Pet Cat Guide: What You Need To Know

Written by A-Z Animals Staff
Updated: May 27, 2024


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Looking for a pet that’s affectionate and adorable but isn’t constantly clamoring for your attention? Then you’re looking for a pet cat! Cats are the second most popular pet in the nation. Here’s a fun fact: Though more American households own dogs than cats, there are 20 million more cats than dogs in the U.S. That’s because cat owners love their furry felines so much, they prefer to keep more than one. Who can blame them?

Cats and humans began their relationship approximately 10,000 years ago, but there’s no evidence that cats were ever domesticated in the same manner as dogs. Instead, cats decided there was something to be gained from association with humans while humans relished cats’ ability to keep rodent populations in check. The Egyptians worshipped cats. The seafaring Vikings invited them on board ships, and this helped spread the species Felis catus around the globe.

In the 19th century, cats began to be appreciated less for their utility as mousers and more for the pleasure of their companionship. Today, 95 million cats live in more than 30 million households across the country. If you’re thinking of becoming one of those households, congratulations! You’re about to embark on a rewarding relationship.

Before Buying a Cat

As with all new undertakings, there are things to consider when you’re thinking of getting a cat. Some of those considerations are practical: Should you get a cat or a kitten? A male or a female? A short-hair or a long-hair? What breed should your new cat be? (Check out our article on the various cat breeds.) How much care will your new cat require? How much will taking care of your new cat cost? Do you have a sufficient amount of space for your new cat’s needs?

RELATED: 8 Brown Cat Breeds, 9 Yellow Cat Breeds, 10 Black Cat Breeds, 8 Orange Cat Breeds, and 8 White Cat Breeds

One important issue that’s frequently overlooked is temperament. Every cat has a distinct personality. And so do you. So, it’s important to spend some time interacting with any cat you’re interested in adopting before you bring it into your home.

How Much Does a Cat Cost (to Buy and Own)?

The cost of acquiring a cat depends upon where you’re adopting it from. Once upon a time, all cats were free because people acquired one when a friend or family member’s cat had kittens. Even today, many people inherit their felines when friends or family members are no longer able to care for their pets.

Many other people get their cats from an animal shelter or a breeder. Shelters like the SPCA, the Humane Society and breed-specific rescue organizations typically charge around $200 for a feline adoption. This fee covers the cost of a veterinarian screening, basic vaccinations, and spaying or neutering. Many shelters have discount rates for senior citizens and veterans, and at certain times of the year, they may waive adoption fees for everyone.

If you decide to get your cat from a breeder, adoption costs can run from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending upon the breed. Cats with exotic bloodlines like Savannahs and Bengals can easily run as high as $10,000.

A cat’s basic living expenses include food and bowls; litter boxes and litter; a carrier; and veterinarian appointments for vaccinations, microchipping, spaying or neutering, and yearly well-cat visits. Beyond that, you may also choose to invest in animal beds, scratching posts, cat trees, identification tags and collars, toys, nail clippers and other grooming tools.

“Forbes Magazine” estimates that the annual cost of owning a feline runs to approximately $800 a year. The average lifespan of a pet cat is most likely between 12 and 14 years. Indoor cats tend to live longer than cats that are allowed to roam outside, and it’s not unusual for a cat to live to 15 or beyond if it’s well cared for. So, throughout your new pet’s lifespan, you can expect to spend anywhere between $9,600 to $16,000.

New Owner Shopping List: What To Buy

You’ll need some basic equipment in place when you first bring your new cat home. Essentials include:

  • A cat carrier: Dogs bond primarily to people, but cats tend to bond primarily to places. That means that when you transport a cat away from its place, the cat is likely to become stressed and try to bolt. A cat carrier will prevent this from happening. Cat carriers run between $30 and $80. Cats are typically more comfortable in soft carriers. Here are the 9 best cat carriers for every kind of cat!
  • Litter, a litter box and a scoop: In the wild, cats instinctively expel body waste in sand or dirt, and then bury that waste. Litter mimics the consistency of sand. Most cats use litter boxes without having to be taught. Litter boxes range in price between $10 and $80, depending upon how open they are. There are various type of litter boxes too — high-sided litter boxes, self-cleaning litter boxes, sifting litter boxes, and top-entry litter boxes, to name a few. Here are our favorite basic litter boxes, though, in case you want to keep things simple.
  • Litter: Most litters sold these days are “clumping” litters, which (as their name implies) form easily removable clumps when exposed to liquid. Clumping litters cost approximately $10 for 20 pounds. Here are four great low-dust cat litter options we like.
  • Food, and food and water bowls: Cat food costs anywhere between $10 and $40 a month. Food and water bowls typically cost between $10 and $30, depending upon what they’re made out of.
  • A scratching post: Scratching is your kitty’s way of giving itself a manicure. Cats have scent glands in their paws, so scratching is also a way they mark their territory. Scratching is instinctual, and there is no way you can train your cat to stop scratching if you want your cat to stay well-adjusted. The best way to spare your furniture is to invest in a scratching post. Scratching posts cost between $10 and $30. Here’s a scratching post we’re particularly fond of.
  • Cat grooming implements: Even short-haired cats shed, particularly in the spring and fall as their bodies prepare for seasonal shifts in temperature. If you don’t want to increase the time you spend vacuuming, you’ll need to brush your cat several times a week. Cat grooming implements will set you back around $15. Here are some great cat grooming gloves to consider.

Some equipment isn’t essential, but it will make your life as a new cat parent a lot easier:

  • A cat tree: Cat trees a/k/a cat condos are pieces of furniture specifically designed for felines to play, exercise, lounge and sleep. Because they’re predators, cats instinctively gravitate to high perches. A basic cat tree with two or three platforms will run between $60 and $200.
  • A cat bed: Cats sleep between 16 and 20 hours a day. They will appreciate having a nice, warm, cozy bed in which to do so. Depending upon the bells and whistles, cat beds can cost anywhere between $10 and $150. Here are some great cat bed options we love.
  • Cat nail clippers: Trimming your cat’s claws at least once a month will cut down on snags in your curtains, sofa and bedding. Cat nail clippers range from between $5 and $20 in cost. Here are the best cat nail clippers, reviewed and ranked.
  • A collar and identification tag: If your feline goes outside at all, you’ll need a way to let the world know he or she is not a feral but a cat with a loving home. A serviceable cloth collar usually costs less than $10; expect to spend the same amount for an ID tag. Also, there are great cat flea collars and cat calming collars you may want to explore.
  • Cat toys: Of course, anything is a toy for your cat if it’s in the right mood, including your phone charger and your laptop keyboard. Bored cats are also fond of chasing laser pointer projections, batting balls with bells in them and catnip-filled soft toys. Cat toys typically cost between $5 and $10. Here are some of our favorite remote-control cat toys, fishing pole cat toys, and interactive cat toys as well as your basic cat toys.

Additionally, when you first bring your new pet home, you’ll want to schedule a trip to your local veterinarian for vaccinations, microchipping, a general checkup, and spaying and neutering if your pet adoption didn’t include these things. Vet visits typically run from $150 to $250. They can be considerably more expensive when medical procedures are involved.

Ongoing Needs: What You Need to Care For Your Cat

The items you’ll need in your home to welcome your new cat are the same items you’ll need on an ongoing basis as you and your new pet settle into an intimate, loving relationship.

Exercise and Ongoing Care

Like all living beings, cats need exercise to stay healthy and happy. If you’re comfortable letting your cat outside, your cat will attend to its own exercise needs. Research confirms that most outside cats roam about one mile every day. However, they tend to stick fairly close to home: male cats within one-half mile of home and female cats within one-quarter mile of home.

Exercise is more problematic for indoor cats. Indoor cats are inclined to limit their exercise to strolls back and forth between their food bowls and their favorite sleeping spot unless their owners get involved.

Try to play with your cat for at least one-half hour every day. Choose a game that allows your cat to chase something. Cats are particularly fond of things with feathers and strings. Hiding food inside a toy will make your cat more inclined to play with it.

Some owners of indoor cats walk their cats outside as though those cats were dogs. Cats can learn to walk on a leash although it’s best to train them to do this when they’re kittens. If you’re going to walk your cat outside, never attach the leash to a collar. Instead, purchase a harness that’s specially designed for felines.

Feeding your Cat

Cats are obligate carnivores. Optimally, their food should contain a high percentage of protein, a moderate amount of fats and very few carbohydrates. So long as they contain nutrients in these proportions, most commercial cat foods are fine whether those products are dry, canned or semi-moist. Dry cat food is the least expensive; keep in mind, however, that felines can be picky eaters, and most cats prefer wetter cat food. Cats with special health needs may be prescribed special diets by their veterinarians. These foods are typically more expensive.

Feeding a cat is simple: Put pre-measured portions in a bowl. Cats should eat at least two meals a day, and the interval between those meals should never be longer than 12 hours. Kitties who fast for more than 12 hours may develop gastric hyperacidity, and this can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Many cat owners like to leave a large bowl of dried food out at all times so that their pets can graze at will. This habit contributes to feline obesity, and vets recommend against it.

Learn more about your cat’s best diet in this article called “What Do Cats Eat?”.

How Long Will Your Cat Live?

Feline life expectancies are highly variable. The most significant factor here is whether your cat is an indoor cat or an outdoor cat. On average, indoor cats can be expected to live to about 14 years of age while cats who spend a significant portion of their time outside can be expected to live to about seven years of age.

What can you do to ensure your cat will live to a ripe old age? Make sure your cat eats a healthy diet, gets sufficient exercise, and visits the vet at least once a year. It’s hard to detect the signs of illness in a cat since often, they may not manifest until it’s too late to do anything about them. A Well Cat visit during which the vet performs standard tests is the best way to nip potential health issues in the bud.

Learn more about the cat lifespan and how long cats live here.

Common Health Issues For Cats

Vomiting is a very common problem for cats. Often, its cause is simply that your cat has gobbled down its dry food too quickly. Sometimes, it’s an indication of hairballs in which case you may want to brush your pet more regularly and switch to a food that’s specially formulated to reduce hairballs. Sometimes, though, vomiting may be a sign that your cat has diabetes or a urinary tract infection, or has eaten something it shouldn’t have. If your cat vomits more than once in 24 hours, it’s time for a phone call to the vet.

RELATED: Toxic Plants for Cats

Other common feline health issues include:

  • Urinary tract infections: Some vets estimate that as many as 3% of all cats suffer from urinary tract infections. Signs include straining to urinate, urinating outside the litter box and obsessive licking of the spot beneath the tail.
  • Fleas: Outdoor cats are more likely to become infested with fleas than indoor cats. Signs of a flea infestation can include hair loss; constant licking, scratching and biting; and the appearance of flea droppings in your cat’s fur. Fortunately, there are many effective, nontoxic flea medications that your vet can prescribe. Over-the-counter flea medications work far less well.
  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea is soft or liquid stool. Diarrhea can be a health emergency for a cat because cats can become dehydrated so quickly. If your cat has diarrhea, make sure it has access to plenty of fresh, clean water so that it doesn’t become dehydrated. Withhold food for 12 to 24 hours. If diarrhea persists, or you notice bloody stool, get your pet to a vet.

Where to Buy Your Cat

Most cat owners don’t buy their pets. Forty-three percent of cat owners inherit their furry pals from friends and family members who are no longer in a position to care for their animals. The feral cat population is also a significant source of companion cats: A little more than one-third of all cat-owning households in the U.S. have adopted at least one stray.

Sixteen percent of cat-owning households procure their felines from shelters or animal pounds. Pounds and shelters are places where lost, abandoned, stray and surrendered animals are housed. Pounds tend to be run by municipal or county governments while shelters tend to be run by nonprofit organizations. Technically, this method of acquisition doesn’t count as a purchase since the fees you’re charged are not profits but intended to offset the operational costs associated with your new pet’s care during its stay at the shelter or pound.

Breeders are involved in only 3% of all cat adoptions. The International Cat Association recognizes 71 distinct breeds of Felis catus, and there’s an American breeder that specializes in every one of those pedigrees. If you buy a cat from a breeder, make sure to perform your due diligence beforehand. The breeder should be registered with at least one national cat association and screen all cats they breed for hereditary diseases. Most respectable breeders will guarantee the health of the kittens they sell.

About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

Pet Cat Guide: What You Need To Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do I go about buying a cat?

If you’re interested in a cat primarily for companionship, check your local SPCA or Humane Association. If there’s a particular breed you’re interested in, you’ll find many professional breeders at cat shows near you.

What is a good price for a cat you buy?

If you’re buying a pedigreed cat, prices will vary widely depending on the animal’s breed and bloodline. Two of the most popular cat breeds are Siamese and Persian; expect to pay between $600 and $2,500 for a purebred Siamese kitten and between $1,200 and $1,800 for a purebred Persian kitten.

What is the safest way to buy a kitten?

The safest way to get a kitten is to acquire one from a reputable shelter or breeder.

Is it OK to buy a three-month-old kitten?

Yes! By three months old, kittens are fully weaned and ready to begin the socialization process.

Should I let my cat go outside?

This question is the source of much controversy in the cat-fancying world. People who are against letting cats roam outside cite the risk cats pose to wildlife because of the innately predatory feline dispositions as well as the dangers those cats will face themselves out of doors. Experts say if you’re going to let your cat outside, don’t do it until you’ve owned the cat for at least six weeks because that’s the length of time it takes for a cat to begin feeling territorial about its new surroundings.

Why do cats like catnip?

First of all, not all cats like catnip. Sensitivity to catnip is hereditary, and it’s estimated that one-third of cats lack the gene that lends sensitivity. The cats that do respond to catnip are responding to a substance in the plant called “nepetalactone” that stimulates pheromones, these pheromones produce an overwhelming sense of feline euphoria. This euphoria typically lasts between 10 and 15 minutes.

Why do cats knead blankets?

There are several theories as to why cats knead blankets. They begin to knead their mothers as kittens in order to stimulate milk production. The habit may be leftover from this instinct, or from the instinct to knead a spot before laying down to rest. It may also be a mating behavior or scent marking technique.

What is the belly pouch on my pet cat?

Cats have a hanging flap on their undersides called a primordial pouch. It is thought to be a protective adaptation for the safety 0f their internal organs during fights. It also affords them flexibility in their movements and may be useful for food storage.

Why do cats like catnip?

Cats like catnip because the active ingredient can make them become euphoric or promote other positive states. This is due to the active ingredient nepetalactone, which affects cats differently. Over half of all cats feel no effects while others are clearly experiencing an altered state!

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