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The Cost of Cat Companionship

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From aww-dorable kittens to Zen seniors, our feline companions provide us emotional comfort, unconditional love, and priceless purrs. If you’re one of the estimated 42.7 million U.S. households with a cat, congratulations! You’ve gotten everything on your supplies list to ensure your new BFF will have the best life possible: high-quality cat food–check. Litter and the appropriate number of litter boxes (one per cat plus one extra)–double-check. Bedding, scratching post, cat tree, and a generous variety of toys for endless entertainment–checkity, check check.

Reality check: this list barely scratches the surface of the basic cat needs, recurring costs, and unforeseen expenses. Your cat’s purrs may be priceless, but the true cost of responsible pet care transcends a pandemic; it requires a commitment of time and finances for the life of your cat.
The American Pet Products Association (APPA) 2019-2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey estimated we’d spend $99 million on our pets in 2020. That includes a broad range of expenses that are made more affordable with a pet budget. “When people first get pets, they often don’t realize all the costs involved. Ongoing pet costs can run hundreds of dollars per month, so it’s important to make space for that in the regular budget,” says Michele Cagan, CPA.

One-Time Expenses

The first expense you’ll encounter is purchase cost, which varies depending on where you get your cat. You may adopt from a local shelter or rescue. The adoption fee ranges from $0 (if you catch a special adoption promotion) to $250. Often included in the adoption fee are spay-neuter surgery, microchipping for identification, and vaccinations, all of which help with the initial cost.

If you have your heart set on a pedigreed cat from a reputable breeder, expect to spend several hundred to several thousand dollars. Your cat may or may not come with bundled perks. If not, you’ll be responsible for covering the cost of spay or neuter, microchipping, and first vet exam and vaccinations.

The good news: getting your cat spayed or neutered and microchipped are one-time expenses. One-time expenses for renters to consider are pet fees and pet deposits, which may be refundable, non-refundable, per pet, etc. Sometimes fees can be paid out over a couple of months and other times they are due up front.

Recurring Expenses

After the initial one-time expenses, you’ll settle into monthly, annual, and occasional expenses. These expenses vary depending on brand, location, number of pets in the household, age and breed of your cat, and your own extravagance. You know your average household budget and it’s important to be aware of your pet budget, too. Common monthly expenses include food, litter, treats, medication, flea/tick treatment, heartworm medication, and pet insurance premiums.

Renters may have added monthly pet rent, which can range from $20 to $50 or more per month, and sometimes per pet.

Annual expenses to budget for include routine veterinary exams. Senior cats, 7 years and older, shift to semi-annual checkups, and cats with chronic medical conditions may require more frequent veterinary visits. An annual expense sometimes overlooked is pet licensing, usually a nominal fee between $10 and $25.

Occasional expenses are akin to a miscellaneous folder: Everything except the kitchen sink can be tossed in and those expenses could be the Achilles heel to your budget. Some items include grooming, beds, cat trees, shelves or perches, scratching posts, replacing old litter boxes or food/water dishes, and maybe a leash and harness for adventure cats. When travel opens up again, consider the cost for pet sitters, boarding, your cat’s airline ticket (which could cost more than your own), hotel pet charges, which may be per stay, per night, per pet.

When thinking about pet expenses and your household budget, what’s the best approach? Should you set up a special pet fund or incorporate it into your existing budget? “Regular monthly expenses like food, toys, etc., can be part of the regular bank account connected to the household budget,” says Cagan. “Occasional expenses like vet bills, dental cleanings, or pet sitting can be either folded in there, too, or get their own dedicated account.”

Unexpected Expenses

Unexpected expenses are just that, unexpected, but our pet care budgets need to be prepared for them. Unexpected expenses include, but are not limited to, acute illness, accidents, emergency surgery to remove foreign object, fights with another animal, and breed-related health conditions, such as hip dysplasia in Maine Coons.

Other unexpected expenses fall into the repair/replace category. In bursts of kitty-cat exuberance, household items, including your cat, can get broken. He may chew your shoelaces, plants, TV/computer cables or, as my cat Ivan did, the rubber tip off a door stop. That total vet bill, which included emergency surgery for obstruction, was well over $2,400. In this case, I removed all the rubber tips instead of replacing the missing one.

“I recommend (and personally have) an emergency pet fund that is only for true emergencies–expenses that are completely unexpected,” Cagan says. When setting up your emergency fund, should you set aside money weekly or monthly, and how much? “That depends on a few factors, like the type of pet, their age, general health, and whether or not they spend a lot of time outdoors. Generally speaking, it makes sense to keep $500 to $1,500 in a pet emergency fund, especially if you don’t have pet insurance. You can build that fund up by making weekly or monthly deposits, whatever fits best with your household cash flow,” she says.

Our cats enhance our lives, and health, and there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for them. Knowing the potential cost of responsible cat care, and financially preparing for it, gives us peace of mind knowing we can provide for their needs. Cagan says, “However much you think you’re going to spend, it’s probably more–especially for new pet owners–so bump up your budgeted amount until you really get a good sense of how much your buddies need every month.”

Here’s a link to Michele’s Pet Owner Budget Worksheet to help budget your monthly pet expenses.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Ramona D. Marek, MS Ed, is an award-winning writer and 2017 recipient of the prestigious Fear Free Pets Award. She writes about pet care, health and behavior, and cats in the arts. She’s also the author of “Cats for the GENIUS.” Her feline muses are Tsarevich Ivan, a joie de vivre silver tabby Siberian, and Natasha Fatale, a full-time diva dressed as an “anything but plain” brown tabby. You can read more about Ramona and her work at

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