What’s the Cost of Owning a Cat?

Cats may seem less high-maintenance than dogs, but they come with their own set of expenses.

Written by Dr. Jamie Whittenburg DVM / December 30, 2021

Quick Bites

  • Cats can live more than 17 years, so you want to be prepared for the expenses you might encounter.
  • A purebred kitten can cost $500 to $2,500; adopting a cat typically costs $100 to $500.
  • Regular checkups at the vet can save you money, as you could catch any health issues that might arise.
  • The ASPCA estimates that owners spend $1,149 per year on their cats, after the first year.

Cats can enrich our lives and provide loving companionship. Owning a cat has been proven to have health benefits, including lowered blood pressure, fewer heart attacks, lower stress levels and less depression in humans.[1] 

While cats require affection, time and care, they are also a significant financial commitment. After all, cats may live over 17 years. 

Choosing whether to adopt or purchase a cat is a major decision and, as with any big commitment, it helps to plan for it. Cats require food, shelter and medical care. There are also other expenses to consider, such as grooming, toys and treats. 

Below is a closer look at what you might spend if you own a cat. 

Inside this article

  1. Cost of owning a cat
  2. First-year costs
  3. Annual expenses

Cost of owning a cat

Factors that may affect costs of owning a cat include:

  • Breed

  • Age

  • Number of pets

  • Health status

The costs involved in owning a cat are highly variable. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has quoted the average cost to own a cat as $1,149 per year, with the first year of pet ownership often being more expensive at an average of $1,904.[2]

Based on the average life span of a cat (12 to 17 years), this would bring the average lifetime cost of owning a cat to approximately $17,235. You should bear in mind, however, that these costs are merely estimates and it’s possible for cat owners to incur two to three times these amounts.

One of the biggest variables in the cost of owning a cat is where you live. Some areas of the country have a much higher cost of living, which will affect the price of food, medication and medical care. 

Medical care costs can also vary greatly depending on the health of the cat. Cats that have chronic or serious medical issues, such as environmental or food allergies, kidney failure, diabetes or cancer, will incur many more medical expenses than a cat that remains healthy.

Other things to consider include the choice of the cat’s diet, litter, flea prevention, grooming and any extras, such as toys or treats. 

Most veterinarians recommend that prospective cat owners save at least three to six months’ worth of expenses before they acquire a cat. 

First-year costs

There are a few major expenses to consider when welcoming a new cat into your family. These include:

  • Initial purchase or adoption fee

  • Veterinary care

  • Supplies 

Initial Expenses

There are many options when choosing a pet. A cat may be purchased from a breeder as a kitten or rescued from a shelter or other organization. 

If you want a particular breed, a reputable breeder may be the way to go. The cost of a purebred kitten from a breeder can vary widely, but most kittens will cost $500 to $2,500. 

More so than dogs, most cats are either found or adopted from a rescue organization. Adopting from a shelter or rescue may cost anywhere from $100 to $500, but these cats will likely come fully vaccinated and spayed or neutered, so you’ll save money if you go the adoption route.

Initial Medical Expenses

After you bring your cat home, it’s essential to establish care with a veterinarian right away. 

The cost of the cat’s first veterinary visit will vary greatly depending on the cat’s requirement for vaccines, flea control and heartworm prevention, and possible spaying or neutering. It is safe to budget $50 to $500 for these initial treatments.

If you get a kitten, be prepared for multiple vaccine visits during the kitten’s first six months of life. Vaccines are essential to protect your cat from life-threatening diseases such as panleukopenia. All cats also are legally required to have a rabies vaccine. 

Initial vaccines will likely cost anywhere from $200 to $500 over a period of 12 to 20 weeks.

Unless they are to be used for breeding, all cats should be spayed or neutered. This is especially important for pet cats as unaltered males will spray urine in the house to mark their territory. 

Unaltered female cats are prone to a life-threatening infection of the uterus called pyometra. A spay surgery typically runs between $200 and $800, while a neuter surgery typically costs between $100 and $500.

Another cost to consider is microchipping. This quick and easy procedure typically costs between $25 and $75 and is vital to ensure the cat’s safe return should it ever become lost.

First-Year Cat Supplies

Your new cat will require supplies such as cat food, a cat bed, a litter box, a carrier, a collar, scratching posts and activity toys. These costs will total between $300 and $800.

Annual expenses for your cat

After the initial expenses of obtaining a cat are covered, it’s time to budget for the long-term. Your annual expenditures could include those for:

  • Food

  • Toys

  • Scratching posts and beds

  • Grooming supplies

  • Medical care

Cat care supplies typically average $200 to $500 a year, including food. Cats should always be provided with high-quality food and will also need things to enrich their environment such as cat trees, toys, beds and treats. To save money, consider buying food and litter in bulk. 

Veterinary Care

Likely one of the most significant expenses to anticipate, regular veterinary care is a vital component of keeping your cat healthy. Every cat should visit their veterinarian a minimum of once a year, but preferably twice annually. 

Studies have shown that cat owners are much less likely to take their pet to visit the veterinarian as opposed to dog owners. In fact, one study showed that 90% of dog owners reported taking their pet to the veterinarian as opposed to just 40% of cat owners.[3]

This disparity is likely due to several factors. One reason is that cats are more independent and stoic and their owners tend to underestimate their need for medical care. Additionally, cats are often more stressed by travel and taking the cat to the veterinarian can be an unpleasant and difficult endeavor for pet parents. 

But keep in mind that cats are notorious for hiding their illnesses. It’s essential to have a doctor examine them for any signs of ill health. Illnesses caught early are much more likely to be able to be cured.

Annual veterinary costs include exams, vaccines, lab work and fecal testing. These typically run between $200 and $500. You can save money on preventive medications such as flea and heartworm treatments by comparing prices from retailers. 

Unexpected Expenses

As with any animal, problems can crop up in the life of a cat that may add to your expenses. These could include:

  • Emergency or after-hours veterinary visits

  • Chronic illnesses

  • Major surgeries

  • Natural disasters and evacuations

A trip to the emergency hospital for your cat can easily run from $1,000 to $5,000. Unexpected surgeries can cost $5,000 to over $10,000. A lengthy hospital stay for an ill cat will often total $1,000 to $3,000 or more, depending on the illness or injury.

One way to prepare for these emergency situations is to purchase pet insurance for your cat. These policies can be life-saving in the event of a considerable medical expense. However, very few pet insurance companies will cover pre-existing conditions, so these policies work best when purchased when the cat is young and healthy.

Alternatively, dedicate savings for your pet’s care. If an unexpected medical expense arises and you don’t have pet insurance or savings, most veterinarians offer financing options through programs like Scratchpay and CareCredit. Though these plans assess interest, they can be a life-saving option for many pets owners in a tight spot.

For more on the costs associated with owning a pet, see our stories on how pet insurance works, whether it's worth getting, what to do if you own an exotic pet, and more.

Article Sources
  1. Single Care. “The health benefits of having a cat”. https://www.singlecare.com/blog/benefits-of-having-a-cat.
  2. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Cutting Pet Care Costs”. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/cutting-pet-care-costs.
  3. Animals Journal. “Familiarity and Use of Veterinary Services by US Dog and Cat Owners. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7143178.

About the Author

Dr. Jamie Whittenburg DVM

Dr. Jamie Whittenburg DVM

Dr. Jamie Whittenburg is a veterinarian with over 15 years experience. She works with cats, dogs, and small exotic pets.

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