If you are thinking it might be really cool to have a big cat as a pet, take a few minutes to consider the costs. Most people think the cost of the cat is the big expense, but that is just the beginning. (Although keep in mind that statistics show that 98 percent of the exotic animals bought as pets die in the first two years.)
Let’s Get to the Numbers
We have over 100 cats representing 16 species and eleven years of experience in caring for them so our estimates can be trusted as pretty accurate, if not conservative. It is cheaper by the pound for us to buy 17,000 pounds of meat at a time than for you to buy a week’s worth for one cat. People have done it for less, but the cat suffers from nutritional deficiencies or physical and psychological impairment due to lack of space and opportunity to be a cat. If you think these figures are high, just try and cut corners and see how huge your medical and subsequent bills will be.
Exotic cats range in price from a $900.00 Bobcat to a $2,500.00 tiger cub. Most of the mid size cats, like Servals and Caracals cost $1500.00 to $2200.00 and Ocelots can run as high as $15,000.00. The more rare the cat, the higher the price. Even though it may be a cute and cuddly cub right now, within the year it will reach almost it’s full size and will be spraying (no matter how young you neuter him or spay her) so you must have some things ready when the cat comes home.
Caring for Big Cats
You will have to have a veterinarian on call who has already agreed to take care of your wild cat. There are not very many with experience and fewer still who will want deal with the liability of having their staff exposed to your big cat, not to mention their regular clientele. You will have to have a stainless steel squeeze cage that is capable of holding your cat at its max weight. One of our tigers weighs 800 pounds and is 12 feet from nose to tip of tail. A small squeeze cage will cost you $250.00 used and you could easily spend $2,000.00 for one big enough for a lion or leopard. You will need a forklift to move a tiger and they rent for $300.00 per day with an operator. Even our vets, who do nothing but cats, and have done ours for many years, will not bring a big cat into their office unless it is already confined to the squeeze cage.
How will you transport your cat to the vet for all of it’s yearly vaccinations, check ups and boo boos? Even a little cat in it’s squeeze cage isn’t going to fit into your compact car. You will need a van and it has to be in tip top shape because being stranded on the side of the road in the middle of no where, or worse yet, traffic, with a freaked out wild cat in the heat, rain or snow is a nightmare of extreme proportion. Been there, done that and bought the $28,000.00 van to keep it from ever happening again. If you are dealing in small to mid size cats you might find a dependable mini van for $15,000.00. You can’t rely on borrowing one because believe me, when a cat needs emergency veterinary treatment it is always at the most inconvenient times.
Most states have cage requirements of varying standards. In some states you must have no less than 5 acres if you want to own a big cat. Acreage where I live is $75,000.00 per acre, but a lot of rural places near you may be as low as $10,000.00 per acre. Most states and federal guidelines require then that you have an eight foot perimeter fence which on 5 acres can easily run $8000.00. You are not allowed to use this outside wall as any part of your cage, so your cage will be another $2500.00 for a small to mid size cat, like a lynx to $7500.00 for a lion, leopard or tiger.
You will need a roof to prevent escapes so consider in your design how you will support it. These are just your first year, start up costs. You will never be able to move with your big cat because the Captive Wildlife Safety Act prohibits moving big exotic pet cats across state lines. Many progressive states are banning the practice of keeping wild cats captive and you could be investing tens of thousands of dollars and then when your pet dies you cannot buy another one.
That’s Not All…
You will need state and federal permits and if you have never dealt with these governmental agencies you are in for a life time of headaches and heart breaks that just won’t stop. None of them want to deal with “pet people” and they will do every thing in their power to make you wish you had never brought home that little bundle of joy. You have to pay for the privilege and these licenses and dues can run you well over $200.00 per year. If you don’t keep your permits up to date they can confiscate your cat and kill it.
These agencies will often require you to carry liability insurance and that can run you $1000.00 to $14,000.00 per year depending on your safety record. Most homeowners insurance policies will cancel you if they find out you have an exotic animal and many states are purposely reporting your permit status to the public to make it easier for your insurance carrier to find out. If you have a mortgage on your home, you have to have insurance and may not be able to get it, which means you could be foreclosed.
Some things are fun, like buying toys for your exotic cat, but you can’t buy them stuff on the racks because they will destroy and eat it and then you’ve got some major medical bills. Our big cats like an indestructible ball that weighs 125 pounds and costs $250.00 including shipping. The smaller cats can get along with a $50.00 ball, but that is just one ball and they need lots of things to keep them entertained.
All wild cats, neutered or not, male or female, will spray bucket loads of urine all over everything they wish to claim as theirs (including you) because this is how nature has taught them to guard territory. Having worked with 150+ cats, representing 23 species for nine years I can assure you that there is no way to prevent this behavior. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t have a mature cat on their hands yet. The reason I mention it here is that the urine is very caustic and will destroy their cage walls in a very short period of time, so you will be constantly rebuilding. You don’t even want to know what it does to the sheet rock walls of your house or to wood. Those trips to the vet will leave your car smelling like a sewer and nothing will get that smell out.
Dealing With a “Wild” Nature
Consider also that nature has hard wired exotic cats in such a way that once they are mature they no longer feel any love for their mother and if they run into her in the wild will kill her for the territory. Even if you raised them with all of the love and nurturing that their natural mother would provide (and she would die to protect them) they will not feel love, nor respect for you as the parent when they are full grown. Thousands of years of instincts tell them that you are competition and that their survival depends on them being solitary.
This is the most frequent email we get from exotic cat owners: “Hey, I’m really in over my head here! I got this thing as an infant. I bottle-raised it. Everything was great. But I can no longer handle this cat. I cannot housebreak it. It tries to attack people. I just don’t know what to do with it.” This was an actual quote about a Serval, but we have had hundreds of similar letters about every kind of exotic cat.
To sum it all up, you can expect to invest almost $22,000.00 your first year into owning a small to mid size wild cat and your annual expenses will cost you around $2,300.00. If you want the big cat experience, the set up cost is over $94,000.00 and the annual care is over $8000.00 IF you have no emergencies and no one gets hurt and sues you for millions of dollars. Everything has a price and this is the price of doing right by the animal. Are you really prepared?