Cats make wonderful pets. They are independent, but loyal. They’re affectionate, but they don’t need constant attention. As long as there is food and water set out for them, they can pretty much take care of themselves. Low maintenance and low cost; that is until they get sick. That first trip to the vet can produce a nasty sticker shock if you’re not prepared.
What does it cost to care for a cat?
If you’re lucky and all your cat needs are periodic wellness exams, you can keep your costs to between $50 and $150 a year. However, most cat owners spend between $0 and $300 a year in vet charges and nearly 20 percent report spending between $300 and $800 a year. A small minority of cat owners say they spend more than $800 a year in vet expenses. And, those are for some of the more routine care cats need. With the advances in veterinary medicine, more can be done to treat cats with serious medical conditions, such as cancer or kidney failure. Advanced treatments can run well into the thousands of dollars.
For the routine care of a cat, including annual vet exams and vaccinations, the costs may be well within your budget. On top of food and litter, you can expect to pay about $600 a year for the total care of your cat. That’s $50 a month, which is very manageable.
Creating an emergency fund for your cat
But what happens when your cat has an emergency? According to a recent survey, cat owners would spend $3,454 to save their cat from a life threatening illness or disease. Cats are notorious for accidental injuries or catching viruses. If your cat swallows a hair pin and needs surgery to remove it, it will set you back $3,000. If your cat comes down with a fever or pneumonia, it could require surgery and hospitalization at a cost of $8,000. If you cat comes down with a dental disease, it could require $1,000 or more for cleaning and extractions. You’re suddenly looking at a major unplanned expense, which can throw your budget into disarray or cause you to take on expensive debt.
You could be one of the very lucky cat owners who never experience a medical emergency, but, as cats age, their chances of injury or becoming sick increase. Preparing for the unexpected makes good financial sense and one of the simplest and most affordable ways to do that is by building an emergency fund specifically for these contingencies. If you can find a way to double your monthly budget for cat care, you could set aside $50 in a separate savings account. To make it easier, you could have the money automatically deducted from your checking account each month. Within a few years you would have close to $2,000, which could cover many major emergencies.
Is pet insurance a better option?
An increasing number of cat owners are opting for pet insurance as a way to cover future vet expenses. Certainly, if you anticipate spending upwards of $800 or $1,000 a year on vet expenses, pet insurance is a must. But then, if your cat needed that amount of care, you probably couldn’t get pet insurance. Most pet insurers will not cover pre-existing conditions unless it has been completely cured. It also won’t cover certain congenital conditions. So even if you have pet insurance, you’ll want to set up some type of emergency fund for your cat.
Pet insurance is designed to cover the cost of treatments for common injuries and ailments. Most will cover emergency treatments and hospitalization if needed. As with human health insurance, pet insurance policies have a list of conditions that are covered and exclusions from coverage. You pay a deductible each time you use the insurance; however, with most policies, you must pay for the cost of treatment and the insurer will reimburse you.
Basic pet insurance policies cover accidents and illnesses only. If you want coverage for wellness visits, you will probably pay more for the insurance. Many cat owners opt for basic coverage only to keep their premiums down and pay for wellness visits on their own. Premiums for pet insurance for cats start as low as $10 a month, but they can run as high as $30 to $40 a month depending on the age of your cat and the type of coverage.
While some cat owners end up paying for insurance they may never need, it provides the peace-of-mind that, in the moment of need, they will be financially prepared. It is no different than paying thousands of dollars over the years for car insurance and never needing it. The reason you have insurance is for the remote possibility you may need it.
If you are going to consider pet insurance, take time to carefully shop and compare coverages.