Mom wants to make sure they can afford a cat

The Costs of Adding a Cat to the Family

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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The Costs of Adding a Cat to the Family

I found a few articles on your site about the costs associated with adopting a dog. What about cats? How do cat costs compare to dogs? My son wants to get either a cat or dog but I want to make sure we can afford it and I assume a cat would be cheaper. I would especially like to know about common vet costs and how much to budget for monthly food and litter costs. Thanks!

Adopt from Your Local Animal Shelter

I have had cats for years. I usually have two so they can keep each other company when I am out of the house. However, one will be fine by itself as well.

The best and cheapest place to adopt a cat is your local animal shelter. Make sure it is spayed or neutered. It is often included in the adoption fee. You will save money and perhaps your cat's life by keeping it indoors only. An indoor cat will not need certain shots nor does it need flea protection (unless you also have a dog that goes outdoors).

Feed your cat a good dry cat food rather than canned food. This is both less expensive and healthier for the cat. You will generally need to take it to a good veterinarian about once a year. Many towns offer low-cost rabies and other shots, as does the Humane Society, which in some areas also offers a low-cost veterinary clinic.

When you first adopt your cat, it will need to see a veterinarian to make sure it is healthy and that it does not have worms. The cat will get any shots it needs, too. Occasionally, shelters will pay for this, but you should be prepared to pay about $100. You could consider pet insurance for major health issues. It costs about $15 to $20 per month.

A $16 bag of cat food will last several months for one cat. Clumping litter costs more, but you will use less over time. Plan on $10 or so a month. Buy dollar store toys and cover an old pillow for an inexpensive pet bed. Most importantly, enjoy your pet.

The First Year Is the Most Costly

Having received my first cat at the tender age of three and having had many more since then, I feel myself uniquely qualified to answer this question. Like dogs, cats are most expensive in their first year with you, and I'll present this mostly as a kitten acquisition.

  • Acquisition cost varies (purebred vs. shelter vs. stray), so anything from $0-1,400 can apply.
  • First year vetting is a series of visits at 8, 12, and 16 weeks. My vet is on the inexpensive side for our area, and it's never gone over $80 per well-cat visit, except maybe if a fecal sample is run. Standard shots are distemper multi-shot and rabies and optional shots are FelV and FIV vaccines. Sick exams (excepting medication or treatment costs) are $40.
  • Females are more expensive to sterilize than males because it's a more involved operation, but my vet does spaying for $150. Complications, at time of operation make the operation more expensive still. Some vets will offer discounts for getting this done before the animal is six months old, and for the mobile low income populace, rescues and shelters run clinics offer vouchers for as low as $25. I've heard some places have taxes on vet costs (our state doesn't)! Micro-chipping can be slightly expensive, but then it's good for a lifetime. You will pay $35 to $40 for it.
  • Once your pet is a one year old, they go in for their vaccination boosters, which operate on a three-year schedule. The usual cost is under $100.
  • Standard feeding is dry food only, and a single grown cat could go through ten pounds per month. An old stand-by like Purina may only run you $15 to $20. Specialty and gourmet brands will go up to $30 to $40. Cans of wet food can cost $1 or more.
  • For gear, you need food and water dishes and a litter box. The initial cost could be $30. Collars need replacement every year or two and can be had for $5. Flea collars are $5 to $8 and last six to seven months. Cat litter is an inescapable necessity. Try a clumping litter for longevity. Scoop the waste daily and the remaining box is still clean and usable. You will need maybe 20 pounds per month at $15 to $20. Completely empty and wash the litter box once monthly for best results. Litter scoops can be had under $5 and can last for years. Bagging the dirty litter for garbage disposal is easy. Reuse a standard plastic grocery bag for free! Toys and bedding can be as simple or involved as you like, but it's a pretty good idea to get at least a standard scratching post ($40 to $50) every three years or so. Nails can actually be clipped with your own clippers if you like.


Consider Fostering Instead

Please don't get a cat or dog if you are so concerned with the costs. They will usually cost more than you think. Would you then get rid of the pet if the cost got too high? Maybe your family can volunteer to foster some animals instead.

Research Where to Buy Necessities

I average $400 to $500 yearly for my cat. I just started buying a year's supply of Revolution supply on sale at 1-800PetMeds for $170 on sale. The vet visit each year for shots and a check-up are around $115. I watch for sales on food and litter. I buy litter mostly at BJ's Warehouse. A large box of litter can last about two months at $9 a box or $54 a year. Cat food runs about $10 to $15 per month, and I buy in bulk or on sale.

The Costs of Adding a Cat to the Family

Cats Can Be Very Affordable, Enjoyable Pets

We have three indoor cats and also have several outdoor farm cats. Watch for local spay/neuter clinics. Last year, we had seven cats spayed and neutered at a clinic run by local shelter. We paid $25 each and that included the surgery and their vaccines, including rabies. The vaccines alone would have cost more at a vet office, and the clinic staff and vet took excellent care of our pets and even sent home a gift bag with toys and a couple cans of cat food. Now all we need is yearly vaccines, which are about $10 to $15 at the clinics. Also, I avoid buying the premium dry cat foods. Instead I buy a large bag of decent quality dry food from a farm store. It is about $20 for 40 pounds, and our cats have done wonderful on this for years. For treats, I use a small bag of Friskies. Our cats love this stuff, but it really isn't a great quality food. Giving them a few bites occasionally as a treat works great and is much cheaper than buying tiny bags of cat treats. Litter costs can add up. We use the clumping type and clean boxes daily. About once a week, we completely empty and wash out the boxes. My cats are not picky about litter brand and luckily there are almost always sales or coupons available. Traditional non-clumping litter can be bought very inexpensively if you prefer that type.

Save on your pet's medications at 1-800-PetMeds.

They Repay with Unconditional Love and Companionship

We've had cats and dogs for many years. I haven't really kept track of which is more costly than the other. Vet bills can run high, so I'd recommend looking into insurance for that. We had a cat with a digestive disorder and needed prescription food. Our dog had a severe glaucoma attack and had to have four very expensive medications and several surgeries. One way we have been able to save is on We get cat, dog, and turtle food at a cost much less than in grocery stores. Other items like litter are also available. Whatever the pet, they win your heart and are part of the family. Whatever the cost, they repay you with unconditional love and companionship.

Get Pet Insurance

I don't have a cat, but as a dog owner, I'd like to pass this on. Get pet insurance if at all possible. If your cat is allowed to roam outside on his or her own, there are all kinds of dangers. If you keep the cat inside, you have control over their environment. Second, the animal shelters here have either free or reduced price adoption days, where the animals have been given their first round of shots. Spaying and neutering all animals is a must. Ask any vet. It's healthier for the animal.

Learn to DIY for Your Cat

We got our cat from a shelter run by a charity. Her flea and worm medicines are really cheap. She was neutered at a good price too as part of the re-homing contract. The market sells discount cat food and we give her meat from the "reduced" aisle. We also bought tick-removing prongs to save having to get the vet to remove them. Ask the vet to teach you how to remove ticks, check teeth, give medication, and trim claws to save frequent journeys on jobs you can do yourself. Make a cat tower out of an industrial reel and carpet stuck on it. Ask at factories if they are throwing any away. Add a firm box on top with homemade toys filled with catnip, bells, and crinkly stuff to play with. Make your own crunchy cat food! There are several recipes on Enjoy!

Save on Litter

I have always had cats and have just discovered this in the last couple of years. I use Equine Pine for my litter. It comes in 40-pound bags from Tractor Supply or a feed store. It is actually pine pellets, so it helps keep the smell down. It is also cheaper than litter. I just use a slotted litter scooper to scoop out the saturated litter. My cats love it, and I don't have to deal with heavy litter gravel.

I also use IAMS cat food now. Although it is a little more expensive, it is actually cheaper in the long run because they don't eat as much because it doesn't have all the fillers that the cheaper ones do, so they stay filled up longer. Plus, it is healthier for them, so I don't have as many vet bills.

Here is one more plug for cats. You don't have to walk them. They are very affectionate if you are back to them. Enjoy!

Take the Next Step:

  • Stop overpaying for your pet's medications. See how much 1-800-PetMeds can help you save.
  • Don't let your pets take such a bite out of your budget! The Dollar Stretcher's Guide to Frugal Pet Care can show you smart ways to love your pet while spending less.
  • Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!

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