How Much Does a Cat Cost? 6 Ways This Thrifty Cat Lady Saves Money

How much does a cat cost
Telekhovskyi under Creative Commons

We get it: You love your cats. I love mine, too. (Shoutout to Bacardi and Thompson!)

But stocking up on cat-related accessories can really add up. Americans spent $3.6 billion on pet toys last year, reports the Wall Street Journal, and this couple’s cat costs them more than $1,200 a year.

In my eight years of feline ownership, I’ve realized being a crazy cat lady/dude/person doesn’t have to take a bite out of my paycheck. A couple of tips and tricks can keep your cat (and your wallet) happy and healthy.

1. Take a Close Look at Pet Insurance

Insuring your pet might seem like a great idea. After all, checkups, shots and the occasional illness can leave a serious dent in your budget. Following a recent (and expensive) trip to the vet, I looked into the plans available at the nearest branch of a national pet-store chain.

While most plans cover basic checkups and vaccines, you’ll only get 10-20% off treatment for an unexpected illness or injury. And, for me, that’s where the bills start to add up. (Dear Thompson, please never again swallow a twist tie. At midnight. On a Sunday.)

For a monthly payment of around $40, pet insurance didn’t translate into significant savings for me, and would have actually cost more than just paying the vet bills as they arose.

2. Look for Your Nearest ASPCA or Rescue Group

Many pet-focused nonprofits offer deals on spaying, neutering and vaccines. These groups work to reduce the number of homeless pets by encouraging members of the community to fix and care for their pets.

While you may need to bring your pet during certain hours or visit a mobile spay/neuter clinic to take advantage of these services, the savings can be significant.

These groups often operate on thin margins, so consider volunteering or making a small donation to offer your support.

3. Forget Expensive Toys

Cats have just as much fun chasing random objects or your basic furry mouse toy as they do playing with an iPad. And how many times have you brought home a new toy, only to have your cat derive hours of fun treating the shopping bag as her new fort?

Next time, instead of splurging on a laser robot to keep your cat occupied while you’re gone, set out an empty box from your last Amazon shipment and let her go to town.

Stop by the local dollar store to grab an assortment of classic cat toys. Chances are, your kitty will choose a few she likes. Pass along the ones she ignores to a fellow cat owner and you’ll only be out a few bucks.

Or, try some of these fun DIY cat toys you can make, mostly using stuff from your recycling bin.

4. Reconsider Clumping Litter

Cleaning the litter box is no one’s favorite part of having a cat. And it doesn’t help that litter gets pretty pricy when you think about how often you have to buy it.

I’m a little embarrassed how long it took me to realize I didn’t need to buy the clumping litter. I tend to just empty the entire litter box rather than scooping, so I have no idea why I was paying $12 for 20-pound bag of clumping litter when I could have just bought the $4 bag and called it a day.

So if you’re more into starting fresh than scooping things out, you might be better off with the cheap bag of old-fashioned litter.

5. Avoid Low-Quality Cat Food

I know we’re all trying to save money, but cheap cat food is a quick way to end up with an unhealthy cat and a handful of vet bills.

After two medical scares in one month with my cat Bacardi, the vet asked what kind of food I was giving him. I got a stiff lecture when I admitted he ate whatever dry food was cheapest. I begrudgingly switched him to a mid-range wet food and the health issue cleared up.

(PSA: If you own a boy cat, some vets recommend wet food, as males tend to be more prone to urinary problems, which can sometimes be avoided by the increase in water intake from wet food. In case you’re wondering, treating a urinary infection is not cheap. We cancelled our vacation that summer in favor of paying the vet bill. It was worth it.)

However, the most expensive food doesn’t always equate to the best quality. So do some research before you start spending more on cat food than on human food, which is completely possible at some of the higher-end pet stores.

6. Keep Your Cat Indoors

Outdoor cats run a higher risk of being hit by cars, getting into fights with other animals, contracting illnesses and picking up fleas. In addition to being no fun for the cat, all of these things result in expensive trips to the vet.

Preventive flea medication can also add up, not to mention the cost and hassle of eradicating fleas after an infestation. People have a lot of feelings about the issue of flea medication for cats that don’t go outside. However, I choose not to use flea prevention, and it’s never been an issue.

Your Turn: Tell me about your cats! How do you save money on cat care?

Lyndsee Simpson is a freelance writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. She tries not to talk about her cats when other people bring up their kids.

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