How much research do you do when deciding to take out a new mobile phone contract? Or a gym membership? How about when you are thinking of getting a cat? A recent survey found that a whopping 83% of cat owners admit to not having done research into the costs of keeping a cat before getting their pet. This suggests that many cat owners, even experienced ones, may be setting themselves up for a financial shock. 

The most recent estimates put the cost of owning a cat at £12,000 to £24,000 over a lifetime2, which for the average kitty is 13 – 17 years. This includes the initial expense of setting up your home for a new cat and the costs of food, routine veterinary care and arranging for cat care when you are away.

This big range in lifetime costs can be due to owner choice, like whether to go for “basic” or “premium” products, for example. So there is much that an owner can do to be cost-savvy if need be. But then there are also the unforeseen expenses. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and a little bit of planning can prepare you for unanticipated cat-related costs and ensure that Kitty gets the care they deserve. Congratulations, reading this article is your first step!

The upfront costs

Getting set up for a new cat is estimated to cost around £250 from the get-go2. With essential equipment like bed, bowls, litter trays, toys, scratching post (better than the sofa!) and grooming equipment adding toward the total. Then there’s the installation of a cat flap to organise if Tom is going to have outside access, which will set you back about £40-200, with the flap on top.

Don’t forget the purchase price of the cat itself, which can range from £40 from a rescue centre to several thousand pounds for certain breeds. Finally, you will need to make sure that Kitty is fully up-to-date with vaccinations, worming and flea treatment. And that all-important microchip, even if they live indoors, is essential for reuniting with your cat if they ever get lost. Beware! It is likely soon to be a legal requirement to have your cat microchipped, just like it currently is with dogs. 

The monthly output

The average monthly cost of keeping a cat is £25-£743. Cat food makes up the biggest chunk of monthly expenditure for most cats. Any cat owner will be aware of the dizzying choice of cat food available and equally dizzying range of prices. The most important thing is to make sure your cat receives their nutrient requirements.

As “obligate carnivores” they must eat meat to be healthy. The easiest way for making sure that a commercial diet is well-balanced is to ensure that the food has been manufactured by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA). Then you can select a diet according to your budget.

Of course, cats being notoriously fussy with food, you’ll need their approval too! Speaking of which, wet diets are more expensive than dry diets. However, cats tend to have a strong preference for one and won’t touch the other with a barge pole, so you may have little choice in the matter!

There is an increased interest in home-cooking for cats. The average cost of home-cooked diets is cheaper than wet commercial diets. It is, however, a time-consuming practice. And there is a note of caution. A recent study from the US has shown that most home-cooked diets, even those using recipes overseen by veterinary surgeons, were likely to have significant nutrient deficiencies4. This study showed that making a balanced homemade diet needs specialised feline nutrition knowledge and computer software. Until this becomes more widely available, then home-cooking for your cat is probably best avoided. 

The Indoor (or Outdoor) lifestyle premium

The decision of whether your cat is allowed unrestricted access outdoors will be made on several factors, such as whether you have a garden and the personality of your pet. Cost considerations don’t usually come into it. However, outdoor access does expose the cat to the risk of accident and injury, such as road traffic accidents, accidental ingestion of toxins and catfight injuries.

Having said that, the indoor lifestyle brings its own risks, with behavioural problems and obesity (which in turn leads to urinary problems, heart disease and diabetes). It has been shown that, overall, there are more visits to the vet for traumatic injuries and cat bite abscess (12.9 % and 6.5% of visits) compared to cystitis and behavioural problems (4.4% and 2.7%)5. So, it looks like the outdoor lifestyle may be a bit pricier, although no doubt offset by a smaller litter and toy budget. 

Your cat’s staycation

Another budget that you will need to plan for is your cat’s holiday. Or rather, your cat’s care arrangements when you are on holiday. Pet-sitting costs around £10-15 a day, and someone comes to your house once or twice daily to feed and socialise your cat. Of course, you would need to ensure anyone entering your home in your absence is adequately vetted.

Alternatively, you could send your cat to a cattery. This appears to have had somewhat as a renaissance as boutique cat hotels. Although, both setups should be appropriately licensed. Cost for cattery £4-11 per cat per day, depending on location. Luxury cat hotels can range from £18-21 per day for a single cat. So, if you are away a lot, the cost of cat care can really add up. 

The unexpected and the “I” word 

A big dilemma for new cat owners is whether or not to have their pets insured. Most cat insurance policies will cover not only veterinary treatment of illness and injury. Some also cover other eventualities such as accidental damage, lost & found expenses and emergency boarding. The average cost of cat insurance is £150 per year, with policies ranging from £10 – £20 per month6.

It is estimated that 30% of cats are covered with pet insurance compared to 60% of dogs1. This may, in part, be because owners underestimate the cost of vet care. Cat owners estimate the cost of treatment for a road traffic accident is around £807 (the reality is an average bill of £1,344) and for an over-active thyroid is £436 (it’s actually closer to £849)1

The same survey asked uninsured pet owners how they funded unexpected veterinary fees. 51% reported dipping into savings, 39% paid with a credit card, 26% took out a loan, 23% borrowed from friends and family. Sadly, 8% had to have their pet put to sleep due to lack of funds, every owner’s and vet’s worst nightmare. As we all know, there is, unfortunately, no tax-funded healthcare system for our pets.

Getting the right cover for peace of mind

As with all insurance, you are paying with cash you will never see again for something you hope will never happen. That is why one really needs to do their homework when choosing an insurance policy for your cat.

Some have a limit of how much can be covered for a condition or how long that cover lasts. Furthermore, cats can’t be covered for any pre-existing health conditions. Most vets (myself included) will recommend pet insurance, mainly because we have all seen one of the 8%.

If, however, insurance is not practicable or possible for your pet, at the very least consider how you will manage if your pet needs unexpected vet care, emergency accommodation or shreds the neighbour’s sofa. Careful budgeting and perhaps a rainy day kitty for Kitty can help cushion you from unwelcome surprises. 

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References: 

  1. Spero R. The Future of Pet Ownership Report.; 2018. https://www.rsagroup.com/news/press-releases/2018/more-thn-s-pet-report-reveals-trends-in-uk-pet-ownership/ 
  2. The Cost of Owning a Cat. PDSA.org.uk. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://www.pdsa.org.uk/taking-care-of-your-pet/looking-after-your-pet/kittens-cats/the-cost-of-owning-a-cat 
  3. The Cost of Owning a Cat. Battersea.org.uk. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://www.battersea.org.uk/pet-advice/cat-advice/cost-owning-cat 
  4. Wilson SA, Villaverde C, Fascetti AJ, Larsen JA. Evaluation of the nutritional adequacy of recipes for home-prepared maintenance diets for cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2019;254(10):1172-11179. doi:https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.254.10.1172 
  5. O’Neill DG, Church DB, McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, Brodbelt DC. Prevalence of disorders recorded in cats attending primary-care veterinary practices in England. Vet J. 2014;202(2):286-291. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2014.08.004
  6. Gilbert S. The Best Pet Insurance for Cats 2021.Bought by Many. Updated April 20, 2021. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://boughtbymany.com/news/article/best-pet-insurance-for-cats/