Regrets of a Cat Owner

In the summer of 2009, I adopted a kitten from an animal shelter, and it was love. It was also TNT to my savings account! In the not-quite-three years since Hooligan joined my household, the horrible, adorable beast has cost me over $5,500. Itemized, that’s $4,550 in vet- and health-related costs, and around a grand for everything else.

Here’s the thing: I read that thing about expensive dog surgery (is it worth it or not worth it?), and I am firmly in the camp of “not worth it.” In fact, my personal limit has always been that I won’t spend over $2,000 at a time on Hooligan’s vet bills—anything more than that, and the little mongrel is going to go hang out on the proverbial farm. But the $5,500 over the course of three years didn’t happen all at once, and was not something I budgeted for, or thought about. Because sometimes the bills don’t tally up to thousands of dollars in a day. Sometimes they accumulate slowly, in wince-worthy-but-not-bank-breaking increments, and you don’t realize how much you’ve spent until you begin to ask yourself why you haven’t been able to make much headway with that savings account. 

During the adoption process in 2009, the shelter lady asked me to estimate how much a person will typically spend on a cat in the first year of pet ownership. I thought about it for a hot minute, and wrote $600. That’s about $30 a month for food, litter and the like (generous, I thought at the time!), plus the initial supplies, and some shots or whatever (vaccines, check-ups, what have you). Cats are cheap and easy, though, right? They’re the low-rent, no-hassle version of dogs.

Sometimes I want to go back to 2009-version of me, and slap her across the face.

What I’m trying to say is, before you get a pet, it’s worth it to genuinely assess whether you can really, actually afford it. Think about it: $5,500 in three years. That averages out to about $150/month. More than a cable/HBO/high-speed Internet bundle! And here you are, using your friend’s Netflix password and the neighbor’s wireless account, trying your darndest to be responsible and save.

In any case: How is this possible, you ask? I’ll tell you! Below, I’ve listed the vet- and health-related bills alone (I’m not going to bore you with the kitty litter and scratching post price quotes. Zzzz). These prices listed are estimates, but they’re good estimates (maybe even on the low side), based on emails I sent my friends at the time of each incident, bemoaning my stupid, sick, wonderful, loving, horrible, horrible cat. The point is: Let this be a warning to you. Pets are expensive as hell, and it’s not just the brain tumors and heart transplants that’ll cost you.

Hooligan’s medical-related expenses: August 2009 – Current

• First-year vet checkup and vaccination rounds: $200
• Ear mites: $50 for meds
• Intestinal worms: $50 for meds
• Vet visit to figure out why his hair was falling out in nasty clumps: $200
• Ringworm: $50 for meds
• Anti-fungal medication for my boyfriend, who got ringworm from the cat: $10
• Neutered: $250
• Emergency vet visit because my roommate thought he had eaten a couple of her Adderall pills (yes, true story, and no, he had not): $200
• Urinary blockage 1: $500 for catheterization
• Urinary blockage 2: $500 for catheterization
• Urinary blockage 3: $1500 for overnight stay and catheterization
• Fancy dancy C/D or S/O prescription-only cat food to prevent future urinary blockages: $40/month x 16 months (and counting!) = $640 (and counting!)
• Vet visit because he was pooping blood: $200 for x-rays and TWO enemas
• Vet visit because he was pooping blood again:$150 to diagnose the problem as “stress”
• Pills for “stress”: $50

As I said, this all adds up to about $4,550 in vet- and health-related bills in just under three years. The remaining grand was spent on travel to and from the vet and/or general cat things, like kitty litter, generic dry cat food, cat bed, scratching post, things like that. Fun fact: $1,000 over 36 months actually comes out to $27/month, which is pretty much what I initially guessed, way back in 2009, when I was predicting how much owning a cat would cost me. Sigh.


Carolyn’s friends always give her cat-themed birthday cards. She lives in Queens and tweets @CarolynKylstra. Hooligan is pictured above.


36 Comments / Post A Comment

lobsterhug (#43)

This article is so timely it is freaky. My cat, that I adopted exactly a week ago, ate a small piece of thread last night and I freaked out. Google was not my friend. Vet recommends wait and see approach with the liberal application of laxatone.

@lobsterhug my cat did this too! … but the needle was still attached . It was terrifying. It got lodged in her throat, and I had to take her to an emergency vet at 3 in the morning. Moral of the story: don’t leave thread and needles hanging around cats….

lobsterhug (#43)

@myrna.minkoff Yikes! Why don’t they tell you this when you get a cat? I’m glad it happened with thread and not any of my yarn, which I will be storing in a cat proof room.

@lobsterhug Try not to freak out! One of my cats (of which I have..uh…four…ANYWAY) has a compulsion to eat things that are not edible. He’s about 3.5 years old and in that time has eaten: numerous plastic bag pieces, garbage bag pieces, cat toy pieces, bra straps, and a possible piece of wicker from my laundry basket. He has either thrown the offending piece of whatever up or passed it.I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken him to the vet to have them tell me that he is going to totally be ok.

As long as your cat is eating/drinking/pooping/etc like normal, he should be fine!

lobsterhug (#43)

@Nicolette Beach@twitter Thanks! I’m trying not to worry too much since she seems fine and has been her usual self, just a tad skittish since I tried to lather her with petroleum jelly.

schmuhl (#472)

@lobsterhug yeah seriously I have a cat with pica (compulsion to eat stuff she isn’t supposed to) and she has eaten so much worse stuff. I’m sure your feline companion will be fine! Good luck!

Myrtle (#116)

@lobsterhug I think you did the right thing. Intestines+thread seems bad. Just remember without opposable thumbs, they combine paws with mouth to stop things for cat analysis. They’ve also got the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth, which I’ve read enables them to “taste” scents (you still have a vestige; it’s that tiny slit/bump you can feel with your tongue in the center of the roof of your mouth.) Pretty much everything you own will be subject to Cat Analysis and tasted. It’s like having a permanent toddler. I hope you and your kitteh have a long and happy journey together!

Changeling (#126)

This happened to me too! Thread, with needle attached. Emergency vet visit, Christmas Eve. We noticed when there was some thread hanging out of his butt. :( He was OK though! No punctures.

Ah, but he is darling and totally worth it! :)

cherrispryte (#19)

This is good fuel for the next time I contemplate getting a cat.

pearl (#153)

While, wow, huge costs for a cat! doesn’t your shelter cover neutering/worms/ringworm/vaccines, etc.? I adopted a healthy cat from the terribly underfunded LA city shelter for $55, which included all of the above and a free initial vet visit, and have since only spent lots of money on toys and food

tessamae (#474)

@pearl Similar! I adopted my guy from the local Humane Society. He was only about 3 mos old, but they had already neutered him and given the first round of vaccinations as well as micro-chipped him. Because he was so young, he couldn’t get a couple of the vaccines (like rabies), so they gave me a voucher to come back in and get them done when he hit 6 mos. The whole cost to adopt him was $130.

Other than that, he’s only had one medical issue, he got kennel sickness about 2 weeks after I got him, which cost me $60 for the vet visit and $25 for antibiotics. As for his regular meds, I buy Revolution which covers both heart worm and fleas, and I get it for $32/3 mos from an online Canadian pet pharmacy. (FYI- my credit card company did totally security freeze my account the first time I ordered this, heh.)

Honestly, most of my cost is food and litter, as he is hella fat and a crap machine.

Well now I get to tell my girlfriend why we’re never getting a cat. Unless we can adopt it from the garbage and then just put it back in the garbage when it goes bad.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

@Donovan Gentry@twitter If that’s all you can afford emotionally as well as wallet wise, then please just take that kitty to the humane society instead of inside your house. Seriously. One of my kitties came after someone left him by the side of the road in a small town s/he didn’t live in. And he’s been damn healthy so far, but yeah, the initial costs associated with adopting a stray from under my aunt’s portch was waaaay more than with the shelter kitties in my life.

I know people have mixed feelings about pet health insurance and I get the absolute absurdity of it, but I highly advocate for it in case of a huge vet bill. I currently use PetPlan and even though I haven’t had to use it yet, it’s a good safety net. It’s pretty cheap, although I have 4 cats so it’s not so cheap for me…This totally sounds like an ad but I promise I’m just a crazy cat lady with no affiliation to anyone!

schmuhl (#472)

I totally agree and firmly believe that people should be fully prepared for all the costs of pet ownership.

I have to wonder, at what point does it stop making financial sense to cap your vet expenses at 2k? If your vet bill comes in at 3k and you’ve already invested several thousand it seems a little silly to say sorry, Hooligan, time for you to die! Especially if it’s an easily treatable condition and he will continue to live a healthy life for many years. You may spend a lot on surgery or treatment one year and then have hardly any expenses the next. Personally I would be willing to spend much more, but those are my priorities and fortunately I’m married to a person who shares them.

I think that’s what it really comes down to – priorities. We probably vacation less and eat out less than some of our peers, but I feel its worth it many times over. My pets (two cats and a dog) provide me with so much happiness and joy. And I actually have stopped reading a few financial advice blogs in the past over constant posting about how expensive pets are. And to the person above who said they wanted to adopt a cat from the garbage – this can be done! I have done it! Though it may end up costing more in the long run that way :)

All of these costs could have been lowered considerably by taking the cat to the Humane Society for treatment, rather than an expensive vet.

And the 2nd urinary blockage could possibly have been prevented by taking more care with the animal’s diet. My cat got one UTI and I began putting powdered cranberry supplements in his food, which solved the problem. I say give the cranberry a try, and forgo the fancy prescription food for a while.

Megano! (#124)

Oh man, I have had a dog for 6 years, and I don’t think I have spent that much on him. But he seems to be much healthier than your cat. I love the little poopface though, I dunno if I could set a limit on his vet bills like that (I mean, not that you don’t!).

Myrtle (#116)

There’s a pet hospital in LA (Studio City) that opens when regular vets close, so, open all night. I got very acquainted with them as my furboy loved to eat the flies out of spiderwebs! He’d get so weirdly dehydrated, the surface of his eyeball would go Flat. That trip was 300 bucks a pop, and we went several times. The vet said my furboy was doing it to get high off the spider venom, but he was still poisoned.

Myrtle (#116)

PS “Generic dry cat food”= nooooOOoo! You may not necessarily have to go all S/D. $ That food was invented back when other foods were just ghastly and full of allergens. While the low-end likely still is, the market’s very different now. Iams was a good food for my cat. Try going to Petco and read some labels and when you find a brand that’s working, stay with it. This alone may solve those problems, including the “stress!” I’m not a vet, but I did get a lot of education from working in a high-end pet food store during college.

E_Wren (#479)

If you put water in his food it might help with the urinary blockage. Cats don’t drink enough water and crystals in the urethra are a constant risk for male cats that can lead to death…which I found out the hard way.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

@E_Wren *sad* to hear that. I will try not to be skeeved out when my cats lick the shower curtain, or annoyed when I have to stand by the sink and pet them while they drink from the tap.

Changeling (#126)

Ah the perks of having a partner who’s a vet tech. Free wellness visits, discounted preventative meds, free samples (sometimes).

DillyBean (#483)

I adopted a 23 lb. dachshund/jack russell mix from a shelter last December. So far he has cost me $169/lb. In other words: a bit more than the Iberico ham.

I think he’s worth it, because he is a wonderful precious flower who sometimes rolls in dead fish at the beach. But holy shit the vet bills. (And the dog daycare when I go out of town.)

PiedPiper (#484)

As a vet, I do see a proportion of pets who are absolutely charming, lovable critters, but lemons in the health department. Often, it seems to be the luck of the draw, although if you’re planning to get an English Bulldog, you should probably start socking away cash for vet bills now.

I would encourage people to develop a relationship with a regular vet, rather than going to a humane society clinic or getting shots at a weekend pet store clinic. A regular vet doesn’t cost too much more — and sometimes costs less, since your pet often doesn’t need all the shots a vaccine clinic pushes.

If you are hurting in the financial department, please tell your vet up front — we’re reasonable people and can suggest an OK solution if your budget absolutely can’t allow Good, Better or Best. (Just don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish if you can afford the vet’s initial recommendations — Band Aid solutions can cost more in the long run.)

joops (#492)

New Yorkers who are interested in adopting pets (and doing a great and economical thing) should look into the city’s Animal Care and Control shelter. The one in Manhattan is up in Spanish Harlem but I believe they have shelters in Brooklyn and the Bronx as well. A local vet actually recommended that I adopt from there because it’s a ‘last resort’ for all animals since it’s a city agency and they can’t turn any animals down as a rule. They even have horses and rabbits and other crazy thing. And because it’s a city agency the pets come fixed, immunized, microchipped – the works. You get a free bag of food and vouchers for follow up vet visits, all for a ridiculously low fee of $35. They are severely understaffed and the vets that work there are amazing and caring – you’ll be saving a life and not hurting your wallet, either.

thenotestaken (#542)

I’m late to the party, but no one else has done it yet, so I’m going to pipe up for fostering as an option if you don’t think you can afford a cat in the long term. My foster organization pays all vet bills that come up while you’re fostering, and that was a huge concern for me.

susiequsie7 (#587)

OMG I am so glad to hear someone else has a cat with PICA! Ramsey, our 2 year old Maine Coon mix rescue, started eating CLOTHES when he was about 4 months old. And I mean, tearing through t-shirts like there was no tomorrow. He’s ruined hundreds of dollars worth of my clothes, my fiance’s clothes, and our old roommate’s clothes. Though this *has* taught us to put our clothes away (Jolie, be proud!), it is terrifying from a cat-health perspective. When I raced him to the vet, freaking out, the vet petted him, told me he looked healthy, and said “don’t leave clothes out.” And then charged me $65 for a “physical examination”.

Main point – does anyone have any advice on how to handle this?

susiequsie7 (#587)

@susiequsie7 Edit — #1, I am not glad to hear that anyone else has to deal with what my cat or I have to deal with…didn’t mean it to come off that way.

#2 – do any of you weird-eater cat owners have any advice??

Stina (#686)

Carolyn, unfortunately you are in area with very inflated vet costs. I live in Wisconsin and I have an asthmatic cat, his twice yearly visits with exam, a test and a shot always cost under $100.

Suggestions for other cat owners:
Meds: My asthmatic guy gets his inhalers from a Canadian online pharmacy (links $40 a round vs. $160 in the United States

Litter: Pine wood pellets for wood burning stoves. Under $4 for a 40lb bag, I just put in enough to cover the bottom of the pan well and change when it gets smelly, with two cats I change about once every 5-7 days. Scoop solids but you can leave the pee. Get them at a home improvement store or a hardware store that sells wood burning stoves.

Food: Trader Joes wet cat food. 69 cents a can, all real meat, no fillers and comes highly recommended on cat forums.

That is quite the ordeal you are going through. Our cat was great for the first 10 years, but old age brought a lot of problems and high health care costs. I purchased pills, fancy cat toys and food, even animal control supplies like a new house and rug. He never touched the rug and liked to sleep on top of his little house. Safe to say, we spent more then I will admit to, and will only have outside cats in the future.

baward (#2,546)

People, PLEASE DON’T feed your cat only dry food! Especially male cats. Not even the prescription dry food for urinary trouble! I learned this when mine, who had been doing fine for about a year on dry Iams, got a urinary blockage. He now eats wet food, and it hasn’t been an issue since. (I occasionally supplement with dry food if I’ll be gone a long time and can’t leave enough wet food out.)
Tons of great info here: Seriously, have a look.

normancasey (#4,888)

I had a cat a couple of months ago, my son brought it from outside and begged me to let it live at us “till her mother will come to take it”. We decided to take the cat to the vet, we just found dog kennels in Michigan at for our Labrador and could leave him alone at home, he gets bored very quickly and make a lot of mess in the house. I had to give 325$ for vaccination rounds and meds for intestinal worms.

beastlyburden (#6,122)

We have two cats–one for five and a half years, another for four years–and according to Mint (pushes up nerdy glasses), we’ve spent $3,737.84 on them so far. A grand of that was for dental surgery for one cat who had terribly infected gums and needed a bunch of teeth pulled. That works out to about $32/month/cat, which in my mind is a BARGAIN for all the goddamn joy I get out of those furry goofballs.

Mancy (#7,644)

I believe they have shelters in Brooklyn and the Bronx as well. A local vet actually recommended that I adopt from there because it’s a ‘last resort’ for all animals since it’s a city agency and they can’t turn any animals down as a rule.

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