My new kitten was around five weeks old when a friend found him abandoned and hiding in the wheel well of her truck on an acreage outside the city. She waited for as long as she could in case anybody came back for him, but nobody did. Eventually, she put him in a cardboard box, took him back into the city, and started asking around on social media to find somebody who could give him a home. He was not even fully weaned yet and needed a human who could devote time to near-constant kitten care for the first little bit. I grew up with cats, had no other pets, could work remotely for a while, and fell in love at first sight.
I carried him home in my jacket that night.
I white-knuckled it and stressed until he was weaned off milk, able to walk in a straight line, capable of regulating his own body temp without needing constant snuggles or a warm lamp, and weighed a healthy amount. Now, a little over a month later, he’s starting to look and act a lot more like a kitten and less like an infant, so I can breathe a little easier! He’s a beautiful and sweet-natured little ball of fluff who is the color of tea with cream, chirps constantly at me, falls asleep purring on my stomach every night, and enjoys honeysuckle like no other cat I’ve ever owned. I absolutely love him to pieces — but he was an unexpected expense and I’m glad I had savings to cover it!
Broken down below is everything I’ve spent in this first month on my “free” kitten:
- Vet: $60 — He needed a full check-up, deworm, license, and shots, but the vet did the check-up for free because the staff was happy to see an animal find a forever home without going into the shelters first. Plus, I live right across the street, so they know they’ll make their money back over the cat’s lifetime! I can expect another $100 bill for my kitten’s last set of shots at the end of the month, and a bill for around $300 when it’s time to neuter him in February.
- Food: Kibble $30/bag, Milk $1.50/day, Pumpkin $1.50/two days — Because he was alone for an unknown span of time and underweight when he was found, I’m feeding him a vet-recommended kitten food to get his body weight back up and make sure he grows well. For the first couple weeks, I was also heavily supplementing it with a special milk formula because he was so young, and he didn’t show much interest in water or solid food. Also, he gets a couple bites of pumpkin puree each night to make sure his tummy stays happy. Now that he’s healthy again, he can be switched to a less expensive kibble and a can of milk can last him several days (as he likes the taste, it’s now just a treat to settle him down before bed). So, I expect this cost to do down dramatically!
- Timed Feeder Bowl: $50 — Like most pet people, I work eight hours a day. I could string out working remotely for a week, but then I had to return to the office. My mother checked in on him at lunch each day until he got bigger, but having a timed bowl to give him access to small portions of food every two hours prevented him from gorging and taught him that his food source is reliable even when I’m nowhere in sight. And when he’s an adult, I’ll be able to leave him for short stretches without too much worry — friends or family can check on him when I’m out of town, but I’ll know he’s well fed.
- Initial Supplies: $30 litter and box, $30 toys, $60 for a cat perch and bed — I did a panicked midnight supply run when I brought him home, and picked up the basic stuff a kitten needs.
- Additional Supplies: $25 stuffed animal, $40 toys, $15 additional bed, $25 scratching post, $20 collar and tag to wear until he’s chipped, $50 additional cat perch — As he’s settled in, I’ve been picking up little bits and pieces here and there to make his life more comfortable! The stuffed animal is very sweet — it was made for dogs, but it crinkles when he kneads it, and it’s the perfect size to snuggle like a littermate. More toys means I can rotate what he’s got access to while I’m at work, keeping him from getting bored. The second bed gives him somewhere to curl up when I’m on the computer, the scratching post is saving my sofa, and the second perch means he has a safe vantage point to look out every window in my condo. He’ll be microchipped and licensed when he’s neutered, at a cost of $60, but until then the collar gives his new mama a little bit of peace of mind in case he ever gets outside.
- Gift Card for Mom: $25 — Not strictly a cat expense, but a thank you gift to my mom for taking the time out of her busy day to help with keeping my baby safe and well-fed while I was at work on the other side of town!
- New Milk Frother: $15 — I found out the hard way when he was big enough to get up on the counter and destroy the old one! He pressed a button, it started making sounds, and he freaked out. RIP, morning lattes.
Added up, this means I’ve spent around $500 so far on my “free” kitten — and I can expect to pay around that amount again in additional medical and licensing costs down the pipeline. And that’s not to mention the ongoing expenses of food, litter, replacement toys, and anything else he manages to break! As he gets older, I expect those costs to stabilize, and I’ll be able to budget more effectively for him. But in the meantime, things are a bit up in the air, and I just need to expect that my cash flow will be a little unpredictable until he’s an adult.
I’ve also opened a savings account to set aside a bit of money each month in anticipation of future unexpected vet bills, in the same way I’d build an emergency fund for myself. Pet insurance options in my area are limited, and the coverage that’s available is often not that great, so I looked at what I’d be paying for it each month and decided to siphon that money into an account instead. I’ve seen animals rack up thousands of dollars at the vets over the course of their lifetimes, and I never want to have to deny him care because I can’t afford it!
It’s so easy to get swept up in the cute eyes of a puppy or purr of a kitten (I did!), but there is always a financial reality to pet ownership that needs to be considered before bringing an animal home. Companionship is so important in having a happy life, and my world is immeasurably richer because he’s part of it. He brings me joy, helps stabilize my mental health, and gives me something to look forward to every day — I can’t put a price on that. Still, I’d urge anybody considering bringing home an animal to do their homework first: research what you can expect that pet to cost, and do your best to anticipate future expenses. They deserve it!
Jay is a storyteller, psychology major, and wrangler of filing systems. She can be found @freudiancascade both on Twitter (where she yells about writing and feminism) and Instagram (where she posts plenty of cat pics).
This post was originally published on October 31, 2017, and has since been updated.
Images via Jay S.