Is there anyone in the world who hasn’t been tempted by a sign that says “free kittens?”
There’s just one problem: That kitten isn’t actually free. In fact, the cost of owning a cat can be significant.
It’s up to pet owners to do the responsible thing — before you bring home an animal, you have to know whether you can afford to care for it. If you’re wondering about the cost of owning a cat and whether you’re financially ready for it, read on.
How Much Does It Cost to Own a Cat?
The ASPCA offers a report called Pet Care Costs, in which they estimate that a new cat will cost $1,174 in the first year, and $809 each year after that.
In our own analysis, we found that the ASPCA wasn’t far off.
The Basic Cost of Owning a Cat
Let’s start with the basics. These are the costs that you will absolutely have to pay if you own a cat. Note that these are all rough estimates, and the actual cost will vary depending on where you live, where you shop, what kind of cat you have, and other factors.
|Expense||Monthly Estimated Cost||Yearly Estimated Cost|
|Food and treats||$20-$50||$240-$600|
|Beds and furniture||$5-$10||$60-$120|
|Litter boxes and litter||$20-$50||$240-$600|
|Routine vet care (for a healthy cat)||$15-$100||$200-$1,200|
|Preventative medications and supplements||$10-$50||$120-$600|
|Pet sitting or boarding (will vary depending on how much you travel)||$10-$100||$100-$1,000|
On average, a cat owner should expect to spend a minimum of just under $100 a month, just for basic supplies and care for their pet. This can range all the way up to around $450 a month if you have a cat that needs special care, like grooming or vet care.
Upfront Costs of Owning a Cat
Those expenses are the monthly, ongoing expenses for cat ownership. When you first get your cat, there will be some upfront costs for getting all of his or her supplies and getting your home ready for a new family member.
|Starting supplies (including toys, bed, crate, litter box and litter, etc.)||$50-$300|
|Health checkup and vaccinations||$100-$350|
|Preventative care (flea/tick/heartworm medication, etc.)||$50-$100|
|Spay or neuter||$50-$300|
|Microchip insertion and registration||$50-$100|
*Cost reflects fees for adoptable cats from shelters. Buying a purebred cat from a breeder will likely cost much more.
Based on these estimates, the upfront costs to prepare for your cat and bring your new feline friend home are likely to run you at least a few hundred dollars, all the way up to over $1,000 in some cases.
Ongoing Costs of Owning a Cat
Cats are like any other family member — they come with ongoing costs that you’ll need to fit into your family’s budget. Here’s what to expect.
Food and treats
To be their healthiest selves, cats need a protein rich diet of high quality cat food. Depending on the size of the bag you buy, this will generally range from around $20, up to $50. Luckily, since cats are small animals, a large bag of cat food will go a long way.
Cats are playful and curious creatures, and it’s important to provide them with a variety of different kinds of toys to give them mental stimulation. It’s also important to replenish your toy supply with new toys so your kitty doesn’t get bored. Luckily, cat toys don’t need to be expensive. Grabbing a few simple new toys out of the clearance bin at your local pet store can satisfy this need, without adding too much to your monthly budget.
Beds and furniture
Cats have natural instincts to hide in cozy places close to the ground, and to climb things. To keep your cat healthy and happy, you’ll need to provide beds that can sit on the floor, hiding places, and furniture, like cat trees, that your cat can scratch and climb. The cost for these items will vary, but a good quality cat bed can cost between $30 and $50, and a large cat tree will likely be over $100.
Litter boxes and litter
Even if you only have one cat, you should have at least two litter boxes (the general rule of thumb is that you need 1.5 litter boxes per cat, so two boxes for one cat, three boxes for two cats, and so on).
In addition to buying a couple of high quality litter boxes, you’ll need to regularly buy litter to clean and refill them. Depending on the type and brand of litter you use, this will likely cost $20 to $50 per month.
All cats have grooming needs. Even a shorthair cat will need things like nail trims and ear cleaning from time to time. But if you have a longhair cat, he or she might need more extensive grooming. Either way, expect some expenses for grooming, starting at around $5 for nail trims, up to $75 or more for a full groom.
Routine vet care
All cats should have a vet visit at least once per year, to make sure they’re up to date on vaccines, and get a general health checkup. This cost will vary depending on your vet, but expect to pay around $200 for a once-a-year checkup for a healthy cat, and much more — up to $1,200 or more — for a cat who has an illness or other specialized health needs.
Preventative medication and supplements
Your cat will need regular treatments to prevent fleas, ticks, and heartworms. In addition, many cats (especially as they get older) will need special vitamins or supplements to support their health. For preventative care like this, expect to budget $10 to $50 per month.
Pet sitting or boarding
If you’re someone who travels, you’ll need to consider who will take care of your cat when you go out of town. Pet sitting and boarding can be expensive, especially for long stays or at boarding facilities with a lot of amenities.
Unexpected Costs of Owning a Cat
When you adopt a cat, you expect the ongoing monthly expenses, and can build those into your family’s monthly budget. But with a pet, you also need to be prepared for unexpected costs.
If your cat is young and untrained, or has any behavioral problems, some of your belongings could be ruined. A cat can scratch expensive furniture, for example. If your cat has accidents outside of his or her litter box, carpet can be ruined. Cats aren’t considered to be very destructive animals, but they can, in some cases, cause quite a bit of expensive damage.
If you ever have a personal emergency that leaves you unable to care for your cat, that will be an unexpected expense for you (and one many pet owners don’t consider). But when pet owners think about emergencies, they most often think about high vet bills for their pets.
Animals, just like people, can get sick or injured. Cats are particularly good at hiding their symptoms, so you may not know that your cat is sick or hurt until he or she is in serious danger. That means that emergency vet bills for cats tend to be very high.
A single visit to an emergency vet will likely cost $500 to $1,000. If your cat needs surgery, that can cost $2,000 to $5,000 — or even more.
If you can’t afford to pay your cat’s vet bill with cash and instead use a credit card, you’ll also need to factor in the cost of the interest while you make payments on the bill.
Outdoor Cats Are Cheap to Own: Fact or Myth?
Many people who want a cat but can’t afford all the care and supplies we’ve talked about will instead get an outdoor cat.
Yes, it is technically true that you can “own” an outdoor cat with very few regular costs, since your cat will live mostly outside and hunt for its own food. But outdoor cats have very poor quality of life, and tend to live only 2-5 years, compared to around 15 years on average for an indoor cat.
Outdoor cats are also exposed to many more dangers than indoor cats, so the likelihood of getting a large vet bill for an emergency illness or injury is much higher.
Cost of Owning a Cat: Example Budget
We hope one thing is clear so far: If you want to own a cat, you need to make a budget and ensure you can afford all the costs that come with having a feline friend.
If you want to start seeing if a cat could fit into your budget, download our free template to get started.
How to Reduce the Cost of Owning a Cat
There’s no way around it: Pets are expensive. But if you’re a budget conscious animal lover, there are some tips and tricks you can use to have a pet, while cutting down on costs.
Adopt, don’t shop
Purebred cats from breeders tend to be very expensive. Instead of shopping for your new pet, visit an animal rescue or shelter to pick out a kitty that needs a loving home. Shelters often have a wide variety of cats of all sizes, breeds, and ages to choose from, and in addition to getting a loving pet, you’ll be saving an animal’s life by adopting.
Buy supplies in bulk
A great way to save, especially with a cat, is to buy supplies like food and litter in bulk quantities. That way, you typically get a better deal, and a large bag of cat food can last a long time.
Get pet insurance
To protect yourself (and your bank account) from large vet bills, consider pet insurance for your cat. That way, if your kitty ever gets sick or injured, it may be covered.
The Bottom Line: How Much Money Do You Need to Own a Cat?
If you’ve been adding up figures as you’ve been reading this article, you already know that to own a cat, you need:
- An upfront investment of $300 to $1,600 to get your cat and all the supplies he or she needs.
- The ability to pay $100 to $500 monthly for your cat’s care, supplies, and other needs.
- An emergency fund of at least $2,000 (but preferably more like $6,000) in case of an emergency vet bill or other unexpected expense.
There’s no way around it: Cats are expensive. If you have one, though, you know they’re worth every penny. Just remember, it’s up to you to care for your pet, which means if you can’t afford all of this, it might not be the right time for you to bring a cat into your family.