The Costs of Responsible Cat Ownership

Be sure you know the pricetag for providing a home for a cat

grey cat looking out toward the sun

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Being a responsible owner of a cat carries with it certain financial obligations. If you are not in a position or are not willing to meet these costs, it may be better not to take in a cat. If your budget is tight, but you are willing to make certain sacrifices for the sake of having the pleasures of a cat in your life, then you may be able to accomplish that dream.

It is difficult to resist that cute kitten in the "free to a good home" box, or that friendly stray on the street who begs to come home with you, but if you can't afford to give it the bare necessities, you are probably doing the cat or kitten no favor. Fortunately, you have options if your love for cats far outweighs your means to properly care for them.

Basic Cat Needs

Cats have certain basic needs which often divide the difference between a stray on the street and a cat in a home with a responsible caregiver These needs include:

  1. Food, of the highest quality you can afford
  2. A safe indoor-only environment with a few exceptions
  3. Spay or neutering, provided by a veterinarian
  4. Core vaccinations, provided by a veterinarian
  5. An annual veterinary examination
  6. Emergency veterinary care when a cat is sick

If you are not prepared to pay for these, you can't afford to own a cat.

Abyssinian cat behind stacked food cans
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Costs of Cat Care

These costs vary by location, size, age, and health of your cat, and are just general estimates, but they will give you a sense of the costs you would incur:

  • Quality food: $15 to $25 a month. Consider that you'd spend more for one dinner at a restaurant.
  • Litter box and litter (price varies). You can obtain a litter box for $6 to $200 for a deluxe self-cleaning box. A 14-pound bag of World's Best Cat Litter costs around $17, and regular scooping should make it last almost two months for one cat. You might pay more for one lunch for yourself.
  • Spay or neutering: (one-time cost varies). There are many low-cost spay and neuter clinics in the United States that might provide the service for under $50 for neuter and under $70 for spay. A private veterinarian might charge in the neighborhood of $200 for neuter and over $300 for spay. This cost is minuscule compared with the cost of treating an abscess caused by fighting in an unneutered male, or aborting or treating mom cat and newborn kittens resulting from an unexpected pregnancy.
  • Core vaccinations: (cost varies). The cost will vary depending on the risk factor in your own cat and rabies laws in your area. As with spay and neuter, there are many low-cost vaccination clinics available. Expect $80 for the complete first-year series.
  • Annual veterinary examination: (cost varies). A thorough exam, including dental and a blood profile, will run from $100 to $200.
  • Emergency veterinary care: There is no real way to estimate these costs, since they vary as to the age, overall condition, and accident-proneness of the cat. Veterinary insurance can mitigate these costs somewhat. Lacking that, set aside money every month for a "vet emergency fund" of at least $10 per week, or get a $1,000 to $2,000 credit card and put it away in a drawer, to be earmarked for cat emergencies only.
Veterinarians examining x-rays in office
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Hard Times

There will come times when illness, death of a spouse, or sudden loss of income will drastically affect the kinds of care you can give your cat. Explore areas where compromises can be made in cat care costs:

  • Cat food expenses: Certainly, food choices can be compromised somewhat, by buying the least expensive premium cat foods, buying larger bags of dry food, or even supplementing premium cat food with grocery store brands, until finances improve.
  • Cat litter savings: "Chicken crumble," such as Purina's Layena brand, which is around $10 for a 50-pound bag, makes a good temporary substitute for litter. Litter costs can also be mitigated by purchasing the largest bag available.
  • Ask for payment terms from the veterinarian: Some veterinarians will allow you to pay off an emergency bill in weekly or monthly installment. You can even offer to write post-dated checks (but be sure they will clear).
  • Borrow: Borrow from family, friends, or your local bank, if possible. Ask your credit card holder for a temporary increase in your limit, but be sure to make at least the minimum payment the following month. Care Credit (U.S. and Canada) offers interest-free loans for up to one year for veterinary emergencies.
  • Pawn or sell possessions: Look around your house and see what you can afford to give up, then hold a yard sale or sell your items online.
  • Barter: Bartering is big nowadays with many businesses, and you probably have some skill to offer your veterinarian in return for services. Offer to clean the office, scrub holding cages, or paint exam rooms. Offer to babysit or pet-sit over a six-month period. Trade skills such as massage therapy, dentistry, pet-sitting, carpentry, computer repair, or haircuts and manicures.
  • Veterinary expenses: Some cat owners have stretched the time period between annual well-care examinations for younger, healthy cats. Some core vaccinations can be given at home for substantial savings, particularly in a multiple-cat household. Note: Do not attempt home vaccinations unless you are completely familiar with the process and the risks. Emergency veterinary treatment is a bit tougher to tackle. If you have established a previous relationship of working with your veterinarian as a team, she will be more likely to make concessions when it comes to emergency care. This underscores the importance of being a responsible caregiver in all ways. You owe your cat no less.
Couple with empty purse and wallet at table
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The Tragic Price of Irresponsibility

Shelters in the United States are so full that 4 to 6 million cats and dogs are euthanized each year. Millions of other cats eke out a frail existence on the street and meet tragic early deaths. These needless tragedies can be traced directly to people who behaved irresponsibly, even if they had good intentions.

Sad street cat
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Volunteering Rather Than Ownership

If you love cats but can't afford to provide responsible care, do the really unselfish thing and volunteer at a shelter instead of taking on another cat. Most shelters could not operate without volunteers, and volunteers quickly learn the realities of the lives of companion animals and the consequences of irresponsible pet ownership. It would be a win-win situation: you would be able to get your regular cat-fix without guilt, and the shelter cats would benefit from your loving care.

Female volunteer petting a cat in animal shelter
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