The Price of Love (Meow!)

A couple of months ago, we published an important piece of journalism about one of the most pressing topics of our time: how much does it really cost to own a dog, and can you ever really put a price on the love of a best friend who also chases tennis balls? The piece caused quite a stir, not only among those who love anthropomorphized portraits of dogs drawn by hand and tinted in tasteful pastels, but also among the powerful internet cat lobby, who accused us of being a tool of Big Dog and serving their goal of forwarding a pro-Dog agenda.

But that’s not true. We love cats, too.

So now we’re back, here to unflinchingly put a dollar amount on something that’s impossible to quantify — a purring furball of joy that lives with you.

It’s true that cats are a lot cheaper and easier to parent than dogs (and, according to some, will either steal your soul while you sleep or bring you sterling good luck). But indoor cats can live up to 17 years, so it’s still a good idea to know what you’re getting into before you head to the adoption center, fall in love, and then realize you never did the math on the price of 17 years of kitty sweaters. That’s where we come in. Doing the hard work. Thinking about things like feline dental work, ear mites, perhaps a cat exorcism. Because cat ownership isn’t always the paws-off commitment you think it is when you’re diving into the PetFinder listings.

Step One: Set a Financial Goal

Your first goal should be to survive the often relentless cat adoption inquisition (three references? really?). But a good second goal is to save a year’s worth of cat-related expenses, so you can rest easy with funds set aside for cat care.

Optimally you’d start setting that money aside before you even start the process of getting a cat. And you’d put the cash in a savings account (great for stashing money you’ll need in the short term because it’s very low risk) that has a high interest rate — like a Wealthsimple Save account. Because if you have money sitting around, it should always be doing work for you.

How much will a year cost? We’re so glad you asked. We’re going to show you how much, and why.

Step Two: Buying (or Adopting) a Cat

There’s more than one way to find a cat (we apologize for the expression), and how you do it will affect how much the cat will cost. You could find Garfield through a tear-off sign in the break room, or meowing in a shelter, even through a fancy cat breeder — and that will affect the price tag of your cat. If you get a purebred cat from a breeder, it can be pricey — a Persian can cost $600, or as much as $1,500. Some shelters even require a fee so they can stay in business and keep caring for animals that have been abandoned until they can find them a new home.

If your cat comes from a reputable shelter or breeder, the cost typically includes the initial round of shots and to spay/neuter the cat. If not, kitten vaccinations can total around $200 on the high end, and the same for spay/neutering.

We tend to prefer shelters — they’re cheaper and better for the world. And shelter cats are also often less expensive in the long run — purebred cats, especially Persians, for example, are prone to genetic health issues that may end up costing. Should you choose to go the breeder route, there are ethical breeders out there — and there are exploitative, profit-turning kitty mills too. It’s up to you to research and decide where you want to get your cat. One place to start is the International Cat Association (TICA) and its list of breeders who’ve signed a code of ethics.

Reasonable estimate: $100

High End: $2,000

*Our "reasonable estimates" throughout use a rough sum of both low and high-end choices.

Step Three: Getting Your House Ready

You’ll need a few provisions before you bring your new cat home. Namely: the litter box (should run about $25 plus $13 for a box of litter); a carrier to get your cat home, which you can later use for trips to the vet, etc. (about $30); a three-month supply of dry and wet food ($60 for both wet and dry, which will last around three months); a scratching pad ($10) or tower ($50); and toys ($5). There might be some unexpected costs if the kitten enjoys pawing water glasses off the coffee table or has a passion for destroying damask throws....

Estimated one-time costs to get ready for your cat: $173

Step Four: Set a First-Year Budget

Remember when we said you should save your cat’s first-year budget? This is when you figure out how much that will be. And even if you can’t set that much aside, it’s important to know how much you’ll need.

Here’s what you’re in for, generally speaking:


An average 10-pound cat requires around 300 calories a day, which is something on the order of 65 grams of dry food or a 5.5-oz. can of wet food. A 15-lb. bag of kibble costs around $15, and it’ll last 15 weeks (for a total of $50 for a year’s supply). The wet food, which vets recommend over dry, costs more. Right now you can get 40 cans for $23 on Amazon, which would net $210 by year’s end. Popular new freeze-dried cat foods cost even more. Primal Nuggets of hormone-free chicken, for instance, are $27 per 14-oz. bag, which could cost over $1,400 annually. All of these estimates ultimately depend on the cat’s age (kittens eat a lot), breed, activity level, and size, so consult your vet for personalized diet plans for your cat.

Reasonable yearly estimate: $300

High-end: $2,000

Going to the Bathroom in a Small Box

A heavy 25-lb. box of Fresh Step litter (with Febreze — you’re gonna need it) is currently only $13 on Chewy, and it’ll last a while if you scoop regularly and top it off weekly. Anecdotal evidence suggests a 25-lb. box will last two months.

Reasonable yearly estimate: $100

Providing a Quality Kitty Cocktail Hour

A cup of... Cat Crack (yep, real name) goes for $10. Just a tiny sprinkle will make your cat lose his mind and then promptly pass out. Which is a great dinner party trick. In our experience, a container lasts several months.

Reasonable yearly estimate: $20

Treats and Toys!!

Cats need stimulation and exercise, provided by you ($7 cat wand, $4 Jackson Galaxy satellite toys, $6 catnip mice, $5 laser pointer, $12 cat tunnel, zero-dollar Amazon boxes). And then they’ll want treats, provided by you (like these for around $3.50/ bag, purchased monthly).

Reasonable yearly estimate: $60

Cleanup Crew

For all the forbidden flowers the cat eats and then pukes, you’ll need carpet cleaner or Lysol.

Reasonable yearly estimate: $5

The Dreaded Vet

Unexpected health costs could range from a dental cleaning to emergency surgery, which can add up to thousands of dollars. An annual checkup costs around $50. So the total monthly cost of medical care for a cat can vary widely. The ASPCA estimates cat medical care at $160 a year. We’ll use that as a guide, which can encompass the cost of monthly flea medication.

Reasonable yearly estimate: $160

High-end: $10,000

Cat Sitters

Cats are low maintenance for the most part, until you want to get away for the weekend or take a two-week camping trip. Brooklyn Cattitude, used by this author, charges $28 for a daily 30-minute visit with your cat. Cute 10-year-old cousins who can be tricked into thinking that taking care of a cat is a privilege, however, are free.

Reasonable yearly estimate: $400

High end: $1,000

The Grand Total

Grand Total First-Year Expenses (One-Time-Only Stuff Plus Food, Litter, and Catsitting): $1,286

High end First-Year Expenses: $15,378

Grand Total Yearly Budget (After Year One, Including Combined Cost of Food, Upkeep, and Vet Estimates): $1,027

The Results

Given how long cats live, the lifetime cost might clock in anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, or even more if there are serious medical bills over a long period of time.

Cats: not free! But there are always ways to be smarter when it comes to providing for your pet on a budget. Like buying in bulk, or minimizing impulse purchases, such as all the stuff you see on your way to the register at the pet store. But it’s probably a mistake to eliminate that stuff completely. What’s the point of owning a cat if you can’t buy those little catnip-stuffed mice wearing Santa hats? They get me every time.

Oh, and for those keeping score: By our estimates, cats are, on average, about $1,000 per year less expensive than dogs. Not that we expect you to take to Twitter to attack all those people who think that dogs are superior or anything.

Illustrations by Jenny Mörtsell.

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