There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Kitten

The latest batch of “Free Kittens” signs along my route to work have all come down and in my mind each of the little furballs is now snuggled in a happy, loving home. Hopefully, the adopting families have the means to take care of their new charges and weren’t misled by the roadside signs, ‘cause there ain’t no such thing as a free kitten.

I write this on the heels of my recent article about adopting strays (Save a stray) which was obviously aimed at encouraging people to adopt pets in need. Although the article covered a lot of concerns with infectious disease control, I neglected to discuss the financial commitment that accompanies even a “free-to-good-home” pet.

Coincidentally, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) just published its annual summary of costs associated with pet ownership. Costs for the first year of owning a healthy puppy in Ontario averaged about $2,700. For a kitten, the bill was about $1,700. In subsequent years, adult dogs and cats cost $1,856 and $1,442 respectively. Not free, not by a long shot off the bow.

Now, I know many of you out there are shaking your heads in disbelief and wondering where these figures come from, but there is a lot of merit in them because they provide a guideline for budgeting. True, they may include costs for items or services which you deem unnecessary. For example, if yours is an indoor cat, flea and worm prevention programs may not be needed. You might question the value of pet insurance at an approximate annual cost of $500 for a dog or $300 for a cat. However, paring down the list too much could mean taking dangerous shortcuts with your pet’s care.

One big ticket item that is dear to my heart is the cost of annual dental cleanings. Listed at just under $500 for both dogs and cats it is more costly than the same procedure for humans because general anesthetic is required along with the attendant bloodwork and fluid treatment expenses. I do a lot of dentistry in an average week of work, most of it in horridly diseased mouths and generally I’m extracting multiple teeth. Almost always the bill is close to $1,000 and often the pet needs several of these $1,000-plus treatments in a lifetime. Yes, there is a lot of sticker shock associated with these procedures.

So, considering the impact of severe dental disease on quality of life and general health, the cost of cleanings can be very worthwhile. That said, our own mouths would be in pretty sad, smelly shape if we depended on annual dental cleanings to avoid disease. Proper homecare can decrease and even eliminate the need for this line in the budget. Talk to your veterinarian or veterinary technician about ways to clean your pet’s teeth.

Regardless of where you might find ways to decrease the costs of owning a pet, society has changed the place of animals – particularly dogs and cats – in our lives. Veterinarians have been called upon to provide much improved and more expensive standards of care for these fuzzy members of our families. Pet stores sell an amazing variety of health-promoting premium foods (average annual cost of $450 for a 40 lb. dog or $230 for a cat), toys, heated beds and accessories. Grooming services are overrun with customers, meaning long waits at popular salons and a huge variation in fees from $50 to $200, according to the OVMA statistics.

It was ever true, but now, more than ever, there’s no such thing as a free kitten.

A couple of asides:

According to Money Sense magazine, the cost of raising a child in Canada to the age of 18 is $243,660 or an average of about $13,500 per year ( ).

And, as a tidbit for the curious, here’s some information about the origin of the “no free lunch” saying: Wikipedia TANSTAAFL )


Dr. Fiona Gilchrist

Hillcrest Animal Hospital

September, 2011