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new kitten

📷 by Austin Kirk

Some estimates1 claim average cat owners spend over $12,000 on their furry friends in their lifetime. That’s a lot to consider, so we decided to break it down and explore where exactly that money is going.

After crunching the numbers with our vets, caring for a cat responsibly usually costs around $220 per month. It’s likely that you’ll spend $3,000 in your first year of cat ownership alone. But after the first year, our vets report that that figure should drop to around $400 or $500 — as long as your cat is healthy and only needs preventive care.

So, let’s talk about exactly where all that money goes.

At a glance

The costs of owning a cat 🐈

The upfront costs Overall, it costs around $625 to adopt a cat and prepare your home for them.
The essentials On average, you’ll spend $1,385 per year to keep your cat happy and healthy.
The unexpected costs This cost will vary depending on the circumstances. To be safe, we suggest saving at least $725.

The upfront costs

👉 On average, the total upfront cost of rescuing a cat and giving it a safe and happy home is around $625.

The first step to adopting a cat is, well, to adopt one. Often, you’ll find that adopting a cat from a shelter is not only cheaper than buying privately but also, the feeling you get by giving a cat a second chance at a happy life is something that money can’t buy.

Adoption fees tend to vary depending on the age of the cat in question, with kittens being more expensive and costing around $100 – $200, while older cats may only cost $25 – $1002.

Typically, most adoption centers include microchipping, spaying, and neutering in the adoption fee; however, if this isn’t the case, then microchipping your cat is likely to cost around $503, while the price of spaying and neutering often varies state to state, it would be smart to save around $300 – $500 for the procedures4. While in some states, there may be clinics that offer the surgery for $75 – $100, but in a bid to keep costs down, these will offer preoperative blood work as an optional item.

Before you bring your cat home, you need to also ensure that you have all the tools necessary to give your new pet the home it deserves, some of which may include:

  • Bedding = $25
  • Brush = $5
  • Food and water bowl = $15
  • Carry case = $45 (Have you thought about a carry backpack? We put a list of favorites together.)
  • Toys = $15

This figure may vary depending on how much you want to spoil your furry friend.

For those pet owners who have garden space, then you may want to invest in a cat flap; this is a great way to go if you don’t want to spend the money on monthly kitty litter. Cat flaps vary in price, depending on whether you want to buy one that is connected to your cat’s microchip or if you’re happy with a more traditional make; either way, we recommend keeping aside $45.

If you’re not in the position to have your cat coming and going, then invest in a litter tray. These tend to cost around $30, however, be prepared for a monthly kitty litter fee of around $10. Sometimes, our pets have a preference. It may take some time, but eventually, you’ll be able to see whether or not they prefer doing their business outside or on a litter tray; in this situation, it may be more worthwhile to offer them a litter buffet, to see which they prefer.

Of course, this list will vary on the individual needs and personality of your cat. While cats and dogs differ in many ways, they both have basic needs that’ll need to be addressed.

For example, if you recently adopted a kitten, then you’ll need to look into ensuring they receive vaccinations to protect them from ailments like rabies or the FVRCP vaccine (feline viral rhinotracheitis calicivirus, and panleukopenia), alongside this, you may also want to consider the FeLV which protects from feline leukemia; however, this is optional. These will need to be administered three times in the early stages of their life, and will likely cost around $605 in total.

Upfront Costs

The initial costs of cat ownership

Type of expense Average upfront cost
Your pet $100
Spaying / Neutering $300 - $500
Microchip implant $50
Vaccinations $60
Essential gear $105

The essentials

👉 On average, the cost of caring for a cat is around $1,385 per year

You’ve finally brought your ball of fluff back home, but before you settle in and get used to one another, it’s important that you cover the essentials of cat ownership. Keep in mind that many of these essentials also depend on how much your cat may eat, if you’re raising an indoor cat or outdoor cat, and on the state of their health.

As both you and your new pet begin to settle in, you’ll need to take them to get a checkup at the veterinary office, or even, a dental cleaning. These procedures are ideal to calm any worries that you may have in the early stages, and by finding out about any potential problems early on, you have higher chances of your cat having a full and happy life in the future.

Other essential items would include food and treats which can end up costing $25 per month, pet insurance which is likely to come to around $15 per month6 (and is crucial for any of those unfortunate incidents), and flea and tick treatments which often come in at $507 for around three months worth of medicine.

Dental cleaning may cost in the ballpark of around $300 per visit, but this may increase if further treatment or extraction is included. While a checkup by a veterinarian could range from $90 – $200, depending on the age of your cat and the state you live in9.

The Essentials

Annual costs of cat ownership

Type Average annual expense
Flea and tick treatments $200-$600
Routine veterinary care $200-$300
Food & treats $300
Dental Cleanings $300
Pet insurance $100-$200

The unexpected costs

👉 In some extreme cases, you may have to shell out $1,000 or more if your cat were to fall ill or be dangerously injured. 

Life happens. Whether that’s something devastating and unfortunate like an illness or accident, or something planned and exciting like a holiday, these are all events you’ll need to account for when you adopt a cat.

From our research, we have found that it costs around $200 one way to fly a cat as cargo9, if this price is making your eyes water, then you also have the option of checking your pet into a boarding facility or something similar. More often than not, these establishments will typically cost around $25 per night.

If the unthinkable happens, if your cat gets into a tragic accident or is struck with a life-threatening illness, the cost of their treatment may come to a minimum of $30010. In some cases, the final bill can reach $1,000 or more11. To plan for emergencies, take a look at Pawp — one of the best alternatives to pet insurance. For $19 a month, pet parents get an annual $3,000 emergency fund, plus 24/7 and unlimited access to licensed vets.

Caring for a cat is a responsibility, and while there are heaps of benefits to adopting one, their care and health are paramount. Responsible pet ownership isn’t just remembering to feed and spend time with your pet, it’s also allowing for the fact that sometimes bad things happen, and those bad things may come with a hefty price tag.

The Unexpected Costs

All the things you forgot to plan for

Type of expense Out-of-pocket cost
An injury or illness ~$300 - $1,000 +
Pet travel (return domestic flights) ~$400
Boarding your cat ~$25 (per night)

Adopting for a cat isn’t a cheap — or easy — option, but the best things in life never are. But your pet will always be there for you, so you need to make sure that you’re ready to be there for them too.