even those can add up; even for small purchases of $5 or $10 worth of toys in a month. Overall, cat owners can expect to spend about $30 to $250 per month on a single cat.

How Much Is Pet Insurance?

Vet bills may arguably the largest expense for most pet owners — whether they own a dog or a cat. Luckily, pet insurance can help alleviate some of that financial burden that unexpected vet bills can create. Similar to automobile insurance, pet insurance simply requires a small monthly payment, and if your pet is ever in an accident, injured, sick, or just needs a checkup, the pet insurance will help cover some of the costs.

On average, pet insurance is typically about $30 to $50 per month. This may seem like a lot, but the costs you spend on insurance can really be offset by the amount you save when an accident does happen. Even simple teeth cleanings can cost nearly $1,000 without insurance, whereas pet insurance can lower those prices significantly.

Keep in mind, pet insurance premiums will be high if you insure a pet that is already a few years old. It’s best to start coverage while they’re young, which can also help offset some of the costs for their first year boosters and being spayed/neutered.

How Much Is a Vet Visit for a Cat?

Vet visits alone can be anywhere from $25 to $250, depending on the clinic you use and if you have an appointment or if it’s an emergency visit. This charge is in addition to any services you get at the clinic.

If you’re concerned about not being able to afford a veterinary visit for your cat, there are many low-cost clinics scattered across the nation. Check the Humane Society website for some tips and clinics that may be in your area. Additionally, you can contact your local humane society or animal shelter to see if they know of any low-cost clinics in your area.

The Cost of Registering Your Cat as a Support Animal

One of the best benefits of having pets is the emotional support they can provide their human companions. Pets can help increase the quality of life for many people, including those with mental health, emotional issues, or chronic illnesses.

It’s important to note that emotional support animals (ESA) or support animals are not the same as service dogs: service dogs receive extensive training to prepare them for their role as an assistant. ESAs, on the other hand, can be cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets, or any number of unique animals, but they are not trained to be in human spaces the way that service dogs are. Additionally, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not recognize cats as service animals.

However, registering your pet as an emotional support animal can bring some unique benefits, including helping cut back on some of the miscellaneous costs of pet ownership. This can include not having to pay “pet rent” in some apartments, not having pet fees for flying with your cat on a plane, and more. The only requirement for turning your cat into an ESA is a letter from a licensed medical or mental health professional stating the necessity for the animal in order to help with a known mental health condition or psychiatric disorder.

Unfortunately, there are several companies online that will try to sell you an ESA “certificate,” but, as Psychology Today noted, all of them are scams. In order to obtain a valid ESA certificate, you must get it from a doctor that treats you regularly, is familiar with your mental health and other medical conditions, and can certify that the animal’s presence assists in the treatment plan for your condition.

While getting a cat or kitten can be a wonderful experience, not every cat or kitten will be able to be licensed as an ESA. Additionally, you will have to pay for the doctor or mental health professional visit in order to obtain the certificate, so you will need to consider those costs as well (there are plenty of low-income resources for mental health care if you need assistance). If you believe that your cat helps you, then it is certainly worth it to speak with your doctor about getting a potential ESA letter for your pet.