You can care for a cat for as low as $162 per year, but it’s common to spend about $800 annually. Read on for our detailed breakdown of your annual and lifetime costs.
In their oft-cited “Pet Care Costs” publication, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) estimates that a new cat will cost $1,174 in their first year. With the costs of bringing a new cat into the family aside, the ASPCA determines determine that each successive year will cost $809.
We’ve calculated the annual costs of cat litter, food, vet visits, and more, and found that you can keep a cat for as little as $277 the first year and $162 every successive year. Little luxuries like vet checkups, treats, good food, and new toys will add a few hundred dollars to that annual figure, bringing us closer to the ASPCA’s estimate. The most expensive lifestyles will likely add up to a few thousand dollars a year.
But every day expenses aren’t cat guardians’ most serious financial concern. Medical emergencies and illnesses are the biggest expense to budget for, potentially adding $5,000 or more to your cat’s lifetime cost.
Let’s work our way through the costs of owning a cat, estimating both startup costs and the recurring costs that you’ll cover for the rest of your cat’s life.
Bringing Home a New Cat: One-Time Costs
You’ll almost always have to spend money to raise a cat, but you can bring one into your life for free. Cats are given away for free every day. Free cats come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Sometimes they wander onto your porch and never leave. Sometimes you find them in trash cans or book drops.
While you won’t have to pay for these cats upfront, they may come with additional startup costs. You may have to cover neutering on your own. If you adopt an orphaned kitten, you’ll have to pay for kitten milk replacer.
These kittens are often sick or flea-infested, so it’s likely that you’ll encounter some medical bills along the road to adulthood.
$25 – $200
Animal shelters and other rescue organizations typically charge between $50 to $200 in adoption fees. If $50 sounds like a lot, keep your eyes open for special adoption events. Most rescue organizations run promotions regularly, during which they adopt out cats at reduced prices.
Shelter cats have already undergone checkups and have likely been treated for any medical conditions before they’re deemed adoptable. Spaying and neutering is also typically included in the adoption cost.
$500 – $1,000 on average
If you buy your cat from a breeder, they’ll probably cost between $500 and $1,000, but the cost may be higher if you purchase one of the most expensive breeds.
While most breeders take the time to ensure that their kittens are healthy and in great condition before they go to a new home, they don’t always cover neutering and other medical costs.
Your cat’s breed affects how much they cost, both upfront and over the course of their life.
Some breeds aren’t particularly expensive to buy, but have high maintenance costs due to breed-specific health conditions.
Here are some of the most expensive breeds and the health conditions they encounter most often.
|Breed Name||Average Cost||Common Health Conditions|
|Bengal||$1,000 – $25,000||Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), eye disorders|
|Persian||$500 – $5,500||Polycystic kidney disease (PKD), Progressive rod-cone degeneration (PRA), and HCM|
|Peterbald||$1200 – $5,000||None|
|Russian Blue||$400 – $3,000||None|
|Sphynx||$200 – $3,000||Heart disease, respiratory issues, digestive problems|
|Scottish Fold||$200 – $3,000||Osteochondrysplasia, PKD, HCM|
|British Shorthair||$500 – $1,500||HCM, Hemophilia B|
One-time costs that you’ll need to consider when you first bring your cat home:
- ID Tag and Collar (optional) – $15
- Spay/Neuter (optional) – $145
- Bed (optional) – $30
- Cat Tree (optional) – $75
- Cat Nail Clipper (optional) – $7
- Cat Brush (optional) – $8
- Litter Box – $25
- Litter Scoop – $10
- Scratching Post – $30
- Carrier – $40
- Food and Water Bowls – $10
Total one-time costs for cat care supplies: $115 – $410
Cost of Cat Ownership—Annual Expense Breakdown
Annual Medical Expenses
Veterinary bills can take a big chunk out of your cat care budget, especially if your cat has a serious illness or injury. Here’s a breakdown of both routine and emergency veterinary expenses.
Taking your cat for a regular vet exam will cost between $40 and $55 per visit.
It’s generally recommended that cats visit the vet’s office once a year until they reach their senior years. Once your cat is somewhere between 9 and 11, most vets recommend that you take them in for a checkup every six months.
If you want to keep your cat’s dental care bills low, invest in a toothbrush and toothpaste as soon as you bring them home. A toothbrush and cat toothpaste cost around $15 and are a great investment in your cat’s health and your financial future.
Periodontal disease affects many, if not most, middle-aged and senior cats, and it brings with it a sea of other issues. Once your cat’s teeth are covered in calculus, it will take a professional dental cleaning to get rid of it. That will cost you between $150 and $500 every time.
And if you don’t catch it early enough, periodontal disease will lead to organ disease and its multi-thousand-dollar treatment paths.
In addition to your cat’s first-year vaccinations, you may opt for booster shots, which cost between $50 and $150 every three to seven years. Vaccination frequency depends on your personal preference and your cat’s lifestyle.
Treatments for Fleas, Ticks, Worms, and Mites
If you live in an area with fleas or ticks and your cat spends time outdoors, you may have to treat them with insecticides. Cats who eat wild prey may need dewormers. These treatments aren’t necessary for most indoor cats.
Emergency Medical Expenses
$0 – $10,000+
According to Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City, expensive emergency medical bills are something worth preparing for. She says that “owners will likely incur at least one $2,000 – $4,000 bill for emergency care at some point during their pet’s lifetime.”
Here’s a breakdown of how much it might cost to treat common conditions.
Continuing Medication for Extended or Chronic Illness
If your cat develops cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or another serious illness, you can expect to spend a lot of money on continuous treatment. Those expenses will be a way of life for a long time, presumably for the rest of your cat’s life
The big variable here is whether or not you have pet insurance. If you buy pet insurance for your cat early in life, your annual medical bills will probably be relatively low even with a serious condition at play.
Pet insurance rates depend on how old your cat was when you took out a policy, where you live, your cat’s breed, and a variety of other factors. In general, it costs about $10-$20 a month to insure your cat for accidents and illnesses. Comprehensive wellness plans may cost $30 or more.
$90 – $2,520/year
The type of food you buy affects your lifetime costs in a number of ways.
One, there’s a wide variety in the prices of cat foods and brands. You could pay $7 per day for some of the most expensive cat food or $0.25 for a grocery-bought kibble. Theoretically, this discrepancy in food cost alone means the difference between $1,368 and $38,325 over your cat’s lifetime.
Food has a deeper impact, though—it’s an investment in your cat’s health. While many cheap foods are just as nourishing as the expensive ones, others only appear to be a good value in the short term.
A financially-motivated decision to buy a low-quality food could end up costing you thousands in vet bills down the road.
Put food quality before price, but remember that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good food. Some of the highest-quality food is quite economical and some low-quality foods are more expensive than you might expect.
Check out this price chart showing the different costs of cat foods. The chart is based on averages of popular products sold on Chewy.com.
Kitty’s Bathroom – Litter and Supplies
$72 – $240/year
One cat will typically use about 20 lbs of clay litter each month, but litter usage varies based on your cat’s health, the type of litter you choose, and your scooping efficiency.
Silica gel-based litter will cost between $10 and $25 per month, while clay litter costs between $2.50 and $6 each month. Biodegradable products are priced all across the price spectrum, but are typically more expensive than clay.
Your costs will go up if you include additional litter box accessories like mats, deodorizers, and a dedicated garbage can.
- Litter box liners – $18/year
- Deodorizing spray or granules – $20/year
- Vacuum for litter box area – $35
- Dedicated trash can – $30
- Litter mat – $25
- 15 Best Cat Litter Boxes in 2018 – Give Your Cat the Perfect Litter Box
- Best Cat Litter Mats – Stop Tracking and Scattering With These Top-Rated Mats
- Best Vacuum Cleaners For Cat Litter
Fun and Games
Total annual cost of owning a cat: $162 – $3,872
Let’s see what goes into keeping a cat on both extremes of this huge spending spectrum.
The low budget doesn’t involve any pet insurance, nor does it involve a single vet visit. The cat is fed a cheap—probably dry—cat food and uses a low-cost clay litter. The cat may have some nice things like a cat tree, scratching post, and ID tag, but these were bought when he came home and they don’t add up to recurring costs every year.
Because this cat doesn’t have pet insurance, a serious illness or accident will be his guardians’ sole responsibility.
Our ultra-expensive feline has a vet checkup twice every year, uses a spot-on flea treatment in the summer, goes for regular professional dental cleanings from an expensive vet, and receives booster shots every three years. She doesn’t have pet insurance, so all of these vet visits are charged to her guardian’s credit card.
She eats a top-of-the-line organic, raw, or human-grade commercial food, possibly subscribing to a meal delivery service like NomNomNow. Her litter box is filled with Pretty Litter crystals or a high-end biodegradable litter. She gets toys, top-of-the-line scratching posts, and new cat trees on a regular basis.
Owning a Cat on a Budget
Sometimes a cat wanders into your home and heart before you’ve had a chance to fit cat food into your monthly spending plan. What then?
If you don’t have enough money to lavish your cat with fine foods and gifts, please don’t think that you’re a bad cat guardian. Almost everyone can afford a cat and can afford to raise them well.
Here are a few tips for people who want to keep their cat care budget low.
Know the difference between giving your cat the best and buying things because they makes you feel like a good cat parent.
There’s a whole world of cat care products that only exist to make people feel like they’re doing something good. These items can be fun, but they’re certainly not necessary and most of the time, they are more enjoyable for the human than the cat who’s receiving them.
- Most cat toys—Toys are fun, but most cats are perfectly capable of finding their own toys around the house.
- Cat beds—Cats are just as happy sleeping in a blanket-lined cardboard box as they are snoozing in a sherpa-lined cat tunnel.
- Organic cat food—If you can afford it, spring for organic meats and foods, but if you can’t, remember that non-organic species-appropriate food is much better than organic food that doesn’t honor your cat’s carnivorous needs.
- Store-bought treats—Most cats would be just as happy to eat a chunk of fresh chicken and it would be healthier for them.
Consider alternatives to traditional cat litter.
Cat litter expenses can add up quickly, so optimizing your litter situation is one of the most powerful areas for improvement.
One of the most economical litter box solutions is swapping out traditional litter for woodstove pellets—also marketed as horse stall bedding. These sawdust pellets are ultra-absorbent and appear to work just as well as popular brands of pine cat litter. The best part is that they cost a tiny fraction of the price of traditional cat litter.
While the average clay litter costs around $0.40 per pound, standard wood pellets cost about $0.17 per pound.
When safe to do so, don’t be afraid to give your cat things that don’t have the word “cat” on the package.
It might seem clean and easy to exclusively buy your cat products “made for cats”, but in reality, no cat has a problem using generic products that don’t have pawprints on them.
Until I finally bought a set of food bowls that would look good in photos, my cats ate from vintage metal and ceramic bowls we bought at a thrift store. They still drink water out of an old pot. Cat-specific food and water bowls and cat water fountains, like many other items in the pet store, are sold at a “love-of-a-pet” markup.
Don’t let your love for your cat delude you into believing that any cat is happier with bowls, beds, treats, and toothbrushes sold specifically for pets. You can find generic versions of many of these products in thrift stores, on Amazon, and anywhere else you might shop for high-value items.
Feed your cat well and keep them safe.
Emergency vet bills and taking care of a sick cat are two of the biggest expenses you’ll encounter. It’s impossible to ensure that nothing will ever happen, but you can reduce your cat’s likelihood of getting sick or hurt.
A species-appropriate diet is the single easiest and most affordable means of discouraging obesity, diabetes, and feline lower urinary tract disease. Cats need a high-moisture diet rich in bioavailable protein and minimal carbohydrate matter. If you’re not sure what this means, check out our article on the best cat food.
In addition to keeping your cat healthy with a good diet, you should consider their safety. Prevent accidents by keeping your cat indoors or go for supervised outdoor adventures with a harness and leash.
Owning a cat isn’t cheap, but it’s not necessarily as expensive as some suggest.
The cost of keeping a cat ranges from under $200 a year to multiple thousands of dollars annually. Your actual costs will depend on which breed you choose, your cat’s health, the type of food you buy, where you live, your lifestyle choices, and whether or not you invest in pet insurance.
Raising a cat is just like raising a human. There’s no single figure for how much it costs to keep a child healthy and happy—it all depends on what you can afford, what you’re willing to pay, and how good you are at making wise buying decisions. Your cat’s quality of life hinges less on dollars spent and more on the amount of energy, intelligence, and love you’re willing to give.
About the author
Mallory Crusta is a writer and adventurecat enthusiast on a mission to make cats’ lives extraordinary. She’s one of the founders of Wildernesscat – a site for happy, healthy, and adventurous cats who are fueled by nature. Visit Wildernesscat for radically natural cat nutrition, home remedies, and lifestyle inspiration.