a less obvious cat expense: pet sitting

Continuing in the theme of my kittieconomics posts, I want to discuss one of the larger, and less obvious, parts of my G&T related budget: pet sitting. The reason this is a (shockingly) large part of my cat budget is that I travel a lot, mostly for work. But even if you don’t travel as much as I do, you need to think about how to care for your pet when you go out of town at some point!

Gus attempting to keep me home by preventing me from packing

You have a few options for how to handle being gone. Some people have very low maintenance cats and are ok just leaving them with enough dry food (or an automatic dry food feeder) for a few days. Neither I nor my cats are chill enough for such an arrangement (and they eat wet food, which can’t be left out). I can’t handle leaving my cats alone for more than 24 hours, so they get a sitter even for overnight trips. I like to know that someone is checking on the cats every day, so any health issues that pop up will get noticed reasonably quickly. It also ensures that the litter boxes are always clean and that their wet food feeding schedule isn’t too disrupted by my traveling!

Tycho eating wet food
Regular wet food meals are very important for keeping Tycho’s stomach issues in hand!

If you have a trusted nearby friend or neighbor to trade pet sitting duties with, that can be a great, low cost to free option for when you travel. I say low cost because unless you are swapping a fairly equal amount of pet sitting (or comparable favors), I think it’s nice to at least give a gift in exchange for pet sitting! I have totally done the occasional holiday cat sitting for free for friends and not minded at all, but if someone regularly takes care of your animals while you’re away and you can’t return the favor (because they don’t travel as much, or whatever), you’ll definitely want to figure out a way to thank them!

Another option is to take your pet to a boarding facility. This tends to be less ideal for cats than it is for dogs because cats are generally not comfortable in new situations, so boarding them can be very stressful. One advantage boarding facilities have over asking someone to visit your home once or twice a day is that your pet can be more closely monitored. This can be important if they need frequent medications or are having health problems. I have boarded Tycho at PetSmart’s Pet Hotel a few times over our 11 years together because I was too worried about his health to leave him alone at home during a trip (his Banfield vets were in the same store if problems came up!). But in general I don’t really like boarding for cats. They’re much happier staying in their own home environment!

My solution when I travel is almost always to hire a professional pet sitter to visit G&T once a day at home. I like this because I travel too much (and live on the wrong side of town) to ask friends to pet sit as a favor. I also feel more comfortable giving this job to a pro, just in case something goes wrong! I contract my pet sitter through a company, Fetch Pet Care. The company has locations in many cities where a local franchise owner manages a whole bunch of local pet sitters who have been approved and have gone through appropriate background checks, etc. I have a primary sitter who came over to meet me and the cats before her first assignment with them. She is almost always the one who takes care of G&T when I’m gone, and she keeps a copy of my house key so she can be called upon whenever. But the nice thing about using a company rather than just one individual is that the owner also has a key and a copy of the instructions for taking care of the cats. So if my primary sitter becomes ill (or otherwise becomes unavailable) while I’m gone and suddenly can’t take care of G&T, there’s a built in backup.  It also means that if she happens to be on vacation when I’m traveling, the company can easily send someone else without me having to worry about setting up a time to meet, hand over keys, etc. I’ve been a Fetch customer for about 10 years now and I have been super happy with them.

Of course, the downside of professional pet sitting is the expense.  Daily charges vary depending on where you live, but for me it’s $23 per visit (the pet sitter stays for about 30 minutes each visit to cuddle/play with the cats, feed them, and take care of their litter boxes). When you think about the fact that someone has to spend time commuting to and from your house as well as the time spent with the pets, it’s an entirely fair cost. But it does add up if you’re gone for a week or more at a time! However, I feel it’s worth it for the peace of mind from knowing that a professional is looking after G&T. It’s also super handy when I have (inevitable) travel delays to be able to just text the sitter to add an extra visit as necessary.

So, before you adopt a new pet, make sure you think about how you will handle taking care of them when you travel! You might need to adjust your pet-related budget to include the use a professional pet sitter. (And if you travel as often as I do, be ready for it to be a large portion of your pet budget!) If you already have pets, let me know how you handle being gone!

Kittieconomics: how I save on routine vet care

Vet care is definitely one of the larger portions of my Gus and Tycho related budget. But thanks to G&T’s Banfield wellness plans, it’s not actually the most expensive part of their overall care! (I’m not cool enough to have sponsors, so this is not a sponsored post. I just really really love G&T’s Banfield plans and frequently recommend them to others!). In the last kittieconomics post, I talked about the costs of spaying/neutering and kitten vaccines. Today’s post is about how price gouging at one vet office led me to discover a better way to provide Tycho with routine preventative vet care!

Tycho with his paw over his mouth
Even routine vet care can be shockingly expensive if you’re going to the wrong vet!

When I adopted Tycho in 2006, I chose a vet for him based mostly on proximity (he does hate long car rides!). His first checkup went ok, and the fees were typical. But when I took him in for his second checkup, things took a turn. Tycho’s teeth were not in good shape, and they needed to be cleaned. The vet there also said that at least 3 of his teeth needed to be pulled.  Their cost estimate for the teeth cleaning and extraction: over $900!

Now, dental cleaning for cats is not as simple or easy as it is for humans. It’s considered a surgical procedure because the cats are put under anesthesia for it. That means most vets want to do blood work before the procedure to make sure that it’s safe to put them under, and they have to stay at the vet office for several hours afterwards to recover. But still, $900 seemed ridiculous. I also wanted a second opinion on whether Tycho really needed to lose so many teeth.

So I left my original vet office without scheduling the dental work, and I called around to other vet offices to get price quotes. I ended up finding a place on the other side of town that was happy to clean Tycho’s teeth for about $200, and they didn’t end up pulling any teeth out.

With the immediate problem solved, I started looking for a new primary vet for Tycho. The place I took him to for the cleaning was too far away for routine care, and it was clear to me that the original vet office was more interested in profit than in Tycho’s well being (it’s been 10 years of annual dental cleanings since I saw that vet, and no one else has though Tycho needed to have teeth pulled).

Funny aside: I recently drove by the vet office I originally took Tycho to, and they’ve gone out of business. They’ve been replaced by a new vet office called the Jackpot vet clinic. I laughed pretty hard at that (though as it’s under new ownership, it’s entirely possible the new clinic is reasonably priced!).

While reviewing options for a new vet, I discovered Banfield pet hospital. Banfield operates vet clinics inside many PetSmart stores, and there happened to be a Banfield just a mile or two from where I lived. I took Tycho there for his next checkup, and they told me about the “Optimum Wellness Plans” they offer. The most basic of these plans covers all the standard routine vet care pets need each year: checkups, vaccines, deworming, some standard annual diagnostic tests, and unlimited office visits. The middle tier plan also includes an annual dental cleaning. The cost varies depending on where you live, but for Tycho the middle tier plan including dental cleaning is $312 (they bill you monthly, so it’s $26 a month). Barring illness or injury, that’s all I would have to pay for his vet care and teeth cleaning each year, which is a really good deal. So I signed him up, and I’ve not regretted it once in the last 10 years. When I got Gus, I signed him up for a plan too (though he doesn’t need his teeth cleaned yet, so he’s currently on the cheaper, $20 a month plan).

Tycho looking sad in a cat carrier about to go in for routine vet care
He might hate going to the vet regularly, but it’s the best way to keep him healthy!

Besides being a good deal on routine care, the other awesome thing about these plans is that I don’t get charged for office visits. That means when (as inevitably happens a few times a year) I think one of the cats is sick or injured, I don’t have to wonder if it’s worth paying a $50 office visit fee to get the vet’s opinion. And since Tucson has several Banfield locations, I can almost always get an appointment somewhere the same or next day. If there is something wrong, I do have to pay for treatment because the plans only cover routine, preventative care. But I get a discount on any non-covered care, and Banfield has very reasonable prices. And not paying visit fees saves a lot. When Gus scratched his eye last year, we had to go in three times to make sure it was healing properly and responding to the eye drops. It was really nice that I only had to pay for one eye exam (they had to stain his eye to see the lesion) and the medication rather than paying for all three office visits!

I also really like the vet the kitties usually see, and his approach to their care mirrors my own. He is conscious of cost, and doesn’t recommend pointless tests or procedures (he said he works at Banfield because he didn’t like how the previous practice he was at wanted him to push more expensive treatments). He also clearly loves cats. He pretty much melts every time he sees Gus, and he always refers to the cats as “kiddos” when discussing them.

Gus curled up on a pillow
not even the vet can resist gushing about this cuteness

Routine vet care is important for keeping our furry friends healthy, but it’s not cheap! You might be able to save money using a Banfield plan, so I encourage you to look into it if you’re not happy with your current vet. Other vet clinics also offer similar plans (I know my sister has one for her dog at an independent vet clinic), so it’s something to ask about when looking for a vet!

Share your tips for routine vet care in the comments! And feel free to ask more about G&T’s vet plans! So far I’ve convinced a few people to get Banfield plans (one after a nearly identical attempt at dental cleaning price gouging!), and they all seem happy with the choice!

Kittieconomics: there’s no such thing as a free cat

I’ll be writing a few posts about the expenses associated with cat ownership, and they will all be filed under the terribly punny tag ‘kittieconomics’. I’m doing this to give prospective cat parents some idea of what expected (and less expected) costs can occur when you take on the responsibility for a cat and to share some of the ways I’ve found to keep large expenses (like vet bills!) under control.

This first post in the kittieconomics series is about the startup costs associated with obtaining a “free” kitten/cat (alternative post title: why I think adoption fees at shelters are usually an awesome deal!). It comes in the form of an origin story for one of my previous (and sadly long since departed) cats, Kepler, who I mentioned in Tycho’s adoption story. (If you want to skip Kepler’s story, there’s a TL;DR about cat startup costs at the end of the post!)


Kepler (a tabby cat) posing on a bench in front of the barn

In the fall of 2004, I was a junior at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Being a junior meant I was finally allowed to live in a house instead of in the dorms (though the house was still on campus), and that I was free from mandatory dining hall meal plans.  This freedom of course meant that my friends and I went out to eat off campus quite frequently. On one of those off campus excursions, we walked out of a restaurant and toward my car, only to be confronted by an adorable but sad looking tabby kitten. (I was not on top of the tech curve, so I didn’t have a camera phone and you will just have to take my word for it that he was adorable and a little pathetic looking at the time.)

The restaurant was located in a commercial area just off a very busy road, so I strongly suspect he was dumped there and did not simply wander away from home. We knew we couldn’t leave him, so I scooped him up and we drove to a pet store to pick up a carrier, a disposable litter pan, and some food. We chatted with the employees at the store and decided the kitten was probably about 6 or 7 months old. They also gave us the contact information for a few local shelters that might be able to take the kitten.

The next day I called the local shelters, but none of the no-kill shelters had any room for an additional cat. I couldn’t keep him myself because campus housing didn’t allow pets and because two of my housemates were allergic to cats (the latter being much more of a problem! even just having the cat in my room for a week or so while I sorted things out caused some red eyes and sniffling!). That’s when I called my parents and asked them if I could bring the cat home to be a barn cat on our 17 acre farm in Michigan. I’ll add here that our barn cats at the farm weren’t typical barn cats. They were taken in for regular vet checkups, had heated beds and heated water dishes in the winter, and got lots of attention because we (well, I say we, but given that I didn’t live there anymore, I really mean mostly my mom…) were frequently out in the barn to take care of the horses and occasional miniature donkey.

a miniature donkey checking out a skeptical Kepler
Kepler with one of my mom’s miniature donkeys (I still hold a grudge against those stupid donkeys, but that’s another story)

My parents said that I could bring the cat home to live on the farm, but only after I’d had the cat fixed and it got all the recommended vaccines; they’d been the recipient of several “free” cats and kittens over the years, and thus knew better than to accept another one unconditionally. I agreed, made a vet appointment, and took the cat in.

Aside: This is the part of the story where Tycho and Kepler have a lot in common. The vet thought Kepler (still unnamed at that point) was a girl. This belief persisted right up until said vet did the incision to spay the cat, only to find that there weren’t girl-cat parts in there. So they had to stitch him up and then neuter him instead (and I had to deal with the post-op care for the extra incision). I apparently didn’t do a good job picking a particularly competent vet…

Anyway, the initial vet visit cost something like $50 to do a physical exam and another $50 to do the blood work to make sure the cat was healthy enough to be fixed. Then I had to bring him back for the surgery (probably $150), and pay for all the vaccines kittens need (another $50 or so), because we had no idea if he’d ever had any. I don’t remember the exact details of the cost breakdown, but I do remember that I spent over $300 in total on the vet bills and the bare bones supplies to keep him for a week. I’d spend it all again in a heartbeat (though I would find a better vet…), but that’s so much more than the $20 (heavily discounted) adoption fee I paid to take a neutered and fully vaccinated Tycho home, or the $100 fee for Gus! Shelter cats are a really good deal! Now, I probably could have found somewhere willing to neuter Kepler for less money if I’d had more time to shop around (many clinics or shelters will offer discounted spay/neuter services, and the internet makes it easier to find them, like through this Human Society website!), but you probably won’t ever do better than those adoption fees.

After Kepler was deemed healthy and unable to reproduce, I took him home to the farm. He was slowly introduced to the barn, and took to barn cat life very well. He loved climbing trees (luckily none of the trees were so tall that he couldn’t get down) and hunting birds. He was super sweet, and enjoyed greeting you when you went out to the barn.

Kepler sitting in a tree in front of our dog Maggie
Kepler in a tree taunting our dog Maggie (who sometimes got overexcited about seeing the cats)

Tragically, Kepler didn’t live much past 3 or 4 years old. Despite the barn being very far back from a not super frequently traveled road, he was hit by a car. He’s the only barn cat we ever lost that way (all the others lived very long lives, including one that I think was 17 when she died this past year!), but that’s sadly a risk with outdoor cats. I take comfort knowing he at least got a few really good years, because he so easily could have been hit on that busy road by the restaurant where I found him. But I still miss him because he was such a sweetie.

kepler sprawled out on the ground outside the barn

Sometimes life dumps “free” cats in your lap, and I’m really glad I was in a position to find my free cat a good (albeit tragically short lived) home. But I highly recommend adopting from your local shelter if you’re looking to keep kitty startup costs low!


I once found a “free” kitten in a parking lot. It cost me more than $300 to get him neutered and fully vaccinated. Compare this to the typical $80-100 adoption fee to adopt a ready-to-go fixed and vaccinated cat or kitten from a shelter and you will see why I tell people that shelters are the most economical way to get a cat! And you might even get a “discount” cat like Tycho, whose adoption fee was a measly $20!

If you have a “free” cat story, please share in the comments!