How Much Does It Cost To Adopt A Cat? A Comparison of Three Families

It’s been 6 months since Mr. Mechanic and I adopted MechaniCat, so it seems like a good time to do an assessment of how much money we’ve spent on our first pet. As with everything, we went the frugal route, so it will be interesting to see if we spent more or less than expected. Coincidentally, two other bloggers also adopted cats 6 months ago, so I’ll also do a comparison of how much each of us spent in different categories.

Note: there may be affiliate links in this post, which means I receive a commission if you click through to these sites, at no extra cost to you.

The Average Cost of Adopting A Cat

Adoption fees typically range from $15 to $200 to adopt a cat (though you can get into the thousands if you want a designer breed like a Bengal or Siberian). Of course, that’s just the tip of the tail when it comes to adoption costs. According to the ASPCA, you should expect to spend $1,174 in your first year of owning a cat. One-time capital costs like feeding bowls, a travel crate, and other supplies totals $325, not including the adoption fee. The rest of this one-year cost is made up of consumable/repeat expenses like food, litter, toys, and periodic vet visits.

When we started thinking about getting a cat, I dove into researching breeds, googling things like “most dog-like cat” and “friendliest cat breeds.” Each of those searches led me to rarer cat breeds like a Bengal or Abyssinian, famous for their high energy, friendliness, and adventurous spirits. I was willing to give up some savings rate in order to adopt a friendly, active cat. I started looking for breeders in the local area, where kittens were listed for $1-2k.

How Much We Saved By Fostering

We weren’t convinced about committing to pet ownership, but we thought it might be a win-win if we fostered. We would get to enjoy the company of a new furry friend without long-term strings attached, and the cat wouldn’t be cooped up in a cage for several months. I called the shelter and asked if they had any foster cats available, and by the next day I had a mewling 7-month old kitten in the back of my car.

A fostering perk is that the shelter covers all the capital costs of owning a pet. Here’s the cost breakdown of everything that we were given for free in the first three months:

Three-Column Table Concept Map (1).png

One variable benefit of fostering was that the shelter covered all of his medical treatments. The shelter volunteer speculated that he might have been part of a local infamous cat colony because they found him behind a gym with his two sisters a couple of towns over. He arrived at the shelter with fleas, a mild case of gingivitis, an eye infection, and a positive test for FeLV – feline leukemia virus. Not a particularly pretty diagnosis!

After three months of fostering, we fell in love with MechaniCat and couldn’t bring ourselves to give him back. The shelter often runs promotions to further encourage people to adopt, like “Donate a bag of cat or dog food and we waive your adoption fee!” In our case, it was “Half-off Halloween” so our adoption fee was just $50. That fee covered his neutering, microchip, rabies/distemper vaccination, FeLV/FIV testing (he tested negative the second time!), fecal testing, deworming, flea treatment and basic grooming. We were ready to spend 20 times more on a rare breed, but we are so glad we adopted from the shelter. Our cat is 20 times sweeter than we could have ever expected!

How Much We Have Spent In Total

With the most of the capital costs already covered, we still picked up a couple more things after signing the adoption papers. I included links to the products we bought, or the closest available.

Item Cost Notes
Adoption Fee $50 He was ‘half-off’ for Halloween!
Cat sitting $20 We have an awesome neighbor who volunteered to cat sit for free. We thank her with bottles of local wine and are planning to take her out to a nice dinner.
Litter $32 Hoping to spend less on this soon! See: cat toilet training.
Food $30 One coworker told me a story about how his cat stopped eating anything that wasn’t fish, and now will only eat scallops. This won’t do! We keep it simple with MechaniCat, who mostly eats dry food, with wet food as an occasional treat.
Cat Toilet Training Kit $30 We’ve had mixed results trying to toilet train him. After about 4 months, he uses the toilet about half the time and the litter box the rest, but we still consider that a win.
Harness & Leash $15 It took some time for him to get used to his harness, but now he trots along with us on walks.

Modeling his cat harness. Of three brands that we tried, this was by far the best.
Embroidered collar $15 The collar has his name and our phone number stamped into it. It ships from overseas and we still haven’t received it, but I’m looking forward to when it arrives!
Feeding ball $10 This feeding ball is great because it keeps him entertained much longer so he stays busy while the humans eat.
Feather stick toy $10 We probably should have just tied some string to a stick with a feather on the end, but this sturdy contraption has held up nicely to his wild hunts.
Brush $5.32 Having never owned a cat before, I thought ours was magical and didn’t shed. It turns out that once he hit a year old he started to shed much more dramatically.
Clicker Trainer $3.99 MechaniCat has learned an entire repertoire of tricks. He can high-five, wave, spin, jump, roll-over and more!

Total

$221

Even going über frugal, we still managed to rack up a couple hundred dollars on our new family member. Also, fostering cut our projected six month expenses in half.

Comparing 6 Month Costs to Other Money Bloggers

Two recent posts by other financial bloggers inspired me to collect my 6 month cat-related expenses. Conveniently, all three of us adopted a cat around the same time, and as money nerds, we all kept track of all of our costs.

ESI Money is a 50-something Coloradan who retired early in 2006 with $3 million in the bank.

On the other hand, The Money Wizard is in his late twenties like me, and he follows a similar financial trajectory while living in Minnesota.

I thought it would be interesting to compare all of our spending choices and see how we stack up. We all have different lifestyles, so it makes sense that we spent different amounts on our respective cats. This is not about competition of who paid the least, but rather an investigation of three different family’s experiences and choices as they brought a new furry friend into their household.

I took the detailed expense reports from ESI Money and My Money Wizard and rearranged a couple of items in order to fit these main six categories. It’s clear from this table that there can be enormous variation in what you can expect to spend. Keep in mind, my expenses are deceptively low due to the fostering hack that covered the cost of the first 3 months.

Each line item varied a lot depending on the blogger and what they value. Here is a rundown of the different categories:

Adoption Fees

None of us got a “designer” cat. ESI Money offered $1,000 to his daughter to adopt her kitten, which was the runt of the litter. My Money Wizard adopted his kitten from the shelter. I also adopted my cat from the shelter.

Many shelters will charge less for cats older than 6 months old. The overall fee can vary greatly depending on the area you live (and how generous you want to be to your kitten-having daughter).

Vet Bills

ESI Money had a big vet bill that covered everything from getting rid of an infection and fleas, neutering, annual shots, and declawing (which I am against; read more here). Comparatively, My Money Wizard’s paid just $35 for his routine check-up, but he ran up an unexpected emergency vet bill when his cat was diagnosed with anxiety (an extra $682 for treatment).

MechaniCat’s adoption fee included his initial medical bills, and the shelter provided antibiotics for his eye infection for free, so we paid $0 total in the first 6 months. If we had instead adopted from a breeder in our area, we would have been on the hook for any initial vet costs. Either way, you should always be prepared for high vet costs as even one visit can end up costing a fortune.

Supplies

The main difference that drove up My Money Wizard’s costs here is an automatic litter box, which he says is definitely worth the cost. I could see myself buying something automatic down the line, but we’ve opted for the more unusual choice of attempting to potty-train our cat to save long term on litter. One fun item both My Money Wizard and I bought is a custom embroidered collar (his was $9 from Amazon and I got one for $15 on Etsy!) Otherwise, we all spent about the same amount on generic supplies.

Food

ESI Money mentions that he buys top-notch food for his kitten, which explains how he spent $500. However, I must admit that the gap between our spending of $30 vs. his $500 astounds me.

It goes to show how much more you can spend if you always buy the best. My Money Wizard is right in the middle of us. He experimented with foods to find one his cat liked. Unfortunately, a surprise diagnosis meant he now has to buy special foods for his kitty.

Many argue that over time, spending more on food will pay off because you will have a healthier pet in the long run. In this spirit, I’ve read up on the “raw food diet” and may explore making cat food at home later on. We know to avoid food with high amounts of grains in the first couple of ingredients, but in general we’re starting our cat off on the cheap stuff and figure we can always upgrade over time.

We have also seen enormous benefits from controlling MechaniCat’s portions to only two meals a day. It means he’s super food-motivated in the middle of the day, so he’s receptive to learning new tricks like this one:

cat rolls over on command

Pet Sitting

Fascinatingly, we all list significantly different pet sitting costs. ESI says the going rate in his area is $50 a night, but to be generous he offers $60. My Money Wizard uses an app called Rover, where the daily charge is closer to $20. That is what I would likely budget if we didn’t have our neighbor who steadfastly refuses any sort of payment. If not for her, we would likely set up a deal with our other pet-having neighbors to do pet-sitting swaps. I’ve also had good experiences with pet-sitting apps like Wag and Rover, so next we’d also go that route!

Toys

This discretionary line item can tempt us to spend more. It’s always a joy to see your cat go wild with a new toy. Yet I learned early on from memes and other cat owners that cats may prefer an empty box over the latest expensive toy you just bought. ESI says, “I spent a lot on toys, especially a couple automated ones. His favorites ended up being basic — a mouse on a string and any box we get — so we don’t buy cat toys any more.”

Cats boxes - 8109760000
Originally posted by stephenwood51 on Cheezburger

Cats are generally entertained by junk around the house. MechaniCat loves to bat a stray pistachio nut around the floor, chase a string through the house, and wrestle our grocery bags. We only bought a single toy. The several knickknacks we got from the shelter have since disappeared, likely underneath our TV stand and couch. Here he is messing with his favorite playthings:

cat playing with grocery bags

Lesson: The Cost of Adopting A Cat Can Vary Widely

All three of us are thrilled with our new little family members, regardless of how much we spent. Comparing our costs makes it obvious that it depends a lot on your choices and priorities. Each line item can vary a lot; sometimes this is within our control (toys) and other times we don’t have much choice (vet bills). While the ASPCA average of $1,174 holds up fairly well as a benchmark for the first year of owning a cat, the reality may be quite different depending on your circumstances.

What Do You Think?

How did you end up with your pet?

Did you opt for a specific breed or go to the shelter?

Have you ever dealt with unexpected vet bills?

Let me know in the comments below!

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9 Comments

  1. Wow! The Money Meow and MechaniCat cat look like they could be brothers!

    Awesome to hear you’ve got a healthy guy, and even cooler to see that you’re doing it so frugally. The pets are definitely one area that we’re not as frugal in. We could scapegoat the vet bills, and as your table shows, that’s definitely the biggest variable. But as your experience shows, everything else is a spending choice that can be managed. Just like every other part of personal finance! Cool post!

    1. How cool is it that we all adopted cats around the same time and tracked our costs?! They definitely do look like they could be brothers 🙂 I hope The Money Meow finds solace in his calming collar. Based on the averages, it looks like aside from the big vet bill that you are tracking the goldilocks sweet spot. It will be interesting to see how our costs change now that the capital costs are over with.

      1. Yep, he’s all god now. That collar is surprisingly effective! He only needs it when we travel. Otherwise he just spends all day chilling or prowling for pets, and occasionally he bats around his toy balls like an MLS pro.

  2. Great post. I ADORE your sweet little furbaby! She looks like such a sweetheart and a cuddly one too! That’s nice that your shelter provided you with all the food/litter. I am doing an emergency foster due to Covid-19 and am covering all food/litter costs. The nice thing is that it is all tax deductible.

    I also read ESI Money’s blog post about the cost of cat ownership. It was an interesting read but I was saddened and a bit shocked to see that they declawed their furbaby.

    As for your question, I adopted a purebred ragdoll when he was 3 years old in 2006 for $300. He’s still here, chillaxing 13 years later. The going rate for a ragdoll kitten was double at the time. Going raw is a good idea. After years of dealing with one chronic issue after another (diabetes!), it finally came down to a raw diet for my sweet geriatric cat in 2015.

    After that, no more diabetes, reduced incidences of wheezing from feline asthma, no struvite cyrstals, and a much cleaner/no odor litter box. Going raw, while it may seem more expensive, will mean avoiding thousands of dollars of vet bills, heartache, and most importantly, a healthier/happier cat.

    Also – purebreds seem to be a lot more susceptible to diseases/health issues. If I ever get a cat again, I would seriously think about going the foster route first and getting a non-purebred shelter cat.

    I really think the going rate for cat-sitting is $15-20/day without sleeping over. The rate ESI had was a lot higher than this average. I’m also fortunate with neighbors/friends who help out! I found that they will accept gift cards but cash is always a hard no.

    Anyways, great read! Your cat is soooo cute.

    1. Good for you taking in an emergency foster. I wonder how common it is for shelters to provide food and litter like mine did.

      Do you buy raw food or make it from scratch? I was looking at buying some to supplement his diet but it’s quite costly so I may make my own. Also the gift card idea is genius! That way we can support a local business and pay her a fair amount. Thank you for that!

  3. Great post! I really enjoyed it. My husband I have a 13- year-end Craigslist find Russian Blue. He came to us at the age of seven, neutered, and front declawed. We didn’t pay anything for him, but paid a $400 vet bill two weeks later. It’s entirety a gamble, but we love him and feel fortunate to have had him all these years.

    1. I’m so glad you have a furry companion you have been able to love for so long 🙂 You’re right it can always be a gamble when it comes to vet bills so best to be prepared.

  4. I got my tortoiseshell furbaby from another family in my area who were moving interstate and couldn’t take their cats with them as the house they’d rented had a ‘no pets’ clause. I would’ve taken both their cats, but one of them wouldn’t come anywhere near me, and I was worried that she’d just run away. The one I ended up with was pretty chill, though; she was about 10 months old when I got her, and passed away in late October last year at the grand old age of 21.

    I don’t think she really cost me all that much for most of her life, but the last year got pretty expensive with vet costs. I haven’t adopted another one as yet because I’m hoping to do a bit of travel next year, but after that I’m also considering fostering either for the RSPCA (Australia) or one of the local cat rescue groups. If I do end up adopting again, I expect I’ll choose an older cat. Having spent so much time with a senior cat, I prefer their relaxed pace to the crazy high energy of a kitten.

    By the way, if you’re looking for cat training videos and tips, try CATMANTOO on InstaFaceTube. He has four trained cats!

    1. I have heard that end-of-life costs can skyrocket. I think it’s great you’ll adopt an older cat! Honestly the shelter told me they had 4 kittens to foster, or a sick cat. The kittens were gone when I arrived at the shelter so I asked to see the sick cat and it was MechaniCat, still a kitten himself! You would surely make an elderly cat quite happy to get out of the shelter. Thank you for the cat training tip! I have a video of all of MechaniCat’s tricks compiled but haven’t shared yet. I’ll see if CATMANTOO has any new ones for us 😀

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