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Do you know the true costs of cat parenting? Make your pet adoption plans with your eyes wide open, because it’s not exactly cheap to own a pet. And in high-cost areas, even these average numbers can be way off. Find out what expenses to budget for before bringing your purr-fect kitty into your home.

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cat parenting

Cat Parenting True Costs: Are You Ready?

Cats are popular pets… and become cherished members of the family. They have a way of tugging on your heart. And they can do the funniest things. But the average pet owner is often surprised by the high annual cost of owning a cat – let alone the high lifetime cost of ownership. You might argue that love for the pet should be the primary consideration, not cost. But money is an integral part of cat parenting. After all, cats don’t eat for free any more than you do.

Money: An Integral Part of Cat Parenting

The truth is that money matters a lot. Money affects the quality of life and quality of care a pet will receive. It’s a cat parenting essential. That’s why the decision to bring home a cat should never be impulsive or spontaneous. It is a huge, life-changing choice.Before you adopt, be sure you’re financially ready for the true cost of cat parenting. You’ll spend the next one to two decades with this precious animal. Be in it for the long haul. Sadly, every year thousands of animals are returned to shelters by people who didn’t count the cost in advance. Most animals that get returned to shelters won’t make it out of the shelter alive.

Pets are a serious financial undertaking. It’s critical that you budget carefully before taking the plunge. On a related note, be sure everyone in the family is on the same page regarding the expenses, time commitment, and emotional energy of cat parenting. Otherwise you’re sure to have conflict in the home.

The Myth of the Free Kitty

The cost of the initial kitty or cat adoption is tiny compared to the cost of caring for the cat throughout its entire life. As such, there’s no such thing as a free kitten. (Just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch.)

Cats may seem undemanding. But that’s a myth too. All pets require a whole lot of time, energy, and attention in order to meet their basic physical and social needs. People with cats often joke about their cats owning them. That’s actually half true. They’re complex little companions that may test you if you don’t take the time to figure them out. If you’re not willing and able to pony up the time and resources for this, the best decision is to wait till such time as you can.

Animal shelters are already overflowing with abandoned, unwanted cats (and dogs). Millions are euthanized every year. Don’t add to the problem.

Crunching the Numbers of Cat Parenting

ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) says that the average cost per year to care for a cat is $809[i] — or about $67 per month. In some areas or circumstances, it could cost substantially more.

Weigh this reality against other financial goals you have. Remember that you can have anything you want… just not everything you want. What are your priorities? Is cat parenting high enough on your priority list to spend this much annually over the next 10 to 15 years? Are you willing to exchange investing for your future retirement for cat parenting at this time?

Average Annual Costs of Cat Parenting

  • Food (premium brand dry kibble; if feeding raw meat, you’ll pay more) — $224
  • Ongoing medical needs (exam, vaccines, heartworm preventive, and topical flea/tick preventive) — $160
  • Kitty litter — $165
  • Toys and treats — $25
  • Health insurance — $175
  • Misc. — $30
  • Total annual costs: $809

And watch out. If you live in a high cost area it’ll cost much more. What’s more, if you feed your carnivorous cat real meat, it’ll cost more. If they have any health issues, it’ll cost more. Likely far more than $809 per year.

Some of my family members have spent a couple fortunes on their cats (and dogs). Multiply this number by the nine to 15-year lifespan of your cat, and you’re talking about some serious money.


First-year Setup Costs of Cat Parenting

According to ASPCA your first-year start-up costs will be:

  • Adoption fee (if from a shelter) — $60-$100 (Varies by shelter, age/health of cat, and how many veterinary services are included. In my area, you’ll never see $60. Adoptions start at $100 and go up to $150.)
  • Adoption fee (if from a breeder) — $500-$1,000+ (Do your research for a reputable breeder.)
  • Spay/neuter surgery + vaccinations — $100-$200+
  • Litter box — $5-$30
  • Collar/tag — $10
  • Grooming tools (brushes, etc.) — $8-$10
  • Apartment pet deposit/fees – Some rentals require deposits of $200+ for cats (if they allow them at all). Others charge a monthly surcharge of $10-$50 a month.

And ASPCA didn’t even mention a crate, useful for getting kitty to and from vet appointments.

One major variable in these fees is the cost of living where you live. But there’s also your choice of food, litter, flea prevention, grooming, toys, and treats.

These costs also assume your cat is relatively healthy. It goes without saying that cats with chronic medical problems (allergies, kidney disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism) or pets with medical emergencies will absolutely cost more than a healthy cat… although health insurance may defray part of that.

Obviously, if you live in an apartment or a home or condo governed by an HOA, be sure to check your apartment or HOA rules before adopting. Otherwise could be forced to give up on your cat parenting dreams after plunking money down.

Saving Money on Veterinary Care

People often think they can cut costs on food, litter, and veterinary expenses. But that’s often not true.

cat parenting
Opting out of annual exams, vaccines, and preventives can cost you in other ways.

Feeding low-quality food can lead to medical problems (UTIs, etc.), triggering higher veterinary bills. One way to save on higher quality cat food is to make their food yourself. Just be sure to check your Kitty’s unique nutritional requirements so you don’t shortchange her health to save a few bucks.Opting out of annual exams, vaccines, flea prevention, or deworming can delay diagnosis of problems, costing more in the end. Many pet parents now enroll their pets in insurance programs. A major benefit of pet insurance is that it can be hugely beneficial if your pet experiences an unexpected medical emergency – which could set you back thousands of dollars.

Where Opportunity Costs Meet Cat Parenting

Don’t forget the opportunity costs. For one, pets take time. Yep, even cats. (Mind-reading the cat that owns you is nearly a full-time job in itself. Only half kidding.) Time that could be put to another use like a side hustle. Definitely an opportunity cost.

Secondly, cat parenting ties you down. Do you travel for work or pleasure? You’ll pay pet sitting and boarding fees. Also, if you rent, your pet will limit your housing options, because some don’t allow pets. Even if you own, when you decide to sell, prospective buyers may factor in odor and damage remediation which could decrease the value of your home.

Thirdly, the cost of cat parenting should also be weighed against the opportunity to invest that “cat care” money while you’re younger, so it has longer to grow your wealth.

Finally, the ASPCA advises that you set aside a few thousand in emergency funds for unexpected pet health costs, noting that owners will likely incur at least one $2,000-4,000 emergency care bill sometime during their cat’s life.

Final Thoughts – Can You Afford the True Costs of Cat Parenting? 

The costs of pet ownership are somewhat unpredictable. It’s wise to create a safety net in case of emergency (just like you do for other unexpected expenses). You want to avoid being between a rock and a hard place – like having to choose between saving your pet’s life or putting yourself in serious debt.

So how to decide if you can you afford it?

1. Figure out how Kitty’s monthly expenses will impact your budget.

Are you overspending someplace that you can cut in order to accommodate a pet? Is that worth it to you? If you say “no,” you’re likely not ready to make the sacrifices needed to keep a cat happy and healthy.

2. Set aside a couple thousand in your emergency fund for an unexpected veterinary bill.

Unexpected vet bills can happen to you. Don’t pretend it can’t. ASPCA says it’s almost a given that every pet will have a major vet bill sometime in their life. Preparing for it proves you’re ready for pet ownership.

3. Ask yourself: How would you (or your children) feel if faced with a life-saving vet bill you can’t really afford?

You don’t want to be faced with the tough choice between saving your pet’s life or being able to pay your rent next month. That’s not fair to you or your pet.

4. If you’re concerned about big vet bills, consider pet insurance.

Remember that the best time to buy any insurance is before you need it, not after. Be sure you read the fine print, though. Know what the deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs will be. Don’t make this decision on a whim. You’re taking another life into your care. Be sure you’re emotionally and financially ready for the implications.

5. Consider fostering a pet for a month or so before making a final commitment. It’s a great reality check.

Don’t make this decision on a whim. You’re taking another life into your care. Be sure you’re emotionally and financially ready for the journey. To test your decision, consider fostering for awhile before making a commitment. It really is a good reality check. You’ll still have some costs with fostering. But not to the extent of permanent cat parenting. When you’re ready emotionally and financially for cat parenting, you’ll enjoy the whole experience much more.

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